The FCC plans to vote this month to allow AM stations to go all-digital on a voluntary basis. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has long been a fan of AM stations, beginning with listening to them as a boy growing up in Parsons, KS. When his parents left India to come to America, a radio was one of the few possessions they brought with them, he has said.
The effort is aimed at helping AM owners “keep pace” with market changes. In his blog post about the upcoming October meeting, the Chairman acknowledges the analog AM band “is increasingly subject to interference from electronic devices.” Because of “a number of technical constraints of the AM band and limitations of the HD Radio hybrid mode, fewer than 250 AM stations have implemented hybrid operations,” he notes.
All-digital transmission has the potential to offer listeners a higher quality audio experience over a greater area, according to proponents. Pai cites the experience of WWFD-AM in Frederick, Maryland, which transitioned from analog to all-digital using Special Temporary Authority from the Commission.
Pai says the station went from no ratings in the market to being a Nielsen-ranked station. “This hints at digital AM’s potential to bring AM stations back from the brink of extinction to become competitive players in the market,” he says.
The action comes as AM stations continue their years-long decline. The FCC’s most recent station count shows a total of 4,560 licensed AMs as of September 30, which is 41 less than the same period a year ago.