by Don Keith
My recent post about the FCC's futile and short-sighted ideas for saving the already comatose AM broadcast band generated many interesting posts, both on my blog (http://n4kc.blogspot.com) and on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/donkeith). Comments seemed to fall into three basic camps:
1) "But I love AM radio! I like to drive for miles and miles and listen to some station from Cincinnati." Response: Fine. Some of my best friends are AM DXers and enjoy capturing skywave signals. However, neither you nor they mean squat to that station in Cincinnati when the station's staff tries to sell commercials on their air. There is little to no interest in saving the band for DXers. Nor is that a valid reason to keep the band as it is today. Sorry.
2) "You are right, Don. But if they could just clean up the signals and maybe give them more power, it would fix everything." No. No, I don't think so. First, today's station owners are not interested in investing anything at all into their plants. Secondly, we now have--thanks to those owners--a generation of people who not only don't know or care what AM radio is but likely couldn't figure out how to get it on their car radios if they did. Lack of something worth listening to! That is one of the big problems. And the FCC is not going to solve that one. Nor should they. That is the responsibility of those who hold licenses.
3) Those who actually offer some possible solutions. Best among those came via my friend Dave Barnes WB4KDI who forwarded me a link to a filing in the FCC's inquiry on the subject. If you are interested, you can read it at http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7521066938. The trouble with most of these suggestions is, as expressed in 2) above, most broadcasters will be unwilling to spend much money chasing a dramatically fragmented listenership. Plus anything that depends on those listeners to buy new hardware, install antennas, or do too much futzing around to try to hear those new-technology "AM" stations won't work either.
Won't work unless there is something in the way of programming content on those new-technology "AM" stations worth seeking out. Not when you can drop your smart phone into the slot or easily hook up Bluetooth and have a vast array of free audio anywhere on the planet you want it.
I don't want to be too pessimistic here. I love radio, including AM broadcast. I wish there was a practical solution. I still think it has the potential to be not only the most compelling medium there is but also the one that can do the most for advertisers. But not if the only programming choices are pablum. Or wall warts and other noisy switching power supplies pollute the spectrum so badly listeners can only hear a buzz.
Though sometimes I think that buzz is more entertaining and informative than what most AM stations (and FM, too) have on their air these days.