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.”