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Owners Are Investing in the Future of AM

Equipment manufacturer Tom King has an ‘encouraging perspective’

‘Broadcasters do not invest this kind of money in AM radio stations unless they project a long-term return on their investment,’ Tom King writes. Shown is a recently constructed dual 50 kW directional antenna facility for Bell Media in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, including the transmitter building and two-tower self-supported tower array, and an open panel and shelf phasing and matching system for the second five-tower directional array.

It seems that AM radio is being redefined. What we knew in the 20th century as antenna-to-antenna AM terrestrial radio is now described, post-millennium, as “program content delivery.” As a result of rapidly expanding technologies, the role of terrestrially delivered AM radio has been framed increasingly as an inferior media, old fashioned and irrelevant.

I want to set the record straight.

From the perspective of an AM radio antenna system manufacturer who works with AM broadcasters every day, I can say that broadcast station owners in the U.S. and abroad are investing in the future of AM analog and digital radio. Why is this? The model of a free single point source of information to the masses is still needed, and still works.

AM radio propagation is unique from FM radio and television, in that it propagates along the ground as well as via ionospheric skywave bounce at night, which is the reason that I often listen to WCBS in New York City, WWL in New Orleans, WSB in Atlanta and WSM in Nashville, “The Legend,” the Grand Ole Opry’s famous station.

Simulcasting with FM does not replace the nighttime coverage you get with AM stations.

I was just speaking recently with Saul Levine, owner of KMZT(AM) in Beverly Hills, which operates on 1260 kHz with a Kintronic Labs 20 kw DA-D and 7.5 kw DA-N wideband phasing and matching system, about his experiences as an AM radio station owner and operator. He has been using a classical music program format on analog AM for several years, and has found it to be very successful in the L.A. market.

In fact, he informed me that he frequently receives calls from listeners who live in the canyon suburbs of L.A. and want to express their great appreciation for the fact that they are able to receive his station even when FM reception is impossible.

Levine emphasized that he is successful with AM radio because he gives people what they want to hear. He thinks AM has a bright future.

In 2010, my company Kintronic Labs was involved in supplying a 50kw AM directional antenna system for a new metro D.C. radio station, starting in a farm field. As envisioned, this station was to serve a targeted demographic that was not, at the time, being reached by radio at all. Today, this multi-million dollar is yielding yielding dividends. Figure 1 includes photographs of the three-tower array and the transmitter building supplied by Kintronic Labs.

Another example of a recent major AM radio investment we were involved with, to much success, took place across the border in Vancouver, British Columbia. A two-tower, 50 kw AM station and a five-tower, 50 kw AM station were placed on the same site, again starting from scratch, in an alfalfa field. Our company was grateful for the opportunity to participate in what proved to be a well-managed and exceptional team effort to implement this complex project.

Both stations were designed for analog or digital AM radio operation. Broadcasters do not invest this kind of money in AM radio stations unless they project a long-term return on their investment. Figure 2 includes photographs of the transmitter building and the 2-tower directional array and a photograph of the open panel and shelf phasing and matching system for the 5-tower directional array, installed in the transmitter building.

With the demise of DAB radio in Canada, the Canadian broadcasters are turning more and more to AM and FM terrestrial radio, particularly to compete with U.S. stations as HD becomes more commonplace.

At the moment, Kintronic Labs is involved with AM radio customers in the design, supply, installation and commissioning of new analog or digital-ready AM transmission facilities in various states domestically and in numerous countries worldwide. When you listen to the difference between analog and digital AM radio and analog and digital FM radio, AM stands out.

This is why we see digital AM radio as remaining a player in the future. Whether the station is analog or digital, what drives the decisions for new investment in AM radio is the demand for unique programming to an un-served targeted audience in growing markets.

I hope that this provides you, the reader, with a more encouraging perspective regarding the future of AM radio. There are many more success stories like the examples above, in which AM radio broadcasters are providing reliable free news, information, sports and entertainment to their respective communities across the United States.

Tom F. King is president of Kintronic Labs Inc.

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