The FCC has released a Notice of Proposed Rule Making for a plan to revitalize the AM band. FCC Commissioner AjitPai has been a leading voice for the AM revitalization plan, and in a statement, said, "This is a great day. It’s been over two decades since we last comprehensively reviewed our AM radio rules. Over that time, the AM band has struggled. Interference problems, declining listenership, and other factors have brought the band low. But millions of Americans—myself included—still rely on and believe in AM radio. So last September, I proposed that the FCC launch an AM radio revitalization initiative. Today, we are doing just that. This Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) kicks off a landmark effort by the Commission to energize the nation’s oldest broadcasting service, and I am excited to support it."
He explained the plan as a two-part effort, writing, "The NPRM embraces a sensible two-stage strategy for improving AM radio service. First, we propose several ways to give AM broadcasters relief in the short term. For instance, we suggest eliminating the ratchet rule. We tee up modifications to the daytime and nighttime community coverage rules for existing AM stations. Perhaps most importantly, we seek public input on letting AM stations apply for new FM translators. I’m the first to acknowledge that these and other proposals will not be an immediate panacea for the difficulties confronting the AM band. But based on the conversations I have had with AM broadcasters across the country during the past year, I am convinced that they can make a substantial, positive difference to numerous AM stations."
Pai continued, "Second, we also invite the American public to share their proposals for the long-term future of the AM band. What steps can the Commission take so that there will be a vibrant AM radio service ten or fifteen years from now? I hope broadcasters, engineers, and anyone else with an interest in AM radio will submit creative ideas to the Commission."
In her own statement, Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said, "there are many threats to AM service. Listeners are migrating to newer, higher-fidelity media services, which is leading AM stations to shut down and listenership to dwindle. To help AM stations weather the tide, this item identifies challenges that should be addressed and proposes remedies. For example, due to the propagation characteristics of AM signals, many stations must reduce their power at night, and some are unable to broadcast at that time. We propose to modify the nighttime coverage rules to keep more stations on the air after dark. Moreover, reinforced buildings and structures with steel frames or aluminum siding can block AM signals and lead to poor reception in many urban areas. Our proposals to open an FM translator filing window just for AM licensees and to modify the daytime community coverage standards intend to give licensees more flexibility to deliver their programming to listeners in urban areas. Finally, electricity bills for AM broadcasters can be high. Our proposal to let AM licensees use Modulation Dependent Carrier Level control technologies or algorithms is intended to reduce those bills and lower operating costs."
"During my tenure as Chairwoman, the Commission has taken a number of steps to provide relief to AM broadcasters. This summer, the Commission simplified the licensing procedures and technical requirements—including allowing “moment-method” modeling—which can save licensees over $100,000. And this year, the Commission has actively expanded the inventory of translator stations. In fact, by the end of 2013, the Media Bureau’s Audio Division expects to have increased the number of authorized FM translators from 5,700 to about 7,300 – a 28 percent boost. This item represents the next significant step in our effort to buttress AM broadcast service and ease regulatory burdens on AM broadcasters. These steps, along with the changes proposed in today’s item, will help AM radio stay vibrant into the future. Who knows, maybe a future FCC Chairwoman is getting her start at one today."
NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith released a statement as well, saying, "NAB salutes the leadership of Acting Chair Mignon Clyburn and FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai for taking a strong interest in revitalizing AM radio, which has a long and storied history of providing America's hometowns with news, entertainment, sports and community affairs information. AM radio is a cultural touchstone and jobs generator in cities large and small; many of the top revenue-generating stations are on the AM band. We strongly endorse the revitalization proceeding and stand ready to work with the FCC to develop meaningful solutions."
The full Notice of Proposed Rule Making can be found here.