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Next Step in Revitalizing AM: FCC Order on Directional Arrays

The Federal Communications Commission took new steps last week in its efforts to help the fortunes of AM radio broadcasters.

On Sept. 22, it eliminated certain rules pertaining to how AM stations employ and maintain directional antenna arrays. The Third Report and Order is a continuation of the commission’s efforts to “revitalize” the AM radio service. Chairman Ajit Pai had mentioned the new steps briefly at the fall Radio Show.

The order streamlines certain technical requirements; by doing so, it said, “[we] free up resources to allow those broadcasters to better to serve the public,” the FCC wrote.

Because of the way in which AM signals propagate, many stations must directionalize their signals during some or all of the broadcast day in order to avoid interference with other stations, and as any experienced AM broadcaster knows, maintaining the directional pattern can be technically complex, time-consuming and expensive. According to the commission, the new order should ease regulatory and financial burdens.

The changes in store include:

-Relaxing the rule for partial proofs of performance of certain directional AM antenna systems by reducing the number of field strength measurements required;

-Eliminating periodic recertifications of the performance of a directional pattern for stations licensed pursuant to a Moment-Method proof, requiring recertification only when equipment has been repaired or replaced;

-Eliminating the requirement to submit additional reference field strength measurements on relicensing of a station that was licensed pursuant to a Moment-Method proof;

-Eliminating the requirement of a registered surveyor’s certification when towers in an existing AM antenna array are being used;

-Clarifying that the provisions of a certain rule section will only apply when total capacitance used for Moment-Method modeling of base region effects exceeds a particular value and only when a particular type of sampling is used;

-Codifying the standards under which a new Moment-Method proof of performance is needed when adding or modifying antennas or other system components above the base insulator of a tower in an AM array.

The FCC did not address several other changes that remain in the proposal stage, including the question of relaxing the main studio requirements. That issue, it said, will be addressed in a separate main studio rule proceeding.

When do these new rulings take effect? The commission will publish a notice in the Federal Register (after it receives approval from the Office of Management and Budget) and an effective date will be announced.

Read the new order (PDF).