FCC commissioner works to save AM radio

Can AM radio be saved? According to the New York Times, “The digital age is killing AM radio, an American institution that brought the nation fireside chats, Casey Kasem’s Top 40 and scratchy broadcasts of the World Series.” AM has long been under siege from FM and more recently faces competition from satellite radio and streaming services like Pandora. Moreover, the Times reports, AM increasingly faces interference from smartphones and other consumer electronic devices. And it must contend with tall buildings that block AM signals.

But AM has at least one champion. The Times continues, “Ajit Pai, the lone Republican on the Federal Communications Commission, is on a personal if quixotic quest to save AM. After a little more than a year in the job, he is urging the FCC to undertake an overhaul of AM radio, which he calls 'the audible core of our national culture.' He sees AM—largely the realm of local news, sports, conservative talk, and religious broadcasters—as vital in emergencies and in rural areas.”

The Times quotes him as saying, “When the power goes out, when you can’t get a good cell signal, when the Internet goes down, people turn to battery-powered AM radios to get the information they need.”

The Times notes that AM accounted for half of all radio listening in 1978, but it had dropped to 15% by 2011. And although five of the top 10 stations in the country are AM, overall AM stations account for only 21% of radio outlets.

Part of Mr. Pai's prescription for healing AM is to eliminate outdated regulations with regard to interference from new AM transmission equipment, but he also mentions HD Radio, and he suggests that long-term, all AM stations could convert to digital transmission—a move that would obsolete existing AM radios.

Mr. Pai is taking to the AM airwaves to make his case. FMQB reports that in July, he visited KDKA in Pittsburgh to outline his AM Radio Revitalization Initiative.

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