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Is AM revitalization a cover to force an all-digital transition?

Will the industry try to force an HD radio upgrade on the AM band?

Will the industry try to force an HD radio upgrade on the AM band?

We received a couple of comments on my post about the revitalization of AM radio pointing to pieces that make convincing arguments that it was not a mere suggestion made at NAB last week to go all-digital with HD Radio on AM. Rather, there are forces at work to put this into policy, contrary to apparent consumer demand.

John Anderson says that “the stakes are much higher” than what I characterized in my post. “Getting AM to go all-digital is an audacious way to set precedent for an all-digital transition on both bands, especially since ‘marketplace forces’ aren’t cutting it.”

John expands on this point in a piece he published last week at, titled “Greasing the Skids for AM’s Digital Transition.” He argues that the pro-digital proposal offered by CBS Radio SVP Glynn Walden at NAB is a “test-balloon to see if the initial reaction is positive or negative,” which is the first step in crafting new policy and creating enough momentum in DC to make it appear like the change is “already well-established.”

Reader Matt reminds us that Paul Thurst wrote a four-part series on the revitalization of the AM band on his Engineering Radio blog. In this series he critically deconstructs WBCN-AM’s reportedly “nearly flawless” test of all-digital HD Radio broadcasts last December, noting that “From a technical standpoint this is about as favorable testing configuration as can be conceived for AM IBOC.” Yet, he notes that “the actual data from the tests has yet to see the light of day and may never be released.”

Thurst reviews the history of AM to give some needed perspective to demonstrate that the problems with the band result from “a death from a thousand cuts.” These lacerations include heavy debt loads taken on by broadcasters, as well as resources directed away from AM stations.

In part 3 he analyzes the causes of interference on the AM band and offers some potential technological solution.

Ultimately, Thurst’s arguments align with Anderson’s. Both are wary of an industry push to implement all-digital broadcasting using HD Radio technology on the AM band. It’s a technology Thurst calls “a yet unproven proprietary digital modulation scheme.”

Anderson concludes that such an initiative “reeks of hypocrisy,” since it seeks to use FCC power to effect a change that the marketplace clearly does not support, but under the auspices of “a U.S. policy environment steeped in the tenets of neoliberalism.”

The question is: will the FCC be moved to heed industry players with vested interests in HD Radio technology over the wishes of listeners, who have indicated their preferences by not adopting the technology in any meaningful numbers?

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8 Responses to Is AM revitalization a cover to force an all-digital transition?

  1. Alanh April 18, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    IBOC is a huge mistake, because the digital power is restricted by the power of the AM or FM signal from the same broadcaster.
    A greenfield approach with a level playing field should be used instead. DRM+ using 48 – 68 MHz band (which is totally unsuitable for DTV) analog TV channels 1 & 2 makes 199 DRM+ channels available where all broadcasters can transmit surround sound, pictures etc. See In Australia we have had high powered DAB+ for 3 years. All high powered broadcasters in the 6 main cities are on 2 or 3 transmitters/city. 19 – 22 stereo programs/transmitter. You could use 215 – 230 MHz. see and

  2. John Jacobs May 6, 2013 at 8:53 am #

    Moving both FM to all-digital has always been the eventual goal of broadcasters and FCC. The hybrid model was always viewed as a temporary, transitional system. It’s too bad that the FCC will not set a sunset date for analog radio to force broadcasters and equipment manufacturers to move forward. Digital radio is the future and we’re lucky that the U.S. selected HD Radio which is far better than DRM or DRM+.

  3. Bruce E Arkwright, Jr May 10, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    I have three HD units, one add-on to stock car radio, and two portables and neither one of portables have am on them, even if I had digital am (or any am) stations near me, I would not hear them. Ibiquity should have been more strict/involved in the production of radios being produced. To date there was only two portable units on sale, both no longer in production.

  4. ps fraulino September 9, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    This is true. AM digital will not solve the problem. Now there’s FM digital and nobody can afford FM digital radios so some stations have obligingly rebroadcast the signal on more than one frequency aimed at different geographical locations (example:WAMU FM in Washington DC area)

  5. Ben September 10, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

    If they want digital radio so bad, why don’t they open up a band that mirrors the AM broadcast band? And allow existing am broadcasters to transmit on the same channel slot in the digital band. That would allow them to pick a band that would be better suited to digital broadcasting. The am band definitely does not lend it’s self to that type of broadcasting.

    If they do implement fully digital on the AM band, then low band broadcasting will be dead in under ten years. It’s a guarantied death sentence.


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