AM radio revitalization study

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WB4CS

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Thanks for sharing!

I could see AM radio making a comeback if some of these changes were implemented. I would support going to an all-digital AM band. Also forcing utility companies to reduce RFI on the AM bands might help ham radio operators by reducing RFI in the HF bands as well.

It would be nice if we could keep mega-broadcasters out of the AM bands (Clear Channel) and allow for more independent and diverse stations on the AM band. I'm not sure how it is in other parts of the US, but around here, the majority of the AM stations that are not religious or talk, are nothing more than translators of local FM stations. Perhaps the FCC should consider a ban or restrictions on a station rebroadcasting their FM signal on AM.
 

mmckenna

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One issue is price. Building or running an AM broadcast station is a lot more expensive than FM broadcast. This is one of the reasons why the big companies are the only ones that can run serious AM stations.

An FM broadcast station can put a relatively low power FM transmitter, some coax and an antenna up on a hill/mountain/building and do pretty well.
An AM broadcast station needs a tall antenna (or antennas depending on the pattern), lots of space around it for ground plane, matching network, and a transmitter that uses a lot of power.
Changing the physics of the antenna system is currently impossible, likely will be as long as we are around.

We've got a 22KW FM broadcast station here at work. It takes up one rack in the hut and needs about 60 amps at 220. 1 5/8" heliax and a multi bay antenna on a tower that is shared with a cell carrier. Coverage is pretty good, probably covering close to a million people (not that they all listen). The local AM broadcast station has a 3 phase power feed, and 3 very large towers out in a marsh area. It's been there for decades and is within a stones throw of a residential neighborhood. Trying to build that today, getting the land, not pissing off the neighbors, getting environmental impact studies, etc. would be a big undertaking. Coverage of the AM station is about the same as the FM station. The FM station is probably fractionally cheaper to operate.
 

Thayne

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Somewhere I read about how badly it has affected AM coverage when say a 50KW AM station decided to do digital simulcast.

( Like KOA in Denver doesn't cover like it did in the old days) In the middle of the night you could hear it over much of the western US
 

RobKB1FJR

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Before the early 2000s and the Internet really took off (everyone has the internet now) we had 2 local am radio stations. One was on the air from 5 am to 10 pm (unless sports) with human beings doing music, local news and morning shows and local high school and major league team sports coverage.

By 2011 the only thing left was a morning show and the rest of the radio station was basically one big paid advertisement for business/investing talk. This stations was WESO AM 970. They ran about 5,000 watts.

Then in 2014 they sold out to the Catholic church which will now just simulcast from a feed. The other AM radio station is fairly low power and plays country music. I think the internet and the nature of AM radio and the noise is what is killing am radio.

Local stations that were as common as a local daily newspaper once was are gone. The ones left are one big feed from somewhere else ESPN or some religous or ethnic group.
 
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n5ims

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Other serious issues with AM broadcast stations is tower locations.

Most transmitter sites are currently located used to be cheap land that has not increased greatly in value (so taxes are quite and neighbors complain about the towers and beacon lights shining at night).

To move (or even replace an old worn-out tower), the station often meets with serious objections from neighbors in the new (or for changes to their existing) location and to comply with stricter rules that the old site was grandfathered around the station generally needs to have very restrictive directional patterns (often requiring even more towers and more complaints) and reduced power levels. This puts them at a disadvantage with their competitors due to reduced signal coverage after spending lots of money moving to the new site.

http://www.broadcastlawblog.com/201...y-for-disrupting-am-station-antenna-patterns/
 
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PrimeNumber

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The unique, valuable thing about broadcast AM is the band's nighttime skywave capability. Couple that with a robust digital mode and we could have some really great nationwide coverage. Yes, this would squeeze the little local guys, but FM works better for that anyway. LP FM has been opened up a little bit already, but we need more of it, and yes, for local commercial use.

A future cluttered with a bunch of crappy AM robo-stations burping out 5000 watts by day and 250 watts by night with no more clear channel regional nighttime broadcasting is about the worst possible use for this band.

Ham radio made an analogous transition decades ago: VHF FM for local stuff, HF skywave for longer range. In a similar way it's about time that the broadcast world comes to grips with the properties of their allocated VHF and MF bands and adjusts their regulatory efforts and business models to align with reality.
 

RobKB1FJR

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I think that could work. A digital format. I would like to see c-quam am stereo comeback. But since most am stations no longer play music it might not make sense for talk radio.
 

PrimeNumber

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The programming and marketing departments would have to adjust to the new market. Look at WSM's nighttime music lineup for an example -- they're making a really good effort at essentially defining the meaning of country music for the rest of the world, both through their 50KW clear channel transmitter and web simulcast. Though I haven't looked at their financials it seems to be stable, which means that it's paying off. On the other hand, not every kind of music sounds so good with AM's current limitations. It's OK for Hank Williams Sr. 78's, kind of cool sounding for a lot of the audience, but not every kind of music is so forgiving of the format.

Instead of a locals-only call-in show, think of the money WWL New Orleans could roll in with a nearly-nationwide nighttime Louisiana music show, in good clean digital sound. Or WJR Detroit featuring the Motown sounds, straight from the source. Or pick any region you want. Odds are that with clever tailoring of the nighttime show – and accompanying advertising – any of the rest of these old clear-channel stations could pull in a very profitable audience scattered over half the CONUS. They've got to break out of the local talk/local sports and local car dealership deathtraps. Otherwise they're going to end up like most of the commercial shortwave broadcasters: gone, or barely keeping the lights on by renting airtime to any loon who can pay $200/hour.
 
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n5ims

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Instead of a locals-only call-in show, think of the money WWL New Orleans could roll in with a nearly-nationwide nighttime Louisiana music show, in good clean digital sound.
WWL-AM used to have a very popular nighttime show in the 1970s and early 80s. "The Charlie Douglas Road Gang" was aimed at the long-haul truckers with talk and country music. While it didn't have much of a local audience, nationally it was very popular (widely believed to be in the top 5 nationally for non-network shows) and sold lots of commercials for trucker related products and services. After several years though (in 1983), the low local numbers (radio ratings are local so the high national numbers didn't factor in) and low popularity of country music locally in New Orleans caused friction and Charlie moved to Nashville and WSM.

WWOZ does have local jazz, blues, zydeco, and other local and regional music. Although their FM signal doesn't reach much past the local area, they do stream their programming over the internet (Listen to WWOZ From Anywhere! | WWOZ New Orleans 90.7 FM).
 

KB7MIB

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Wasn't the Road Gang also on KRVN, The Rural Voice of Nebraska out of Lincoln, Nebraska? 880 AM IIRC.
I only once caught WWL here in the Phoenix area.
 

PrimeNumber

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WWL-AM used to have a very popular nighttime show in the 1970s and early 80s. After several years though (in 1983), the low local numbers (radio ratings are local so the high national numbers didn't factor in) and low popularity of country music locally in New Orleans caused friction and Charlie moved to Nashville and WSM.
And therein lies the problem: faulty marketing data --> faulty marketing --> bad business decisions. Probably an unsolvable problem at this point.



WWOZ does have local jazz, blues, zydeco, and other local and regional music. Although their FM signal doesn't reach much past the local area, they do stream their programming over the internet (Listen to WWOZ From Anywhere! | WWOZ New Orleans 90.7 FM).
And they're very good (well, most of the time). They're morphing into being primarily a webcaster. At least it's easy to get market data from your streaming services. How long until they and other stations start turning off the transmitters?
 

MTS2000des

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Keyword that the conglomerates seem to not hear is CONTENT.
The best medium in the world is pointless if there is no relevant, vibrant LOCAL CONTENT.

HD Radio was supposed to revive FM and put it on the same playing field as satellite and Internet radio.

Analyze the failure of HD Radio and apply it to the move to revitalize AM. People don't go out and buy new radios if there isn't anything compelling to listen to on them.
 
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corbintechboy

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They should leave well enough alone.

When WTAM out of Cleveland, Oh tried some sort of digital stuff, it made me the listener over the years unable to listen. I had a close pesky station interfering on the lower sideband and the upper sideband was littered with some sort of digital crap.

If they play with the technology, it will be the end of DXing on MW. Just leave it alone is what I say.
 

SCPD

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I'll revive it ,give AM to the hobbyists!With no stupid rules of 500 feet transmissions.Theres many out there ready and willing to
put plenty of CONTENT.
 

MTS2000des

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I'll revive it ,give AM to the hobbyists!With no stupid rules of 500 feet transmissions.Theres many out there ready and willing to
put plenty of CONTENT.
I hear you, but running a full service broadcast facility is way more involved than part 97 stuff.

It costs a boatload to get any AM/FM facility, even LPFM, on the air. It takes money to keep it running. How many of us "hobbyists" have that kind of stream of disposable income? Even the Internet radio superstars come and go, usually due to lack of funding. And they have plenty of great, unique not heard anywhere else content. One of my favorite, professionally sounding 80's music Internet stations, KickRadio.NL, gave it up after a decade. Despite thousands of daily listeners, streaming and licensing costs put an end to them.

KICKRADIO, 80's & 90's Hits > Home

They had a HUGE playlist and a great sound, with good audio processing, segues, stingers and imaging, but still could not get people to hit the Paypal button.

Running a broadcast facility is a whole different level. I think you'd find that while many people WANT to run such an operation, when they pull out their 4-function calculator they quickly realize they CAN'T afford to!
 
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DaveNF2G

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FCC killed AM radio back when it refused to designate a standard for AM Stereo. Fixing the FCC is a good first step toward correcting a lot of problems with radio generally.
 

MTS2000des

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I think the FCC's own refusal to ensure interference from part 15 devices is what is really killing AM, not to mention the lack of quality receivers. AM Stereo alone cannot save AM.

It has two fundamental problems common to terrestrial radio:

1)-a lack of compelling LOCAL CONTENT. AM,FM, HD...doesn't matter, if nothing attracts people to WANT to tune in, they won't. It isn't 1979. We now have an abundance of media on tap thanks to mobile Internet. Corporate radio is stagnant, dull, unoriginal, and irrelevant to most people today.

2)-Interference. AM to more extent, but even the FM dial is full of interference. Even if there IS great content, if no one can hear it, they will just go back to their Internet stream which is usually clean, free of static, buzzing, crackling, etc. That is what today and tomorrow's radio listener expects. In many markets, thanks to the great translator SCAM, brought to us by Radio Assist Ministry and Edgewater Broadcasting (or as I call them, TURDWATER broadcasting) we now have translators filling every possible unused FM channel. Most of these are move-ins and very few have any content worth listening to. Nevermind that they skirt the law re-transmitting HD2/HD3/HD4 of other full service FMs in the SAME city grade contours, the corporate casters bend the rules, and the FCC doesn't care. The FM band is polluted as a result.

In band on carrier is the WORST idea, a technical abortion, and everyone knows it. HD on AM makes DX impossible, and even daytime reception of analog stations unbearable. Sadly, the wider your IF bandwidth is, and IBOC station actually sounds WORSE on a GOOD wideband audio capable AM set. the constant whine of the IBOC sidebands destroys otherwise acceptable audio.

On FM, the IBOC sidebands kill adjacent channel listening on many radios.

IBOC is a joke, it should be turned off. It was never a great idea and never should have seen the runway. But as we are in a corporate owned country, the FCC is at the whim of whoever has the biggest checkbook, technical standards are molded as the corporate paymasters see fit, tossing aside all laws of physics and RF propagation.
 

quarterwave

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I appreciate "heritage" so to speak, history, etc. But, sometimes change is not avoidable.

I think AM broadcast has served it's purpose. I know many AM stations serve just a small town or city. Often times I hear them totally automated, with little to zero community impact via local live or hourly or daily recordings.

One I know of ran a horrible, low audio quality and less than entertaining comedy feed 24/7 via satellite for like a year until the 6 or 7 people who actually used to listen to the station complained enough that they decided to change it to something else. So I read that as "No one is paying attention".

Just as most (not all, but most) broadcast TV is in UHF now rather than VHF (2-6, 7-13) and digital, maybe it's time to phase out AM. Stations could swap for FM or LPFM licenses if they wanted to, and I'm guessing the ROI on any upgrades would be much better than ROI on new AM equipment.
 
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