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What About Skywave Protection, All-Digital AM?

Commissioner Pai asks for additional AM improvement ideas

While much of the radio industry agrees on basic rule changes to help revitalize AM like opening a special application window for AM owners to get FM translators, or eliminating the Ratchet Rule, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai is interested in the next phase of the AM revitalization effort.

Speaking to the Ohio Association of Broadcasters meeting in Columbus yesterday, Pai said he’s thinking about skywave protection, all-digital AM and synchronous transmission on AM.

“Many of us have fond memories of driving at night and listening to a baseball game broadcast by an AM station hundreds of miles away. But is it time for the FCC to eliminate nighttime skywave protection for clear channel stations? I haven’t made up my mind, but the question seems worth asking,” said Pai. Noting that some say removing skywave protection would help smaller AMs provide local service at night while others believe removing that protection would increase interference and reduce audience for clear channel stations.

Pai suggests the industry nail down how much nighttime skywave listening currently takes place and resolve the debate.

Saying he’s encouraged by the results of testing so far, Pai asks if it’s time for AMs to go all-digital on a voluntary basis. He seeks input on any potential downsides and asks whether the examples set by all-digital AM pioneers help the commission decide whether and when to make an all-digital transition.

Synchronous transmission systems could potentially improve AM reception in urban areas, notes Pai, who invites more discussion on this topic as well.

He reiterated his call for the FCC to act by Halloween on the portions of the AM revitalization initiative mentioned above that face little industry opposition. Such action could mean a special FM translator application window could open for AM owners next year, he said.

Read the full text of the speech here.