Wednesday, June 06, 2018

1954 Life Support for a Dying Breed

(Reader alert: this is a story that could start with “It was a dark and stormy night.” The lead is buried.  You’ll have to find it. It is hiding in plain sight. But it takes a while to get there.)

Conventional wisdom tells us AM radio is dead.  All the people who listen are old and ready to croak.  When we do, there will be no use for this once ubiquitous medium.
Kids don’t like it because it sounds so much worse than FM. And you can program your own song lists on iTunes or You Tube or Pandora or AccuRadio or any other streaming service. 

And if that’s too much trouble, you can subscribe to satellite radio that has something for everyone from Gregorian Chants to Snake Charmers, Howard Stern, Martha Stewart, acid rock, metal rock, concrete rock, new country, old country, bluegrass, modern jazz, big band jazz, Broadway, Hollywood, Rap, Old School Rap, Neo Rap, Hip Hop West, Hip Hop East and my own personal favorite, the 1Khz tone or its companion station, the A440 tone which some people find more listenable.
But then there are the people who own or run conventional AM stations.  They’d rather keep doing that than do something more productive.  Like applying for food stamps, Medicaid and maybe welfare or staging stickups at convenience stores and banks in their city of license.

As America replaced the horse with the internal combustion engine, replaced gas lights with light bulbs and light bulbs with LEDs, so are we replacing the AM radio band. Or at least getting a decent sound on the air without too much trouble, welfare checks or criminal records.

Enter the FM translator.  This is a small, usually low wattage the AM broadcasters can use to bolster their static filled signals.

Here’s how they work:  Station WJFN, 1520 on the dial in Mongoose, Indiana applies for a “translator license.” The Federal Communications Commission grants the license. And thereafter, WJFN broadcasts both on it’s limp, nosebleed-end-of-the-dial 1520 but also on 105.1 or some other vacant local FM frequency. \

Now it can call itself WJFN 105. 

WJFN is fictional. But how about some real examples:

KWXY 1340 AM, Cathedral City, California.

Where?  Well… Cathedral City is the city of license but that’s right next to Palm Springs. Pretty ritzy neighborhood.

And while KWXY continues to crank out 1970s style elevator music at 1340, it now can call itself KWXY 92.3 FM.  People from Palm Springs say it sounds wonderful.  It probably does. They have an internet feed. And, yeah, it’s pretty good.

A station nearer the Wessay ™ secret mountain laboratory, WTRN, Tyrone, Pennsylvania has two different translators.

Adding an extra frequency with a good signal and good audio isn’t all that expensive.  But, natch, there’s a catch.

The FM band is getting so crowded with translators that they’re going to need translators of their own.

--The Yellow Pages arrived with a clever new slogan, “The Original Search Engine.” True, but the current version is chock full of outdated and useless former information and omissions a-plenty. If you want a phone number these days the best way is to hack Facebook’s database.

(note to readers: I didn’t make up “AccuRadio.” It’s real. Look it up.)

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2018

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