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FCC Set to Consider All-Digital AM Proceeding

- Voluntary Option for AM

Responding to a push from Texas’ own Ben Downs of Bryan Broadcasting, the FCC is slated this Friday to consider the adoption of a proposed rulemaking effort to allow AM stations to voluntarily convert to an all-digital operation. If they run with it, comments and reply comments will be due 60 days and 90 days, respectively, after the notice is published in the Federal Register.

Among the questions the FCC would likely ask cover everything from technical and operational considerations to programming aspects. But attorney David Oxenford, who did the legal work on Downs’ petition, notes that the draft NPRM suggests the commission “recognizes some of the potential benefits of the all-digital operation and identifies some of the likely early adaptors of any such technology” – beginning with AM stations that have an FM translator.

Such operations could continue to provide programming even to listeners without an AM Digital radio. And Downs himself notes that those who do have digital radios would continue to be served.

“We need to remember that this All-Digital mode is fully compatible with every HD radio that’s been sold since day 1,” he said. “It was baked into the HD Radio standard from the start.”

Downs characterizes all-digital as a means of letting AM stations compete in the music arena with any mainstream format.

“Imagine competing against a CHR FM with an analog, mono, AM signal. It wouldn’t be competitive, but with the MA3mode, it would have audio parity,” he said.

Downs expresses concerns that some questions included in the draft NPRM reflect the industry “may let perfect become the enemy of good” and that while “there are things that could be done better in MA3, it’s software and can be adjusted with the passage of time.”

Referencing a broadcast engineer for a major Radio group, Downs frames it as an option to consider.

“Do you take a chance with the 30 percent penetration of HD radios that exist in cars on the road today? Or the less than 10 percent of listeners who will listen to music on AM?

“Every day there are more and more AM HD receivers sold. Can we say the same about new AM listeners? I doubt it.”

Rather, Downs proposes that using the all-digital mode is a solution that just might be able to bring new listeners back to AM.

More on All-Digital AM Proceeding:

Questions? Contact TAB’s Oscar Rodriguez or call (512) 322-9944.

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