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Will the Gray Lady’s attention energize AM radio revitalization?

This week the New York Times moved AM Radio into the mainstream consciousness with a story about FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai’s ambition to save the oft-forgotten broadcast band. There’s nothing new in the story that we haven’t covered here at Radio Survivor. But the attention of the Old Gray Lady may add a little steam to Pai’s campaign inside the Beltway.

PRI’s The Takeaway aired a story discussing AM Radio with Pai on Tuesday’s show. This week the program is asking listeners to share their own fond memories and recollections of listening to the AM band. One listener called in a comment about he built his own crystal receiver as a child, not even needing a battery or power to tune in stations.

Although it’s a point we make over and over, it was good to read and hear Pai also reiterate how AM radio serves up vital information even when cell, internet service and power goes down.

That’s why it would be a shame if calls to convert AM to all-digital are taken seriously. Digital broadcasts would render 99% of existing AM Radios obsolete, on top of putting additional financial pressure on independent broadcasters who would have to convert their transmitters.

How many of the estimated 15 million regular AM listeners would then make the leap to digital-capable receivers? Not many, I’d bet.

Digital would be the death of AM radio, undermining its key advantages as an established service that can be received even in times of extreme emergency.

It will be interesting to see if Pai’s fellow commissioners can be moved to take up the issue. The FCC still has two empty seats with an acting Chair–a lame duck Commission, for all intents and purposes. Perhaps AM revitalization is a sufficiently depoliticized issue that this slate of Commissioners might take it up without being full. Of course that all depends on how hard the broadcasters and Pai want to push the all-digital option.

Anyway, you can look at some nice radio photos submitted by listeners and shared on The Takeaway’s Facebook page.

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