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FCC AM Order Continues to Generate Commentary, Concerns

Comments on the Revitalization of the AM Radio Service Order are open through March 21

The impact of the proposals handed down in the AM Radio Revitalization Order are generating continued commentary and concern — prompting broadcast stations, radio networks and radio listeners to submit comments to the Federal Communications Commission on what these new proposals mean to them.

Issues up for debate include nighttime coverage, expanded band licensees and the difficulty in finding tower crews, among others.

Station WRDN(AM) submitted a formal comment to the Federal Communications Commission via the agency’s Electronic Comment Filing System requesting that the agency consider a compromise that would lift those low-power restrictions placed on stations at night. “My suggestion is have a post-sunset authority for 500 W until 10 p.m. local time,” said Brian Winnekins, licensee of WRDN in Durand, Wis. “I believe by doing this, it will improve service to the local community, provide a possible revenue stream for stations, while at the same time allowing for ‘long distance’ listening during the overnight hours.”

Durand points out that this step would not require major equipment or engineering investments “like we are seeing with the new rules regarding moving an FM translator 250 miles,” he said. Stations like his would also be able to generate additional revenue by broadcasting local high school sports programming, which some stations are unable to do due to low-power restrictions at night, he said.

Local listeners like Dan Barr from Grand Rapids, Mich., used the ECFS system to express support for small AM radio stations, particularly WION(AM) in Ionia, Mich., which has a population of 11,000. “I have wished, on numerous occasions, that WION was available in my area at night, so I might listen to their unique programming and ‘small town’ feel,” Barr wrote. “WION reminds me of radio stations from my childhood,” he said. “Unlike the cookie-cutter programming you hear on large, corporate-owned stations, WION actually plays requests from their listeners, any time of the day. Because it is run by and for local residents, WION is truly a voice of the people, a true gem among the blandness that is corporate radio.”

Others are pressing the FCC to look beyond FM translators for revitalization of the band.

“I am glad the FCC is looking at AM revitalization. But FM translators don’t address the inherent problems with AM technology,” said Doug Martin, president of Good News Communications in Tucson, Ariz. “Listeners have other options aside from radio. They don’t understand nor do they care why their radio station disappears at night. [But] listeners should be able to listen to their favorite station 24 hours a day.”

“Thus, the only way to ‘fix’ AM radio is to give us similar coverage at night as we have in the day,” he said. “Please do the heavy lifting now to preserve AM radio and our unique programming for the public good.”

A similar message was shared by a group of radio broadcasters, broadcast associations and members of the National Association of Broadcasters who met with members of the FCC’s Media Bureau to ask the commission to consider the limitations of providing AM radio service under the commission’s current rules for pre- and post-sunset operations.

Other issues the FCC must consider, the group said, include the difficulty in finding available, qualified tower crews to assist with tower modifications, and ongoing concerns over the worsening noise floor that the broadcasters said is degrading both AM and FM radio service.

Technical issues are also being debated, including a section of the FCC AM revitalization order that would require stations with dual-band licenses to surrender one of those licenses.

According to Robert Ladd, partner with R and K Enterprises in Marco island, Fla., the commission should adopt a policy under which the surrender of one of the two licenses issued in connection with the expanded AM band be made on a case-by-case basis. “R and K believes there are extenuating circumstances which would result in a failure of the commission’s goal to further access and localism by an across-the-board requirement that the present holders of certain licenses issued in conjunction with the expanded band be required to surrender one.” R and K Enterprises is the licensee of FM translator W251BL in Everglades City, Fla., which operates as a fill-in translator for AM station WVOI in Marco Island.

Comments on the Revitalization of the AM Radio Service are searchable in the FCC’s ECFS database under MB Docket 13-249. Comments can be filed here through March 21.