Where radio in the USA is local in service area and mainly national in ownership, radio in Japan is more regional in service area and local in ownership. For AM and FM full-service broadcasters, a broadcast license normally allows them to broadcast throughout their prefecture. Japan has 47 prefectures. Some major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka will have multiple broadcast stations in the same band but in most areas, it is an average of one AM and one FM station per prefecture. There is no cross-ownership between full service AM and full service FM stations. Most AM stations also have a license for television within their prefecture area.
Spectrum use in Japan
In Japan, the FM broadcast band is in the spectrum 76~90 MHz. This means that only about 2 MHz of the FM broadcast band is receivable using a non-Japanese FM radio. Prior to the analog shutdown, the rest of what we in the US know as the FM broadcast spectrum was used for three TV channels. As you read below, you will see this spectrum has been reallocated to a 5 MHz extension of the FM broadcast band and to introduce future multi-media broadcasting services. Since Japan is in ITU region 3, AM stations are spaced 9 kHz apart.
In Japan, there are several types of broadcasters:
AM stations - These are the legacy commercial radio stations in Japan. TAM stations usually consist of a higher powered transmitter and potentially additional lower power (100 watt) AM stations located in other areas of the station's prefecture. Some AM stations do operate a small number of FM stations within the 76~90 MHz FM spectrum in places where AM would not be feisable such as the islands in Kagoshima and Okinawa. There are 48 AM radio licensees in Japan.
FM stations - Full service FM stations are similar in structure to AM staitons where they have a main transmitter and then relay stations throughout the prefecture(s) that they are licensed to serve. Unlike AM stations, there is no cross-ownership between FM stations and TV. There are 51 FM radio licensees in Japan.
Foreign language FM stations - In addition to the full-service FM stations, a small number of FM stations have been licensed to provide programming in languages other than English. These stations are located in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka.
Community FM stations - Similar in some ways to the LPFM stations within the United States, Community radio stations can be established by any organization except those that already own broadcast stations or are controlled by foreign nationals. Owners include non-profit and for-profit organizations and includes several cable television providers and even one station owned by a professional baseball team. Community stations are authorized to meet the needs of their local area at the city (-shi) or county (-gun) level and are authorized to provide foreign language programming. Unlike in the USA, Japanese community FM stations are allowed to air commercials. Community stations are authorized 20 watts transmitter output power (TPO) but can use gain antennas to achieve higher effective radiated powers (ERP). Community stations use a call sign that begins with JOZZ followed by a digit that indicates the region of Japan they are in and two sequentially issued letters. (example: JOZZ3AB-FM) Japan currently has 300 licensed community broadcast stations.
The Japan Community Broadcasters Association represents and provides services to many of these stations.
Community Ties and Revitalization: The Role of Community Radio in Japan - Tomoko Kanayama - Keio Communication Review #29, 2007. Keio University.
Temporary Disaster FM stations - Local governments may request the MIC to authorize broadcast stations that are set up on a temporary basis to respond to a disaster. In the Tohoku (norttheastern) region of Japan, several of these stations were set up in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011 earthquake. In late 2015, stations were set up to respond to heavy rainstorms that left flooding.
AM Complementary FM stations - With the elimination of analog television, Japan placed all of their digital television on UHF. In Japan, the spectrum from 90 to 108 MHz used to be three analog television channels. The spectrum from 90 to 95 MHz has been realocated to analog FM sound broadcasting. The MIC is starting to permit AM broadcast licensees to place stations within this spectrum. Whether this is going to result in a "migration" from AM to FM has yet to be seen. There are currently 30 transmitters either on the air or coming soon to this spectrum. This service is being marketed in Japan as "Wide FM" and more FM radios with full 76~108 MHz capability are beinig marketed.
Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK) - In addition to the commercial broadcasters, NHK is the nation's public broadcaster. Nationwide, NHK operates two AM broadcast networks (Radio 1 and Radio 2), an FM network (NHK-FM) and two television networks (one for general entertainment and the other is an educational channel). NHK has local studios in most prefectures that can originate its own local programming. All households with televisions must pay a "receiving fee" of 13,990 yen or about USD $110 per year. This fee is higher if you have satellite. There is no receiving fee for radio.
Multi-media Broadcasting - With the elimination of analog television, the spectrum from 95 to 108 MHz has been set aside for local multi-media broadcasting stations. These stations are expected to operate a platform of audio, video and data-based services. VIP Co. Ltd. is the multi-media broadcast licensee in this spectrum. This spectrum has been divided into three 3.9 MHz wide channels. There is also spectrum set aside in the VHF-HI band spectrum from 207.5 to 220.0 MHz. There is currently no licensee for this spectrum.
Looking up Japan radio and TV stations
REC's FCCdata.org does include full searching capabilities for AM, FM and most TV transmitters in Japan.
The use of 76~88 MHz in the USA
In the USA, the spectrum 76 to 88 MHz is used for television channels 5 and 6. These two channels are undesirable for digital television for various reasons due to the propagation characteristics of low-band VHF, the types of receiving antennas necessary and for Channel 6 stations, the need to protect full-power FM stations operating on 88 to 92 MHz.
REC has always felt that this spectrum would be better used for the expansion of FM broadcast stations. 60 channels can be added in the spectrum between 76.1 and 87.9 to allow for the migration of lower powered AM stations as well as the expansion of lower power commercial and non-commercial FM broadcast services.
Now with new FM stations entering the band between 90 and 95 MHz in Japan, we still start to see more "WIDE FM" radio receivers become available. These radios can be easily imported to the USA for a full 160-channel FM broadcast service.
Clcik here for a comprehensive list of different radio models in Japan that support the entire 76 to 108 MHz band. Despite what the nay-sayers claim, the radios are out there and they can be on a boat tomorrow.