Digital AM: FCC takes a closer look

Many thanks to an SWLing Post reader who writes:

Thought you and the SWLing bunch would be interested to learn about this. The promoters make it sound so go, but fail to mention all the problems and pitfalls. Hopefully, it will go nowhere, which is the best course possible!

(Source: Inside Radio)

The prospect of a digital-only AM station may still be far on the horizon, but if it one day becomes reality the first step to securing regulatory approval has just occurred. The Federal Communications Commission has put up a proposal submitted by Texas broadcaster Bryan Broadcasting last month for public comment. It’s not a formal rulemaking, but the process could lay the groundwork for a FCC decision allowing digital-only AMs in the future.

In a petition filed last month, Bryan Broadcasting VP and general Ben Downs said giving stations the option of dropping their analog signal would provide struggling AM owns an “innovative tool” with which to compete. Broadcasters will have until May 13 to chime in on what’s been docketed as RM-11836.

Downs says he’s pleasantly surprised to see the FCC moving so quickly on his petition. The proposal drew some attention among engineers at last week’s NAB Show, although agency staffers were less committal. That made it all the more encouraging when Downs returned from the Las Vegas convention to learn the Media Bureau opened it up to comments.

“It was clear from the discussion panels that unless there’s interest shown in this 30-day comment period, we will not have this approved as a licensed option,” Downs said. “I don’t think anyone questions the all-digital MA-3 option from a technical feasibility position anymore, separate from the hybrid mode that is authorized. So I would hope the Commission would recognize that this is the next logical step in the AM Revitalization effort.”[…]

Click here to read the full article at Inside Radio.

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8 thoughts on “Digital AM: FCC takes a closer look

  1. Phillip Dampier

    Having been around in the hobby since the early 80s, the promises of SSB, digital shortwave, AM stereo, FM IBOC have all proven underwhelming, not necessarily from a technical standpoint as much as from a listener’s willingness to invest in new reception gear.

    So it shall be with digital AM. The FCCs idea of AM revitalization has been to grant scores of translator applications to allow AM stations to duplicate their service on FM, where the listeners are. IBOC digital FM has been around for what, a decade? It remains little more than a curiosity. AM stereo was a thing in the 80s but faded into oblivion. Digital shortwave has been undercut by the mass closure of international broadcasters that would be the target users of this tech, in favor of nothing or streaming online.

    Few are going to pay $100+ premiums for digitally equipped radios. Not even for FM. On AM, this would be a financial failure almost immediately.

    The future, assuming a conflict-light world, will be mobile streaming. You can use apps like Tune In to call up thousands of stations, which can cheaply stream online and not have to retrofit transmitters or duplicate equipment costs.

    Linear live broadcasting remains challenged because of its corporatized, lowest common denominator programming, with staffing costs slashed to the bone. So stations have to ask why listeners should invest in equipment just to hear Spotify-like jukeboxes.

  2. TomL

    Can one do DXing with all digital ? IBOC spews digital hash at least 40khz wide and ruins any listening to adjacent channels. And that is only at 10% of power. Full power digital will have digital hash over hundreds of miles (or more) at night and ruin listening to anything outside one’s local market. Digital on AM is a horrible idea. They should concentrate on FM where night time travel is much less of a problem.

    IF they could redo which system they could use, it should be possible to use a narrow 5khz digital signal and reallocate a part of the band to all-digital. But they will never do something so sensible. So, kiss DXing goodbye….

  3. Julio Cesar Pereira

    I read somewhere there’s a system called IBOC that allows analog and digital AM simultanously. I’m not against digitalization of AM, as long as it really works. In Europe, DAB and DAB+ coverage is proving to be not as effective and populations who live in mountaneous regions are complaining. However, if it all goes digital, I’ll surely miss to be able to listen to a station from Egypt in southern Brasil. India is investing in DRM and even cars are coming out of the factory with radios compatible with this system.

    1. RonF

      > I read somewhere there’s a system called IBOC that allows analog and digital AM simultanously.

      That’s the big problem with digital radio in the USA – they chose HDRadio as an “In-Band, On-Channel” (IBOC) system to provide digital radio (since the market & FCC made it difficult to find/allocate new channels in a crowded band), with the end result that the quality of analogue signals was reduced, and digital signals suffer from bandwidth-starved low bitrates & reduced power.

      HDRadio _does_ offer an “all-digital” mode (and, contrary to some claims, always did) – but thanks to having no real changeover plans beyond “if you half-a**e it, they will come” 😉 the reduced quality of both AM & digital in IBOC systems has turned the US off “Digital Radio” in general.

      If one was so inclined, the relative market failures of DAB/+, HDRadio, and DRM/+ – for multiple different but lso strangely similar reasons in their wildly different markets – would be an interesting case study on ‘how not to do it’…

  4. Tim

    Few know that back in the late 80s a man in Florida obtained FCC permission and tested narrow band FM modulation on an existing AM station. Both AM and FM modes were used simultaneously. It worked very well. Unfortunately at that point everyone was just sure that digital was going to save the AM band twenty years ago.


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