Proponent would throw more power at ambient interference problem for AM stations

Richard Arsenault is back with another idea to help AMers.  Mr. Arsenault is the gentleman who just a couple of months ago urged that a considerable number of Class B and D AM stations be permitted to start presunrise operation at 5:00 a.m. (regardless of when sunrise actually happened to be). This time his proposal would affect all AM stations by allowing all AM stations to increase their daytime power tenfold (10 dB) (or at least fourfold, by 6 dB, if the 10 dB won’t fly).

His logic really can’t be faulted. Mr. Arsenault believes that, while the AM 0.5 mV/m contour is theoretically protected – and, therefore, listenable – in fact nonbroadcast interference routinely overwhelms service out to that protected contour. The result is an often unlistenable cacophony where there should be sweet AM signal. The interference emanates from sources like power lines and a broad array of electronic devices. Arsenault asserts – and who can seriously challenge him on this? – that things will only get worse. As a result, listeners who should, in theory, be able to receive reasonably strong AM signals will increasingly hear noise. 

His solution? A substantial across-the-board daytime power increase to drown out the static. As he sees it, a tenfold power increase would allow all stations to break through all but the worst interference, thereby giving the AM aficionado a fine selection of strong stations in place of the interference-wracked options currently available. And the beauty of his vision is that, if all AM stations increase their respective powers at the same time, they will not interfere with one another any more than they do now, since the relative strengths of their signals will be unchanged.

Thinking practically, Arsenault suggests that a six-month grace period be established to allow stations the time necessary to implement the upgrades. No application would be necessary – just an after-the-fact notification to the Commission of the degree of power increase and the date of implementation. The opportunity to take advantage of the power upgrade opportunity would run for five years.

Arsenault acknowledges that “there are details that will need to be addressed before implementation”, but that his petition “should open discussion on this concept”.

While the notion of a 10 dB (or even 6 dB) across-the-board daytime power increase may be attractive to many, if not most, AM licensees, it has at least one major drawback: in order for it to work, all stations would have to upgrade themselves. Otherwise, stations choosing, for whatever reason, not to increase power would be drowned out not by nonbroadcast background RF, but by their bulked-up AM confrères. And it’s easy to see why some AM folks might choose not to ramp up: the cost of new equipment alone might be prohibitive, not to mention the likely increase in power costs. After all, cranking up your power by a factor of six or ten will require significantly greater power.

The FCC invited comment on Arsenault’s last petition for rulemaking, although it’s far from clear that that proposal will get very far beyond that procedural step. We will let you know if the Commission invites comments on Mr. Arsenault’s latest.