Rant from Riverton: All-digital AM - This generation's radio experiment
When you review through the old history cards of various radio and television stations, you come across many of the experiments in the broadcast radio and television art that have taken place over the years. Some, like subcarriers and the wideband FM testing that was conducted by Major Edwin Armstrong were very successful while others, like "facsimile broadcasting" (imagine a printer connected to your radio that would send signals and slowly print up news articles for you to read in the morning like reading the newspaper) were not so. We saw authorized experimental operations for color television, multiplex (stereo) operation and even quadraphonic operation. When a new technology comes out, there will always be critics and those who want to go back to the way it used to be.
Like many of you, I grew up listening to AM radio and seeing what far away stations I could pick up. I remember when I used to hear the Caribbean island of Angula on 1610 from a car radio in Los Angeles. Of course, AM radio has changed a lot since then, both in programming and technology. I remember when hybrid HD Radio (IBOC) came out and everone said that IBOC means "It Bleeds Over Channels" and for AM preservationists and DXers, hybrid IBOC was a disaster. Many stations realized that AM hybrid IBOC was a failure.
Every generation had a broadcast experiment of one kind or another. I feel like the current generation has two. HD Radio IBOC mode MA3 and next generation ATSC3 television. MA3 is being experimented with in Frederick, MD while ATSC3 is being experimented with in Phoenix.
I for one am very excited about MA3 and what it can do to AM radio. I know this may make some AM preservationists very upset, but for some stations, I do feel that this may help revitalize their station. Imagine a small town Class B or D station with a weak daytime and a nearly nonexistent nighttime service but they have a translator that puts significant coverage over the smaller community of license. I do have some concerns regarding using analog power levels for the center carrier as well as EAS related concerns. HD Radio still only has a small penetration of the radios currently in circulation so I do not feel that stations will be in a rush to make the change anytime soon. I do feel however, there needs to be more experimenting before this service should be allowed to go mainstream. We still don't know how digital to digital co-channel interference will be handled or whether there needs to be new interference standards, espcially among Class C stations on the so-called "graveyard" channels. Unlike analog, digital is either you have it or you don't have it. Until more experimentation is done, in both daytime and nighttime environments, we will never know the true capabilities and caveats of MA3.
Perhaps the FCC should have issued a Notice of Inquiry instead of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
Regardless, this technology will go nowhere if no one is making radios. You think trying to find an HD receiver is hard, try finding a new DRM receiver.