by Matthew Lasar
May 18, 2013
Federal Communications Commissioner Ajit Pai and his Chief of Staff Matthew Berry conferenced with two executives from Clear Channel on Wednesday. They talked up a variety of issues. The meeting’s last item caught my eye. I presume from the language of the filed summary that Pai asked Clear Channel Vice Presidents Jeff Littlejohn and Jessica Marventano what they thought about a fixed date for converting AM radio stations to digital.
“It would be challenging for the Commission to set a date certain to convert AM stations to all digital broadcasts,” Littlejohn replied, “given the investments necessary for such a transition by broadcasters, and on the reception side, the large percentage of analog radios in the market.”
The idea of transitioning AM to digital has been in the air, so to speak, particularly since a CBS Radio veep pushed the idea at a recent National Association of Broadcasters conference. This proposal has plenty of skeptics since a likely digital standard would be HD Radio, thus far unpopular with consumers.
I asked HD Radio critic John Anderson for a response to the comments. ”Clear Channel’s really backed away from HD in general, in part (I think) due to the company’s over-leveraged debt position,” Anderson noted.
Pai brought other AM related matters up. What about “across-the-board power increases for AM stations”?
Littlejohn explained Clear Channel’s opposition: “when the Commission implemented such a power increase for Class IV stations in the past, it resulted in a sea of interference surrounding islands of service,” he explained, then offered some other suggestions: