Skip to main content

The end of an era?

As a child growing up in the Chicago area, I listen religiously to AM radio just to hear the latest Top 40 hits. My “go to” station was WLS 890 AM. The lo-fi crackle, hiss and pop of this AM radio station played on my portable AM radio or in my parents’ car while I was being driven around.

Music transmitted via AM radio was in mono and sounded very tinny and lifeless- very little bass, lots of high ends and plenty of mid-range. It wasn’t until I bought my favorite AM radio Top 40 song on a 45 or LP and played it back on my parent’s stereo system that I would unlock the song’s full spectrum of hi-fi sound.

The FCC is currently considering the idea of allowing radio stations to broadcast a digital signal on the AM band. Broadcasters now possess the technology to clean up all the noise and tininess of the AM signal, and make it sound like its big brother: the FM signal. The only drawback is to this is that analog receivers (those that can not receive High Definition audio) would not be able to encode a digital AM broadcast. In other words, the portable radio I had as a kid would be rendered useless, as would any radio in a vehicle that does not receive a digital signal. Today, HD receivers are in 25% of car radios and they would be capable of receiving a digital AM signal.

WCSF is on the air

FCC chairman Ajit Pai wrote on his blog “AM radio stations are currently authorized to operate with either analog signals or hybrid signals, which combine analog and digital signals. In three weeks, we will consider a proposal to allow AM licensees to broadcast using an all-digital signal on a voluntary basis. It would seek comment on topics ranging from the predicted benefits of all-digital AM broadcasting to the interference potential of all-digital stations, as well as addressing the technical standards for all-digital AM stations. And because all-digital broadcasting would be on a voluntary basis, AM operators would be the ones deciding if transitioning is right for them.”

So what will radio stations do? Broadcast a great sounding, hi-fidelity signal on the AM band, or remain in lo-fi land and cater to the 75% of cars that don’t have an HD receiver? As a child, I wish I had the opportunity to listen to a digital AM signal. It would have saved me a lot of money that I spent buying records just to hear that Top 40 hit in high fidelity.

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.