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FCC Acts on AM Revitalization

Elimination of "Ratchet" rule, special AM window for FM translators proposed

True to her word, under Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, the FCC has released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on AM revitalization.

Clyburn promised quick action on the issue at the Radio Show, and then the government shutdown stalled everything for 17 days.

The action late Thursday comes just before Tom Wheeler is set to take over the chairman’s chair at the agency.

Ajit Pai, who originally took up the AM cause, said the NPRM kicks off a “landmark” effort by the FCC to “energize the nation’s oldest broadcasting service.”

In the item, the agency proposes short- and long-term strategies for improving the AM service. In the short term, the commission proposes eliminating the so-called “Ratchet” rule, which effectively requires that an AM broadcaster seeking to make facility changes that would modify its AM signal demonstrate that the improvements would result in reduced skywave interference to other AMs. The FCC and AM experts agree the rule has actually had the opposite effect. The FCC also tees up modifications to the daytime and nighttime community coverage rules for existing AMs, something engineers and owners have long proposed.

Also up for discussion is allowing more implementation of Modulation Dependent Carrier Control technologies, which save energy costs, and modification of AM antenna efficiency standards.

Perhaps most importantly, the agency seeks public input on a special window in which to allow AMs to seek new FM translators. We reported at the Radio Show that AM advocates were strongly supportive of this option.

Pai said based on talks he’s had with broadcasters over the past year, he’s convinced the proposals can make a “substantial, positive difference” to many AM stations.

The commission also seeks input on long-term proposals to help the AM service, long plagued by interference and a perception of fewer listeners. “What steps can the commission take so that there will be a vibrant AM radio service 10 or 15 years from now?” Pai asked. He hopes broadcasters, engineers and anyone else with an interest in AM radio will submit creative ideas to the commission.

Comments to MB Docket 13-249 are due 60 days after Federal Register publication.