New technology has AM radio listeners worried their broadcasts are getting lost in the static.
“Electronics put out energy that generates noise which is a big effect on AM radio, especially to communities further out of town,” he said. “It’s a simple fact of physics, FM is more impervious to electronic noises.”
Am radio stands for amplitude modulation, the first method of transmitting sound on radio air waves. FM stands for frequency modulation, which transmits sound using a radio-frequency wave that varies depending on the amplitude.
According to The New York Times, almost all electronic products including smartphones, televisions, home air-conditioning systems, refrigerators, and computers transmit radio signals that can interfere with AM radio stations.
Bryant grew up listening to radio stations like KYFR in Bismarck N.D., where he was first introduced to AM radio.
“AM radio was a trip around the world. I could listen to stations in New Orleans, Nashville, Los Angeles, and Winnipeg,” said the former 680 CJOB host. “It’s a hobby listening for distance radio.”
In 2013 alone, two Manitoba radio stations have switched over to the FM dial. Winnipeg radio stations like CBC’s Radio-Canada couldn’t compete with the static coming from these new electronics. Winkler’s 1570 CKMW also converted to FM after competing with American radio stations that overlapped with their AM dial.
Certain car manufacturers in the United States are removing the AM dial in vehicles altogether and replacing them with satellite and blue tooth, so drivers can download music from the Internet to their vehicles instead.
“People don’t like listening to weak signals,” said Bryant. “The answer to AM radio is power, lots of power and to give people what they want to hear.”
In Manitoba, there are 180 radio stations, 18 of them are AM.
Bryant also suggests AM radio was doomed from the start.
During the Second World War, radios were built for the sole purpose of military use. Manufacturers got around this by leaving out parts, creating cheaper radios with poor sound. This caused high frequency to disappear and gave AM radio the reputation of muffled sound.
“When it became apparent that this was a problem, AM broadcasters should have grouped together, risen up in protest, and demanded that receiver quality be improved, but they didn’t,” he said. “In a way, complacent AM broadcasters were instrumental in shooting themselves in the foot.”
Bryant moved to Nashville more than 30 years ago to work at one of North America’s most famous radio stations, WSM on the AM dial. Still a resident of Nashville, Bryant has kept his loyalty to AM radio, but admits to giving it a life expectancy of no longer than 25 more years.
“More people are going to FM because it’s less talk and more music but that doesn’t mean AM is going away,” said Wendy Friesen, president of the Broadcasters Association of Manitoba. “We need to keep AM radio interesting, relevant, and community based.”
But not all AM radio stations are suffering. AM radio stations like 680 CJOB have been the number one station in Winnipeg for over 15 years sending out 50 thousand watts to listeners across the province.
AM radio stations like 680 CJOB are advised to stay put since the best frequencies on FM are already taken up by competing radio stations.
“The FM dial is already crowded, so AM is going to have to hang on,” said Axelrod. “There’s only one pie, and it has to be divided up.”
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