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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Two Years Later Pai Still Pushing


The conversation to start revitalizing the AM band began about two years ago. How many AM broadcasters would say much, if anything, has been accomplished in those two years? Wednesday in Columbus, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, one of AM radio's biggest proponents, was at it again. Pai spoke of the "big challenges" AM radio faces, and how in 2012 he proposed the AM Radio Revitalization Initiative.

Pai also said, "The percentage of listening done on the AM dial has sharply declined, especially among the young" (see Radio Disney story above). And, once again Pai said, "While there are many issues at the FCC that are controversial, AM radio isn?t one of them." He said when he made his proposal almost two years ago, he never imagined the response the FCC would get. "AM revitalization even made it to the front page of The New York Times?and ?net neutrality? got bumped to that day?s business section." Sounds like enough momentum from all sides to get something done doesn't it?

At the Radio Show in Orlando, one year ago, one of the changes AM broadcasters said would help them right away was a window to grab an FM translator in their market. Unfortunately, Pai didn't offer any high-speed solution on that topic Wednesday in Columbus. So where do things stand now according to Pai? "In my humble opinion, the time for action is near. By Halloween, my goal is for the FCC to adopt AM revitalization reforms that do two things. First, we should adopt the proposals the FCC outlined last year, with appropriate tweaks. For example, we should move forward with an FM translator window designed for AM broadcasters. I?ve heard from a lot of AM broadcasters who are desperate for FM translators. If we act soon, that window could open next year and give many stations much-needed relief. We also need to eliminate the so-called ratchet rule. This regulation may have been well-intentioned, as it was designed to reduce interference on the AM band. But in reality, all it has done is stand in the way of AM stations that want to improve their service."

Pai also brought up digital, which has also had a lot of discussion and debate. "Have we reached the point where AM stations should be allowed to go all-digital on a voluntary basis? I?ve been encouraged by the results of all-digital testing, and I?ve heard that digital signals could improve the listening experience on the AM dial. I know that we?re a long way from the point where all-digital AM stations will be the norm. Among other things, the cost of transitioning to digital would probably be too much for many AM stations to afford right now. But should we let stations have the option of going all-digital? Are there any downsides that need to be considered? Would the examples set by all-digital AM pioneers help the Commission decide whether and when to make a digital transition?"

The big question from broadcasters is, will any of these tweaks the FCC proposes make a difference to younger listeners, or any listeners, when every other platform they listen to is crystal clear and becoming more mobile?

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