As one of her final acts as Acting Chairwoman of the FCC, Mignon Clyburn and Commissioner Ajit Pai released a notice of proposed rulemaking directed towards attempting to revitalize the AM band.
The proposal is broken down into six sections. We’ll look at each separately.
FM Translator Filing Window For AM’s
The first proposal is to open an additional filing window for licensed AM stations. The move is will enable the FCC to close the need for waivers for AM’s to relocate existing translators over multiple steps. Any new translators would continue to follow the existing policies for translators rebroadcasting an AM. No part of the 60 dBµ contour of the FM translator will extend beyond the smaller of a 25-mile radius from the AM station’s transmitter site, or the AM station’s daytime 2 mV/m contour.
Modify Daytime Coverage Standards For Existing AM Stations
The FCC seeks to have stations only need to cover either 50 percent of the population or 50 percent of the area of the community of license with a daytime 5 mV/m principal community signal. The current rule is 100 percent although the agency grants waivers to many stations to only cover 80%.
Modify Nighttime Coverage Standards For Existing AM Stations
Along the lines of the daytime proposal, the agency is suggesting changes to the coverage requirements for signals at night. In this case, the FCC doesn’t have an actual idea in place and is seeking comments to decide whether to eliminate coverage requirements, drop it from 80% to 50% like daytimers, or something else. The agency believes this will give AM stations greater flexibility to locate transmitters at more cost-effective locations while continuing to serve communities of license.
Eliminate The AM Rachet Rule
The “Rachet Rule” as it currently exists requires any facility change to ” demonstrate that the improvements will result in an overall reduction in the amount of skywave interference that it causes to certain other AM stations.” The proposal recommends eliminating it to also give more flexibility to stations.
Permit Wider Implementation Of Modulation Dependent Carrier Level Control Technologies
MDCL allows AM licensees to reduce energy costs while maintaining audio quality and their licensed station coverage areas. The proposal notes that the new technology has yet to be fully tested in terms of impact with HD operation. They also seek to continue testing on a larger scale without requiring all to be approved by the agency.
Modify Antenna Efficiency Standards
The proposal looks to enable shorter antennas for AM stations and reduce the minimum field strength values by 25 percent.
These proposals combined all intend to make AM broadcasting more financially viable to operators by giving them the ability to run cheaper. As we’ve discussed previously, we’re not sold on the ability of an FM translator to be a magic elixir for AM’s problems.
Is the proposal in general a positive? Absolutely. Any attempt to enhance the status-quo and give the AM band a fighting chance. But this proposal does not go far enough. It does nothing to address the potential for a digital conversion of the band. Recent tests have proven to show potential for a conversion from analog.
The bottom line is any attempt to revitalize the AM band, or even many FM’s comes down to programming. Give the listeners something they want to seek out and they will. If the FCC and the operators can figure that out, AM won’t need to be revitalized.
There will be a 60 day comment period on the proposal beginning on the day it is published in the federal register.