Is AM Radio Still Relevant?

C. Crane started in 1983 selling AM antennas. We have progressed so we now manufacture a range of high quality radios of most types. We were one of the first U.S. distributors of Internet radios, but the vast majority of customers still prefer the instantaneous free convenience of radio.

If you don’t have time to read this but want to help keep AM stations capable of long distant night time broadcasts here is a link to KFI who has organized a petition to keep it the way it is:

Is AM Radio Still Relevant?

The FCC is proposing radical changes to AM radio signals. They have already adopted some of the proposed changes, but others that could have a more noticeable impact are still under review and are now open for comment. Currently smaller stations generally have to reduce power and sometimes change the direction they broadcast their signal so they don’t interfere with more powerful stations. What this means is larger 50,000 Watt stations like KGO, San Francisco; WGY, New York; KDKA, Pittsburgh; WGN, Chicago and many, many  more are capable of transmitting several hundred miles at night and early morning.  Those stations have a “protected” status during those specified hours.  They’re known as clear channel stations (not to be confused with Clear Channel Broadcasting).

This proposal is being called the AM Revitalization plan and some of the reasoning behind it stems from what is called the AM radio noise floor level. With the increase in all things electronic (think smart phones, televisions, Bluetooth and even LED light bulbs), the noise produced by all of these things has impacted AM Radio and not for the better. In many areas (you may be in one of them) the noise is so bad that AM, and in some cases FM, is almost not listenable.  Another argument in favor of these changes is to allow room for more local stations or to expand coverage for existing local stations.  In theory, this expansion would give listeners a wider choice of programming. A lesser understood impact may include these larger powered stations losing up to 46% of their listenership due to the change in the late night coverage where their signal currently travels hundreds of miles. One of the biggest concerns for losing this protection is the unintended consequences.  The FCC claim of how these changes will work out is actually a theory while the reality of implementation will be different. Unfortunately this is not a “try again” situation if the results are considered horrible by some listeners. It is a situation best served with the idea of “doing no harm”.

C. Crane has talked first hand with over one million AM radio listeners concerned with improving their AM reception. There is a considerable group of listeners who enjoy or by circumstance choose to use radio as their primary source of news and entertainment. They many times live in a more rural setting listening to distant stations. They are generally satisfied watching the world go by with radio as a companion. We would compare them to a sleeping bear that might take a remarkable exception to being poked with a stick. You might take this as a challenge until you meet some of these fine people and realize the misplaced destruction caused by eliminating their signal of choice.

There is a lot of discussion about AM being dead or being much less important than it was before cellular phones, WiFi, satellite radio and even FM Radio. There are many people who can’t afford, don’t have or don’t want access to WiFi or cellular services.  The proposed FCC changes could irreversibly affect those who rely on that AM radio signal each night to be informed and entertained.

You may not know why AM radio is very important to the United States, Canada, Australia and China but it is because all of these countries are too big to be covered with a free source of news. All of these countries also have a large relatively unknown group who listen at night. Taking clear channel stations away would affect a great many people.

Possible remedies to improve AM reception:

The FCC could consider a power increase for local stations one at a time. If you look at the comments on this topic, you can see it is too complex to make this kind of change with one general stroke of the pen. A one size fits all approach isn’t going to work. Guidelines can be developed to help the submission process and make this work better for all.

Local stations can stream when their signal goes down in power. The cost is low. A small subscription and/or advertising would be more than adequate.

New technology has given us at least one possible simple solution but it would take 10 years to implement. Bandwidth filters for receivers are quite good and inexpensive now since one chip supplier went into making AM/FM chips. They also make one that has a noise blanker that will likely work well on radio noise. So if broadcasters were able to keep their signal contained to bandwidth specifications and receivers matched it could work much better than it does now for the listener. If it works as well as we expect then the FCC could reduce the AM bandwidth to 8KHz and add more stations. Intelligent offsetting the stations geographically would mean less interference. All we would need is receivers capable of 1 Kilohertz resolution which would be mandated by the FCC.

Last reasons for AM stations

We all take the Internet for granted and in our opinion it is unlikely it will ever fail catastrophically. If it did fail the U.S. has no backup system which would plunge our great country into complete chaos. Until we are sure it can’t fail why eliminate 50,000 watt clear channel AM stations. They would be the only possible backup source of information capable of spanning the nation. Our military still installs and uses sophisticated High Frequency AM radios as a backup for a reason.

Here are some places you can go to learn more and form your own opinion

There are stations and individuals for and against these proposed changes. Some arguing that the only local programming is religious, some stating that in localized emergencies, only local stations report on it and others offering what seem like reasonable compromises or suggestions. One thing is clear: Times are changing and there is a limited opportunity to be heard.

We are curious on your take, tell us your opinion – please share in the comments, but if you really want to be heard, you can file a comment either electronically or through the mail  Comments are being accepted through March 21st 2016 and replies through April 18th.

34 Responses to “Is AM Radio Still Relevant?”

  1. psteckler Says:

    Can you summarize the proposed changes?

  2. Bill Says:

    I don’t listen to much AM radio these days, but while growing up in Cleveland in the 60’s I listened to KDKA Pittsburgh’s weekend evening shows. I just checked and they are STILL in Pittsburgh, not in Philadelphia as this article states. You might want to fix it…

  3. paleohippy Says:

    Messing with AM comms just before the SHTF… makes me wonder. I wish CCrane would get more into “enhanced” CB.

  4. Russel Thorup Says:

    Moving from S.F. Bay area to Pendleton, OR, we do not receive the programming KGO in SF broadcasts. KGO comes in here quite well at night and they are the station to which I listen. I would hate to lose this option for some dumb FCC ruling.

  5. Peter H Says:

    I only listen to am stations, lucky my car a 2002 Nissan Xterra came with a real antenna and I while I am in south jersey I can receive 770 out of new York that carries the conservative content I want to listen to that is not Carried in the Philadelphia broadcast area. Yes there is more noise on the am frequency now but it is still my preferred band.

  6. Bill Kunz Says:

    Which radio has a blanker?

  7. Chris campbell Says:

    I just filed a comment in the FCC proceeding, suggesting that local broadcasting is satisfactory via FM and that AM late-night long-distance broadcasting is a valuable service. I said it at much greater length. The comment should be available for public viewing tomorrow (3/16).

    Chris Campbell

  8. Marjorie O. Cunningham Says:

    Years ago I listened to nighttime radio quite often. With the giant KOA in Denver (I’m in El Paso) there were talk shows all night, and Art Bell was everywhere. I can’t tell you how much it meant to have a “connection” when I was sleepless and alone. Nowadays I rely a lot on Internet radio and it’s great, but I understand how a lot of folks need a steady source of radio listening without wi-fi. I would be in favor of keeping the 50,000 watt stations.

    And on another note, I would trust the C. Crane company on anything radio-related. I use their radios every day and am considering buying a new Internet radio from them, too. It’s one of the really genuine companies out there that cares about not only their products, but their customers, too. Super company, super personnel, guaranteed.

  9. Doug Bert Says:

    A stumbling block to the noise filter approach is the vast number of existing AM radios in homes and particularly in automobiles. Buying a $10-20 emergency radio for your home is one thing but how would you upgrade the millions of older cars? Many people drive old cars because they can’t afford anything else. Do you think they’d be willing and/or able to afford a replacement radio?

    Cars are particularly important because when you are in a car, especially an older model, your only access to what is happening around you is the radio. Tornado coming? Bridge out? Even a simple traffic accident blocking all lanes of I-10 can be a major emergency for people in cars.

  10. Dan Says:

    Not only is KDKA still there, the 100-yr. anniversary will be on
    Aug. 20, 2020. A cash machine in Pittsburgh.

  11. George Sitts Says:

    …and WGY is still in Schenectady, NY. Our eighth grade class visited there and watched live broadcast with small orchestras about 1952.
    I listen each night to some distant AM programs on KFI, Los Angeles and KKOH, Reno. The noise floor level is getting noticeably worse year by year.

  12. Gregory Knittel Says:

    I listen to AM radio all the time. News and talk shows. I listen primarily now to 910 KKSF from San Francisco. Since KGO died and was taken over I do not tune into 810 AM often these days. But the signal from 910 is weak and brings too much static. I have tried most of your radios but the best solution has been wifi. I would like to see some local programs get a boost. The powerful stations are all corporate now anyway and I appreciate more diversity. I will write to the FCC
    Thank you for bringing this to my attention

  13. Rayburn Giles Says:

    As a child I would build crystal and one tube radios and stay up most all night and DX. Some of the 50,000 watt stations could be reached in Mississippi, I don’t remember all of them but, I do remember one was in New York. I am now 87 years old and still listen to AM radio. I hope AM will survive and get better.

  14. Dan Petitpas Says:

    Just wanted to note that in many parts of the country there are only one or two local radio stations, with those stations using repeaters to broadcast within rural or mountainous areas. In somewhat larger communities, there are a lot of automated stations where there is no live programming or even a technician on duty at night. The clear channel stations still serve a purpose to provide live programming throughout the country. And they can be used in a national emergency to distribute information to folks who may be in the affected areas. In Boston, we have the venerable WBZ-AM that broadcasts to 38 states at night. Cell phone and WiFi coverage isn’t there yet to serve as a replacement. We still need these stations. I hope the FCC reconsiders.

  15. Stuart Says:

    AM radio is family to me. It’s a constant companion, pretty much. Talk shows, of course, but where else on the air can you hear Frankie, Dino, Perry, Bing, Nat, Doris, and some Mancini? AM content is the last bastion of civilization in media. Also, I don’t want AM reception TOO clear….I like a little noise, especially at night. It gives a warm feel of distance and remote solitude. Art Bell now sounds like he’s in the next room. Perfection is sterile.

    Technically, the first thing that comes to my mind, not knowing how broadcasting works, is why not have lower power, but multiple and relayed, tower transmissions instead of one big signal source? Cell towers for the AM band, essentially. Too expensive?

  16. Bob Luff Says:

    While the AM (& FM) radio stations in the ‘rural’ areas I live/ travel in (Eastern Shore, MD) provide entertainment mostly from satellite format feeds and just don’t have the staff/ budget to be very useful during our hurricane, snow, traffic, and power outage emergencies. They seem to be the last to know what’s happening in their own backyards. I’d be cautious making power/ assignment changes based on their ‘critical roll’ for local news & information… it just doesn’t happen, at least in our area. Local election/ referendum results… never heard any. 9/11 attacks… uninterrupted formatted music. World Series, Final Four, Election Night, local in-progress tornado… formatted music. From a few days before Thanksgiving to about New Year’s Eve… non-stop Xmas music. Now to be perfectly fair, they do infrequently insert brief pre-recorded ‘news & wx’ lasting a minute or less at various times. Our local stations would be the last place I would go to for any news or wx that was critical.

  17. James Says:

    I can’t find enough local FM stations whose programming appeals to me to fill the 18 pre-set choices on my car radio, but I regularly alternate among the bank of 6 AM presets for the news and talk programming I prefer, including one of the stations that would be affected by this proposal. My first broadcasting job was in local AM daytime radio in the Northeast that would be stomped on by a Canadian signal when we were allowed to broadcast at lower power after local sunset. I never understood the importance of the reach of some of these clear channel stations until moving to the Rocky Mountain West and hearing the geographical range of callers to nighttime programming on Denver’s 50,000-watt AM news/talk powerhouse. That station is a shadow of its former self, running no locally-originated content after 8pm except for certain sports broadcasts to which they hold exclusive rights. I cannot imagine something more short-sighted than this plan removing the option for long-distance listenership for the many who can or would rely on such a signal for news and weather emergencies. This proposal strikes me as pure bureaucratic overreach. It should be defeated.

  18. Steve Welch Says:

    A CC Skywave coupled with a Twin Coil AM Antenna allow me to consistently listen every night to San Fransisco’s KSFO, KGO and others all the way down to San Diego. Stations to the north as far as Seattle and beyond, as well as Reno’s KKOH, are stored in my little radio’s memory and tuned in regularly. Here in southwestern Oregon’s Applegate Valley local AM from Medford, only 30 miles away, completely disappears after sunset. I’ve had a nighttime radio habit since the late 50s when my dad let me save a well-used tube set that was on its way to the dump. My C. Crane – EP gets it done beautifully during the day but…it’s a little heavy on my chest while my old dog and my old self hold the bed down in the darkness. Thanks for the heads-up on possible disruption of our daily routine. If things go south on AM I’ll at least know why.

  19. Bob Cadwell Says:

    I listen to AM constantly. I sure would hate to see any changes. Sometimes our local stations are a mite hard to receive as they have to cut power at night. But a good antenna has helped me with this problem. If the FCC could make it better than I would say a change would be good. But if they are considering doing away with some stations, I would certainly oppose that.AM radio is my major source of information.

  20. Sid Says:

    When the Internet does go down AM stations and ham radio operators will be the only means for people to get information.
    To restrict or eliminate either service is a disservice to this great country of ours. Many newer consumer radios have NOAA weather and ham band reception in addition to AM and FM. Make your voice heard. Submit your comments to the FCC.

  21. David_W_M Says:

    We have lost so much ground in the way of civil national security in the past 30 years this is just another huge blow to safety network. Clear channel stations go beyond just be able to broadcast a clear signal to rural areas they are required to a varied degree of redundancy to keep a signal operating during a man made or natural disaster. In addition many clear channel stations are the generation point for the EAS and are part other national emergency communications system. On the receiving end the electronics are relatively cheap to make a receiver and most every FM radio has an AM band receiver. One could argue about a lack of content by the crazy corporate take over of all bands of broadcasting but that has little to do with the small, rare, independent broadcaster being on the air.

  22. rjbronder Says:

    I listen to KQV, PITTSBURGH,PA and i get background interference from another station which isnot clear enough to listen to, but very annoying.

  23. g.r. hall Says:

    keep the AM stations as they are. we have some problems in Houston,especially at night. nothing is like talk radio.

  24. John Lingaton Says:

    It seems AM Radio is the only source for intelligent information these days. I grew up on AM Radio and I remember when the FM band got to be popular in the late 60’s, I loved the FM rock stations, now I am a 66 year old conservative AM Radio listener 100 % of the time. How life has its’ cycles. I sure hope AM radio never changes. Thank You CCrane for keeping the possibility of listening to AM Radio alive with your super radios.

  25. Ray Reed Says:

    Loved reading about everyone’s am radio experiences. Grew up in the 50s, 60s in NH. Worked for 30 years at area
    AM stations 1K dropped to lightbulb wattage at night. 2 of our 3 am stations have gone off the air and torn down their towers. The other, WTSL now has a low power fm signal. Now if they would do local news and public service.
    Still tune in our big signals if I’m driving alone. WBZ, WGY, Montreal 800am WDEV, Waterbuy, VT…that’s about it.
    Too much static for my wife. I bought internet radio from Crane. Now if I could figure out what to do with it….

    Ray in NH

    • Marjorie O. Cunningham Says:

      (Psst, Ray! I love my Internet radio because I tune in to “Old Time Radio” stations, where the Great Gildersleeve, Gunsmoke, Dragnet, Philip Marlowe, The Shadow, The Lone Ranger, Our Miss Brooks and all the gang live. You can listen to radio from the 30’s to 50’s, 24/7 if you’d like. They came along slightly before my time so I’m catching up on all the “new” shows!)

  26. David Obergoenner Says:

    I’m just not sure you folks really get it. The power-hungry in DC HATE free over the air broadcasting! Mostly because it’s nearly impossible to control. They don’t like most of the content, and they don’t like that it’s free. This ruination of the (most hated) AM band is just another step along their power-path. They want everyone to have to plug in a wire, or have a WiFi IP address that they can tax, or shut off any time they feel like it. I smell freedom slipping farther away with this!

  27. Jim Jones Says:

    Some have wanted to silence Rush Limbaugh (since the Clinton administration), Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and numerous other well liked Conservative radio talk show hosts for years – looks like they’re trying a new tactic.

  28. paleohippy Says:

    KOB in Albuquerque cuts their AM signal strength at night and so cuts out a potential 100,000 east/west listeners. He who controls the narrative controls the war.

  29. Bob Cadwell Says:

    WTAD , Quincy, Illinois station also cuts their power from 5000 watts to 1000 watts at night. I had to buy an outside ant to be able to get them at night. I am not happy about it and wonder why they do it. Maybe the govt makes them do it, I don’t know. But it is a nuiance to have to put up an ant to get a local station.

  30. bruce hoffman Says:

    Short answer… And it personally delights me to see clear channel inc. losing listeners and losing revenue. They bought what ended up becoming tantamount to all profits from pay phones. I might feel bad if their real attempt had not been to control the political narrative in this country. They have no interest in an informed listener. I drove millions of miles commercially when AM was all that there was and have them many on my facebook feed and interestingly enough they remind me of the govenor of my state in that if I was a 50 thousand watt flame thrower and had three comments on a post, from people that cannot form a sentence, I would not have a facebook page at all.

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