What About AM?

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What About AM?

Oct 1, 2014 6:00 AM, Shane Toven, Editor

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Last month I visited the annual fall Radio Show. It was an eye-opening event on many fronts. I came away from the show with a number of impressions, the first of which is that while the industry remains vibrant; it is in an ongoing period of change.

So where does the industry currently stand and what do we as broadcasters need to do in order to thrive? It depends on who you talk to and what hot button industry topic you bring up. One topic in the forefront of the minds of many broadcasters right now is the future of the AM band.

Radio Disney recently announced plans to sell the majority of their broadcast properties, all but one of which are AM stations. While the stations will not be going dark during this process, this announcement brought up additional questions about what will ultimately become of the AM broadcast service as it faces increasing threats from noise and interference, poorly designed (or non-existent) AM receivers, and encroachment on tower sites by development.

Some solutions proposed to address the issue include allocating more FM translators for AM, moving to an all-digital AM band, or at least allowing some broadcasters to drop analog for all-digital operation, and a long-standing proposal to eliminate the so-called �ratchet rule�.

Others believe that the solution is to address the noise and interference issue, and to enhance the audio quality of analog AM along with receiver design. Yet another proposal would involve shifting stations to a different chunk of spectrum, again, possibly in digital. A few naysayers would even go so far as to suggest that stations should just be allowed to go dark.

No single issue in broadcasting brings out as many passionate discussions as this topic. AM broadcast has been a valuable source of information and entertainment to many communities over the years, and is where broadcasting has its very deep roots.

I personally believe that as others and I have said many times before, content is the key. We can discuss the delivery method all day long, but at the end of the day the message matters at least as much if not more than the medium. I know of many AM stations that are still providing the same local service to their communities that they have been since they went on the air. It can be a lifeline, particularly in very rural areas.

If the service a station provides through AM broadcast is still working for its audience, I see absolutely no reason to suggest immediate change just for the sake of change, but at the same time the threats are very real. A long-term solution is in the best interests of both the industry and listeners. Exactly what that long-term solution will look like remains to be seen.

Do you have stories of AM broadcasters serving the community or thoughts on the future of the AM band? E-Mail your comments to radio@radiomagonline.com.

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