FCC Poised to Allow AM Stations to Voluntarily Transmit an All-Digital Signal

Under Chairman Pai, the FCC has gone to great lengths to help  AM radio.  At its upcoming meeting on October 27th, the FCC plans to take another step.

Currently AM radio stations may operate in hybrid mode—using analog and digital signals at the same time.  The hybrid analog/digital operation has not been widely adopted.  AM digital broadcasting has the potential to significantly improve the audio quality and coverage of these. It would also provide additional services to which FM or satellite radio listeners are accustomed, such as song and title information.

In 2019 the FCC opened a proceeding to look at proposals to allow AM stations to broadcast entirely in digital on a voluntary basis.  Next week the Commission is scheduled to adopt an order that will:

  • Allow AM stations to convert to all-digital operation on a voluntary basis.
  • Establish technical rules for all-digital AM broadcasting.
  • Require each all-digital AM station to provide at least one free over-the-air digital programming stream that is comparable to or better in audio quality than a standard analog broadcast. Otherwise, digital subcarriers can be used for broadcast or non-broadcast services, including song and title information.
  • Require all-digital AM stations to avoid prohibited interference (as currently defined in the rules) to other broadcast stations.
  • Confirm the obligation of all-digital AM licensees, like any audio broadcast provider, to participate in the national Emergency Alert System (EAS), including ensuring that any other stations that are monitoring the all-digital station either be able to: (1) receive and decode an all-digital EAS alert; or (2) adjust their monitoring assignments to receive EAS alerts from another nearby station.
  • Establish a 30-day waiting period before converting to all-digital so that transitioning AM stations can provide adequate notice to the Commission, consumers, and other potentially affected stations.

To see a copy of the FCC’s proposed Report and Order click HERE.

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