David Honig is the President Emeritus at the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC). Following Wednesday’s column written by Broadcast Attorney John Garziglia, Honing sent Radio Ink a rebuttal piece. His point: The MMTC is not asking the FCC to decommission the AM band.
By David Honig
The headline was wrong. The Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) is absolutely not asking the FCC to “decommission the AM band.” (Note: the headline to Wednesday’s column was chosen by Radio Ink Editors. It was not Garziglia’s headline.)
As the convenor of the Radio Rescue Committee, MMTC fought hard for years to get AM-only translators and other relief to extend the life of the AM band. Our media brokerage specializes in AM transactions – as it should, since AM is the gateway technology for minority broadcasters. And as a nonprofit, we’ve trained and placed new entrants into ownership in 10 AM stations that broadcasters donated to us.
My friend John Garziglia is correct: There are a number of high-billing AM stations, and some AM stations continue to do quite well. For this, all friends of AM can take great pride.
At the same time, we have to be realistic. AM is not available on mobile devices. FM is technically superior to AM, and about 80% of over-the-air listening is to FM. Few millennials are tuning in AM stations.
Someday – perhaps as soon as 30 years – AM may be doomed to go the way of the telegraph service whether we like it or not. We do not want that to happen, and we certainly are not asking the FCC to hasten that event. Instead, we want the FCC to do everything it can to avoid or postpone it. AM broadcasters, who have invested in the band and struggled to serve the most underserved communities, should not suddenly wake up to find the band unsustainable and be told “sorry, you are out of luck – thank you for your service to your country. Now go away.” That would be morally wrong and we cannot allow it to happen.
Instead, we want the FCC to begin to do two things.
First, we want the FCC to start a process that could lead to lengthening the life of the band by compensating licensees at fair value in exchange for surrendering their licenses, and enabling AM broadcasters to transition their programming to other platforms. The FCC could do that by starting now toward planning for the compression of the band from its present 535-1705 kHz to (for example) 535-1005 kHz, and going from 10 kHz spacing to 20 kHz spacing. Such a band would accommodate fewer stations, but the stations would be much more competitive and they – and the AM Band – would have a fighting chance at surviving decades longer.
Second, we want the FCC to think three or four decades ahead toward the inevitable day when AM might no longer be sustainable. What other communications services could use the AM spectrum? Could it be used for meter reading? The Internet of Things? Drones? The FCC is not known for expedited action, so it ought to start early by convening the best engineering minds to think about these questions. In this way, the federal government could be in a position to offer AM owners fair value for their assets rather than just letting their companies die if the band dies.
There is nothing wrong with taking pride in AM’s progress, its tenacity, and its ability to survive, notwithstanding AM’s technical deficiencies. But we should not be blinded by our promotional points. If we truly care about the AM pioneers who have given their lives to serving their communities with this heritage technology, we should be asking the FCC to approach the AM band with the goal of “healing the sick.” In that way, perhaps the FCC will not have to prematurely “raise the dead.”
David Honig can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]