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WMGG Has Turned on All-Digital AM

Tampa-area station is the first since the FCC changed its rules

96.1 FM Caliente logo croppedA Florida AM radio station is now on the air full-time with all-digital transmission, committing its 1470 signal strictly to listeners who have digital receivers.

Neal Ardman told Radio World that WMGG switched on its new Nautel transmitter, purchased for this purpose, on Tuesday morning. The station has an FM translator that continues to serve analog listeners at 101.9. The station airs Spanish musical programming.

If all-digital HD Radio technology for AM takes off in the United States, WMGG’s move would be seen as an important milestone.

Until now — beyond various test projects involving the National Association of Broadcasters and others — only one AM station in the country, Hubbard’s WWFD outside of Washington, D.C., has been using the technology consistently. It did so under special temporary authority while expressing the intent to retain it permanently. A second in Indiana, WIOE, experimented with it for several months last year but then turned it off for the time being.

But WMGG is believed to be the first station to take the step since the Federal Communications Commission said it would allow AM owners to deploy all-digital under normal operational rules rather than under an STA.

WMGG is a Class B station in Egypt Lake, near Tampa, airing a directional signal via a diplexed array. It has 2.8 kW power by day and 800 watts at night.

Ardman said the station had been testing the all-digital mode at night until throwing the switch this morning full-time. He expressed excitement about the digital quality and the lack of noise in areas where the signal usually fights noise sources.

The station has changed its legal IDs but so far has not done additional marketing or branding.

Among reasons for making the switch, he said, is the receiver penetration of HD Radio in cars in the market, which he said was in the mid-30% range and growing. Ardman said he expects that over time, major broadcast groups in the country will come to embrace the all-digital format.

A Radio World interview with Ardman will be featured in a ebook later this month about what’s next with all-digital on AM in the United States.

Under the recent FCC order, all-digital operation is allowed both day and night. There’s a 30-day waiting period before converting to all-digital “so that transitioning AM stations can provide adequate notice to the commission, consumers and other potentially affected stations.”

Digital stations still must participate in the national Emergency Alert System.

[Read more “Takeaways From the Digital Radio Order,” October 2020]