Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Digital AM Tests

For years now we have been hearing about how digital AM will revitalize AM radio. Personally I think it's about as likely as Paul Rubens being elected to the Senate. AM radio station has a maximum bandwidth of 20 kHz, it is patently and inherently inferior to an FM station with 200 kHz of bandwidth—end of story. The estimated throughput of any all-digital AM schema is just 20 to 40 kilobits per second. This is not to say that I don't listen or that it's noise and affect isn't without it's charm. I listen to acetate recordings which we all know sound awful. The point is that anyone promising you "High Definition" or "High Fidelity" Digital AM radio is selling snake oil.

This service has been promised to us before. In fact in 2010 FCC approved IBOC (In-Band On-Channel) digital radio operation for both day and night  AM broadcasts. You can see a list of the 300+ stations using this service that no one cares about here. You will notice that over half of the list is are distributed across just three media owners: Disney, Cumulus and Clear Channel. [Damn you Little John.] The important note here is that they have permission from the FCC. None of them actually broadcast in HD so far as I know.
  • 18 - CBS
  • 17 - Radio Disney (but not for long)
  • 86 - Clear Channel
  • 24 - Cumulus
This month two radio stations in the Seattle metro are performed a series of digital tests.  Those brave test monkeys are 1380 KRKO-AM and 1520 KKXA-AM.  The two stations share studio space in Everette, WA and are owned by Andy Skotdal. KKXA only signed on in 2004 airing classic country KRKO airs Fox Sports and is a genuine heritage station dating back to 1922. They will partner together with NAB Labs for the tests. Real world test results will be submitted to the FCC in 2015. Andy claims that analog listeners will hear nothing but silence during the fun. Listeners with HD radios in the Seattle metro might be able to hear science happening.