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Want to revitalize AM radio? Start with better receivers

#AMradioComments continue to slowly flow into the Federal Communications Commissions’ proceeding on revitalizing AM radio. The latest emphasize the importance of improving the quality of AM radio receivers.

“It has come to my attention that the vast majority of AM receivers on the market are designed with ‘Good Enough’ mentality and quite frankly make anything received sound like mud,” writes AM music station engineer Matt Krick. “I’d like to propose the FCC implement requirements for manufacturers of radios to actually design a decent performing receiver.”

In pursuit of this Krick outlines specifications for “beyond good enough” AM receivers. “People are confused over AM stereo,” he also notes. “I am currently unaware of any modern receivers being built by any major manufacturer today that actually decode C-QUAM. I often see ‘AM – FM Stereo’ receivers marketed, which technically only mean that the FM portion is in stereo.”

C-QUAM is a method of broadcasting an AM signal in stereo developed by Motorola. Advocates of the technology say that it is superior to AM HD radio. The YouTube below offers a comparison, and indeed, the C-QUAM version of sampled Christmas music is so much sharper and clearer that I had to turn down the volume on my receiver.

“I’d therefor propose that if a radio is built with a FM stereo decoder, it should be required to decode C-QUAM AM stereo as well,” Krick continues. “Mono radios with only a single speaker such as pocket transistor style would be exempt, but radios with 2 speakers such as boom boxes and car radios should be required to decode it and stereo walkman type receivers.”

Retired broadcaster Henry B. Ruhwiedel writes to the FCC in a similar vein. I think it is worth quoting much of his assessment in full. “The public has been migrating to other modes, FM, satellite, recorded media in part because the AM spectrum has been degraded to where the high fidelity broadcasts of before 1960, have become impossible,” Ruhwidel contends:

“There is no way of discerning which came first, but the contemporaneous reduction in AM receiver performance in preference to FM receiver performance, the increase in audio processing for the sake of loudness competition in part due to format competition, the promotion of FM’s inherent noise advantage and higher fidelity (15 khz vs 9 Khz aural spectrum) drove much of the audience to FM from AM. A con-commitment of market forces that reduced variety in programming, consolidation of ownerships, removal of localism, simulcasting, and central source programming for thousands of coowned
stations in effort to survive the dwindling audience figures and thus financial stability have added to the reduction in appeal of AM radio. A notable few stations have fared well because of mostly localism, community involvement, that garner community loyalty. I saw few because most outlets simply compete for mass market share with demographic purity of age, ethnicity, or niche interests.

The FCC’s effort to introduce AM Stereo with four competing systems failed to enhance AM as a viable music source, because no one system was chosen as was done in FM and TV stereo. Thus few receivers took advantage of AM stereo, and the public regarded AM stereo much as the RCA video disk, an advance but unworthy of general acceptance unlike the CD and DVD or even the Phillips audio cassette still in use today after more than 50 years.”

Ruhwidel also calls for mandatory AM standards, especially in the area of noise reduction. “Any radio device capable of FM broadcast reception should include AM reception,” he recommends.


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8 Responses to Want to revitalize AM radio? Start with better receivers

  1. LMFAO!!! December 11, 2013 at 7:07 am #

    The FCC cannot mandate receiver standards – remember that failed attempt by iNiquity to force IBOC into all SDARS receivesr (i.e., Satrad).

  2. Matthew Lasar December 11, 2013 at 9:01 am #

    The FCC can’t mandate receiver standards – unless it can, that is, if Congress gives the agency the authority to mandate receiver standards. In this instance the Commission can conclude that new receiver standards would be appropriate and ask Congress for the authority to make them. That doesn’t mean that Congress will comply, but it’s not like the FCC has no legitimate right to discuss this question.

    BTW: I wasn’t a fan of the idea of mandating HD on satellite radio reception devices, but in the case of the Sirius XM satellite radio merger proceeding, lots of filers contended that the FCC had the authority to require HD on SDARs receivers.

  3. Jeff Deck December 13, 2013 at 12:34 am #

    Do you wish to revitalize the AM broadcast band? Start listening with a better tuner!
    Virtually all available AM medium wave receivers and tuners drop audio fidelity to 2kHz maximum fidelity. Good for an analog telephone line connection, however not for long-term listening sessions to high definition music programing.
    Will the FCC mandate that all manufacturers to build and to sell higher fidelity AM radios? This is not likely. FCC is not in the business to advocate how well an AM radio sounds or receives stations in its overall performance.
    What can you do to receive better sounding AM radio broadcasts? Read about the new meduci MW-2 tuner directly below!
    High quality wideband audio high fidelity AM stereo C-QuAM tuners have been available for quite some time from:

  4. J.K. December 13, 2013 at 10:36 pm #

    Create programs people like and they will listen.

  5. Jerry Chase January 21, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

    Wow; I was wondering if it was my memory playing tricks on me when I “remembered” or “thought” that AM used to be better quality. I am personally most concerned about the truly dreadful quality of automotive vehicle radios. Today they’re awful. I am quite sure that car radios from the 1960s being far superior in performance, sensitivity, and selectivity. I’d like to buy a nice old “boat-anchor” by Hammarlund or Drake, just to be
    able to hear ‘good’ AM . . . though that in itself is quite the challenge, given the poor program broadcasting quality these days.

    Then again, even FM broadcasting has also “gone down the toilet”.

  6. Paul Gibbons January 22, 2014 at 1:42 pm #

    While AM (analog) stereo sounds a heck of a lot better than a 2KHz mono receiver; a good bit due to the wider bandwidth designed into the receiver, the HD (digital) quality is measurable better; quieter and cleaner. It is more fragile than the analog system however; it switches to analog under noise conditions that we normally ignore in analog. All the originally proposed AM stereo systems in the 80s depended on wide bandwidth for quality sound; some say the Motorola was not sounding of the lot, but was the most practically implemented as they had the best ‘in’ to receiver manufacture. The issue now is, who is broadcasting C_QUAM these days? And can you do C_QUAM and HD at the same time?

  7. Paul Karlstrand February 3, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    Achieving quality AM reception in the Urban environment has become more difficult in recent times with the flood of poorly designed and cheaply built power supplies. These RF interference generators really make the challenge almost insurmountable. Examples like; Grid connect Solar invertors without output suppression, or that RF filter circuitry removed during manufacturing to save a buck…. Dynamic brake/motor speed controllers found in public transport Trams and Trains here in Australia are the worst, they spray the AM band with pollution that spoils a good listen !

    It is important for the Authorities that govern such technical standards to uphold them and ‘Pick up the Ball’ again, as I fear it has rolled down the dark lane never to be found again…

    Sure receiver design is important, but enforcing the lapsing technical standards is paramount to the cause.


  1. PYLE PT260A 200-Watt Digital AM/FM Stereo Receiver | - December 10, 2013

    […] Want to revitalize AM radio? Start with better receivers “It has come to my attention that the vast majority of AM receivers on the market are designed with 'Good Enough' mentality and quite frankly make anything received sound like mud,” writes AM music station engineer Matt Krick. “I'd like to propose the … Read more on Radio Survivor […]

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