When I was a young lad, still impressionable I might add, I would listen to the big AM powerhouses at night with my little transistor radio. I have eluded to this in previous posts. I have also written an article for Radio World in which I suggest turning AM transmitter off on overnight hours to save money, with certain caveats. I still listen to AM radio quite often. I have a Kenwood R-2000 MF/HF receiver which, while not the best technical receiver, is the best sounding AM receiver I have ever heard. It’s wide AM IF bandwidth is 6.5 kHz, which seems to work very well with the high end pre-emphasis curves most good AM processors employ. Music, especially oldies, which were recorded in AM’s hay day sound spectacular. There is no other AM radio that sounds as good as this unit. Right now, the sun has just set and I am listening to WFED 1500 KHz in Washington DC. They are airing a VOA program called “Issues in the News.” It’s real red meat radio. We are 250 air miles from the transmitter site.
I think there is a place for AM stations, not just merely being satellite repeaters, but making a meaningful contribution to their communities of license. Unfortunately, I am one of the few that thinks so. For as long as I have been in radio, AM has been declining. It is a matter of economics, most GM’s would tell me. That being said, the two three letter calls signs that I worked at were consistently in the top four in the rating book. Clearly, live local programming was the key to this success.
The notion that they sound bad may or may not be true. An AM station that has a properly tuned and matched antenna can sound very good. Using a good receiver, one that has good fidelity, good selection and sensitivity can also increase listening pleasure. Unfortunately, most all AM radios being sold today have an IF bandwidth that is only slightly better than a telephone around 2-3 kHz. This is because… I don’t know. Originally receiver manufactures began limiting bandwidth to reduce interference. NRSC-2 was supposed to limit interference by reducing out of bandwidth splatter. Apparently the manufactures didn’t get the word.
Who knows, as the FM band gets filled with shit (interference from adjacent channel IBOC, translators shoe horned in, LPFM’s on third adjacent channels) AM radio might be viable again.
Once the money men got a hold of the broadcasting industry, everything was geared toward making money. Not that making money is wrong, it is certainly good to make a profit, however, with the margins on the FM stations, usually between 25-50%, AM stations were relegated to second place because their margins were much less than that. Even so, many AM stations were initially profitable during the consolidation and still had some ratings. Not so any more. AM stations also require more maintenance, because of directional antennas and all that is associated with those systems. What a banker or an accountant sees when he looks at an AM radio station is a money pit. And, if the station has been run into the ground, it is a money pit.
Still, a small AM at a fire sale price might be fun to rehab. Launch some type of community radio format, put AM radio back were it was 30 years ago, solidly in the community. It might be fun.