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For Glogowski, AM Still Booming

MRBI’s chief technical officer talks about a career built on AM radio

Jim Glogowski With FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai In today’s world, any number of people, including broadcasters, are ready to write off the AM band as “history.” Every year, it seems the difficulties of operating AM stations grow a little more while the number of potential listeners gets smaller due to interference. Even the FCC has begun to reach out to broadcasters, looking for ways in which they can help the AM band survive.

And then there’s Jim Glogowski who just keeps building and improving more AM stations every year.

Glogowski is senior vice president and chief technical officer at Multicultural Radio Broadcasting Inc. MRBI owns 39 AM radio stations located in markets all over the United States. Its formats are primarily foreign languages such as Chinese, Vietnamese, Hindi, Pakistani, Korean and Spanish. Its founder and president/CEO is Arthur Liu.

Not only does MRBI own a large stable of AM stations, it has invested in either upgrades or new licenses for nearly 30 stations over the past 15 years, making it one of the most active groups in improving AMs.

Over the past three years, MRBI has constructed (or reconstructed) KAZN and KYPA, Los Angeles; WEXY, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; WNSW, Newark, N.J; and KSJX, San Jose, Calif.

Glogowski began working as a radio disc jockey in 1976. After some years as a do-everything on-air personality he moved on to radio station management. Glogowski later worked as vice president of operations for Children’s Broadcasting Corp. and vice president of network operations for Catholic Radio Network.

What drew you to begin working in radio in 1976?
At that time, I had a gospel music promotional agency in suburban Philadelphia. We had scheduled a concert in an auditorium at a local junior high school, and we had a budget for radio ads. I wrote the ad and selected the music bed. We bought time for the ad on WBCB(AM) 1490 in Levittown, Pa., a station that I grew up with. The PD, Bob Burton, walked me back to the production room, and I recorded it. He asked me where I lived, and I told him that I was local. I asked if there was ever a need to do fill in on-air work, and he said yes — but you need a Third Phone Broadcast license. If you get one, come back and see me.

So I discussed this with an elder in our church — Jim McDade. Jim had a First Phone, worked in both TV and radio and with AT&T. He also built AM 1300 in Trenton, N.J., and was also Dick Clark’s first audio engineer on American Bandstand at station WFIL(TV)-6, in Philadelphia. He coached me on the basics of the requirements of the Third Phone operator, and I passed the test.

I then took Bob up on his word and began my on-air career in October 1976 at WBCB(AM) 1490. Having listened to the station most of my life, it was easy for me to execute the “full-service/MOR” format. At WBCB, I did news, (covered Three Mile Island), on-air music, on-air talk, some sports, a lot of remote engineering, as well as remote talent, sales (all concept — we did not subscribe to Arbitron) and promotions — Operation Thank You, 1979. The station gave me an opportunity to do a little bit of everything!

How did you decide to move from being an announcer to a manager/owner?
I left full-time broadcasting in 1986 because my family was growing and my income was not keeping up with the demand. However, after a brief time away I received a call from Chuck Zulker — GM of WCHR(FM) 94.5 in Trenton — asking me if he could recommend me for a management position at Tom Moffitt’s WVCH, in Chester, Pa., AM 740. Tom hired me to manage WVCH in 1988. Tom, at one time, also worked at WFIL(TV)-6 as the “live announcer” for TV spots — before tape — during “American Bandstand”!

At what point did you join MRBI?

‘Jimmy G,’ James Glogowski, sits at the console for WBCB 1490 in 1984 with newsman ‘Captain Frank’ Foley standing by. Although I have known Arthur Liu since around 1993, I joined MRBI in May of 2000, when the “Southern Stations” were added to the MRBI portfolio.

Even though many feel that the AM band is relatively full or even overcrowded — and has been for some time — you have been able to build new stations from the ground up and make signal improvement at many existing AMs. Do you still see opportunities for new AM stations today?
I have constructed from the ground up, or improved, over 30 AM stations so far in my career. The band is crowded, that is true. However, as recently as 2004 — when the FCC opened a major modification AM filing window — over 1,000 new AMs were applied for at that time. Initially it was a “check box” application. MRBI’s AM 1600 in Pomona, Calif. was MX’d with over 100 applicants in its desired move to Yorba Linda, Calif. Eventually, all the competing applications went away.

I do see opportunities for new AMs today — if the service area is good, and there is an opportunity to feature programming that is desirable to the potential listeners. MRBI both acquires existing CPs and we strategize new allocations with consulting engineers.

You have some experience in the expanded AM band, having built or improved several stations. How has this worked out for the industry?
The expanded band was introduced to relieve congestion from existing “in-band” stations. I do not think that it has fulfilled that purpose. It has afforded many licensees the opportunity to “survive” because the coverage from their expanded band stations is superior to their in-band stations.

I think that the extended coverage of the expanded-band stations has helped certain broadcasters and has provided listeners with additional formats. While the expanded band has helped, it has not been exactly what was envisioned when the new band was first adopted.

I had the opportunity to work with Charley Hecht and Kurt Gorman when Children’s Broadcasting purchased WJDM(AM) 1530/1660 from John Quinn in the early 1990s. We were able to re-locate the daytime transmitter site and diplex on the WKDM(AM) 1380 site (owned by MRBI) and gain greater coverage in North Jersey-New York-Connecticut for the Radio Aahs format. CBC saw increased listenership as a result of the move — our “toll free” telephone line bills indicated an increase in listeners from the 201, 212 and 203 area codes after the move. When we LMA’d the station to Radio Unica, they were pleased with the coverage of AM 1660. At that time, the FCC engineering staff was still determining technical standards form the expanded band, and CBC’s work on AM 1660 provided a lot of “real-world” technical data that Charley Hecht was able to provide to FCC. This data was used in determining technical standards for future expanded-band station construction!

MRBI now owns four expanded-band stations: AM 1690 in Sacramento, Calif., AM 1700 in Miami, AM 1660 in N.Y. and AM 1680 in South Jersey/Philadelphia. Each station has amazing coverage at times. The DX letters and, now, emails are fascinating! Moving WTTM(AM) 1680 to Lindenwold, N.J., was a particularly interesting move. Ted Schober and MRBI’s Neal Newman made it happen “in short order,” days before the CP expired. I can remember seeing the ground system crew installing in the rain — but we made it, right at “the buzzer!”

Are there particular technical challenges that face the expanded band that other stations don’t have?
Generally they are easier to construct if they stand alone — because they are mostly non-directional. MRBI’s KSFG(AM) 1690 in the Sacramento, Calif., area is an example that I refer to as our “plug-and-play” transmitter site. We did soil studies, bought a pre-fab building, placed it on a cement pad, added a tower base, constructed the tower, trenched in the transmission line, installed the ground system, added two fences (one for the perimeter of the property, one at the tower base) and voilà — we were on the air! Easy build — 150-foot tower, great coverage — nice station! The most drawn-out portion of the construction involved — you guessed it — the zoning approvals.

What are the major barriers to new AM stations in today’s market — are they more regulatory or financial?
The barriers can be both. AM directional arrays, especially in the lower part of the band, can take up a lot of real estate. The cost of constructing and maintaining an AM array can be steep. The regulations — from environmental impact, to bird migration studies, to local zoning — can pose major obstacles and delays to construction. A three-year CP can evaporate right before your eyes, especially if you face opposition.

Do you work a lot with multiplex transmitter sites?
We just multiplexed KHJ(AM) 930 with our KBLA(AM) 1580 and KYPA(AM) 1230 in Los Angeles. Ron Rackley did that project for MRBI and Liberman Broadcasting. Diplexes are common — Steve Lockwood and Jim Hatfield of Hatfield & Dawson put together a very complex diplex of our KARI(AM) 550 and KVRI(AM) 1600 in Blaine, Wash. The challenge is creating the networks that will allow for the proper filtering of both stations, but the benefit is derived from the reduced overhead in land maintenance, taxes, etc. If the frequencies are far enough apart, and the existing array has tall enough towers, with an adequate ground system, and the towers are positioned in a way that allows for the required coverage from all stations, the site can work.

Please talk a bit about your programming philosophy and goals.
I came into the business when we were known as a “public trustee.” I see stations as not only fulfilling an entertainment component, but also assessing and serving community needs. But in any case, it is my opinion that content drives technology. If you offer compelling content, people will find ways to access it. This was demonstrated in the mid-1990s when I did an LMA of WJDM(AM) 1660 with Radio Unica. Radio Unica had rights to World Cup. The expanded AM band was new at the time. Research showed that people visited Radio Shack, The Wiz and Best Buy, etc. and asked for the radio that “would receive the World Cup …”

There are many ideas being thrown about for how to improve the AM band. Can you share with us some that you feel will be helpful to you and the band in general?
Moving all AM stations to VHF TV Channels 5 and 6 would have many upsides for operators of AM stations. Just the possible reduction in operating costs — the liquidation of antenna sites, the simpler maintenance of FM vs. AM — are all upsides for the AM owner. The plan would require new receivers, but so would full AM digital migration. If the FCC can allow AM to migrate to Channels 5 and 6, while receivers were made available, it could be a “win-win” situation, as one service could operate in both bands and cross-promote the new service as receivers roll out. If that spectrum is not available, perhaps we can revisit the AM expanded band — in a digital sense; meaning have an “in-band” analog and an “ex-band” all-digital for a period, and cross-promote the digital site as receivers populate the landscape. Of course, portability is a key, and efficient digital receivers that can operate on batteries (in case of an emergency) are very important.