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Updated: Indiana AM Station Suspends All-Digital Transmission

WIOE’s owner is enthusiastic but says listeners aren’t ready

This is updated to correct the timeline on which WIOE operated in all-digital; earlier we reported that WIOE had been in all-digital mode full-time for four months but the corrected timeline is below. It also adds a notable reason that the station turned off the full-time daytime experiment after only a few days. Namely: listener complaints.

After about four months testing all-digital, mostly at night, an AM radio station in northeast Indiana has turned off its MA3 digital operations for now and returned to all-analog transmission.

WIOE in Fort Wayne was the second station in the United States to conduct such an experiment on the AM band.

The station spent three days in late May and early June in all-digital MA3 mode, but ended that practice after receiving listener complaints, according to the licensee. (A station that turns on all-digital HD cannot be heard on analog-only receivers; its signal would be heard by anyone with an HD Radio capable receiver, which are primarily found in late-model cars. Analog listeners continued to be served via the station’s FM translator.)

After trying full-time MA3 mode for those few days, the station in June transitioned to transmitting 12 hours analog during the day and 12 hours all-digital MA3 each night beginning at 6 p.m.

Owner Brian Walsh told Radio World there were several more days when WIOE operated in MA3 mode 24/7. The experiment was concluded Sept. 11, with Walsh citing a lack of interest from listeners.

Walsh remains enthused about the quality and coverage of the MA3 digital signal despite suspending testing for now.

“Fort Wayne just isn’t ready for all-digital AM at this point. It wasn’t so much complaints but just a lack of any feedback whatsoever (on the switch to all-digital),” Walsh says. “We invested heavily in the digital technology but it just wasn’t working out right now.”

WIOE had received experimental approval from the Federal Communications Commission and began digital operations in the MA3 mode of HD Radio in May. Walsh says it was “exciting to have a station to pioneer (all-digital AM) and help develop new technology to assist other broadcasters with similar radio stations.”

[Related: “Xperi Describes More Tests at All-Digital AM”]

WIOE, which also uses AM stereo, is a Class C AM operating at 1450 kHz with 1 kW of power and a non-directional antenna daytime and nighttime. WIOE used a Nautel NX 3 transmitter during all-digital operations, capable of a digital main channel and digital multicast channel, Walsh says, though the station did not utilize HD2.

“Full MA3 mode didn’t disappoint. MA3 AM HD excels,” Walsh says. He compared the sound of all-digital AM to that of an FM HD1 channel.

“The AM HD MA3 mode drastically improves your AM coverage in areas that before had interference from electrical or man-made noise. That impresses me most,” he said.

Any AM station using all-digital will, by definition, not be heard on analog receivers. For that reason, having an FM translator that continues to carry the station content is considered important. WIOE’s programming could be heard by analog listeners on FM translator W282CH during the test period, Walsh says.

“We didn’t want anyone deprived of the programming. We purchased a billboard to spread the news of the changes, but people seemed to think the AM station just went off the air, just static, which is not what we intended obviously,” Walsh told Radio World.

Walsh (who is slated to talk about his experience during next month’s virtual Radio Show “Channel B” technical track) says MA3 was “consistent both day and night over 20 miles from the 1450 transmitter site” near downtown Fort Wayne.

“Every market is different. I was ready to provide an improved service to clients and listeners more than they were ready to accept the MA3 AM HD,” he says. “I overestimated a bit. When the time is right and the Fort Wayne market is ready, so is WIOE.”

WWFD(AM) in Frederick, Md., owned by Hubbard Radio, was the first U.S. station to turn off its analog AM on an ongoing basis. It continues to operate full time in all-digital under special temporary authority.

[Related: “Broadcasters Get Behind All-Digital AM Option”]