The NAB’s AM study

As has been widely reported in other places, the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) has completed its study of AM Radio and recommendations to improve the service.  The NAB has taken a cautious, if not somewhat paternalistic approach of holding the report while they review their options.  It seems that the technical nature of such a document would not be understood by us mere mortals.

Some of the AM improvement options that have been bantered about in the past include:

  • Moving AM stations to the vacant frequencies of TV Channels 5 and 6, see this.
  • Reducing the number of AM stations on the band, see this.
  • Increasing transmission power of AM stations, see this.
  • Converting AM stations to all digital modulation, see this.

There may be a few other options considered also.

It does not take too much analytical prowess to deduce where the NAB’s proposal is going.  My prediction is that they will be promoting an all digital “solution” to the AM broadcasting issue using iBquity’s HD Radio product.  I base this prediction on the fact that all of the major radio members of the NAB (Clear Channel, Cumulus, CBS, et al) are heavily invested in the iBquity product.  For this reason, the NAB will find (or has found) that digital broadcasting in the medium wave band will solve all of the current perceived problems with AM and everyone should embrace the technology.

A few numbers to note:

  • iBiquity and the FCC data base reports that there are currently either 270 or 299 AM station licensed to operate with HD Radio. Other sources note that several of these stations have been turned off and the actual number using HD Radio is 215.
  • There are 4754 AM stations licensed by the FCC.
  • Currently HD Radio is transmitted 4-6% of the AM stations in the country.
  • It costs $25,000 US to license a single HD Radio station through iBiquity.  They are, however, discounting that to between $11,500 and 13,500 and have a convenient payment plan (limited time offer, expires December 31, 2012, FCC license fees are extra).
  • It costs between $75,000 and $150,000 to equip and or modify a single AM station with HD Radio gear.

Unless iBiquity drops all patent claims and licensing fees to use its product, an FCC mandate for AM stations to install HD Radio would be skating dangerously close to corporate fascism (AKA Mussolini Fascism or Corporatism) as one corporate entity would then control broadcast radio by licensing its modulation scheme.  And no, the patent is not going to expire.

Digital modulation schemes used in the medium wave band have their own set of technical issues.  HD Radio is not the panacea for AM broadcasting’s self inflicted woes.