The Broadcasters' Desktop Resource

AM Dying?

I started in radio at 13 on a Provisional license, 3rd Class at 14 and our Chief drove me 200 miles to Kansas City for my First and Radar Endorsement at 15. We were a little Ozarks 1kw daytimer but I remember feeling like I owned the airwaves. At 16 we added an FM, automated during the day, but live free-form at night. I went off to college, worked part time at some major stations in the East and Southeast then settled into a career as an Engineer for a semiconductor company.

I retired early and had an opportunity to grab up an LPFM license … and felt like I’d never been out of the driver’s seat. In the city where is live, AM is a wasteland of interference, sodium and MV lights, unregulated electronics and substations so leaky they can stall your car when driving by. I had a chance to be in the small town where I started out. Kids still gathered at the local hamburger joint and cruised the square…and I was stunned to hear them listening to the local AM station (which had obtained night time authority of 61 Watts) playing oldies rock (real oldies from the 60’s and 70’s) and the kid were loving it. The signal was clean (in my 66 Mustang) and the jock was obviously a high school kid that was having the time of his life.

AM is still there, but it’s rural, where it matters that folks get to hear the local football games, local voices on the air, and ads for burgers and shakes at the local hang out. I could go into a technical dissertation about what will save AM, technically, but I’m thinking that what IS saving AM is little local stations, with real voices, having fun…with the same magic that drew me to radio as a kid.

Yes, the FCC needs to crack down on interference, No, we do not need a proprietary HD scheme to go digital AM and break more little radio piggy banks. I had the great fortune to be in India and experience Digital Radio Mondale (DRM) and was simply stunned at the quality of broadcast and even more impressed that the station I was listening to was a traditional AM station retrofitted (inexpensively I might add).

Perhaps “old” AM is dying, but AM as a broadcast medium is still alive, thriving in small towns and has the capacity to be revived with a little forward thinking, some minor investment, and understanding the need this country has for AM broadcasters in the middle of the country where FM just doesn’t have the range or penetration that we need. The FCC requires that broadcasters operate “as a trustee of the public interest”…why not let us do so?

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Gary Northrup