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October 7, 2020 10:19 am  #1


FCC In U.S. Ready To Go Whole Hog On AM Digital

There’s barely been a word on this in Canada, but the FCC on Tuesday officially began a campaign to help U.S. stations voluntarily experiment with digital AM, in order to help that band survive.
 
In a 35-page outline, the American broadcast regulator has put into place a plan to encourage stations to consider the option. It’s actually a fascinating document, but it’s long and most of us won’t have the time or the interest to read the entire thing.
 
(If you do, you can find it here.)
 
Here’s the summary of what the agency is looking at:

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 What the Order Would Do:
 
• Allow AM stations to convert to all-digital operation on a voluntary basis.
 
• Establish technical rules for all-digital AM broadcasting.
 
• Require each all-digital AM station to provide at least one free over-the-air digital programming stream that is comparable to or better in audio quality than a standard analog broadcast. Otherwise, digital subcarriers can be used for broadcast or non-broadcast services, including song and title information.
 
• Require all-digital AM stations to avoid prohibited interference...to other broadcast stations.
 
• Confirm the obligation of all-digital AM licensees, like any audio broadcast provider, to participate in the national Emergency Alert System.
 
• Establish 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.

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The FCC notes that at least 2,800 AM stations in the U.S. now have FM repeaters, so that an AM that disappears into the digital realm would not be as missed locally.
 
And because digital signals are either there or they’re not, in some cases, stations would be allowed to reduce their power at night, arguing the signal can be better received thanks to the nature of the technology. 
 
My question: what happens to full power 50K outlets like WABC, WLS, WLW or KFI? Wasn’t the whole point of those blowtorches to reach areas where other signals couldn’t?
 
I’m not sure if I like the idea, but the FCC insists to my surprise that there ARE enough receivers that could get an AM digital signal and that’s it’s worth proceeding with the voluntary plan.  
 
One last thing and it has nothing to do with the conversion or lack or one. The FCC says its figures show there are currently 4,570 commercial AM stations and 6,706 commercial FM stations in the U.S., (for a total of 11,276 overall), and another 8,303 FM translators replicating existing signals. An additional 4,197 are listed as noncommercial FMs.
 
I wonder if, after our disaster with DAB a few decades ago, any Canadian broadcasters will ever be interested in exploring this again. But then Canada always lags behind the U.S. in broadcasting changes, from colour TV, Top 40 on FM, allowing for cable stations, and the conversion from analog TV to HD. So if this does catch on, we’ll probably get to it about 10 years later than everyone else. When it comes to change in this industry, it too often seems to be the Canadian way.

 

October 7, 2020 11:00 am  #2


Re: FCC In U.S. Ready To Go Whole Hog On AM Digital

It will not work. It will just disenchant current listeners. Propagation will also not aid a digital station.I read a story about a AM station down there that flipped to all digital. Listeners thought it went off air and moved to listen to their FM repeater. They have since returned the AM station to pure analog

 

October 7, 2020 11:08 am  #3


Re: FCC In U.S. Ready To Go Whole Hog On AM Digital

andysradio wrote:

It will not work. It will just disenchant current listeners. Propagation will also not aid a digital station.I read a story about a AM station down there that flipped to all digital. Listeners thought it went off air and moved to listen to their FM repeater. They have since returned the AM station to pure analog

100%

Waste of time and effort. There's no demand for this.


 
 

October 7, 2020 11:18 am  #4


Re: FCC In U.S. Ready To Go Whole Hog On AM Digital

If they wanted to do something productive, turn off all the AM's that also have similar coverage on FM, thereby creating less interference to other AMs. Heck, many stations down there don't even acknowledge they have an AM frequency!

 

October 7, 2020 11:43 am  #5


Re: FCC In U.S. Ready To Go Whole Hog On AM Digital

I don't completely disagree with any of you. This isn't a case of "if you build it, they will come." There's no demand for this from anyone I know of, and despite what the FCC says, I can't see that there's enough of the needed receivers out there to make this viable. Would the average person go out to buy one just for this? Doubtful, since they don't even buy current radios that much anymore. 

The current chair of the FCC, whose term expires soon, has had a laser focus on revitalizing AM since he started but once he leaves, there's no way to know if this stays on the front burner. 

That said, I'm one of those increasingly shrinking part of the audience who actually prefers AM. It has the formats I like, I have no problem with the overall sound, and I definitely like the propagation properties that sees it going a much longer distance than its counterpart on the other band. (And it's great for DXing, despite all the noise.)

Outside of Ashby's Oldies Show and the very occasional show on CBC Radio 1 (which is really an AM that went over to FM but doesn't even use its stereo ability), I can't think of a time I ever switch over. 

I, for one, would miss AM if it disappeared, interference notwithstanding. I think they should just let the marketplace sort itself out. The CFRBs of the world will still be around but the TSN1050s may not be. That's called survival of the fittest, where the audience decides.

And you don't have to change any of your radios to hear it.

     Thread Starter
 

October 7, 2020 11:52 am  #6


Re: FCC In U.S. Ready To Go Whole Hog On AM Digital

RadioAaron wrote:

andysradio wrote:

It will not work. It will just disenchant current listeners. Propagation will also not aid a digital station.I read a story about a AM station down there that flipped to all digital. Listeners thought it went off air and moved to listen to their FM repeater. They have since returned the AM station to pure analog

100%

Waste of time and effort. There's no demand for this.

Agreed.  The issue is not about "AM" or "FM" or "digital", or "morse code", or otherwise... the issue is the band itself.  Skywave at night, large antennas and transmitter sites, and no "new" programming to encourage listeners to invest in new digital AM receivers.  DOA

 

October 7, 2020 12:05 pm  #7


Re: FCC In U.S. Ready To Go Whole Hog On AM Digital

The fact that it's completely voluntary likely means even those stations peripherally interested will look at the cost and the benefits, and decide not to do it. Which is probably why this thing will never get off the ground. 

     Thread Starter
 

October 7, 2020 12:35 pm  #8


Re: FCC In U.S. Ready To Go Whole Hog On AM Digital

RadioActive wrote:

The fact that it's completely voluntary likely means even those stations peripherally interested will look at the cost and the benefits, and decide not to do it. Which is probably why this thing will never get off the ground. 

Kind of like when AM Stereo was approved by the FCC in the 1980s. The commission gave owners the green light to go ahead with it, but there were four different systems in play, none of which were compatible with one another. Instead of deciding on one universal system, the FCC's mentality was to let the market decide. Canada followed suit. And we all know how that worked out. 

Given the failure of DAB and the slow progression of HD radio in Canada (partly because of the refusal of most Canadian broadcasters to offer anything truly interesting on the HD band), it seems unlikely that AM digital will catch on in a big way if it even makes its way here. Listener apathy, as mentioned before, would probably amount to it being a dead duck. I suspect that most Canadian listeners, if they've even heard of HD radio, probably think it stands for "High-definition radio". https://cdn.boardhost.com/emoticons3/unsure.png
 



PJ
 


Toronto's ORIGINAL classic hits station! http://www.classichitsonline.com
 

October 7, 2020 12:52 pm  #9


Re: FCC In U.S. Ready To Go Whole Hog On AM Digital

I don't know if the term originated in DX circles or if we DXers adopted it from broadcast engineering circles, but local channels in the US (250 watts night, 1000 day almost uniformly) -- 1230, 1240, 1340, 1400, 1450, 1490 -- are referred to as "graveyard" channels. Again, dunno if the term is a DXer one, but that's clearly the future of AM radio (to some extent even the present) even under IBOC unless there's a major culling of the herd. 

Last edited by Saul (October 7, 2020 12:52 pm)

 

October 7, 2020 12:57 pm  #10


Re: FCC In U.S. Ready To Go Whole Hog On AM Digital

There are three designations - "Local," for the terrible frequencies you cited, "Regional" for stations that were on other frequencies, that averaged around 5,000 watts day and night, and "Clear" for the powerhouse 50K stations we all know and mostly love. 

Here's the list from the FCC (which is why only the U.S. is shown.)

Clear, Regional and Local station designations 

One thing I learned from the list that I never knew before - the local frequencies you noted are all listed as Regional in more remote places like Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

     Thread Starter
 

October 7, 2020 1:46 pm  #11


Re: FCC In U.S. Ready To Go Whole Hog On AM Digital

I was thinking the term 'graveyard' will apply to how the entire band stands to sound... given too many stations on air, given noise from everything from streetcars to computers to lighting. I'd be curious to know what digital AM signals sound like - are they prone to the kinds of birdies that drove CBC from 740 to 99.1 and then sent AM 740 to add the 96.7 downtown relay? Would love to hear from digital radio owners...especially from ones with digital radios in their cars...
 

 

October 7, 2020 2:31 pm  #12


Re: FCC In U.S. Ready To Go Whole Hog On AM Digital

I always thought graveyarder was a DX term because it was next to impossible to identify any stations on those six local frequencies at night.                                                                                                                                                 When I first started dxing in the mid 1960's, I decided to write to the FCC to inquire if they had any publications listing all the U.S. radio stations. This would make my hobby much easier. As a 12 year old, how was I to know there were thousands of stations to list. At that time I was unaware of the local/regional/clear distinction. To my surprise, I received a reply. A nice gentleman explained the FCC didn't have publications that would assist me in my endeavours because there were constant changes to call letters, formats and signal strength that any publication would be immediately outdated. He did suggest I purchase a copy of Communication World which contained the White's Radio Log. It did assist me tremendously in those early dx days.

 

October 7, 2020 2:43 pm  #13


Re: FCC In U.S. Ready To Go Whole Hog On AM Digital

andysradio wrote:

If they wanted to do something productive, turn off all the AM's that also have similar coverage on FM, thereby creating less interference to other AMs. Heck, many stations down there don't even acknowledge they have an AM frequency!

Yes absolutely I heard a AM classic Hits station from Syracuse, The Elephant,  a while ago and they only mentioned two FM frequencies even on the AM station I was listening to.

Less and less stations are using AM HD and many have dropped HD, powerhouses like WCBS are no longer HD. There are also the concerns about major sideband interference and so I don't know what the FCC was thinking. Heck they'd be better off promoting a AM stereo resurgence.


Cool Airchecks and More:
http://www.lettheuniverseanswer.com/
 

October 7, 2020 5:51 pm  #14


Re: FCC In U.S. Ready To Go Whole Hog On AM Digital

Side band issues are not an issue if all stations broadcast in full digital because you can fit the full digital signal within your frequency 20hz. The spill happens when you use hybrid format mostly or when in 30hz mode which is not required.   You will never hear the "static" people complain about if they are in full digital vs hybrid.   It will kill off distant stations as digital will not likely come in, but to be honest, most listeners won't care as most won't listen to the static in analog. Radio people are the few that will. 

All digital means it works, or it doesn't... there is no dropping back to analog... just like digital tv. 

I mentioned this on another thread.     The industry needs to work with auto manufacturers, retail and radio manufacturers and ensure HD compatible radios are the only type of radio available.  That should have happened 5 years ago.   It needs to be done TODAY if they have any hope of making this work.

The FCC is giving a light push, but they also need to look at the big picture here and ensure the RADIOS are on the market before making this type of change, just like TV.   When digital tv was the next thing, you could not find a analog only one on the market unless it was old stock.   This needs to be the case with everything from cars to clock radios for this to work.

WCBS did not drop HD because of lack of listeners... it was due to signal quality and interference, especially at night.   In a all digital format these are all less of a problem due to being able to keep the signal within the 20hz band.

By moving to a 100% digital, you could financially pull off a music station due to it being FM quality, and actually get someone under 40 to perhaps care about AM.   AM is in fact having a slow death due to many reasons, but sound quality in the download generation is near the top of the list.  

The starting point is making HD the only type of radio available to buy... then the market can accept the move to all digital,  it has to be a plan and the switch needs to be all at once. A night light service should be offered after the switch to remind people that all digital has started. Again.. just like TV did in most markets outside Canada.   

Without a plan to transition, I think you are looking at a limited shelf life for the band and you will see one by one simply go off the air.   Staying the way it is, it only ending AM completely. 

Last edited by radiokid (October 7, 2020 5:52 pm)

 

October 7, 2020 6:38 pm  #15


Re: FCC In U.S. Ready To Go Whole Hog On AM Digital

radiokid wrote:

The starting point is making HD the only type of radio available to buy... then the market can accept the move to all digital,  it has to be a plan and the switch needs to be all at once. A night light service should be offered after the switch to remind people that all digital has started. Again.. just like TV did in most markets outside Canada.   
 

It is waaaaay too late for that. Not a lot of people are buying "radios;" they're buying other things that happen to also have radios. The biggest, of course, being cars. It would take 20 years to get most of the non-hd car radios replaced.

I was looking for a good desktop radio with HD, and when I eventually found one that fit my needs, it ended up being shipped from Europe. Oh, and it doesn't even have AM, analog or digital. Which is fine, since the AM stations I care to listen to are all on FM sub-channels anyway. There are more FM subchannels available already that broadcasters don't know what to do with, making AM HD even more pointless.