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FCC Considering AM All-Digital Transition?

While I usually leave AM/FM news to Radio World, the opening remarks of Commissioner Ajit Pai at the NAB Show's AM Band Revitalization Panel caught my attention.

One reason is that Commissioner Pai offered, as an option, transitioning the AM broadcast band to digital.”

Pai asked, “If we move to digital AM, how should that transition be structured? How long will it take? Will the FCC need to impose an analog sunset date, just as Congress did for the DTV transition? What impact would a digital transition have on smaller AM broadcasters?”

The same questions come up when TV broadcasters discuss the transition from single-carrier VSB ATSC A/53 transmission to what will almost certainly be an incompatible multicarrier COFDM transmission method under ATSC 3.0.

Considering the huge installed base of AM receivers in car radios and portable and tabletop radios, such a transition could be more difficult than changing the off-air television standard.

Whatever solution AM broadcasters and the FCC come up with, I hope it will continue to support long distance sky wave reception. I've listened to the KNX and KCBS AM signals up and down the west coast and even in Hawaii (after dark). I'm sure others have similar stories listening to distant AM stations in other locations. While much of the programming on AM radio is now syndicated content--after dark I've heard the same sports talk program all over the band, there are AM stations that provide a unique and valuable service, sometimes to a small community, sometimes to half the country.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.