The FCC’s order adopted in late October authorizing AM stations to voluntarily convert to operations in a fully-digital mode became effective yesterday when the approval of its information-collection obligations under the Paperwork Reduction Act was announced in the Federal Register. This means that AM stations can opt for full-digital operations, which many have argued will provide a stronger, more stable digital AM signal with improved fidelity and more resistance to the environmental noise that plagues analog AM reception. We wrote about the draft of the FCC’s order adopting these rules, and the paperwork required for a station to convert, here. An FCC Form 335-AM must be filed upon a station’s conversion, containing information about the digital operation. That form includes, among other required information, certifications that the digital operation meets all power and bandwidth requirements and can comply with EAS requirements. Converting stations must provide 30 days of notices to their analog listeners before switching to digital.
Will there be a rush of stations looking to take advantage of this opportunity? The trade press has reported on several stations already making the change. While most have associated FM translators so that their programming will continue to be available to analog listeners in their market even after their digital conversion, there have been stations that have opted to convert even without a translator. These stations are seemingly banking on factory-installed digital AM radios that are included in some new cars. We assume that other AM operators will take a wait and see attitude while some others, finding less and less of a return on AM facilities, may embrace this all-digital option as a way of attempting to revive this challenged part of the radio ecosystem. Whatever your thoughts may be, if you operate an AM station, the opportunity is now open for full digital operations.
Update, 4/30/2021 – The FCC has issued a Public Notice confirming the April 29 effective date and the current availability of the new Form 335-AM.