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Trends in Technology: AM Radio
As I read through the trades it seems that most of the talk about AM radio has to do with its diminishing stature. Young people don’t listen to AM at all; or, the venerable AM powerhouse stations are simply shadows of their former selves; or there’s no point in playing music on an AM station. On the other hand, as I look at the latest BIA/Kelsey revenue report for 2013, I see that five of the top 10 billing stations in the country are AM radio stations. The Commission is soliciting ideas on how to improve the AM band. Clearly the AM band retains much of its viability.
Ninety years after the first AM broadcasters made their debuts, is it still worth investing in an AM radio station transmitter plant? For many broadcasters, the answer is yes, and we’re going to look at a couple of examples in this article. Communications technology continues to evolve, and it’s bringing AM radio along with it.
Washington State - KRKO and KKXA
Anyone who has visited AM transmitter sites knows that they use up a substantial amount of land. Often transmitter sites that were built “outside of town” 40 or 50 years ago are now surrounded by houses or otherwise very valuable property. Selling the land under the transmitter site is not an uncommon occurrence, especially if the transmitter site can be moved into a diplexing arrangement with another AM station in the immediate area. The building of a new AM transmitter site can often be facilitated this way, because it saves on land expense and it means no new towers need be erected.
Craig and Andy Skotdal, of Everett, WA, have been the owners of KRKO (1380 KHz) since 1995. The original transmitter site dated from 1958, and came complete with a 1987 version Continental Power Rock and a 1958 Gates 5kW as a “backup.” Both the studio and sales departments were located on-site. “It was farmland and in tough shape,” said Andy Skotdal, now president and GM of S-R Broadcasting.
In 1997 the Skotdals discovered an opportunity to increase KRKO’s power to 50kW full-time, and they made the decision to invest in a new transmitter site. Not long after that process began, they entered AM auction 84, and successfully gained the right to build a station on 1520kHz as well (now KKXA). An appropriate piece of land was secured, but a land-use battle ensued — one that took 16 years to resolve. The Skotdals were confident in the ultimate outcome, though, and engaged the engineering firm of Hatfield and Dawson (H&D) of Seattle for the overall system design, which would be, from day one, a diplexed array that would accommodate the 50kW non-D daytime and 50kW nighttime pattern for KRKO and the 50kW non-D (daytime) and 50kW DA nighttime array for KKXA.
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