(By Robert Lee) “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” And, “I’m not afraid to wait; I just don’t want to wait for something that will never happen.”
So, walk over to your mirror, look yourself square in the face, and say it out loud, with force and conviction: “AM radio is dead.”
It doesn’t matter that Albert Einstein or Ben Franklin didn’t utter the first quote. Or, who the “Anonymous” is that came up with the second one. But, those of us in the radio industry must all absorb that third assertion – “AM radio is dead” – believe it, and move on. Don’t look back. Look meaningfully forward.
Why bring up this discussion, again? Because the other day I was reading an opinion piece about AM Radio, and the best the writer could do, to no purposeful end, was bring up the failed efforts and lost opportunities on the part of the FCC to help save AM radio. Everything the author wished for is the past — left undone — and, now, too late. Whether through neglect or consumers just wanting to move on to the newest “shiny object,” AM radio is, technically, a dodo bird. There is no ‘revitalization in death.
“Cross-service” FM translators do not repair the mortally wounded AM band; they underscore its evident obsolescence and demise. To consumers, FM translators are not “secondary services”; they are FM stations. FM. Clearly not distracting, degraded, static-y AM.
Now, as the FCC undertakes its important Quadrennial Review, I would again implore Chairman Pai and the Commissioners to walk away from the past, lay AM radio to rest, and move all the AM stations to an all-digital, expanded FM band in the television channels’ 5 and 6 spectrum. And, in addition, implement a “date certain” plan, sooner rather than later, to move the incumbent FM band, at 88 to 108 MHz, to all-digital. We already required the move, years ago, of broadcast TV from analog to digital. There is no rational reason for not mandating the same of broadcast radio. In fact, digital broadcast television is already evolving to its next, forward-looking advancement: ATSC 3.0. But we’re still vainly rendering life support to AM radio.
And please, do not, again, anybody, bring up WPVI-TV in Philadelphia to argue that it’s too late, that there are already full-power digital stations assigned to the Channel 6 spectrum that simply cannot be moved. Or that the TV “repack” has irreversibly locked in place the full-power television stations allocated to the Channels 5 and 6 bandwidth. The same FCC computer software that came up with the new digital TV channel assignments can take another whack at moving all of the relatively small number of channels on 5 and 6 to other channels. In the broadcast television realm, digital transmission is so spectrum-efficient there are many, many examples of stations in close geographic proximity to each other that are on first-adjacent channels. For example, in the Austin, Texas, television market, to my south, the full-power (not Class A) NBC and PBS stations are first-adjacent to each other on digital channels 21 and 22, respectively. Likewise, the ABC and CBS — full-power, non-Class A — affiliates are first-adjacent to each other on channels 33 and 34. In the big TV market to the north of me, Dallas-Fort Worth, there are a half-dozen examples of full-power stations first-adjacent to each other!
Every single full-power and Class A TV station now sited in the Channels 5 and 6 spectrum can be “packed” on another frequency. And, according to the FCC rules, secondary television services — TV translator and low-power facilities — can even be forced off the air if that’s what it takes to find allocations for full-power and Class A television stations.
Please, Chairman Pai and Commissioners, let us once and for all face up to the reality of AM radio’s future…that there is none. Move AM stations into the 21st century and onto all-digital FM channels, and stop all the insane and hopeless non-revitalization nonsense. AM radio is dead.
Robert Lee is the owner of QXZ MediaWorks in Waco, Texas, and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org