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Can Anyone Save AM Radio?


As technology improves on a daily basis and consumers find ways to listen to their favorite audio on any number of crystal clear sounding devices, the AM dial continues to fade into the sunset. Should anybody really care? Despite a lot of chatter, not much has been done to get FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai's proposal to revitalize AM radio in front of his colleagues at the agency. Pai has been on a sort of P.R. campaign to fix the increasingly static sound of AM, most recently in The

New York Times. “AM radio is localism, it is community," he said in the paper. “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.” So far, his calls for help seems to have fallen on deaf ears as AM broadcasters and their engineers scramble to purchase FM translators and strategically place them in the local community to clear up their failing AM signals being interfered with by toasters, microwaves, cell phones and a myriad of other electronic devices.

Pai recognizes consumers are not putting up with imperfect sounding audio, especially when they've come to expect nearly perfect quality from everything they now listen on. Pai said that unless the problems with AM radio were fixed, people will keep fleeing. “There are plenty of other options,” he said. “They will switch the dial to something else.” The New York Times says "by 2011 AM listenership had fallen to 15 percent, or an average of 3.1 million people, according to a survey by Veronis Suhler Stevenson. While the number of FM listeners has declined, too, they still averaged 18 million in 2011."

In the Times piece, Pai details the options to save AM radio that many broadcasters have heard before - and have varying opinions on - from FM translators to HD to getting rid of outdated regulations placed on AM operators. Broadcasters have been hearing and debating these options for over a year now and nothing has come before the full commission to move the matter closer to a resolution. It just doesn't seem to be a high priority at the FCC.

Some feel there is already a glut of broadcast signals on the radio dial and AM Radio seems to be the perfect place for talk radio, which is credited with saving those stations, so why waste another minute or dollar that will only increase the glut. Pai sees it as more than that. He calls AM Radio, “the audible core of our national culture." Pai says AM radio is vital during times of an emergency, especially in rural areas. Back in April Pai told Radio Ink it's now or never to come up with a plan to clear up the AM signal but said a short-staffed commission may delay his plan and it has. The FCC is still two commissioners short and without a permanent chair. Pai will be speaking at the Radio Show Luncheon Friday, September 20 in Orlando. Pai will share his views on communications policy and how it affects free, local radio broadcasting. He will also speak about his efforts to revitalize the AM band.

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