Thirty years or so ago the term ‘clear channel’ had a somewhat different meaning than it has today.
You were in special company as part of the ‘clear channel’ club.
These were the ‘power house’ stations like WGN, WBZ, WLW, WABC, and KFI.
All were 50KW non directional stations day AND night.
They were virtually alone on their frequencies often covering up to thirty eight states with skywave.
Sometime in the 80s a move was made to break down the clears.
One by one stations were added to the clear channel frequencies cutting down on their skywave coverage.
The thinking was these powerful metropolitan stations could not serve smaller towns as well as a local service on the same frequency.
Many strange combinations of power and directional patterns were used to put new stations on the air.
In the end the AM band became a jumbled mess.
Today there are AM stations operating with as many as eleven towers that have difficulty being heard in their city of license.
Power levels can be as low two or three watts.
Who does all this serve?
Looking at ratings in most cities. Hardly anybody.
If AM has become a money loser and many of the cities have outgrown the AM signal coverage, rethinking it is long overdue.
These days other than IBOC, it’s rare to hear anyone suggest ways to improve AM service.
OK, so I’ll make some suggestions.
It’s my blog, all they can tell me is NO!
So here goes.
Instead of cutting power back, adding towers and adding more stations the FCC should consider the following;
- Cut back on the total number of stations, way back!
- Raise power significantly on remaining stations
- Make all or most non-directional.
Most importantly bring back the clears!
Make them very high power, highly desirable properties with outstanding coverage. Their assignment should be based on population needs of the United States in 2008 and beyond.
Remember, AM signals don’t cover like they did in the 1930s when the original 50KW stations were assigned. There is far more interference from lights, electronics and other stuff that limit radio signals.
Cities exist in southern locales where only small towns could before air conditioning. A disproportionate number of 50KW stations are in the north.
Assign a special class license to these stations.
- Require a commitment to news and service.
- Locally targeted programming, limiting amount of network programming used – careful this is not about government dictating content in any way.
- A detailed emergency plan for storms, disasters, terrorism.
- Make them a hub to feed other AM and FM stations during emergency programming.
- Provide special assistance such as grants to fund back up transmitters, generators and studios, to make sure they stay on the air in times of trouble.
- Have each station strategically placed around the country to guarantee 100% coverage of the US by at least one of the signals both day and night.
- Give them high power of 100 KW or more, possibly as much as 250KW
- Allow only one station per channel, a true clear channel.
- Give each clear channel station a full market FM signal to simulcast 24/7, most listening and a younger audience is on FM.
- Guard the transmitter sites like during World War II to protect them for national defense.
- Tie them into all promotion with NOAA, FEMA and other agencies as the source for up to the minute emergency information so the public knows where to go all of the time.
- Turn off the IBOC noise.
- These are NOT government stations to be managed and ruled by politicians, they are important sources of information and service like under the FCC rules pre-1996 run by independent broadcasters.
- Make it a competitive process. Don’t hand the licenses out like candy or because an owner has a former clear channel signal now. If you want it, prove you deserve it. This ain’t your garden variety radio station we’re talking about here.
Will high power and a free FM station give these stations an unfair advantage?
Hopefully, it does.
If your company is willing to step up and do it right, you should get some breaks.
Only serious broadcasters need apply.
That should get the debate started.
Now it’s your turn.