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Before the Federal Communications Commission Washington, D.C.

In the matter of: ) ) )

Revitalization of the AM Radio Service

MB Docket No. 13-249

COMMENTS OF SCOTT FYBUSH

Scott Fybush hereby submits these comments in response to the Commissions Oct. 31, 2013 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the above-captioned proceeding:

QUALIFICATIONS

Fybush has worked in and around AM radio since 1991, as a journalist at WKOX(AM), Framingham, Massachusetts, WCAP(AM), Lowell, Massachusetts, WBZ(AM), Boston, Massachusetts and WXXI(AM), Rochester, N.Y. As a journalist and analyst covering the broadcast industry, Fybush has edited or written for trade publications including The Radio Journal, Radio World, Radio Guide, Current, and since 1994 his own NorthEast Radio Watch1, covering broadcast engineering, technology, regulatory and business issues. As a consultant, Fybush has advised station owners and groups on signal improvement and acquisition strategy. Since 2000, Fybush has profiled broadcast facilities on the weekly Tower Site of the Week page and in the annual Tower Site Calendar, with special attention to the history of AM transmission in the United States. He has visited and studied thousands of broadcast facilities from coast to coast. Fybush (hereinafter, Commenter) is a member of trade and hobby organizations including the Society of Broadcast Engineers, the National Radio Club and the Worldwide TV-FM DX Association. His comments here are strictly his own.

http://www.fybush.com/

INTRODUCTION The Commissions renewed attention to the plight of AM radio comes at perhaps the last moment at which it can be of any practical benefit. As it approaches its 100th anniversary, AM radio in the U.S. is plagued by historically high interference levels, deteriorating receiver design, an aging universe of transmission facilities and a plethora of competitors for the attention span of would-be listeners. With nearly 5,000 AM stations on the air across the country, the U.S. has a wider variety and larger number of broadcast facilities than almost any other nation on earth. It is nearly impossible to generalize about a typical AM station, and thus to create a onesize-fits-all regulatory policy that can apply to everything from a 250-watt daytimer in Montana to a 50,000-watt class A station in New York or Los Angeles. However, these comments will attempt to address three broad categories of station that, in the opinion and experience of this commenter, encompass most of the AM stations seeking to benefit from a revision of the FCCs regulations.

The Giants Only a small handful of AM stations are fully technically competitive at the highest levels of American radio. In most of the biggest markets rated by Nielsen Audio, fewer than a half-dozen AM stations can provide 10 mV/m or better signals2 to all or nearly all of the rated metro area both day and night. Even using the Commissions accepted service standards (100% 5 mV/m day, 80% NIF night), there are numerous large metros in which not a single AM station covers the entire market day and night, putting the entire AM dial at an immediate disadvantage.3 Almost without exception, the giant AM stations that are fully technically competitive in large markets are 50,000-watt class A stations operating with essentially the same technical facilities they have enjoyed since the 1930s. Depending upon the
While the Commissions rules have long established 5 mV/m as the standard for daytime groundwave coverage of community of license, analysis of Nielsen Audio ratings broken out by ZIP code now show that due to ever-increasing levels of man-made interference, AM stations in medium and large markets draw the lions share of their ratings only in areas where they deliver 10 mV/m or more of signal. The Commissions rules once required 25 mV/m of signal over the main post office of the city of license, a level that seems prescient in retrospect. 3 These markets include Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Tampa-St. Petersburg, Providence, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Tucson, Birmingham and Winston-Salem, N.C.
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geographic size of the markets they serve, the ground conductivity around their transmitter sites and the history of high-powered allocations in their regions4, some major metropolitan areas have one or even zero AM stations that can claim a level of service equal to or better than the full class B or C FM stations with which they must compete. In metropolitan areas as large as Atlanta, Houston, Miami-Fort Lauderdale and Washington, D.C., there is now no AM station that can fully cover the market as it exists in 2014. Even in the large markets that still have several fully-competitive AM signals, station owners have found it necessary to simulcast their programming on full-market FM stations in order to compete in todays marketplace5. For most of these remaining AM giants, there is no longer any practical economic benefit derived from wide-area skywave coverage at night. The concern, instead, is groundwave coverage at the edges of metro markets that have sprawled dramatically since most of these stations built their current transmitter plants in the years just before or after World War II.

The Middle of the Pack Beyond the 100-200 biggest signals that qualify as fully-competitive giants are some 2,000-plus AM stations that are perhaps most in need of FCC regulatory intervention in order to have any chance at survival. These stations are largely class B regional signals, the umbrella designation established by the Rio treaty to replace former domestic classes I-B, II-A, II-B and III. In the very largest markets, these stations struggle (even with 50,000 watts in many cases) to provide sufficient signal level to metropolitan areas that have seen population sprawl into locations never envisioned by the engineers who designed their directional patterns in the 1940s and 1950s. Unlike the giant stations transmitter plants, which Commission
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Despite the Commissions effort to better spread out high-powered AM allocations over the lengthy course of its clear-channel proceedings in the 1950s and 1960s, the pattern of high-power AM signal distribution around the U.S. still largely follows the population patterns of the era before World War II, an impediment to which the only real solution would be a wholesale reallocation of the AM band, a practical impossibility in the 21st century. 5 Prominent examples of this trend include WSCR, Chicago (50 kW ND fulltime), WWL, New Orleans (50 kW DA-1), KCBS, San Francisco (50 kW DA-1) and WFAN, New York (50 kW ND fulltime). WSB, Atlanta (50 kW ND fulltime) suffers from the worst ground conductivity of any major market and has begun simulcasting on a powerful FM sibling, WSBB-FM, Doraville, GA, in an attempt to fill in coverage gaps.

policy encouraged to be built in outlying rural areas, many of these class B stations have been further hindered by multiple-tower transmitter sites that are rapidly aging, expensive to maintain and are in closer-in suburban locations now encircled by dense development. Increasingly, these stations owners find they are worth more for their land than for the value of the station license6. Even if these stations owners have both the economic wherewithal and the allocation spacing to build a new transmitter plant in a location where more of the present-day market could be served, those potential new transmitter sites would too often end up in upscale residential areas where NIMBY factors make the construction of new transmitter sites an impossibility.7 In addition to the overall problem of man-made interference levels, further challenges for the middle of the pack AM stations include crowded former regional channels that were jammed full of interfering signals in the last years of the AM boom in the 1950s and 1960s; a lack of funding for the Enforcement Bureau to keep vigilant watch on stations failing to reduce power as required at sunset; and increased interference from international sources including Cuban stations operating outside international treaty and Mexican stations widely believed to be operating at variance from treaty restrictions. Many of these middle-of-the-pack AMs once lived at or near the top of the ratings in their communities, but the result of all the many challenges they face is that these stations have, on the whole, displayed the greatest signs of AMs decline. Unable to reach an entire rated market, many of these stations have replaced expensive local programming with satellite-fed talk or sports, becoming second- and third-tier sisters to clusters of larger FM and AM outlets. Those with viable programming often end up simulcasting on FM signals that draw most of the combined audience. Others end up being sold to owners attempting to serve niche audiences with foreign-language or

This, in turn, is an unintended consequence of the old 25 mV/m at the post office coverage requirement, which practically restricted the distance at which most class B stations could be built from the city center and thus landed their sites right in the path of later suburban growth. Examples of stations silenced in order to sell the underlying land can be found in markets as large as Detroit (WDTW, Dearborn) and Bangor, Maine (WAEI). 7 One of the few stations that has successfully made such a move is KRKO, Everett, Washington, and the Commissions records are replete with evidence both of the millions of dollars station owner Andy Skotdal spent to survive years of legal challenges and of the subsequent vandalism that destroyed much of the new site shortly after it was built.

religious programming. In general, the markets these stations attempt to serve are too large, geographically, to be usefully served by FM translators. The challenge of maintaining aging directional arrays is especially acute for these broadcasters, and the Enforcement Bureaus records provide ample evidence of the additional interference caused when these stations find themselves unable to broadcast within licensed parameters.

The Smallest AMs Much of the Commissions latest attempt to revitalize the AM service has, rightly, been focused on and driven by the needs of the smallest AM stations. The 2,000 or so smallest AM stations on the FCCs rolls include the class C (formerly class IV) graveyard stations and a motley assortment of class D signals that are former daytimeonly signals, some operating on a secondary basis on the former clear channels and others operating on former regional channels. In small towns, the graveyard stations are, ironically, often among the few contemporary AMs still able to fully cover their communities with a usable signal; the small size of these communities has also produced numerous success stories of FM translators in the years since the Commission began allowing their use by AM stations.8 The relatively minimal requirements for transmission facilities a short single tower, or even a fiberglass whip continue to make it comparatively simple for these stations owners to maintain their plants or relocate them when necessary. The record has been decidedly more mixed with respect to the class D stations. Under post-World War II Commission policy that encouraged as many stations to be jammed into the dial as possible9, these stations were often built with expensive and complicated directional arrays and wedged into tight allocation scenarios that make them

In many cases, these AM stations and their new translators have further benefited by an unintended consequence of another Commission policy: until it was slowed by the revised Rural Radio Policy, the widespread move of suburban and rural FM stations to larger cities often left these small AMs as the only remaining stations attempting to serve smaller communities at the far fringes of larger cities and metro areas. 9 The historical record amply shows that these policies were heavily driven by political pressure from Congressional representatives seeking more broadcast signals for areas that boomed after World War II; inevitably, the necessity to regulate according to the laws of physics and good engineering practice is tempered by the reality of the politics within which the Commission must operate.

impossible to move. The relaxation of clear-channel protections and introduction of postsunset and pre-sunrise authority through the 1970s and 1980s gave many of these stations a taste of nighttime operation, albeit against ridiculously high NIF limits that rendered those minimal nighttime authorizations effectively useless. As a result of the scarcity of listening options as late as the 1960s, some of these stations experienced success despite these signal limitations. The rise of FM beginning in the late 1960s sealed the fate of many of these stations, and the explosion of personalized listening choices in recent years has only hastened their decline.10 It is only in the context of a full historical understanding of these three disparate groups of stations that we can begin to analyze the Commissions instant proposals and offer additional recommendations.

A.

OPEN FM TRANSLATOR FILING WINDOW EXCLUSIVELY FOR AM LICENSEES AND PERMITTEES

The need for such a window is obvious and urgent, and this commenter fully supports this proposal. The record now amply demonstrates the value of an FM presence for AM broadcasters. It is tempting, especially from a broadcast historians perch, to romanticize the value of small-town, full-service AM radio. In the real world in which the broadcasters of 2014 operate, however, the marketplace has already spoken: even in small towns, the vast majority of American radio listening has already migrated to the FM dial and the advertisers pursuing that listening audience want an FM presence for their advertising dollars. The small AM broadcasters who were fortunate enough to be able to purchase (and in some cases, relocate) FM translators have almost without exception found success

As best this researcher can determine, the last daytimer to register any significant ratings as a massaudience station in a large market was WSCR, 820 kHz, Chicago; its all-sports format, the first in that market, moved to a full-time signal in 1997 once it had achieved success. Ironically, the 820 kHz facility in Chicago had been reduced to daytime-only status after development pressure claimed its former nighttime directional site in suburban Elmhurst, Illinois, further demonstrating the myriad challenges that have now faced AM operators for decades.

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as a result. Stations such as WWSF, Sanford, Maine11 that had ceased to be useful local presences in their communities are once again providing local news and emergency information and selling airtime to local advertisers as a direct result of their new presence on the FM dial. The use of translators to provide continued service after dark has transformed WCJW, Warsaw, N.Y.12, allowing it to profit from broadcasting high school sports that would otherwise have occurred after sign-off. Its presence on the FM dial allows its localized country format to more fully compete with distant FM country stations in Rochester and Buffalo, an hours drive away, that offer no local service to the rural areas around Warsaw. Similar stories are repeated all across the country. Because the FM dial is nearing full capacity in many parts of the U.S., this commenter supports significant restrictions on an AM-only translator window. The continued demand for new FM service has repeatedly resulted in abuses of the Commissions processes, as witnessed by the thousands of translators from the last filing window that ended up in the hands of only a handful of parties, who have then reaped significant profits by reselling those translators to AM stations. Even the 2013 LPFM window produced evidence of attempts at bulk filing, notwithstanding a strict one-to-acustomer rule.13 As a result, this commenter encourages the Commission to conduct an AM translator window in a series of stages. First priority should be given to licensees who own only a small number (perhaps three or fewer) of AM stations, and those licensees should be limited to only a single application each. (This window could also provide a much-needed major change opportunity to existing standalone AMs seeking to improve existing translators.) A second phase of the window process could then open up remaining FM channels to AM stations that are part of larger clusters. If frequencies still remain available, a third phase could then provide additional translator opportunities to licensees that had been limited by the one-to-a-customer initial window. Because the number of available FM channels is now relatively small, and because much of the initial demand for AM translators has already been sated, there is no
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WWSF, formerly WPHX, operates with 1000 watts daytime, 234 watts nighttime, non-directional, and operates translator W272CG. 12 WCJW operates with 2500 watts, daytime-only, and is heard over five translators that provide the only local commercial service to much of its sprawling rural listening area. 13 http://home.recnet.com/node/595

reason to expect these windows would produce anywhere near the volume of applicants that overwhelmed the Commissions filing processes in 2003. These windows could move much more rapidly, and with room for the Commission to provide flexibility in the form of waivers to the one-to-a-customer rule where specific and unusual local circumstances might dictate otherwise. Additionally, if the trafficking of translator permits remains a concern, this commenter would support linking the new FM translators tightly to their corresponding AM licenses, allowing them to be sold only in tandem with the AM license. Such a linkage would have the unfortunate result of creating a two-tiered system of translators, in which translators from the 2003 window and earlier would be freely transferable (sometimes at considerable profit), while translators from the new window would be locked to their corresponding AM station. This could be mitigated by a sunset period (perhaps seven to ten years) after which the new translators would also be transferable, or as will be explored under further proposals by allowing existing translators to also be locked to a corresponding AM station in exchange for the ability to make additional technical improvements unavailable to unlocked translators. It is difficult to find evidence of harm to existing FM broadcasters from these new AM translators. Because of the tight technical limitations of AM fill-in translators, as well as the limitations of the translator service in general, few AM translators compete directly with larger FM signals.14 The bigger impact of the translator service appears to be the creation of new mega-translators fed by FM HD subchannels in larger markets15; that impact, however, is outside the scope of this rulemaking.

A rare counterexample is K272EE, Las Vegas, Nevada, which translates KQLL(AM), Henderson, Nevada, broadcasting an oldies format as Kool 102. Because it does not subscribe to Nielsen Audio, Kool 102 does not appear in the Las Vegas ratings, but anecdotal evidence suggests KQLL and its translator do not pull any significant revenue away from their larger FM competitors. 15 Examples include K265CA, Albuquerque, NM, where the terrain of Sandia Crest allows the use of 250 watts ERP at 1230 meters AAT, yielding a signal larger than a full class A signal if derated for that HAAT. K265CAs programming, fed by the HD2 of sister station KBQI-FM, drew a 2.5 rating in the Fall 2013 Nielsen Audio ratings. (http://ratings.radio-online.com/cgi-bin/rol.exe/arb141). Similar mega-translators have appeared in markets such as Atlanta, Kansas City and Portland, Oregon. By their nature, they must almost always fill in FM stations, since few AMs have 2 mV/m contours that reach out as far as these translators.

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B.

MODIFY DAYTIME COMMUNITY COVERAGE STANDARDS FOR EXISTING AM STATIONS

As explored extensively in the introductory paragraphs, the state of AM radio allocations is deeply rooted in history and largely set in stone by the pattern of population distribution across America in the years around World War II. This militates deeply against any attempt to make AM service more closely reflect 21st century population realities. The revision of the Commissions Rural Radio rules in 2013 implicitly endorsed a recognition of the reality that service to an urbanized area is of more practical importance than service to a specific incorporated community within that urbanized area. The wild diversity of forms of local government, annexation laws and population sprawl across the U.S. has made continued reliance on the Commissions community of license rules an anachronism, notwithstanding the presumption inherent in this proceeding that such continued reliance is somehow desirable. This commenter strongly supports modification of the 100-percent/80-percent rule.16 The Commission need only study the growing number of ongoing Special Temporary Authority (STA) requests from AM stations that have lost transmitter sites and must continue to operate at reduced temporary facilities. Even in cases where a replacement for a complex directional array is possible based on land availability and zoning, the cost of building such an array from scratch now often exceeds the value of the stations license. In the real AM world of 2012, the choice is not between some ideal of 100-percent-day/80-percent-night coverage and lesser service; it is between lesser (but affordable) service and no service at all. (These stations almost universally fall into the second of the three categories outlined above, the middle of the pack that is already the most threatened among AM broadcasters.) In some perhaps even many cases, it may be desirable for the overall health of the AM dial to encourage those challenged stations to go silent for good, especially if a tax credit can be provided or if another station on the same or an adjacent channel were to be allowed to compensate a licensee for the surrender of such a license. Commenter
Commenter notes that even the existing 100 percent rule assumes a 5 mV/m coverage standard that, as outlined earlier, is no longer a realistic metric for determining commercially usable siganl levels in a crowded urban marketplace with todays high noise floors.
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recognizes, however, that such a policy flies in the face of the longstanding Commission presumption that a greater number of stations is always preferable to fewer, and that some level of service to a community is preferable to none at all. With respect to the proposal that stations changing community of license be required to continue to abide by the 100/80 rule, greater flexibility than suggested by the Commission is warranted. Within urbanized areas, the Commission now recognizes (in its Rural Radio rules for FM) that individual municipal lines are of little relevance to broadcast service. With a showing that an existing AM site is threatened, or that the public interest can be better served by relocating an existing AM station within an urbanized area, existing AM licensees should enjoy the freedom to follow the proposed 50-percent rule even when a change to a new community of license is warranted. Given the expense of moving an AM site to a new location, such applications will be few in number and the Commission should adopt a lenient policy of considering waiver requests whenever a public-interest benefit can plausibly be demonstrated. However, no such leniency should be granted to applications for new stations. Given the essentially full nature of the AM dial in almost all parts of the country, there is no compelling reason for the Commission to open the door to additional clutter in the form of new stations, with the exception of the expanded band (1610-1700 kHz) and the 530 kHz frequency. Those 11 channels have been underutilized, and any full examination of the options available for AM band improvement should include a re-examination of Commission policy that has long hindered full development of that spectrum. If a window is ever again to be opened for new stations in the traditional AM band (540-1600 kHz), it should be strictly limited to only those applications that can meet the most stringent technical criteria; in practice, that would effectively amount to a permanent freeze on all new AM applications save, perhaps, a handful of class C signals in remote areas.

C.

MODIFY NIGHTTIME COMMUNITY COVERAGE STANDARDS FOR EXISTING AM STATIONS

In lieu of a more comprehensive AM improvement policy, existing AM licensees have already discovered that with the advent of FM translators, the Commissions

existing nighttime coverage requirements (and thus the need for expensive, complex directional arrays) can be relaxed de facto simply by downgrading an existing class B middle-of-the-pack station to class D status. In Owensboro, Kentucky, for instance, Cromwell Broadcasting had struggled with a four-tower night array for WVJS(AM) that was challenging to keep in tune. By downgrading from class B to class D, WVJS was able to eliminate three of its four towers, reducing its power from 5000 watts to 980 watts by day and from 1000 watts to 20 watts at night. While this reduced the coverage area served by WVJS on AM, an FM translator mounted atop the remaining AM tower provides more than adequate service overall to the community.17 In light of this marketplace reality, there is little the Commission can or should do by way of regulation to preserve service that is no longer economically justifiable. If the AM band has effectively matured, it should be allowed maximum flexibility in its waning years. Existing stations can already eliminate all nighttime coverage requirements by downgrading to class D (in the process potentially opening up improvement opportunities for their neighbors); in general, they should also be allowed a middle ground in which they reduce their nighttime signal while retaining class B protection for the reduced signal, regardless of the extent to which the reduced signal covers its community of license. At the same time, stations should be discouraged from cluttering the nighttime AM spectrum with signals that cause interference while providing little useful service. A sharply reduced spectrum fee structure for class B stations that voluntarily downgrade to class D (rather than maintaining minimal class B service) would serve this purpose. While it would be desirable to maintain stricter scrutiny for the small number of stations that provide the only source of service to a remote or otherwise unserved area, the marketplace must be allowed to dictate which AM services are sustainable and which are not. As long as AM licensees have the option of downgrading to class D or surrendering the AM license completely, no amount of regulatory good intention can preserve service that has become economically unsustainable.

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http://www.fybush.com/tower-site-of-the-week-1052012-wvjs-owensboro-ky/

D. ELIMINATE THE AM RATCHET RULE

Yes. Absent any showing that this well-intentioned rule has provided even one iota of the interference reduction it was designed to create, it should be abandoned as the misguided impediment it has become. As a general principle, it has been this commenters experience that the AM facilities that provide the greatest public service and have been most likely to survive and thrive despite the mediums overall decline are the oldest, largest signals. As the Commission correctly notes, it is precisely those signals that are most thwarted from improvement by the ratchet rule, and it should be abandoned posthaste.

E. PERMIT WIDER IMPLEMENTATION OF MODULATION DEPENDENT CARRIER LEVEL CONTROL TECHNOLOGIES

At the listener level, this commenter has noticed no adverse effects from stations known to be testing MDCL technologies, and as a consultant, this commenter is aware of stations that have reported significant savings on power bills as a result. MDCL technology has been widely implemented for many decades outside the U.S. with no known problems, and should be encouraged for the higher-power U.S. licensees for whom it will provide financial benefits.

F. MODIFY AM ANTENNA EFFICIENCY STANDARDS

Of the Commissions six concrete proposals in this Notice, this is by far the most vexing. This commenter concurs with the concerns about the increasing difficulty in siting AM antennas, especially at lower frequencies. The construction of a new AM transmitter site has become a near-impossibility in the 21st century thanks to increased difficulty in zoning for tall towers and the expense of the land needed for ground systems and multiple-tower directional arrays. Including legal expenses, it can easily cost well over a million dollars to construct a new AM site of significant power. Few AM stations

are now worth enough money to justify that expense, and the disparity between stick value of a license and the cost of a transmission facility continues to increase. Set against that backdrop, the cost of a kilowatt-hour of electricity is of less importance than this Rulemaking proposal would suggest. While there is indeed no evidence that the constant-dollar cost of electricity has declined significantly since most of todays AM infrastructure was built in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, the size of a transmitter sites power bill should be a concern solely for the licensee, not for the Commission. Eliminating or significantly reducing AM antenna efficiency requirements would give AM broadcasters parity with their FM counterparts. It is of no concern to the Commission whether an FM station chooses to make its licensed ERP by using a highpower transmitter and a low-efficiency antenna or whether it chooses to use a multi-bay antenna fed by a lower-powered transmitter. The same should be true for at least smaller AM broadcasters. As with FM licensing standards, as long as a broadcaster is able to make a showing that its proposed antenna system will produce a desired field strength level at the appropriate distance from the transmitter site, the choice of antenna input power and efficiency should be up to the licensee. As a real-world matter, such a rule change would give AM broadcasters muchneeded flexibility to reduce tower height. Stations that can reduce their tower height below 200 feet can eliminate the expensive regulatory burdens of painting and lighting, and should be allowed to remove their towers from ASR registration as well if they can provide a no hazard determination. A reduction in efficiency standards should also include the ability to use non-standard antenna types such as roof-mounted and shuntfed antennas, contingent upon the submission of computer modeling to assess efficiency and radiation patterns. The use of such lower-profile antennas would provide muchneeded flexibility to many AM stations struggling to find viable transmission locations. However, attention must continue to be paid to skywave radiation and the effect of shorter antennas on the noise floor under distant co-channel stations. That noise floor has been irreparably raised in recent decades by the boom in new electronic devices in homes, switching-mode power supplies, LED street and traffic lighting and the lack of enforcement of Part 15 standards. The NIF levels of existing stations should not be

further raised (in reality, if not on paper) by additional interference from other domestic AM stations. Unlike FCC rules, the laws of physics are not subject to repeal. Despite decades of attempts to legislate the effects of skywave out of existence, the fact remains that medium-wave frequencies will propagate at long distances given even the slightest opportunity and with even the most minimal of power. In addition to commenters industry activities, commenter is also a longtime member of the National Radio Club (NRC), the nations oldest AM DX club. While DX reception is no longer of economic importance to most AM stations or the industry as a whole, the NRCs DX News and DX Audio Service publications, as well as those of other similar clubs, provide ample evidence that AM signals continue to travel and be heard at great distances. A recent issue of DX News, for instance, carried reports of a test from WKAL (1450 kHz) from Rome, New York being heard in Nebraska and of WRCE (1490 kHz) from Watkins Glen, New York being heard in southern New Hampshire18. The purpose of this comment is not to plead for special consideration for hobbyist activities but rather to note that skywave propagation is inseparable from medium-wave AM transmission. Any attempt to revise the rules for transmission systems or for station protections (as will be explored in the next section) must take the reality of skywave propagation into account, or it will fail to achieve the desired real-world results.

G. ADDITIONAL SUGGESTIONS

1. Re-evaluate the use of digital HD Radio transmission on MW spectrum

Since the Commission approved the use of the HD Radio system for both daytime and nighttime transmission, the result has been at best mixed. While the Commissions records indicate that only 300 AM stations (just over 6% of the total) have notified an intention to operate digitally, the real numbers appear to be even less impressive. A collaborative effort among AM listeners to track stations actually operating at night in

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http://www.e-dxn.com/news/81_DXN/DXN81_15.pdf

hybrid analog-digital mode now shows just 58 AM stations confirmed as being heard with HD Radio as of January 2014.19 The claims that hybrid operation causes no interference to adjacent-channel analog stations have long since been discredited by many in the engineering community. While co-owned WABC, New York (770 kHz) and WJR, Detroit (760 kHz) still appear on the FCCs list of stations with AM digital notification, it is well known that the stations then-owner, Citadel, turned off the digital signals on both stations after incoming skywave from WJRs upper sidebands caused significant interference to critical-hours reception of WABC in areas within WABCs local market. The commenter has also personally observed the degradation of the night signal of station WYSL, Avon, NY (1040 kHz) by the upper digital sidebands of WBZ, Boston, MA (1030 kHz)20. While the commenters home is outside the small NIF contour of WYSL, personal observation over a period of time before and after the start of digital operation by WBZ showed that a WYSL signal that was once usually listenable (despite the sole-source interference contribution of WHO, Des Moines) became nearly inaudible under the digital hash of the WBZ signal, which is often strong enough to trigger the data display on several HD Radio receivers. While WYSL was able to restore service (including University of Rochester sports broadcasts) to commenters local area through the use of an FM translator, W221CL, its situation still represents a worst-case scenario of the negative effects of hybrid HD Radio operation on the AM dial. As a further indication of the minimal marketplace penetration of AM HD Radio in the hybrid mode, it should be noted that of the 58 AM stations confirmed as operating with HD Radio day and night, a significant number also simulcast their programming on either an FM HD subchannel of a sister station or on a full-power analog FM station in their market21.

http://topazdesigns.com/iboc/station-list.html As a matter of full disclosure, as well as of no small irony, commenter acknowledges his status as a former newsroom employee of WBZ; again, commenter speaks only for himself in these comments. 21 Notable examples include WBZ itself, simulcast on WBZ-FM-HD2; WFAN (660) New York, simulcast on WFAN-FM; KSL (1160) Salt Lake City, simulcast on KSL-FM; KNX (1070) Los Angeles, simulcast on KCBS-FM-HD2.
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While the use of a more spectrum-efficient digital-only AM HD mode has been shown to hold some promise and additional testing should be encouraged22, the Commissions further inquiry on the use of digital transmission on medium wave should also include a re-examination of the spectrum efficiency and interference potential of continued hybrid operation in the face of an overall lack of enthusiasm from the industry.

2. Carefully examine additional operating authority for class D stations during night hours

In a media environment in which FM and TV stations have long operated on 24hour schedules and in which an unlimited array of content options are available 24/7 on the Internet, the plight of the daytime-only AM station is a significant anachronism. It would be impossible not to be sympathetic to the challenges faced by standalone AM operators trying to eke advertising dollars and listenership out of communities they are unable to fully serve at hours that can be as late as 8:15 AM and as early as 4:15 PM in winter. (At a bare minimum, such class D stations should be first in line in a staggered window of translator applications.) From a historical perspective, it is easy to argue that some of these stations, especially those facing high NIF levels from multiple sources on former regional channels, should never have been authorized in the first place as a matter of good engineering practice, as witness the Commissions eventual decision to stop licensing new class D facilities. The reality, however, is that these stations exist and in many cases have existed for many decades. Where possible, every bit of regulatory flexibility (including extended hours of pre-sunrise and post-sunset authority) should be brought to bear to improve their lot, but only if it is possible to do so without further degrading the overall engineering integrity of the band. On the former regional channels on which class D stations are protecting former class III (now class B) stations that often run 5 kW or less at night, the concern is not the protection of received skywave signals, but rather the incursion of new skywave
While the purpose of the all-digital testing was, admittedly, to improve in-market reception quality, commenter notes that impressively steady digital reception of WBT (1110) Charlotte, N.C. was achieved in Rochester, N.Y. during its all-digital overnight testing in 2013.
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interference into the received groundwave signal of the legacy class B signal. These legacy class B stations are the stations identified at the start of these comments as the middle of the pack. They are almost universally already unable to provide full interference-free signals to the entirety of their markets. Adding new sources of incoming skywave interference and thus increasing those class B signals noise floors would further contract the usable service area of those class B signals. The Commission should move extremely cautiously in studying the effects of any such rulemaking proposal, always with a careful eye to the unavoidable reality of skywave propagation, even when such propagation is unintended and entirely undesirable. The Commission should, however, provide regulatory relief to allow class D signals and other class B stations to benefit when an existing class B operator determines its signal is no longer economically viable. Tax credits might be offered to encourage marginal class B facilities to downgrade to class D or leave the air completely, especially if a showing can be made that such a thinning of the herd can provide expansion opportunities for other class D stations that remain viable. As a corollary, stations that are allowed increased nighttime power under any such proposal should be subject to extremely strict enforcement scrutiny. Without aggressive work by the Enforcement Bureau and harsh penalties for violations, the temptation to look the other way and stretch limited extended operating hours still farther is a strong one, and the potential for increased overall interference on the band is large.23 The Commission should also explore the possibility of diplomatic relief for stations now limited by Canadian and Mexican authorizations. While international treaties remain in effect, the reality on the ground is that the regulators in both Canada and Mexico are well on their way to significantly reducing the actual use of the facilities authorized by those decades-old treaties, leaving behind hundreds of ghost allocations that remain protected but are unlikely ever again to be used. Even a small reduction in the amount of protection now required for Canadian and Mexican allocations would yield a
If the Enforcement Bureau resources can be expended, stricter scrutiny of existing stations for after-hours operation could also reap immediate benefits in interference reduction across the band and level the playing field for the many operators who have diligently played by the rules for many years while suffering interference from others who have largely gone unpunished or have received slap-on-the-wrist penalties for extended operation outside licensed parameters.
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large benefit for many stations now operating as class D or very limited class B facilities on those frequencies. The question of class A skywave protection is a thornier one. While most class A stations themselves now derive little or no economic benefit from their vast skywave coverage areas at night, the Commission should move with extreme caution on any proposal to further limit that coverage. First, the Commission and class A licensees should carefully consider the potential unintended consequences of additional signals at night raising the overall noise floor and reducing the usable nighttime groundwave coverage of these stations24, which are often the last economically viable major AM signals in their markets. (To that end, the Commission should also be encouraged to study the practical impact of an increase to the Rio treaty maximum of 100 kW for class A stations that could benefit from the increased local groundwave signal to combat the ever-rising noise floor.) Second, there remain even now vast areas of the country where local nighttime AM is nonexistent, FM coverage is spotty (and lacking in local emergency coverage even where signals exist), and the era of universal high-speed broadband service is still a thing of the distant future. Class A nighttime skywave service remains the only readily-available source of news and information in a mobile context in big swaths of rural America, and class A skywave services remain an enviably efficient way of delivering one-to-many coverage of remote parts of the country where other more modern forms of signal coverage may not be economically viable for many years to come. In addition, those class A signals provide a vital last resort of emergency coverage, blanketing large swaths of the country with signals that can be heard on even the simplest of receivers when power outages and natural disasters render more sophisticated delivery systems useless. The Commission should carefully consider the extent to which any proposal to reduce that service balances it with additional public-interest benefits elsewhere, and the legacy value of class A skywave service in remote areas should carry heavy weight in that balance.

The experience of hybrid HD Radio service at station pairs such as WJR-WABC or WBBM-WCBS is relevant here, since the adjacent-channel interference from other class A stations is now a significant source of noise-floor increase for certain class A stations that have long enjoyed enviably low noise floors.

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3. Further relaxation of interference standards for FM translators providing fill-in service for signal-impaired AM stations

While the crowding of the FM dial is outside the scope of this rulemaking proceeding, the need for standalone AM operators to be able to compete in a world that has increasingly moved to (or beyond) FM is not. The Commission should, therefore, move swiftly to examine whether the regulatory hurdles involved in translator operation can be lowered to allow more AM owners to enjoy the demonstrable benefits of FM translator operation. Among those regulatory hurdles is the height disparity that allows some translators to be more equal than others. In a handful of fortunate areas with topography or very tall towers that permit a translator antenna to be placed hundreds of meters above the target audience, the 250-watt translator maximum and lack of height derating can and does allow for mega-translators that enjoy coverage larger than a comparable height-derated class A or even C3 full-power FM would enjoy.25 Experience shows that even in relatively crowded FM landscapes such as Atlanta, Kansas City and Albuquerque, those mega-translators are otherwise able to provide the required contour protection to other FM stations and thereby coexist with other licensees. The Commission should consider expanding that contour-protection methodology to allow translator operators limited to lower antenna heights to make corresponding power increases (up to a certain ceiling, perhaps half of an equivalent class A signal) so long as they can make a showing of no interference to existing FM operators. In exchange for that flexibility, eligibility should be strictly limited to stand-alone small AM operators and the resulting mega-translator should be locked to the AM license with no profiteering permitted. The Commission should also look closely at the experience of its regulatory counterparts north of the border. The CRTC and Industry Canada have been several steps ahead of the FCC in allowing AM stations to move completely to the FM dial, either
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An example is K279BP, Albuquerque, NM, which operates with 250 watts at 1240 meters AAT from Sandia Crest, relaying KOAZ(AM), Isleta, NM. The FCCs FMPower calculator shows a 6 kW-equivalent class A station at that location would be allowed 36 watts, while a class C3 would be allowed 115 watts and a C2 would be allowed 460 watts.

under an existing license or by permitting nested operations that preserve an existing AM signal accompanied by the equivalent of a U.S. mega-translator to provide robust FM service to the core of a market. In certain cases, the elimination of existing AM service in favor of replacement FM has allowed for the improvement of other legacy AM service as frequencies are freed up or interference protections removed.26 Such policies should be considered in the U.S. as well, allowing FM translator service to continue as a replacement primary service upon the surrender of the companion AM license and a showing of interference reduction that would result. Since such cases would be few in number and distinct in circumstance, the Commission should be generous in considering contingent plans by multiple AM stations that can creatively show public-interest benefit by making several such moves at once. (An example might be a failing class B station in one location surrendering its license completely, a co-channel class D station in another location surrendering its license in favor of translator-only operation and a third cochannel class B station making a significant AM signal improvement as a result.) The Commission should also move swiftly to reassess the need for the current 2 mV/25-mile restriction on signal duplication by a translator. Given the widely varying pattern of population density across the U.S., there are some locations in which 25 miles is two markets away and others in which 25 miles is half the drive to the nearest grocery store. Likewise, there are some locations in which 250 watts produces a 2 mV/m signal that well exceeds 25 miles, and others in which that same 250 watts only reaches a few miles. At a bare minimum, the Commission should be generous in considering waivers of that rule where a clear public interest in doing so can be articulated.

SUMMARY

Commenter is broadly in favor of the six specific recommendations offered in this Notice, all of which are long-overdue, common sense forms of regulatory relief that can provide immediate and meaningful assistance to broadcasters who still seek to provide
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CFRA, Ottawa (580 kHz) was able to increase its night power from 10 kW to 30 kW after several other Canadian stations on that frequency went silent; the former CHWO (1250 kHz) in Oakville, Ontario was able to move to the class A 50 kW signal vacated by the former CBL (740) in Toronto upon CBLs move to FM in 1999.

public service on a legacy medium that has long since matured and now appears to be on a steady (if slow) decline in listenership and profitability. Commenter urges that these changes, along with more dramatic moves, be made with a careful eye toward the realworld laws of physics, balancing the needs for additional service by the smallest stations against the potential of interference to the valuable service still offered by the largest stations on the AM band.

CONCLUSION

There are few, if any, mass-media technologies that remain even usable at all after nearly a century of operation. While 78-rpm records and cord-switchboard telephones have been relegated to antique-store curiosities, thousands of analog AM stations are still serving listeners on a daily basis well into the 21st century. A handful remain as prominent major-market outlets that are fully competitive with newer FM sisters and even newer forms of media. Thousands more serve as the reliable source of local news, high school sports and emergency weather information in small towns from coast to coast. The Commission has a unique opportunity in this proceeding to give those stations new flexibility to continue providing that service, while at the same time protecting the giants and finding ways to thin the middle of the pack to enhance the viability of at least some of those stations. It is to be commended for beginning that conversation.

Respectfully submitted,

January 21, 2014

Scott Fybush 92 Bonnie Brae Avenue Rochester NY 14618 585-442-5411 scott@fybush.com