Bonneville’s Gardner Speaks Out About FCC Plan

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    Carl Gardner is the General Manager for Bonneville’s KIRO in Seattle. KIRO is one of the many AM radio stations that will be dramatically affected by the FCC’s plan to allow other AM stations, on the same frequency, to maintain power at night. But, as Gardner points out, this plan is a big mistake for several reasons and his listeners will be affected in a big way.

    KIRO-AM is the FEMA-led station for emergency service throughout Western Washington and Gardner says the FCC is about to put that service in jeopardy. “Our ability to serve the region would be crippled by this proposal. KIRO-AM programs all-sports. However, in news emergencies KIRO-AM simulcasts KIRO-FM which is news. I should point out that Western Washington’s other Class A is KOMO-AM (owned by Sinclair), which also programs news. KOMO’s signal would be affected similarly to KIRO under the proposed rules. So the net effect would be that this region would lose signal coverage from both of the stations which have the resources and capability to cover a regional emergency.”

    And Gardner says this is not just a late-night issue. “Seattle is far north in latitude. In mid-winter we have sunrise after 8 a.m. and sunset shortly after 4 p.m. The AM proposal would strip our contour protections even 2 hours after sunrise and 2 hours before sunset. So we would face major interference issues for as much as 20 hours per day under the proposed rules. Only between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. would KIRO actually have the ability to serve the full region we are expected to serve in our emergency capacity.”

    The Bonneville GM says everyone wants to see the small operators have every chance to be successful, especially in small communities where they may be the only local broadcaster. “That’s a good thing. But we should not, in the process, cripple those stations that are big and strong and capable, with resources to serve entire regions. I believe that was the idea back when Class A and clear channel stations were created, and it’s still a reality today at a number of these stations. Damaging them would be an unintended consequence that nobody is going to be happy with. As we look for ways to help some of our lesser AM signals, let’s not do it at the expense of stations with a long history of outstanding public service.”

    4 COMMENTS

    1. There are portions of the United States where, after dark, there is absolutely NO listenable AM local service. In these areas, the only signals receivable after dark are the big clears. If those are broken down, you might as well tell a sizeable amount of the US population to throw out their AM radios because for half the clock all they will pick up is a jumble of stations.

    2. For some of us, the ability to hear programming directly over the air from stations across the country is the biggest incentive to listen to AM radio—especially at night–when local radio, even in some cities, is mostly syndicated noise programmed from Nashville, or wherever. I live in Milwaukee and have a QSL Postcard sent from KNX Los Angeles which I heard over the signals of 5000w stations in Madison, Wisconsin; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Wichita, Kansas on the same frequency–all of which I had also heard in Milwaukee at other times. I also enjoyed discovering new stations from thousands of miles away when the AM dial was extended to 1700khz and many of the new channels were still “clear”. But now I understand some same-frequency AM stations will actually be going as high as 50,000 watts (at least in daytime) and 10-20kw at night. Internet or phone apps have their purpose, but they are no substitute for listening directly to the station located in a different part of the country with their resulting unique characteristics.

      Even BBC heard directly on Short wave, with its obvious variables, is preferable to BBC re-transmitted in full stereo fidelity by NPR, like it was just down the street.

      It’s not just about big or small broadcasters. It is about the listeners (that’s who are supposed to be served by the FCC license!). It’s about jamming so much sound onto the AM dial that the listeners have no choice but local stations, many of which unfortunately are formatting for the dollar, not the listener.

      Yes, at night many AM frequencies are a jumble of stations–still serving their local communities. In fact, likely some of the stations now reducing power for the clear channels could change frequencies and join the jumble, which would allow them to provide a local signal that is more than 48w! Most communities also now have FM, which adds to the choice of local listeners–in some cases the larger or even the only local choice.. But the AM clear channels also have their purpose–and most do provide valuable if not completely unique programming, which will be lost to most of us if everything must be “local”.

      Unfortunately, it seems that “more” is always “better” now.

    3. I agree that we need to address the unregulated noise on the AM band, but I have a hard time feeling the pain of a 50K AM when I have to power down to 48 watts at night. Your light bulb has more power than my transmitter. I think it is another case of let’s take care of the fat cats and let the small operator go jump. I’m having a hard time feeling any empathy with 50K operators who only now, after their monopoly of their frequency is being threatened, feign concern for “small operators”!!! The solutions for emergencies are multitudinous so I’m not buying that excuse. It is time all communities get the service they deserve. It is time for parity in the radio world.

    4. I recently purchased a small incandescent lamp which I placed next to a clock radio. I noticed an annoying continual “thump” when listening to all but the strongest AM stations. It didn’t matter whether the lamp was on, or off. Turns out, it was the wall-wart power supply. The owner’s manual even addressed the issue-the solution was to move the lamp to some other part of the room. There needs to be more attention to increased, unregulated noise on the AM band. Adding even MORE interference to the band is the worst thing that can happen. Many rural areas have no local AM service at night. with increased interference, the AM band will be totally trashed so there will be no incentive to listen to AM radio, especially at night.
      Jerry Scott-Peoria, IL

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