(By Robert Lee) “Elections have consequences,” and, “Someone moved the goalposts.” In reading the objections by a couple of LPFM advocacy groups about the recent deluge of FM translators-for-AM stations applications, I see two things going on: politics, first; and, second, misguided policy by a government agency, the FCC, which, as I said in my response to John Garziglia’s column of May 21, has taken one serious problem and created another equally serious problem.
On the first point, politics: During the Obama years, the Julius Genachowski and Tom Wheeler, Democrat-led FCC gave great priority to LPFMs, in the name of local community activism, to counter the big, corporate, full-power stations. Clear Channel was generally the biggest enemy that had to be slayed, or at least brought down a notch or two, since Clear Channel and its behemoth, cost-slashing brethren had destroyed localism in radio.
Then, an Ajit Pai, Republican-led FCC came along, with its “AM revitalization,” which meant shifting the priority and emphasis on the use of “secondary FM services” from LPFMs to FM translators-for-AMs. And, yes, the LPFM proponents are quite correct that there has been a flood of FM translators that now compete for space on the FM band, against both full-power and low-power FMs.
Which leads to my second point, regarding what I believe is misguided and destructive policy by the FCC in its too-late attempt to save the AM band. I believe that years of (total?) neglect by the FCC in enforcing its on-the-books rules against electrical and electronic-noise interference to the AM band has permanently and irreversibly damaged AM radio stations. Clogging the FM band with new translators for the AM stations is a Band-Aid solution that does nothing to actually and technically fix the growing “noise floor” degradation to AMs.
So, I have proposed, including in my comments in the Commission’s “modernization” proceeding, 17-105, to entirely shut down the AM band and move all AM stations to an all-digital, expanded FM band on what is now the TV Channels 5 and 6 bandwidth. The Channel 5 and 6 bandwidth is contiguous to the current FM bandwidth, which makes it the logical place to add more FM radio frequencies. Using the 5/6 bandwidth is not a new idea. It has been around for over 20 years. What is new about the 5/6 expanded band idea is that we now have digital broadcasting, which is much more efficient than analog transmission, meaning we can pack far more FM frequencies into an all-digital bandwidth. If we have the will to create an expanded FM, it can certainly be accomplished, as we have seen with the successful transition of broadcast television to digital.
(FCC ‘Modernization’ Proceeding 17-105: https://tinyurl.com/y9ssgg6s)
Chairman Pai’s well-meaning attempt to save AM radio should, instead, accept the reality among many of us in the radio industry that the AM band is forever ruined by electromagnetic interference that should have been curtailed years ago, but was not. Let’s move into the 21st century, junk the AM band, and create a highly efficient, all-digital expanded FM band that will accommodate all radio broadcast services – full-power AM and FM stations, FM translators, and LPFM – with plenty of room for all. At some point, we would also move the incumbent FM band (88 – 108 mHz) to all-digital.
Chairman Pai and Commissioners, will you do the right thing and refocus your efforts on real solutions, and put the Band-Aids back on the shelf?
Robert Lee is the Owner-President, QXZ MediaWorks LLC, Dallas, Texas and can be reached at [email protected]