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Crawford Will Flip an Alabama AM to All-Digital

Station in Birmingham will be the latest to try the format

Crawford BroadcastingCrawford Broadcasting is going to give all-digital HD Radio a try on an AM station in Alabama.

On Sept. 1 the Christian broadcaster will flip WYDE in Birmingham to the MA3 mode; only listeners with HD Radio receivers will be able to hear the AM signal after that, though the same content will be available on two local FMs. Two other AMs in the country currently operate in all-digital.

“We’d like to give all-digital AM a try and see how it performs,” said Director of Engineering Cris Alexander. “The timing is right for us.”

The FCC approved the use of all-digital AM in 2020. WYDE airs at 1260 kHz with a 5 kW signal by day and 41 Watts at night.

“That particular station is ideally situated for an all-digital move,” said Alexander, who also is technical editor of Radio World Engineering Extra.

“It’s non-directional with no antenna bandwidth issues. It has a late-model transmitter that’s already operating in the MA1 mode. And it’s 100% duplicated on two separate FM signals in the market, one of which is a full-power FM and the other is a translator with a downtown Birmingham transmitter site.” The station has been airing PSAs informing listeners of the pending change.

The station has a Nautel transmitter. Because the station has been airing the MA1 hybrid HD Radio mode for about 20 years, its air chain is already set up for the digital path, so no changes or modifications were necessary. “The conversion amounts to a couple of menu selections in the transmitter and exporter.”

WYDE has conducted brief overnight testing in Birmingham. “We turned on MA3 in the experimental period to make sure that (a) we knew how to do it, (b) that the antenna didn’t have any issues with it, and (c) to make sure it worked,” Alexander said.

What will the company be watching for? “We’ll be looking to see how the digital coverage is compared to the analog, of course. Also, since this is in the deep south where the weather is hostile, I’ll want to see how well it rides through thunderstorms and convective activity. The MA1 lock will frequently drop out when there is a nearby lightning discharge or other noise burst. How robust will the all-digital signal be?”

This is Crawford’s first foray into all-digital. “Our expectations are based totally on what we’ve heard and read from the Hubbard Frederick station,” he said, referring to WWFD in Frederick, Md. “It will be very interesting to see how our experience stacks up to those reports.”

Todd Dixon is Crawford’s chief engineer in Alabama.

Only two stations in the U.S. currently are using all-digital AM HD Radio.

The first to make the long-term switch was WWFD, Hubbard’s station in Frederick, Md., near Washington, which did so in 2018 under special temporary authority. It has been the subject of numerous articles and engineering conference presentations, and remains on the air in all-digital AM.

As we’ve reported, WIOE in Ft. Wayne, Ind., experimented for several months in 2020 but then ended its digital transmissions.

Urban One’s WTLC in Indianapolis sought to rebroadcast multicast channels of the AM test signal over FM translators, but the commission didn’t allow that and the company withdrew its STA in 2021.

Cumulus station WFAS in White Plains, N.Y. went on with all-digital in 2021 and continues to operate in that mode.

But WMGG in Egypt Lake, Fla., which flipped to all-digital in early 2021, was subsequently sold by Neal Ardman to DRC Broadcasting, and Ardman tells Radio World the new owner dropped MA3.

And WSRO in Ashland, Mass., near Boston had gone all-digital in late 2021; but according to engineer Rob Landry, the station has been dark since the death of its owner Alex Langer earlier this year.