Larry Langford is owner of WGTO(AM) and W266BS in Cassopolis, Mich. His commentaries are a recurring feature on radioworld.com.
The long-awaited FCC First Report and Order on AM revitalization is a thoughtful and detailed document and has some surprises compared to what we normally see from the commission. But in the end, the AM service gets very little while those of us who own and run stations will find our lives a little bit better. Overall I will give the document a C+.
Translators — Not everyone is going to be happy with how translators are going to be available, but it’s a lot more fair than I thought it would be. Class C and D stations will get the preference that many comments (including mine) had called for. Class A stations will be at the back of the line. But unfortunately some Class B stations are in reality as bad off as some D class operations. Take the 5,000 watt B with 2 watts at night. I think stations like that should have been included in the C/D preference.
The fact that only C and D stations will be allowed in the first part of the window to allow long-distance moving and modification of existing translators might have sellers holding them off the market to see if they can do better with the more financially healed B and A operators. The marketplace will determine that. But thanks to the efforts of Commissioners Pai and Clyburn, we got a much better deal that was first being contemplated. Extending the C/D preference to the new filing window in 2017 is also good.
The commission was wise to modify the 2 mV vs 60 dB contour match so stations with tight directional patterns can mount translators on the AM towers and not worry about nulls causing overlap.
I think they would have been wise to allow higher output for translators located on short (less than 175 foot) AM towers to overcome the fact that many AM stations are in valleys not suitable for FM transmission.
Reduce Day and Night Coverage standards — This will not help the AM service much at all except to allow a few more stations to be built more cheaply by allowing less than full city coverage with resulting noise and static. But I think the actual result will be making it easier to get an AM license that will be used to find a home for a translator that WILL cover the entire city. This may actually turn out to be the new way to get a “backdoor” FM.
Elimination of the Ratchet Rule — This was the biggest no-brainer of the entire report. But I am happy they acted to get rid of this rule that never really helped anyone, but will it mean much to AM over all? Nope.
Efficiency Standards — See comments on coverage of city of license. See a pattern?
Proposals on Protection Standards — There’s some real gold in this one if it ever happens. Adopting 2 mV as the protected contour for Class B, C and D is a timely idea and can result in costly directional operations being able to go nondirectional and or raise power for better coverage at less cost.
The other proposals for things like reducing field reading requirements and changes to Method of Moment proofs and relaxing main studio location will make owners happier, but again, do not really revitalize the service. But it is good to see they are taking a new look at the expanded band and its requirements.
But the commission has once again missed a chance to make a much bigger splash. They did not even mention the issue of receiver standards. Standards were set decades ago for TV, and FM but still not even a mention of minimum distortion and bandwidth standards has even been suggested by this Report, Order and NPRM.
They could have easily set a maximum negative modulation level of less than 100 percent to improve distortion immediately and by setting a bandwidth standard that would start the slow improvement of receivers as new ones hit the market especially in cars. And isn’t this all about sound anyway?
So my overall view is surprisingly positive on the issue of translators but if you’re not going to look at AM receivers then the service itself is getting very little improvement as the listeners keep getting distortion, noise and bottom-heavy audio. We are being told its revitalization but the listeners would say it’s the same old mud and noise. And unless we do a lot more to fix the end sound, listeners will be tuning for those new translators every time while the AM service itself keeps withering away.
But at least it’s a start!
More Larry Langford:
We Need Better Revitalization Than This (Sept. 2015)
Improving AM: Some Tough Decisions Ahead (Feb. 2014)