FCC proposes allowing AM stations all-digital broadcasting

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The FCC today release a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to allow AM stations to broadcast an all-digital signal on a voluntary basis.  The release notes that WWFD Frederick, Maryland has been operating successfully for a year on a temporary permit. “AM radio stations are currently authorized to operate with either analog signals or hybrid signals, which combine analog and digital signals. In three weeks, we will consider a proposal to allow AM licensees to broadcast using an all-digital signal on a voluntary basis. It would seek comment on topics ranging from the predicted benefits of all-digital AM broadcasting to the interference potential of all-digital stations, as well as addressing the technical standards for all-digital AM stations. And because all-digital broadcasting would be on a voluntary basis, AM operators would be the ones deciding if transitioning is right for them.”  Ben Downs, VP/GM of Bryan Broadcasting in Texas, petitioned the FCC in March to initiate a proceeding to authorize the all-digital mode of HD Radio.

Going all-digital means an AM station choosing to do so could not be received on an existing analog AM receiver.  However, many AM stations are now heard via an analog FM translator which would give listeners an option for those stations that may decide to implement an all-digital signal.  All-digital AM would allow stations some of the same enhancements now found on HD FM – such as listing song & artist information embedded in their signals.  It would also open the possibilities for AM broadcasters to adopt music formats due to improved audio capabilities putting them on par with FM stations.  Ben Downs today spoke with RadioWorld writer Paul McLane noting: “We’ve talked for years about the rise in the noise on the AM band and how the quality of receivers has declined. But this is the first time we’ve had a chance to directly resolve both of these issues.  With the approval of AM all-digital, we have a technology that cleans up all the noise and hash we’ve been complaining about and sends an FM quality signal out of the speakers.”  Downs also stated: “There are enough HD Radios being driven around now that it makes sense for operators to think about this step. Every HD radio that’s been sold has the ability to receive AM all-digital. So do you take your chance with the 25% of cars with HD Radio or the shrinking percentage of people who listen to music on AM? It’s a market-based decision.” Downs also told RadioWorld he does not consider an all-digital option as the only answer to AM problems, but a piece of the solution. “And it directly impacts the problem we face on the AM band. I’m glad the FCC realized that AM radio just wants a level playing field. This coming vote allowing all-digital AM is a chance to give AM operators a tool to compete.”

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Mike Cherry

Author: Mike Cherry

retired broadcaster: on-air, MD, PD, asst PD, Prod Mgr, IT, station technician/engineer, pioneer Internet webcaster, station installation/maintenance; 12 years in commercial radio, 17 years volunteer in campus/community radio in B.C., Alberta & Wash. Amateur radio operator & "DXer" specializing in AM night-time DX, short-wave DX/listening & remote SDR DXing/listening

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