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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


Scott Fybush hereby submits these comments in response to the Commissions

Oct. 21, 2015 Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the above-captioned


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. Through his website, Fybush
has assisted station owners in buying and selling FM translators during the AM
Revitalization window that opened in January 2016.
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.


1. Nighttime and critical hours protection standards for class A stations

Commenter here reiterates his comments from the initial notice of proposed
rulemaking: 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.
The history of AM broadcast regulation in the United States is replete with
examples of well-intentioned changes that have increased the number of stations on the
air without giving due deference to the realities of propagation in the medium-wave
spectrum. The current proposal, while equally well-intentioned, threatens to diminish
useful class A service while offering little real-world improvement to other stations
signals in return.

Skywave in the real world of 2016

While skywave coverage from class A signals is no longer the sole means of
providing broadcast service to rural communities, as it was as recently as the 1950s, it is
and should remain a protected service for two reasons.
First and foremost is the physical reality of skywave. For all of the engineering
attempts that have been made going back as far as the 1920s and 1930s to reduce the
phenomenon, the laws of physics dictate that at wavelengths in the hundreds of meters,
medium-wave signals inevitably carry for hundreds or thousands of miles at night. No
attempt to create an antenna design to suppress this skywave element has ever been truly
successful; moreover, the majority of class A AM stations in the United States operate

from antennas designed in the 1930s and 1940s, which were in large part explicitly
designed to maximize skywave, as was desirable at the time.2
As the instant rulemaking proceeding demonstrates in a subsequent section, the
Commission itself acknowledges the reality of skywave propagation in its ongoing
attempt to craft sensible rules to determine the effects created by incoming skywave
interference into a class B stations local groundwave signal at night.
Unlike other propagation methods such as groundwave or VHF line-of-sight,
medium-wave skywave is intrinsically variable. The Commission recognizes this by
using 50% reliability in many of its skywave calculations. This, of course, means that
50% of the time an incoming skywave signal will be stronger than predicted and often
much stronger.3 This will have a significant deleterious effect on local-market service of
class B or D stations hoping for increased usable coverage as a result of the proposed
decrease in protection to co-channel class A signals.
As the Commission should have learned from previous attempts to grant blanket
increases in power levels (most notably the class IV/class C nighttime increase to 1000
watts), the reality of skywave propagation serves as a real-world limitation on the benefit
of such incremental power gains. While an individual class D station might gain some
useful new coverage in its local area were it the only such station to boost power against
a co-channel class A at a distance, the cumulative effect of multiple such increases will
be far less beneficial. Broadcast-band DXers are already well aware of the ability of even
a single class D station on a clear channel to create a wide area of destructive
interference by operating with day facilities at night.4 The effect of multiple such new
Having documented nearly all of the class A broadcast facilities in the U.S., commenter believes the
newest class A transmitter facility in the US is WOR, New York, constructed in 2006. The oldest are
WLW, Cincinnati and WSM, Nashville, constructed in 1932. The vast majority were constructed or
reconstructed (generally converted to vertical antennas from longwires) just before or after World War II.
As many AM operators found, to their dismay, when attempting to implement IBOC digital
transmissions over the past decade. It is notable that in the time since the Commission last requested AM
comments, still more AM stations have discontinued nighttime digital operation, most notably WBZ
Boston, whose sidebands on its 1030 kHz signal had a negative real-world impact on local coverage at coowned KDKA, Pittsburgh.
Commenter lives in Rochester, New York, approximately 70 air miles from the transmitter site of class A
WWKB, Buffalo. While WWKB generally provides a usable signal at this location, it has in recent years
suffered occasional interference from a station commenter has identified as KRHW, Sikeston, MO,
licensed to operate at 1.6 kW night with a directional antenna but apparently instead operating at 5 kW
daytime facilities with a far less restrictive directional pattern. Were KRHW to be allowed such operation
legally at night, along with other stations on 1520, WWKB would be entirely unusable here.

operations will be even worse, creating cacophony over a broad area where there is now
useful secondary service. and, even more critically, raising the noise floor in such a way
as to wipe out a significant portion of the coverage gain any individual station would
otherwise obtain.
Worse yet, that increased noise floor would in turn have a deleterious effect on
useful groundwave coverage of the class A operators in their own local market areas. As
the Commission itself has acknowledged in crafting its current ownership limits for radio,
Nielsen-defined ratings markets are the units in which large-market stations now function
economically. The boundaries of these markets are generally determined by the largest
FM signals in those markets, which has created sprawling markets in which few AM
signals can fully compete.
Until now, class A stations have been the exception to that rule. In Atlanta, for
instance, WSB is the only AM signal that comes even close to covering the Nielsendefined market; the same is true of KFI and KNX in Los Angeles, WBAP and KRLD in
Dallas-Fort Worth and many others.5 Yet at the edges of those Nielsen markets, even
class A stations signals suffer from rising electrical noise floors and often fall below 10
mV/m, the level that many industry experts now consider a minimum usable signal in
todays RF environment.6 Adding new sources of incoming skywave interference,
thereby raising noise floors under class A stations local groundwave signals, is a step
backward, potentially threatening these stations status as the last remaining AMs that
can fully compete economically with large-market, full-coverage FMs.

Emergency Coverage and Rural Service

Degrading the coverage of class A AM facilities will also have an irreversible

detrimental effect on emergency service. While there are now multiple sources of
entertainment and news programming such as satellite Internet, 3G/4G/LTE wireless or

Commenter observes this personally on frequent trips to a family residence in the village of Montebello in
Rockland County, NY. This community is in the New York City Nielsen market, some 35 miles northwest
of Manhattan. The only New York City AM stations that are completely usable on typical consumer radios
at that location are all class A signals: WFAN, WOR, WABC, WCBS, WBBR.
Commenter here endorses in full the relevant comments of the Society of Broadcast Engineers with
respect to the urgent need for greater Commission action to regulate the overall MW noise floor.

satellite radio and TV available to citizens in even the most rural parts of the United
States, these alternatives to AM skywave all share two common traits. First, they are all
controlled by private, for-profit companies that charge monthly or annual fees for access
and lack the universal public service obligations to which broadcasters are bound.
Second, their proprietary receivers cease to function in the absence of power from the
By contrast, AM skywave coverage is free, ubiquitous and as close to
indestructible as any medium in communications history. At almost any location in the
continental US, a class A skywave signal can be received after dark on even the simplest
of emergency radio, including simple crank-up and battery-powered radios that can run
for hours or even days on a charge. While one hopes sincerely that the need never arises,
class A AM broadcasters are likely to be the last communications media still standing in
case of massive destruction or war. In the meantime, in non-emergency situations, those
class A signals still provide news and talk programming to rural and tribal areas on a
nightly basis at no monthly fee. This is a valuable service that should not be permanenly
disrupted to provide a relatively small gain in a handful of local areas at the expense of
wider overall interference. If anything, as commenter has stated earlier, the Commission
should continue to explore the use of higher powers by class A stations, as already
allowed under the Rio treaty.
While the Commissions general presumption of preference for local broadcast is
admirable, it is misplaced in this particular example. In the event of a major emergency,
especially overnight, stations in smaller communities are overwhelmingly likely to be
operating unstaffed.7 Most class A stations, by contrast, have programming and news
personnel on staff 24/7 and can quickly begin local coverage or go to network news
coverage in the event of a major national or regional emergency. Furthermore, should a
local class B or D station have the ability to cover a major local emergency, the
Commissions existing rules already allow for emergency coverage using daytime
facilities should that need arise.

Even the finest of local newsrooms, such as WDEV in Waterbury, Vermont, go dark at night. In the event
of a middle-of-the-night emergency affecting rural Vermont, class A stations such as WCBS New York or
WBZ Boston would likely be the most relevant sources for immediate news coverage. Even in a nonemergency situation, those stations are the only broadcast sources for regional news and weather during the
overnight hours.

Commenter is deeply sympathetic to the frustrations of local class B and D

stations on class A channels that desire better local coverage for evening programming
such as high school sports. The Commissions decision to expand use of the FM
translator service for this purpose is, on balance, a more efficient use of spectrum than
further congesting class A channels that can, should (and, based on the laws of physics,
must) be used to reach wider areas after dark if they are to be used in the best way



Commenter supports the Commissions proposal to modify this rule to allow for
FM translators located within the greater of either an AM stations 2 mV/m contour or a
25-mile radius. This change will allow more efficient use of spectrum in areas where a
translator must now be directional in order to protect the lesser contour, especially where
it would otherwise benefit an AM station already hampered by a tightly directional AM



In a long litany of well-intentioned FCC allocations actions, few have gone as far
astray as the AM expanded band. In the 20 years since the first expanded-band stations
signed on, the program has accomplished little that it set out to do. After an initial flush
of applicants and permittees, the Commission appeared to have informally decided to
stop any further population of the expanded band unless forced to do so by Congress, as
in the case of WRCR, Ramapo, NY, the only new expanded-band AM in this century.
Meanwhile, frequencies reserved for applicants in the initial expanded-band proceediing

In furtherance of that goal, commenter here reiterates his earlier support for additional relaxation of FM
translator rules, including a contour-based approach in which FM ERP can exceed 250 watts when
broadcast from antennas at lower height.

were left fallow if assigned broadcasters chose not to use them, leaving entire regions
such as New England and upstate New York devoid of any expanded-band operations.
As even the Commission itself has acknowledged, the expanded-band program
accomplished little to none of the interference reduction on the standard band that was
intended. In particular, the Commissions failed to salt the ground, as it were, on
standard-band facilities that were replaced by expanded-band operations. That meant that
some of the facilities that were supposed to have gone silent for interference reduction
ended up returning to the air under new ownership in subsequent windows for new AM
In the meantime, the Commissions two-decade record of inaction has allowed a
handful of broadcasters to maintain dual operation on both the standard and expanded
Had the Commission acted more quickly to resolve some of the concerns and
questions raised early on about continued dual operation, and had it been consistent about
keeping abandoned standard-band channels permanently empty, it might now have a
better case to finally end extended dual-band operation. Instead, its inaction has created
what amounts to an adverse possession situation in which some dual-band operators have
built lengthy track records of continued useful service to ethnic communities. To now
force those stations to leave the air may be fair in a strict legalistic sense, but would
ultimately fail to serve the public interest by removing service that has otherwise been of
value, while providing only the most minimally incremental interference reduction,
especially in the context of the rest of the changes to AM interference standards herein
In short: the problems with the expanded band are as much of the Commissions
own making as anyones, and the small number broadcasters who have soldiered on with
dual operation while waiting for a final resolution to this issue ought to be allowed to
continue providing services which their audiences have come to expect. A reasonable

DKADZ, Arvada, CO (FIN: 54743) discontinued operations on 1550 kHz, supplanted by KDDZ (now
KDMT, FIN 86619) on 1690 kHz; 1550 was then reoccupied by what is now KKCL, Golden CO (FIN
161314). At a lower nighttime power than the former KADZ, KKCL provides service to a smaller area
while still causing interference over a proportionally larger area than did its predecessor on the frequency.
It is difficult to square this new facilitys being licensed with any serious attempt to reduce overall AM
band inteference.

compromise here, as proposed by several such licensees, would be to condition renewal

of dual-band operation on the sale or donation of one of the licenses to a minority entity.



Going forward, the Commission could and should then impose and enforce
stricter rules regarding dual operation. As Canadian regulators do when transitioning AM
licensees to FM, standard-band AMs seeking to move to the expanded band should be
granted at most a limited period of 90 days or three months to transition listeners through
dual operation. Instead of the current one-size-fits-all standard of mileage spacing and 10
kW/1 kW non-directional operation, new expanded-band operations should be allocated
according to the same class B and C spacing rules that govern the rest of the AM band,
with a goal of harmonizing the expanded-band rules with the rest of the Commissions
AM rules. This will provide for more efficient use of spectrum by allowing closer
spacing in areas of lower ground conductivity.
First preference for expanded-band operation should go to AM broadcasters who
have been unable to secure FM translator facilities, particularly class D operators for
whom expanded-band AM operation may be a last opportunity to get the 24-hour service
they need in a world in which all other media operate on a 24-hour schedule.
Expanded-band operators (both new and existing) should also be encouraged in
every way possible to experiment with all-digital operation to provide a more complete
record on which the Commission can base future rules for such broadcasts.


Commenter is in favor of this proposal, albeit with a cautious eye toward the ways
in which the NCE FM version of the main studio waiver has been exploited far beyond its
original intent.

The Commission now routinely grants waivers for certain large national
noncommercial FM operators without any actual consideration of their finances; as a
result, some such licensees are now able to obtain waivers for full class B signals in topten radio markets, claiming financial hardship even after paying millions of dollars out of
pocket to acquire full-market signals from commercial operators. A waiver program that
was originally intended to benefit statewide public radio networks and shoestring
operators has thus become an unintentional automatic giveaway allowing nonprofit
entities to book tens of millions of dollars in annual donor revenue without making any of
the local staffing commitments now expected of even the smallest AM operator.
(Ironically, some of the largest such operators have used that financial windfall to
become major competitors to small AM religious broadcasters, negatively affecting those
small operators viability in the marketplace.)
To the extent that the Commission ought to relieve small AM operators of some
of those responsibilities, it should also protect against similar abuses. A legally-staffed
main studio ought, therefore, to at least exist within a certain mileage radius (say, 150 or
200 miles) of the waivered station, and the waiver program should be available only to
small businesses with a maximum total number of employees. The Commission should
also examine the record of its NCE FM waiver program with an eye toward imposing
similar rules to rein in the largest operators who have inadvertently benefited from nearautomatic waivers in that service.

Respectfully submitted,

Scott Fybush
92 Bonnie Brae Avenue
Rochester NY 14618

March 21, 2016

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