FCC Issues NPRM on AM Improvements

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Washington - Nov 1, 2013 - The Federal Communications Commission has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to introduce a number of possible improvements to AM radio service and the rules pertaining to AM broadcasting. The FCC seeks to "revitalize further the AM band by identifying ways to enhance AM broadcast quality and proposing changes to our technical rules that would enable AM stations to improve their service." The agency believes these improvements will help AM broadcasters better serve the public, thereby advancing the Commission's fundamental goals of localism, competition, and diversity in broadcast media.

The Commission's last comprehensive examination of the technical, legal, and policy issues relating to AM broadcasting took place a generation ago, in a proceeding that began with a 1987 Notice of Inquiry. In the years since, the challenges facing the AM band have increased dramatically. In the mid-1980s, AM radio represented 30 percent of the nation's radio listening hours. By 2010, that number had dropped to 17 percent, with AM radio comprising only 4 percent of listening hours among younger Americans. As the Commission has previously stated, a "combination of higher fidelity alternatives to AM radio and increased interference to AM radio have caused an erosion of the AM radio audience and the loss of young listeners to other programming outlets."

The FCC's earlier efforts to improve AM resulted in new and revised AM technical standards to reduce interference within AM stations' primary service areas, the addition of 10 expanded-band frequencies (between 1605-1705kHz) allowed some stations to migrate to abate interference, and various measures were adopted affording broadcasters greater latitude and incentives to reduce interference through non-technical means.

Additionally, in the past several years the Commission has instituted several discrete changes in its AM rules and policies designed to further enhance the AM service or reduce regulatory and technical burdens on AM broadcasters. These include simplified licensing procedures for the KinStar and Valcom antennas systems, streamlined procedures for AM station community of license modifications, moment method modeling as an alternative methodology to verify AM directional antenna performance, authorization of AM/FM translator rebroadcasting, Modulation Dependent Carrier Level (MDCL) control technologies, FM translator use for AM stations, experimental all-digital AM IBOC authorization, and improved protection to AM stations from potential reradiators and/or pattern disturbances.

The FCC is considering proposals to improve the AM service with FM translators, modifying daytime community coverage standards for existing AM stations, modifying nighttime community coverage standards for existing AM stations, elimination of the AM Ratchet Rule, permitting wider implementation of Modulation Dependent Carrier Level control technologies, and modifying AM antenna efficiency standards. The agency also seeks suggestions for other reforms that could lead to revitalization of the AM service.

Comments will be due 60 days after the notice is published in the Federal Register, with reply comments due after 90 days.

MB Docket No. 13-249

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