Monday, September 09, 2013

One FCC commissioner crusades to save AM radio

Ajit Pai is on a one-man quest to save AM radio, a staple of many rural communities. The lone Republican on the Federal Communications Commission "is urging the FCC to undertake an overhaul of AM radio, which he calls 'the audible core of our national culture,'" Edward Wyatt reports for The New York Times. Pai "sees AM — largely the realm of local news, sports, conservative talk and religious broadcasters — as vital in emergencies and in rural areas."

AM radio once ruled the dial, but lost much of its audience to clearer FM, and has been overshadowed in recent year with the advent of satellite radio, and hurt by "rising interference from smartphones and consumer electronics that reduce many AM stations to little more than static," Wyatt writes. "In 1970 AM accounted for 63 percent of broadcast radio stations, but now it accounts for 21 percent, or 4,900 outlets, according to Arbitron. FM accounts for 44 percent, or 10,200 stations. About 35 percent of stations stream content online."

Pai told Wyatt, “AM radio is localism, it is community. AM radio is always going to be there. When the power goes out, when you can’t get a good cell signal, when the Internet goes down, people turn to battery-powered AM radios to get the information they need. I’m obviously bullish on next-generation technology. But I certainly think there continues to be a place for broadcasting and for AM radio.”

Pai said he "wants to eliminate outdated regulations, for example, like one that requires AM stations to prove that any new equipment decreases interference with other stations, a requirement that is expensive, cumbersome and difficult to meet," Wyatt writes. "In the longer term, Mr. Pai said, the F.C.C. could mandate that all AM stations convert to digital transmission to reduce interference. Such a conversion, however, would cost consumers, who would have to replace the hundreds of millions of AM radios that do not capture digital transmissions. Finally, Mr. Pai wants the FCC to consider what are called FM translators, which send duplicate AM broadcasts over FM airwaves and help to reduce interference." (Read more)

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