As part of the FCC’s initiative to revitalize AM stations, Puerto Rico station owner Wilfredo Blanco-Pi petitioned the FCC to allow AM stations to employ synchronous boosters, not just on a temporary basis, but permanently. Now, the FCC is seeking comment on the proposal to amend Part 73 of its rules. Comments must be submitted via the Commission’s online filing system by December 29.
Blanco-Pi, who’s also an electrical engineer, operates stations in Puerto Rico. “No one would listen to an AM radio” in a noisy city just with 5 mv/m, according to Blanco-Pi. “Even with 25 mv/m (let’s say perhaps an acceptable noise-free signal) noisy power lines, computers, microwave ovens, fluorescent lamps, thunderstorms, etc. could make a listener switch to FM radio.” Overall, “it’s extremely difficult to tune to AM stations inside a building without noise,” he told the FCC.
“Although the idea [of AM Revitalization] sounds good as in the Titanic, there are no sufficient ‘lifesavers’ for everybody until the FCC decides to migrate to entire AM band to FM,” he wrote. To overcome some of the noise issues, Blanco-Pi and his son have been experimenting with AM synchronous boosters that have been operating continuously in Puerto Rico since 1988. These stations operate under experimental licenses, so these stations have higher regulatory burdens than regular stations in terms of annual reporting and license renewals.
Two AMs were 680 kHz and three AMs were synchronized on 1260 kHz: WAPA, WA2XPA, WISO, WI2XSO and WI3XSO. He applied in 2011 for a fourth station to operate on 1260 kHz. The Audio Division denied the application, asserting that increasing the number of overlapping signals to evaluate system performance was unnecessary. The full Commission upheld this determination by the staff earlier this year.
At the time the agency said: based on Blanco-Pi’s long experience in operating his other experimental AM booster stations, “nothing new or groundbreaking concerning the operation of AM synchronous stations will be gleaned by permitting [him] to add a fourth AM synchronous transmitter to the existing WISO synchronous network.” It felt he wanted to extend his coverage using the third synchronous booster and “expansion of existing program service …does not justify licensing” an experimental station.
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who helped push AM revitalization initiatives at the Commission, agreed with the majority in denying the additional booster. Yet the senior GOP commissioner, now viewed by experts as likely being named interim chairman by the incoming administration, said this particular order shouldn’t deter AM broadcasters who want to perform “legitimate experiments with AM synchronous boosters from coming to the Commission. If broadcasters wish to test whether synchronous transmission systems can help improve signal quality within their coverage area, I believe that the Commission should facilitate such experiments as we search for ways to revitalize the AM band.”
Now as part of the AM Revitalization effort, Blanco-Pi is again urging the Commission to grant his petition for a fourth synchronous transmitter operating on 1260 kHz, and to open to all AM station licensees the opportunity for permanent synchronous transmitter operation.
In general, AM synchronous boosters “permit the best possible use of a single frequency” to allow an AM to improve or expand its coverage while maintaining protection to co-channels and adjacent channels both day and night. Listeners can keep listening in the areas where the boosters overlap with “practically no annoying or destructive interference,” states Blanco-Pi.
He described the installation as “easy, cost-effective and dependable.” AM stations should be able to install boosters not only to fill-in coverage areas inside the 2.0 mv/m contour, but also to expand their signal contour just as AM directional antennas do, he believes.