Bryan Broadcasting’s Ben Downs is a champion for AM Radio. For years he’s been trying, along with others, to solve the noise issues that plague the AM band. His plan to get the FCC to allow AM stations to go all-digital is gaining steam. The Commission has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and the item will come up at the Commission’s meeting on November 19. The big question with AM Radio will always be, is it too late?
Radio Ink: How long have you been working on this and why is it important to AM operators?
Ben Downs: This all-digital option is just a piece of the AM Revitalization puzzle that’s been underway for some time. I began working with the FM translator issue back in 2013. The idea of assigning an FM translator to every AM station permanently was very new then. But an even longer shot was the idea of AM converting to all-digital. On June 30, 2018 Hubbard applied for an experimental license to broadcast in all-digital on WWFD. This was after extensive all-digital system testing by NAB Labs and David Layer.
Then in March of this year, our company filed a Petition for Rulemaking that asked the FCC to allow AM stations to voluntarily convert to all-digital. All the digital testing that had been done truly had been done, and the results were considered a success. I felt like it was time to change the rules on the books and let AM operators make this choice straight up. It’s been very exciting to see how quickly the FCC has moved on considering this option for AM operators.
Radio Ink: If approved what will this actually mean to the sound of AM Radio? Wouldn’t you agree right now it’s pretty much unlistenable when you have so many other crystal-clear options?
Ben Downs: For years, every AM operator I know has despaired because of the overwhelming noise on the AM band. That noise is a part of our modern technology. It comes from our phone chargers, computers, cell phones, flat screens, lights, and power lines. Even before the noise floor kept getting higher, the audio quality of radio receivers was plummeting. This all-digital system fixes both of these problems. It is immune to the noise and hash on the AM band, and the HD radio receivers in the home and in cars have audio quality far superior to the AM radios we’re used to hearing.
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It may simply be too late for the AM band. I know the FM translators are a big deal in the US. I listen to KFBK Sacramento a fair bit, at night. I notice they no longer promote their AM frequency and only announce the FM one ahead of newscasts for instance.