You've probably read about FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai's AM improvement initiative. To date, it's been all talk.
At the NAB Radio Show in Orlando, on Wednesday Acting Chair Mignon Clyburn announced a formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking has been circulated. I haven't seen the text of the NPRM yet, but in her comments at the show she said it includes:
A special filing window for new FM translators. Each existing AM licensee and each construction permit for a new AM station will be allowed to apply for one new FM translator in their service area.
Some observers have interpreted this as a FCC guarantee that every AM station will get a FM relay. I'm pretty confident that interpretation is incorrect. The FCC is currently processing thousands of FM translator applications that are already on file. A filing window for new LPFM stations will open in a few weeks. By the time these two groups of applications are processed, I think most AM stations in urban areas will find there are no available frequencies for FM translators.
However, Clyburn's proposal could be beneficial for AM stations in rural areas.
- Relaxing the minimum signal strength required across the city of license during the day.
Relaxing the minimum signal strength required across the city of license at night.
These two proposals would make it easier for AM stations to move to new sites. (as is often required when the land the station is on is more valuable than the station..) The station may not be able to find a site where they can erect an antenna system that would provide an adequate signal across their current city of license, and they may not be able to change their city of license due to various non-technical regulations.
- Eliminating the "rachet rule". This rule requires an AM station making a technical change to reduce the interference it causes to other stations.
- Making it easier to employ "MDCL" technology, where the station's transmitter power is continuously adjusted to be just enough to accommodate the volume of the program material at any particular moment. MDCL is more efficient, it reduces electricity costs.
- Reduce the required efficiency of an AM transmitting antenna by about 25%. This will allow the use of shorter towers.
This is a notice of PROPOSED rulemaking, it doesn't mean any of these actions WILL happen. However, two Commissioners are obviously on board. There are only three Commissioners right now.. I suspect we'll see most if not all of this happen.
And it is, IMHO, the wrong way to go.
The goal, especially of points 2, 3, 4, and 6, is to prop up AM stations that would otherwise find it impossible to continue. In my opinion, the only thing that will truly save AM radio is to thin out the band, getting rid of as many stations as possible. (up to about 80% of existing stations)