A petition was recently filed at the FCC proposing to allow all AM stations to increase to 10 times their current power in order to overcome the effects of interference that has grown up in most urban areas from the operation of all sorts of electronic equipment, fluorescent lights and other devices that simply did not exist when AM power levels were first established. The petition was drafted by an engineer, who argues that, as the amount of background noise from all sorts of electronic devices has increased, so has the noise on the AM band. He believes that the only way to make the AM signal usable is to vastly increase power on all stations. As the stations would maintain their relative power levels towards each other, he claims that there would not be increased interference between AM stations – but that the increased power levels would overcome the background noise. However, because of AM skywave issues, the petition suggests that nighttime power levels remain at their current levels.
How realistic is this proposal? The petition recognizes that, in border areas, the power increase could not happen without international coordination and the amendment of existing treaties. But, given the proposed high power for AM stations and the cumulative effect that their signals can have on distant stations, this increase could seemingly affect international AM stations even if the US stations increasing power are far from the border. However, the use of AM stations has been decreasing in some countries – in Canada, a number of AM stations have already ceased operating, so maybe the international implications could be overcome given enough time.
The proposal does pose other problems. Already, many AM stations have difficult problems locating acceptable tower sites when their present sites are lost. The potential for increased RF radiation concerns from AM stations with much higher power levels may well make power increases for many urban stations impractical even if this proposal were to be adopted. And, if a station cannot increase power due to RF concerns, such a station may be subject to severely increased interference from stations that are able to increase power.
Any adoption might also have a negative impact on the FCC’s consideration of the proposal to move all AM stations to an expanded FM band, taking advantage of TV channels 5 and 6, which have been vacated by full power TV operators in many parts of the country. That proposal is already before the FCC as a way of dealing with many of the same issues that the petitioner identifies (see our post here).
There has obviously been a decrease in the listening to AM in many markets – with many AM stations going dark or selling for smaller and smaller prices. Do AM operators think that this is a viable proposal, or are there other technical issues with the proposal? Are there other ways for AM stations to overcome the interference posed by modern electrical devices. Any thoughts on these questions from our readers?