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Who is Killing the AM Radio Star?

Reading Rollye James article on NAB 2019, I have to add my take on her line, “I shudder to mention the blank stares I got in response to questions about the role of AM radio in the new landscape.”

That was just the memory jog I needed to write about the gleaming, polished Audi parked in the North Hall that have everything you could want for in-car entertainment except an AM tuner in the dash. This was either a way to ferret out Industry sentiment on scrapping the AM tuner, or a harbinger of the automotive industry putting their corporate thumbs on the scale weighing the future of AM.

I think harbinger.

No Secret

The booth person told me that “a number of people” saw something was missing and make no secret that they were not happy.

I added myself to that hopefully long list. I doubt that it is going to make a tailpipe’s worth of difference to the corporate “Audifiles” to whom the booth person promised to report our displeasure. Turns out Audi, who markets the hybrid line named A3-etron, is apparently unwilling to invest in a sufficient amount of ferrite and other shielding technology to make AM reception possible. After talking to other radio colleagues, the consensus was that pure electric and hybrid autos may succeed in killing the “AM Radio Star.”

Contrast this with the focus on all digital AM that was prominently featured in at least one radiating product on the show floor. Full disclosure: I am not a fan of turning off analog AM across the band. There might be a future where we have a mix of pure digital AM’s, AM-only AM’s, and AM’s like we have today with analog carriers and digital HD radio technology, but not if dashboard radios start coming out in quantity without AM tuners. It will not matter if there is an HD demodulator in the radio, if the radio is blind to signals from 540 to 1700. kHz.

AM is Worth Saving

There is still a reason to make sure AM tuners survive in dashboards and other places; last ditch emergency communications to the public.

Victims of Hurricane Sandy might agree. When power, cell phones, and utility power went out, many in the areas ravaged by Sandy went to their vehicles to tune in AM stations that were their only source of emergency information.

Besides that, I feel I am not the only broadcast engineer who would miss hearing demodulated AM when standing next to an ATU cabinet at an AM tower base.

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Richard Rudman