The AM Revitalization Translation
Minority owners led by the National Association of Black Broadcasters are trying to get the FCC to place additional emphasis on opening an application window for AM stations to apply for FM translators as the agency has been leaning away from that. The agency had instead been considering a waiver window to allow existing translator licenses to be moved up to 250 miles. Such a window would make it easier for larger groups that have already purchased translators or own many like Educational Media Foundation or Edgewater Broadcasting to monetize their assets.
Regardless of these moves, what does adding an FM translator have to do with revitalizing AM? Focusing on a translator is admitting that the AM band is dead and nothing can be done to fix it. These broadcasters realize that only spoken-word or ethnic formats have any chance of working on AM and even that has a limited shelf life. A 1kw AM daytimer would be much happier with a 99 watt FM translator and the ability to operate 24/7. But is crowding an FM band that is already full of rimshot’s trying to serve markets from miles away, LPFMs and existing translators going to really help the issue or just speed turning FM into what AM has become?
The all digital test of WBT Charlotte in 2013 was fairly successful but to get new digital receivers in place will be a long-term proposition.
How did we get here? Had a digital roll-out been handled much differently in the last two decades there would have been plenty of room for all broadcasters to survive and thrive. Instead political power plays led to a hybrid digital radio standard that requires a license fee from the developer for all broadcasters AND to place their chipset in a receiver. And even with the current HD Radio system, why weren’t AM stations or new licensees given access to the subchannels to help foster new programming ideas and accelerate the demand for receivers?
What is the best solution for all? The AM band is clearly on life support and in need of help. I don’t know if there is one best solution to fix all the problems that have built up over the past century, but any proposal for actually revitalizing AM should focus on AM and not destroying FM in the process.