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Reaction to Chairman’s AM Announcement Mixed

AM owners express disappointment

We reported that the NAB likes FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan to move on AM improvement. So too, does Commissioner Ajit Pai. Noting that “AM revitalization is a cause that has garnered widespread support from large and small broadcasters, civil rights organizations, Democrats and Republicans, Pai hopes the agency moves forward on the proposals in a couple of months.

But broadcasters speaking on an AM Broadcast Engineering Conference panel here in Las Vegas were less than thrilled, especially with the chairman’s questions about allowing AM owners to have a special application window to apply for FM translators. Of all the proposals contained in the AM revitalization Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the translator proposal was the one most heavily favored by proponents.

“It’s not the news I wanted to hear,” said Moderator Ben Downs, vice president and general manager of Bryan Broadcasting. AMs need to be on FM translators because of the rising noise level, he said, noting “the argument I would make is Part 15. We didn’t make AM unlivable; the iPhones did that, and laptop computer screens and florescent lights.”

If the FCC was unwilling to enforce the excess RF emitted from Part 15 devices, “I think it’s incumbent on the FCC to fix it,” said Downs.

WDGY(AM), St. Paul, Minn., Owner Greg Borgen said: “It creates a real problem for us. We were hoping we’d get some translators [and] now this shoots this down.”

Downs favors moving small AMs to FM translators. After a year, if they’re not causing interference, he thinks they should be granted authorization and then their owners would turn in their original licenses, to clear out spectrum for larger AMs.

Most of the AM revitalization proposals should be supported by the commission, according to Walden. “They really helped a limited few and nibble at the edge of the problem. The AM transmission system is difficult to buy and maintain.”

And the FCC’s past practices have favored quantity over quality, which has meant sub-optimal signal coverage in many cases, according to Walden.

Downs, who spoke at the North American Broadcasters Association in Canada in February, said that country has “been cleaning up” the AM band. CBS Radio SVP Engineering Glynn Walden said in Mexico, 500 AMs have moved to the FM band.