What’s Going To Happen To Legacy Broadcast Bands When The Lights Go Out?

Our smartphones have become our constant companions over the last decade, and it’s often said that they have been such a success because they’ve absorbed the features of so many of the other devices we used to carry. PDA? Check. Pager? Check. Flashlight? Check. Camera? Check. MP3 player? Of course, and the list goes on. But alongside all that portable tech there’s a wider effect on less portable technology, and it’s one that even has a social aspect to it as well. In simple terms, there’s a generational divide that the smartphone has brought into focus, between older people who consume media in ways born in the analogue age, and younger people for whom their media experience is customized and definitely non-linear.

The Kids Just Don’t Listen To The Radio Any More

A 1957 American family watching TV
We’re guessing this is no longer a scene played out in many homes. Evert F. Baumgardner, Public domain.

The effect of this has been to see a slow erosion of the once-mighty reach of radio and TV broadcasters, and with that loss of listenership has come less of a need for the older technologies they relied on. Which leaves a fascinating question here at Hackaday, what is going to happen to all that spectrum? Indeed, there’s a deeper question behind all that, is lower frequency spectrum even that valuable any more?

In the old days, we had analogue TV in several-MHz-wide channels spread across a large part of the UHF bands and some smaller chunks of VHF. Among that we had 20 MHz of FM broadcasting around the 100 MHz mark, and disregarding shortwave, then a MHz of AM down around 1 MHz. Europeans got a bonus band down there too: we’ve got Long Wave, over 100 kHz of AM goodness roughly centered around 200 kHz.

The last twenty years have seen a shift to digital for all broadcast TV, with for Americans at least a bunch of those UHF frequencies being snapped up for data services. Radio has gone digital too, for Europeans with DAB in the 200 MHz-ish band, but we’ve still got a fairly thriving FM band even if governments are making noises about moving FM stations to digital. Meanwhile down at the bottom of the dial those AM and long wave bands are in terminal decline, with transmitters going silent across the board. Perhaps Americans still have more AM stations than Europeans, but we’d wager they are no longer the premium money spots.

Enthusiasts may point to digital AM systems such as DRM (Digital Radio Mondial) as their saviour, but can format music radio compete against streaming at all? In a few years then, it’s likely that the AM and longwave broadcast bands will be empty, and possibly not too far behind them the FM band too. What happens then, is the interesting part. Will they be sold on to new uses, or will they lie idle, waiting for a fresh purpose? It’s a question to which the answer is more complex than meets the eye, because it leaves the technical for the political.

How One Auction Broke An Industry Forever

A Nokia 7600 mobile phone
Back in 2000 the cellular business hadn’t seen the smartphone coming, and thought we’d use 3G data for video calling on crazy looking phones. Nokia 7600, AnVuong1222004 (2), CC BY-SA 4.0.

Everybody likes free cash, but governments like it especially, and when it comes to radio spectrum they see it all as a huge pile of dollars, pounds, Euros, or whatever just waiting to be unlocked. Where this is being written in the UK, this is especially so, and for that we can thank the auction round for 3G mobile phones a couple of decades ago. The various companies entered an unsustainable bidding war and spent far too much on their allocations, and aside from nearly bankrupting a swath of the UK tech industry for a few years, they cemented an idea in the minds of British and other European politicians that free spectrum was a bonanza. Thus there was a keen appetite to empty whatever space they could find and flog it off to the highest bidder, something they found wasn’t as easy as they thought.

What happened next was that subsequent auctions proved to be damp squibs as potential buyers shied away from a 3G-style disaster. Meanwhile as 3G and then 4G services became ubiquitous they claimed another function previously served by an analogue device. PMR, the type of mobile radios that might once have been found in fleet vehicles everywhere, moved first from low VHF frequencies to switched 200 MHz services, and then followed everything else onto the mobile phone networks. Where once your taxi might have had a VHF radio with a switchboard, now the driver uses an app on a phone.

What To Do With Fading 20th Century Signals?

An Uber taxi
It’s an app on a smartphone that brings your cab, not a VHF radio any more. Ilya Plekhanov, CC BY-SA 4.0.

The upshot of this has been obvious to anyone with an SDR, where once there were plenty of channels both digital and analogue to be found with a scanner across VHF and UHF, those once-valuable bands are increasingly empty save for the airband and public services. We’re sure that governments would charge us a heap of money for a licence where our local taxi used to be, but how many of them do they issue now compared to decades ago? Not a lot, we’d wager.

What we’re seeing is in fact the sunset of 20th-century models of radio communication, in which range was valued over bandwidth. The short range and high bandwidth of a cell tower is infinitely more valuable when the landscape is dotted with them than the county or country-wide range and low bandwidth of a VHF channel or an AM broadcast frequency, so the importance of the latter two is inevitably waning. Over time we’ll see yet more services move to data streams, meaning that eventually save for a few radio amateurs there will be previous little left in the first 100 MHz or so beside the military and a few very specialised services.

So in years to come, what will happen to these bands? We very much doubt they’ll become a free-for-all, as a badly made AM pirate spewing kilowatts of harmonics audible in the gigahertz is not a desirable outcome for anyone. Instead we’re guessing they’ll languish, forgotten by all but a few enthusiasts polishing their vintage Philco tabletop radios. It’s sad, because we could imagine a vibrant future for an AM band in a world where limited power unlicensed microbroadcast transmissions were legal. This is to some extent already the case in some parts of the world, but if that were to become a more general thing with permissible power in the region of a watt or two then we could see large numbers of short-range stations co-existing across the dial.

We’d love it if that were to happen, but sadly we aren’t holding our breath.

Header: “Vintage Philco Two-Band (AM-FM) Transistor Radio” by Joe Haupt

211 thoughts on “What’s Going To Happen To Legacy Broadcast Bands When The Lights Go Out?

  1. In small town rural America, the radio is still alive and well. Cattle futures and all things ag related still appeal to farmers. You can pull up to about any farm store or livestock sale barn and there will be some farmer listening to the AM radio in his truck. It won’t die until all the farmers are dead.

    1. Not only that, but even in places where there’s pretty good cell coverage, not everyone spends the extra to get unlimited data with a high enough prioritization and speed to avoid stuttering, and if they do they might not solely use that. In places where there’s a local station that’s any good, it will have community news and events that may be of interest, along with giveaways and call-ins and such which may attract some listeners. Or just songs that aren’t popular enough to make the playlist online; small time artists and older songs and such.

      And of course, it helps a lot that cars default to having a radio function – even if some have been dropping AM capability. I’m not sure what the other options are in lieu of the AM band frequencies for emergency broadcasts you see on the sides of highways (usually when roadtripping)… but anyway, broadcast FM can be just as good as a normal internet stream when in a car and not at the edge of its range – which is beyond the range where your cell connection would be reliable, generally. Broadcast AM nearly requires a low noise rural environment to keep the static down if you aren’t one of the big stations, since you can’t run high power without interfering with someone else a thousand miles away – but you can cover multiple counties with less power than one smartphone at night.

      Finally, looking at home and personal use skips workplace and event use. Many workplaces use the radio as free background music, with no licensing issues. Or if you work with loud machinery, earplugs make the machines safe but not enjoyable to hear. Earplugs plus a loud radio works better. If you’re using a radio for communicating with an equipment operator and/or you’re using safety earmuffs instead of earplugs, then while you might find bluetooth you’ll definitely find FM capability in some of your options, and it can mute the music while you’re communicating which is sometimes important.

      1. “Many workplaces use the radio as free background music, with no licensing issues.”
        Not here in the UK. My Dad used to own an antiques shop where he would work on items as well as selling them, and listened to the radio while he worked. One day he had a visit from someone from PRS – the Performing Rights Society – who told him he needed a license from them because “a customer might hear the radio when they visited”. He said what if he was listening to a CD “oh no, you need a different license for that”. He promised not to use the radio again, but I think he had his fingers crossed when he told them that.

        1. It just seems mind boggling that the UK goes after the broadcast recipient for securing “broadcast rights” for “what ifs” and “whaddabouts”, vs the ACTUAL broadcaster, for broadcast rights to the general public… It seems utterly absurd that if the broadcaster has already secured rights for public broadcast, that said public broadcast should then be available to… you know, the whole public, and not just select parts of the public that own the receiving equipment. This is 100% a failure of the system to have SANE and reasonable rules, and honestly just sounds like a grift to milk extra Pounds from common folk by double dipping into the loicense honeypot.

          1. I couldn’t of said it better myself! My father refinished and repaired furniture all his life. He also had a radio going 24 hours a day. However we live in the USA. I don’t think they would try that here. But our retard (elected officials) think they not what is in our best interest, NOT. I believe their are millions of people preparing for revolution here. Because of all the gov,t overreach. But I wouldn’t swear to that last statement,lol!

          2. We have something similar in the USA. It depends on licensing with the “Music Mafia.” This is what someone I know calls the license organizations ASCAP, SESAC and BMI. It seems they have some strange rules similar to the PRS in the UK.
            For example, I heard before that if a business uses more than 2 speakers in their sound system, then they have to pay separate license fees for ALL music played through that system. It doesn’t specify the source of the music. Therefore, if you connect a radio to a multi-speaker system, you have to pay for licensing in addition to what the broadcast station is already paying. Also, on a 2-speaker system, the radio is the only option without paying license fees. If your business is open to the public, then playing a streaming channel, mp3 player, CD player, etc. would incur additional licensing. I suppose exceptions could be made for non-public businesses like anything “by appointment only,” but most of those places take walk-ins, too.
            By the way, at least in the US, the government has little involvement in this; and there’s even less enforcement. The license organizations have to catch a business “in the act.” This means someone walked into the business, knew the licensing rules, saw a violation, and reported it to the licensing organization. They will investigate the complaint and make another visit to the business. If they confirm the complaint, the penalty could range from a cease and desist order, or additional license fees depending on how long the business owner admits to the violation, to suing the business for a fee high enough to bankrupt the business. I’ve heard of fees as high as $200 to $300 per song, multiplied by 12 to 15 songs an hour, times 10 to 12 hours a day, etc. It can add up very quickly.

        2. I don’t know about radio in the UK, but don’t you pay per TV in the house? That’s is a different model than many places.

          In the US, it’s advertising based, and I’d argue its no different than each person having a radio with headphones. In fact increasing listenership.

          With TV, at least with pay broadcast services you are supposed to pay more. Of course I usually hear about that for pay services, but probably covers over the air broadcasts.

          Of course, for me, that difference is with TV, is places often have audio off so advertising is diminished.

          But then we had muzak not just to avoid commercials in stores but for royalty reasons.

      2. Sadly, broadcast is still the best way to communicate during emergencies and in remote areas. If you’ve ever tried to place a cell phone call after an earthquake or during a hurricane, it can take hours to get a single call through. In remote parts of the country, you can easily be 50-100 miles from a cell signal. AM broadcast can cover wide areas on modest power levels, albeit with large antennas and offer an easy way for people to stay informed. When a major emergency hits and we don’t have a local broadcast station to turn to for information, we will be very sorry to have allowed these systems to have died.

        1. Yes The Broadcast Stations must remain intact. Typically the broadcast stations do have weekly tests for the emergency broadcast system. Most Motorola cell phones will receive FM radio too. Keep your portable HAM radio charged too.

        1. Ah, Australia is, far as I remember, big-time (as in: megawatts of transmit power) rolling out DRM, as it’s cheaper to operate than ole AM stations covering the huge land. So, not so sure about “not dying”; it might be a slow death, though.

        1. The death of broadcast radio has been prematurely speculated for a couple of decades already. There are two factors keeping broadcasting alive. First is localism. People want to hear local stations for the information aspect. Even commercials are useful. Some may recall that satellite services were predicted to destroy broadcasting before we got streaming internet. Satellite survived, but couldn’t offer the localism of broadcasting.

          The second issue is coverage. With a modest sized broadcast signal, in a small to medium market, we can easily reach potentially 500,000 people. In streaming, there is a cost associated with each listener. This is because each listener has a dedicated virtual wire to the server. This bandwidth has to be paid for. This makes it very costly to serve so many people. So, we see streaming services making big $$ in ad revenue, yet they tend to remain operationally unprofitable. This doesn’t bode well for the long term streaming model.

          1. I mean, I’m European, but I’ve been through the US on road trips, and in states all over both coasts, the South and the Midwest. I also read broadcasting union’s brochures, which also stress the advantage of “locality”. Two things:

            – When you go to the website of a commercial northern German radio station, you get adverts for the local VW and Mercedes dealerships – in your southern German town. *Obviously*, you can do much better localization over the internet than over broadcast – your IP address is usually good enough for localization down to a city quarter.

            – The “even local ads are useful”: I challenge you to sit and base your next car purchase on the local ads. “Screaming car dealership ads” are so bad and common, it’s a *trope*

      1. Same in the UK, you don’t even have to be that rural to loose mobile/ cell connection or DAB radio. I even have problems on major motorways. I have DAB and sometimes steam but you can’t beat FM for reliability and when driving that’s what I want.

        1. Interesting that you lose cell connection in a small country like England. My wife has been finding several places on her daily drive home where there is no cell signal. We are in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Carrier is Bell Canada. The drop areas are 1-2 story residential, so no tall buildings to block coverage.

    2. Yeah, I think this is a UK/Europe phenomenon. I can’t think of a radio or tv station here in the US that went dark without being immediately replaced by SOMETHING in the same spot.

      AMs are being bought up to simulcast on lower power FM translators. And there’s always spanish language and religious broadcasters.

      1. TV whiteband is a thing in the US as well – the benefit of going digital was that there’s now free cellular and local event tech spectrum.

        So, yeah, replaced with *something*, but absolutely not with the same. Buzzword here is “digital dividend”.

          1. Exactly. Freed broadcast bands got reassigned to non-broadcast usage. (I didn’t mean “free spectrum for broadcasting”, I meant “now free spectrum, formerly used by broadcasting”).

            I think it’s great that they’re putting that spectrum to use for 5G – that’s something people actually use. How many people do you actually know that listen to your average college campus radio?

      2. AM radio here in the US is dominated by right wing and religious stations. They’re not going anywhere anytime soon. FM is where you find classic rock, NPR and classical. It’s interesting how different the AM and FM content is due to the fact that most FM stations are in larger metropolitan areas as they’re more limited in range.

      3. It’s not so much antenna TV being used, but the cable tv rebroadcast fees and shall-carry requirements that are keeping broadcast stations afloat state side. Any cable company has to carry the broadcast stations for their areas, and even though they are free to air can be charged for it. I’d be surprised if most broadcast stations didn’t get more money from cable re-transmission than ads.

    3. In Canada many small town stations are being pushed out of business by the “free” state broadcaster, which has the largest network of transmitters by far. I’ve taken to listening to my AM through my smartphone (via Bluetooth and my truck sound system) but in much of Canada there is no cell signal either. The new trucks with their internal antennas don’t pick up AM well, I used to listen to stations 1000 miles away while driving at night.

    4. I worked for a man named David Maul- Ffinch here in Arizona. Way back in the day he made a fortune in the UK by broadcasting Offshore back onto the land. He was a Radio Pirate but there weren’t much anyone could do. Brought all the cash to the states and built some big venues here in Arizona. Including the Marina I worked at. Bottom line is IF there is a DEMAND someone will find a way to supply. That’s why Pot stayed Criminal for decades and they provide parking and entertainment for brain dead Alcoholics.

  2. I can’t answer most of the questions. However “kids don’t listen to radio anymore” is partly a decision by the carriers who supply most of the cell phones to their customers. My carrier, and many others, have the manufacturer disable to FM reception capability. My cell phone manufacturer told me that, in Canada, only AM radio is available over the air via cell phone.
    This needs to change. Government emergency preparedness is constantly telling us that we need a battery powered radio to receive emergency broadcasts. Small convenient inexpensive battery powered radios are not easy to find. Much better if Governments ordered manufacturers and carriers to enable over-the-air radio reception on cell phones. Let the public decide if they want to to listen via the expensive cell data network or to a local radio station. Force them (carriers) to allow access to both “free” and subscription AM, FM & XM stations / channels (with no additional payment to the carrier).

      1. As a parent of three tech savvy kids this does worry me. But then how useful has going down to the river and building huts been to me? In saying that, I really though they would get into CAD, I know I would have, when the 3d printer came home. One of the main reasons I bought it. Nope. Tiktok, roblox and youtube.0

        1. Perhaps “building huts by the river” was what gave you the fundamental spatial reasoning skills, pride in construction and iterative problem-solving approach necessary to appreciate CAD and 3D printing later in life? I wonder if the skills we gained messing about in the real world can be acquired by younger generations through purely virtual interactions via digital devices, as seems to be becoming the norm.

          1. ” I wonder if the skills we gained messing about in the real world… ” There have been previous discussions on this sort of thing; basically, learning the basics, the foundations. Meccano factory closing – business reduction because of loss of hand-eye coordination, loss of imagination? Everybody uses keyboards, so stop teaching cursive writing. Everybody uses calculators, so no memorizing of multiplication tables, no learning how to use logs or anti-logs, no drawing of graphs, no understanding the basics of how things work.

          2. I still have my 1970s CRC reference book (log tables, physical constants, etc.), back in the day an absolute necessity for anyone studying or working in any field related to math, science, or engineering. I sometimes joke that if a giant solar flare bricks all of the electronics, that book will help rebuild civilization.

          3. I never built huts by the river. I never learned to ride a bike, can’t drive, can’t swim, I have trouble with running into doorways and furniture and hitting my head on cabinets, and I got bored and forgot trying to learn touch typing after a week of no progress. My math ability is a significant limitation for me, almost as much of an issue as not driving. People stare at me when I’m in public because I walk without any grace or rhythm, freeze up, and miss steps.

            I do CAD all the time, and my last job involved lots of light woodworking. I’ll probably never understand how a selectric typewriter works or model realistic organic stuff, but I very much appreciate CAD. CAD is not a tool for recording a design you see in your head, like paper is, it’s a prosthetic that does most of what spatial reasoning does, a virtual space where fuzzy fragments you imagine become real designs.

            A bigger problem is they probably won’t have much reason to 3D print, because vidya and TikTok are just too good.

            I’m sure they’re fully capable, even if they might not be as good as they would it they had an actual understanding of 3D space. They’ll probably never sculpt a bust without real understanding but I assume they could build a bookshelf just fine if they have the right tools and a copy of freeCAD. These are people who can literally drive a car. Some of them can even draw.

        2. YikTok… Got the kids eating Tide pods, eating cinnamon powder, putting super glue in their hair…. The list goes on. One bright generation being raised by YikTok

      2. You are literally correct. I have no motivation to do anything involving people that isn’t mediated by technology. Whether that’s online card games, meetups, driving somewhere in my car, or just walking, I’m always using technology. I barely eat but when I do it’s uninspired or a straight copy out of an Adam Ragusea video. Out of the four or so friends I see on a regular basis, only one of them is within 5 years of my age and the rest are all 10-20 years older. All of my other peers are too busy being exploited, just like me, and are given no time to socialize. My employer has me maximally exploited despite not even being a large or remotely profitable company.

        I treat people well who don’t deserve it and I treat people who do deserve it badly. I have a bad habit of buying technological toys, starting projects, forgetting about them, putting them in a box in my closet, and then starting a new project with yet a different piece of technology. I pay attention to research papers on attention yet I behave like a person with utter executive dysfunction.

        Oh, wait, it looks like nothing above is unusual when compared to any other random person’s lifestyle. My generation just happens to have about 20 billion cameras pointed at it from every angle, so everyone sees every flaw and misstep and flounder of ours while all the photons that bounced off your generation’s mistakes disappeared into the void and got converted to heat. Sorry you can’t relate, but my generation isn’t really going to be any different from yours. It’s just a fluid mass of incoherent narratives and flesh.

      3. I guarantee the generation before yours said exactly the same about you. People have been complaining about “the youth of today” as far back as recorded history goes, and presumably before.
        Not to mention, if there’s any blame to be appointed, it belongs to the older generations who shaped the world that kids have to grow up in.

      4. I have had the great privilege of working with some brilliant and interesting young people over the last decade as I have entered into my sixties. You generalize far too much.

      5. As a 16 year old teen, I’m sad to say I agree with you. That being said, I don’t think we have reached a lost generation yet. That will happen when the current generation has their kids. I’ve seen the effects of smartphone addiction on the people around me and it really sucks for them.

      6. Every generation since the dawn of time has been saying that about the two previous generations. Your grandfather most likely said that about you at some point, and at least today’s kids are more fun to talk to than you are.

        1. It’s simply not the same this time. When you go to the grocery store and see small children obsessed with the cell phone as they ride in the cart, and you see the research into the damage caused due to lack of development of certain brain functions this causes… we are no longer talking about a simple generation gap here. There has never been the like of this technology in prior generations, so to try to make that ancient generational point doesn’t cut it anymore.

      7. I totally agree with you on this matter. I feel this generation is the beginning to the fall of mankind. The reasoning behind this thought is technology. We all have been slothful because we don’t have to do as much as we once did.

        1. I got a millennial that started his own grow by buying old mobile homes and converting them to indoor grows in a newly legal state. He moved from a state that already had too many players and he wasn’t making much there!
          He ended up selling his whole operation after a couple years.
          He built his own tiny house on his own land and even dug his well himself!
          So there’s some out there getting work done for themselves.
          He has like 8 vehicles he got cheap and fixed up. Right now he’s working on a fox body Mustang and put a 4R70W trans in it with the controller so he can tune how it shifts, that trans can handle 500HP and why he went with it since he’s shooting for that HP.

        1. Even the broadcasters themselves are preparing for (and even pushing for) the demise of traditional free-to-air radio and television. They are constantly urging listeners/viewers to go to their website or download their app. The talking heads rattle off the headlines and then tell us to go to their app or website for the complete story. Apps and websites are promoted at every opportunity, yet the only acknowledgement of their “legacy” broadcast is the hourly FCC-required ID, consisting of the bare minimum required information: their call sign and location. Often that’s the only time you’ll hear their call sign, which is the legal “name” of the station. In contrast, they’re constantly shouting branding slogans and silly made-up station names.

          1. Your cell phone is a radio. In fact, the RF stage is analog, carrying QAM digital data. QAM is just another form of modulation, just as FM and AM are.

          2. Actually a cell phone is based on 2 meter ham radio repeater technology from back in the day so a cell phone is most definitely a radio transceiver. Do you see a cord attached to yours? No? Then it’s a radio.

        2. Probably 10 years ago I had a hobby building AM radio antennas of all types and using them for long distance reception. Then I got an internet radio, I found I could get thousands of radio stations. That slowed my antenna hobby down to almost nothing. Now with my cellphone and living in Florida, I stream an AM station WABC out of NY City several hours a day and then stream Oldtime Radio other hours. AM may not be dead but it gets to me with different modulation.

    1. ““kids don’t listen to radio anymore” is partly a decision by the carriers who supply most of the cell phones to their customers. My carrier, and many others, have the manufacturer disable to FM reception capability.”
      I know just a few people who knew they had FM receiver on their phones and only one who actually used it. They simply had GBs of mp3 loaded or steamed podcasts and music and listen to the radio in car or at work.
      Kids don’t listen to radio (at least at my place) because radios keep old format and play “safe” – there is no radio that kept up with new generation and offered them content they were looking for. Not to mention that interaction with listeners today should be much better.

      “Government emergency preparedness is constantly telling us that we need a battery powered radio to receive emergency broadcasts.”
      Just today I have red a post by a guy who switched on his radio during some SHTF event and heard something like: if you tuned to us to figure out what happened than know we don’t know – our cells are of, out internet is of and that is all the channels we receive information from. If radios relay on cell phones and internet only…
      Although we do had experience when radios were the only source of info because they could contact with ham radio operators inside isolated zone. This teach us very little.

      “Small convenient inexpensive battery powered radios are not easy to find.”
      I am on my trip to buy some portable radios and recently found Sony ICF-P28 for around 25euro (that lasts 100h on 2xAA batteries and seems to cost more in US) and I have Retekess 115 (runs for 20h on build in rechargeable battery – I caught some stations on both SW and MW in the middle of Atlantic ocean). You can start looking from Radio Jay Allen (his radio shootouts and reviews are a starter) or SWLing.

    2. Many of those FM features only work with wired headphones as the antenna, so you still need to carry an additional item. It would be good to have full access to all features but there’s approximately 0 chance I’m going to go back to anything involving 3.5mm headphones if I don’t have to.

    3. “Small convenient inexpensive battery powered radios are not easy to find.” They are? Amazon is littered with them. Even the crappy ones basically work, albeit often not sensitive on the top part of the AM band.

  3. AM broadcasts can be received on very basic equipment, and always had a potential emergency role during the Cold War years.

    How much of 21st Century communications infrastructure could be knocked out with cyber attacks, a few conventional bombs or an attack on submarine cables?

      1. In 2003 or 2005 there was a huge power failure across the US NE (East from Ohio) & into southern Ontario. The radio stations had broadcast power longer than the cell towers.

        1. Jen, Great Article!

          Yes, excellent points, monsonite, djmips and Bruce. Most of the cell towers have inadequate power backup. At one time ( during 1G?) the requirement was 72 hours. That requirement has been long gone. Yet, many police,fire and first aid departments are at least partially dependent on cellular…. where’s the logic in that??

          During Hurricane Sandy (2012), our little “Kilowatt Boiler” on 1510 AM was going strong, an oasis of credible information, that kept our region from coming unglued.

          The ears and eyes go to the content, the content goes on whatever makes economic sense to the content provider (the audience has little to say about that).

          There is new technology, old technology, but does any of it truly become obsolete or in some way get remade into something new? Stayed Tuned!

          1. The more we complicate things the more vulnerable we become as a society. Having things connected by the internet will one day be our undoing if we eliminate our tried and true backups. If one day God forbid a superpower invades the internet will be the first thing taken out. Radio may be the only way to get information since most people have cable tv run by internet. Let’s not get shortsighted.

          1. So they had no backup power, unlike a lot of other radio stations.
            Why? Probably because generators cost money to acquire, install, and maintain. They need to be run and tested regularly (part of maintenance), and fuel needs to be kept fresh. With regular running (necessary), there might be enough fuel turn-over to keep it fresh, but otherwise, it is more money to have the old removed and replaced periodically.

      2. In fact, as soon as there is a major disaster, the mobile phone network collapses.
        I recall not too long ago in the UK, probably the London bombings?
        There are now prioritised SIMs for emergency responders but even that mechanism is a bit flakey.

        1. I witnessed this a few years in my city, when there was a blackout for a couple of hours.
          The nearest mobile tower was still on backup power, but.. No dialing possible. Just a pre-recorded message that played saying there’s a technical problem.
          Meanwhile, the local amateur radio repeater on 2m was just working as usual.

          1. Amateur radio operators are the backbone of emergency communications. Twice a year we have emergency communications drills called “Field Day” where we set up portable communications centers . Most of us have battery backups that will run for days. There are dozens of emergency networks of Amateur radio operators. Just Google Amateur radio. When all the power fails, we will still be on the air. Every Amateur radio operator must pass a test involving knowledge of electronics, and radio communication to be licensed.

        2. Then there was the time the DC cell network collapsed because of all the stingrays being used at the same time.
          Apparently they all put themselves ahead of the real towers. But the real towers were’nt…e.g. Mossad redirected NSAs traffic to their stingray, FSB redirected Mossad’s traffic, GCHQ redirected FSB’s, then the frogs redirected GCHQ’s, then NSA redirected the Frog’s, the circle was complete and people noticed.

          Truth it was just a technical glitch, only paranoid people believe what I do.
          If we can’t trust the fine people in the NSA who can we trust?

    1. Remember old AM radios, mostly car radios and pocket radios, used to have dots or triangles at 640 KHz and 1240 KHz? Those were the CONELRAD civil defense frequencies in the US which were supposed to stay on the air while other stations shut down. The hope was that Soviet bombers would not be able to use radio stations as navigational aids.

      When I was a kid, I had a flea market RCA CONELRAD receiver – apparently scrapped out of a Civil Defense post – which consisted of what appeared to be a cheap line operated hot chassis table radio chassis in a big fancy looking metal cabinet. There was only a screwdriver hole on the front panel to set one of the CONELRAD frequencies. There was a little timing motor which could be controlled by a toggle switch rotating a cam on a two minute (?) cycle and a couple of microswitches to change over to a different tuning/oscillator capacitor gang supposedly tuned to the other CONELRAD frequency. There was an audio level detector which would stop the timer if the active station was still on air so that the change-over between frequencies would get in sync. The CONELRAD stations would turn their transmitters on and off in hopes it would make them less helpful as navigation aids to enemy planes. Apparently the public had to just figure out what was going on and be smart enough to alternate between the CONELRAD marks on their tuning dials. I don’t recall ever hearing any sort of public instruction back in the 1960s about what CONELRAD was or what to do were it ever to be activated. We used to have frequent “Emergency Broadcast System” or EBS tests as it was called back then. I guess those further instructions and official information we were going to get “had this been an actual emergency” would have been a very quick explanation of CONELRAD.

    2. Oh, the magic cyberattack scenario, where all computers go down, and heavily redundant carrier backbones do, too, but the fully computerized broadcasting infrastructure prevails! An ever-classic prepper fairy tale.

      1. Happened two years ago in Texas. Cold took the power grid down. We spent four days without anything or access to roads and only the old broadcast radio worked. It’ll happen again…

    3. You can receive a decent powered AM station with just a crystal radio. No external power. If there is a real SHTF event that would be a viable way to get information. Of course I have the parts laying around to do that but most people won’t so it’s probably not a practical solution.

      1. How many people that *do not* own battery-operated AM receivers anyways do you actually think there are that could build a crystal radio with an antenna actually tuned close enough to an actual station should excrement hit the fan?

        These kind of survival scenarios make great material for protagonists in Zombie and SciFi novels (hey, The Martian is a great book!), but aren’t fit to help the general populace *at all*. You need to be a bit more realistic there. The moment you can distribute printed instructions, building material and piezo earpieces (which is the *not at home doable component*, and not at all replaceable with a modern dynamic earpiece), you can also distribute battery-powered receivers for whatever communications technology you prefer – ideally with a solar cell or similar. With the difference that sourcing a million piezo earpieces involves building a new factory, as the things on the market are probably 40 year old overstock being put into plastic casings and sold off, whereas building a million satellite receivers would be a long week at Foxconn and competitors, because the technology is recent and so the components are abundant.

  4. I work in a place that serves the hotel industry and I don’t get what I am seeing. They are replacing their handheld radios that talk directly to each other with no necessary subscription service with cellphones. Much previous voice communication goes by text and button clicks in an app now. That part makes sense as it allows data mining to improve efficiency. But rather than install free-to-use WiFi they do it all over cellular internet. So much money for what Part15 devices do for free!

    Likewise I don’t get when in-town taxi or delivery services make that switch. It is so easy to cover a town with a repeater. A two way radio install in a car can outlast several generations of cellphones.

    Cellular data is not cheap!

    I guess when you can just pass the cost down to the consumer no one cares…

    1. I might be able to shed some light on the why. I use to work for a company that had a Motorola made system where we all had hand held radios. Why would service companies switch from those to smart phones? Costs. While that local system doesn’t use any cell data those system aren’t cheap to maintain/upgrade either and with smart phones being so ubiquitous it’s easier to have everyone use that then purchase and maintain one of those systems.

      1. blucollarcritic has reminded me of a place I used to work. We leased radios from an outside company who serviced our radios & repeater. They charged a lot for contract battery replacements. I acquired a battery analyzer / conditioner which showed clearly that many of the replacement batteries were almost as bad as those being replaced. They stopped arguing once I provided the analysis results from the machine, but the replacement batteries were much better.

        One of the arguments in favour of smart phones was a reduction in paper work & clerical staff. Maintenance workers received & completed their work orders on their phones. No clerk needed to copy type time sheets and written work orders to record work completed. I don’t know how useful the data was – the clerk edited the completed information & locations to ensure uniformity in the records. eg mechanics, plumbers & electricians all had different descriptions of the same locations – without the edit, work done in a location was not properly reportable.

      2. A lot of basic voice needs are still met by 20+ year old systems using FRS or MURS and the like. They’ve been at the limits of the standards and thus pretty equivalent for ages. Public service has changed a bit, due to digital voice and encryption and changes to which band they are using. And I guess the minimal connection for a phone to handle this is at or under $5/person-month plus the phone itself while removing the need for anyone to have experience with the system. Management likes when they can make the job more basic :/

        1. The persistence of FRS is just insane. The tech is absolutely there to do the same thing many different ways, there’s plenty of unlicensed bands including the perfectly good DECT bands. Mesh tech exists. Almost any voice codec has better quality than FRS.

          But there are zero cheap digital walkie talkies despite the fact that an ESP32 is probably close to the same price as an FRS chipset by now, even though half the applications for FRS are within one building less than 100ft away, because range isn’t all that amazing.

          Except that one VTech digital encrypted kids thing that only lets you pair 2 of them together AFAIK.

          1. FRS is at about the highest frequency I would want to use at low power outdoors. Indoors, sure, you have other options – like wifi or shouting. When you try to use high frequencies and low power outdoors, things like leaves start to absorb all your signal. And the audio on FRS can be… okay. Better than a phone call when the signal is good. The super-common baofengs that people use without permission are a clear step up, even without going away from analog FM. I am impressed by the performance of the FreeDV codecs I looked at, but they don’t have the graceful degradation thing – for the max range when you need it, you give up the max quality when you have signal to spare.

            While the advertised range of miles and miles is only between hill/mountaintops, I can’t think of a reason DECT would work anywhere near as far apart as FRS, since the power is massively less, both have to be omnidirectional, and it has to sometimes work without line of sight. FM is not as efficient as other modes, but it’s not THAT much worse.

            But yes, even a short range link can work if nobody is far enough from another person that a mesh can’t be formed. And FRS is worse than most of the other similar options, except for convenience. GMRS you have to pay for, MURS you have five channels and it’s uncommon, CB is full of nuts and interference (plus it’s awkwardly sized).

            Something with voice recognition and synthesis would be a nice way to get around the limits of digital – you can get a bit of text through much easier. And yeah, all kinds of convenient stuff is possible like using TDMA for single-frequency repeaters.

  5. I can honestly say that the only time in the last 15 to 20 years that I have listened to radio, and this is AM broadcast only, was during severe weather events such as hurricanes. WHen I moved to a farm in the early 2000’s, we didn’t have cell phone service for almost 4 years and I had erected a 40 foot rohn 25G towe rfor a massive TV antenna to get programming from Houston. Forget about internet outside of satellite. But for tv, we used a Tivo to record programming on the 80+ digital channels we were able to receive, so we did a lot of “time shifting” so we didn’t have to listen to commercials. This is what lead me to stop listening to broadcast AM and FM as I was so tired of them. But I do believe AM has a purpose, much more so than FM.

  6. I think there will still be a role for NPR and stuff, but totally agree- current AM stations are either super religious or super right-wing, and I don’t see any of those shuttering any time soon. Probably an accurate prediction of what will happen to FM eventually, and maybe even cell phones once everyone gets eyePhones or brainstem implants or whatever.

  7. What’s going to happen is what has been happening for the last few decades- see the short wave broadcast bands for the example- the broadcast airwaves will be taken over by right wing nuts, religious nuts, right wing religious nuts, and right wing white supremacist religious nuts. The only people who listen to that drivel are old farmers, but unfortunately, they have a disproportionate representation in our politics, so expect the T***p train to keep barreling on through all previous limits of decency, stupidity, and legality.

    1. It’s us “old farmers” who grow your food.
      As for representation in politics, we are stewards for large areas of land and pay significant property taxes.

      Taxation without representation was one of the major drivers in getting the USA independent from England. Study your history – the real history, not what they indoctrinate you with in school.

      1. Bzzzt! Going to have to stop you there. The real reason for the drive for independence was because King George wanted to protect the native lands from being taken by colonists. Independence allowed the colonists to do as they pleased without interference from Britain. That’s real history.

  8. Support community radio it’s all that’s left. I don’t have it here, similar collage towns do! They keep you up on what’s up downtown. No need for faecesbook etc. All 3 of our AM legacy stations are on LP-FM, so AM is vestigial now.

  9. I think broadcast FM will have some extra longevity in sprawling metropolitan areas with underdeveloped public transit. It’s much easier to pop on my local NPR station in the car and get both advertising free music and news here in LA than to pull up and unlock my phone. Two commutes worth of NPR is more than enough to keep me abreast of current events I should be aware of in a trustworthy, no nonsense, format.

    1. I think integration of both smartphones and inherent internet connectivity in cars will prove that “my phone is complicated, but my car infotainment system is easy” sentiment to not be tied to the form of broadcast radio.

      Also, most people I know, when listening to not-on-their-device music, they go for spotify, not broadcast. Don’t mean to be rude, but unlocking your phone (usually: with a fingerprint) and tapping the big play button on your home screen widget isn’t *that* worse than your car radio, and due to bluetooth being standard, “next/previous/play/stop/volume” controls work out of the box.

      1. I don’t have a “car infotainment system.” I have a car radio. In earlier times, it was always on and tuned to a particular station – start the car, music comes on. For the last several years, there’s been a USB-stick plugged in to the radio with the radio set to play from USB.

        I don’t have to diddle with the radio when I get in the car. I certainly don’t have to wade through menus on an “infotainment” system or play footsie with my phone to get music.

        I bought my first smart phone with the explicit idea of having it play music from some streaming service through Bluetooth to the car radio. That turned into a clunky pain in the back side:

        Get in car. Make sure phone and radio are talking via Bluetooth. Twiddle the phone to get the streaming service started and start playback. Music starts playing. Start the car – radio shuts off while cranking the motor. Put it in neutral, hold the brake pedal, twiddle phone and radio to get Bluetooth working again. Twiddle phone to get the streaming service playing again – the phone automatically stops playback when Bluetooth drops. Start driving. Bad reception for the phone (most of the area I drive through is hilly so there’s always dropouts) – the streaming service stops playing. I can’t twiddle the phone to get playback started again without stopping, so no more music until I get to someplace to pull over and stop. Repeat every time you get in the car and drive somewhere. Get tired of it and quit bothering. Fill USB stick with good music, quit worrying.

        Car radios and “infotainment systems” (what a convoluted name for a piece of crap) have gotten to the point that there’ s no point having them. The infotainment things are touchscreen controlled so you have to look at them to operate them. Radios used to be simple enough to operate without looking. These days, they’ve got enough buttons to operate a 747 – and most of the buttons are double and triple function.

        I’ve given up on broadcast radio and streaming services. Broadcast radio has announcers who love the sound of their own voice and only play the least common denominator of “music” – whatever the record companies are pushing the most. Streaming only works reliably at home, but even there I have yet to find a service that plays what I want to hear. The selection algorithms don’t appear to be able to pick things I like. “Similar to” returns things that are not similar for my taste.

        1. So here’s how it works when I get into a car I’ve rented the night before:
          I press the “media source” button on the car radio.

          Because I’ve set that up before, it automatically connects to my phone, and my media player continues where we left off last night, when I turned off the motor.

          That’s the complexity you’re arguing with.

          Infotainment system: I rarely drive a car when I’m not going somewhere I’ve not been before. I’m a bit lost in a foreign city without a navi, so I need that to be available in an unobtrusive way. The screen that shows the current radio station / song playing from my phone / call partner / next turn? That’s the infotainment system. You honestly seem to be angry at something that implements that untypically badly.

      2. I think this speaks volumes more about your social circle. Some of us use non-trivial passwords and non-standard operating systems on our phones. I personally don’t let my microwave radios try to talk to everything I walk past. Modern, portable, highly connected, computing devices are not making people inherently happier or improving the quality of their lives. There are many studies to back that up. Just like Elliot mentioned, in LA we have KCRW, KPCC, as well as a few other college stations that make our experience unique to where we live. Adding additional technology never makes things less complicated, it only abstracts the problem. I get in my car, turn it on, and my car is already playing music and/or talk radio that I enjoy and want to listen to without additional software, subscriptions, or connectivity. There are other ways of being.

        1. So, what? I do have had Cyanogen Mod on my last three phones (and that was the least obscure thing I ran my phones on…), but Bluetooth autoconnect to a previously paired device isn’t any less secure (it’s pretty secure, there’s actually trustworthy cryptography involved there) works *without* unlocking your phone.

          So, yeah. That’s a hard task here: push button to turn on car radio/entertainment system, push button to select “phone”, then let things play, use the keys on your steering will to regulate volume, skip to next / previous track. I **hope** you’re not doing complex playlist curation on the highway, anyway!

    1. And some place to string an antenna of the right length. I had a crystal radio when I was about 10. My dad helped me build it from a kit, and we strung the antenna from the house to the garden shed. It sort of worked, but mostly not clear, and reception was erratic.

  10. I listen to radio all the time in the car. One station has particularly good music programming, another good commentary. They’re better curated than Spotify and smarter than Reddit, respectively.

    (My tax dollars at work, though. One is the public equivalent of a college radio station, and the other the equivalen of an NPR station.)

    1. Same here. As someone else said, you hop in the car and turn it on and the radio’s already on and tuned, no having to mess about with a phone.
      With the lower commercial importance of radio, the local equivalent of NPR now has three separate stations, one for news, one for classical music, one for hipster/indie music, and it’s pretty great compared to my memory of radio in the 1990’s and especially during the big coalescence in the early 2000’s where one company was buying all the radio stations and playing the same top 40 songs on all of them, so the whole dial was just that one song by the red hot chili peppers, or the country equivalent.

    2. I used to listen to the radio (either music or talk radio) all the time. But I stopped about 6 or 7 years ago because it just became continuous, repetitive commercials. When they started playing the same ad twice in the same commercial break, I knew it was time to go. I haven’t regretted it.

  11. I worked for a medical transport service we had phones with a push to talk walkie talkie function with a number of channels.
    The owner told me it was dirt cheap compared to radios which they used to use.

  12. I have a (probably illegal) very low power AM transmitter connected to my main music system. It amuses me that I can listen to .mp3s or internet radio on my totally unmodified 1954 DAC-90 valve/tube radio (well apart from a few wax and paper cap replacements).

    1. Please preserve that beauty by replacing the paper, wax, and electrolytic caps! Just one that falls short can destroy the power transformer if it is there as a filter cap. I got a Tek 310 some years ago that was loaded with paper caps. About a third of them (I counted) were failed short. A friend asked me to work on his 1940s Philco. He insisted on plugging it in, and I yanked out the plug when we heard a crackle and the caps started to smoke. As far as I know, it still works fine.

    2. Nearly every, low-low-low power music transmitters for exactly that purpose are legal in at least one broadcast band. So, you’re probably fine (at an EIRP of no more than 150 nW)

    3. Mind sharing what transmitter it is? As another commenter points out, very low-power AM transmission *is* legal, but information about decent devices is thin on the ground because it’s so niche.

  13. I will mourn the loss of FM. DAB is ***t, especially here in the UK.
    On my journey to work, there are areas of 2-3 miles where the signal completely drops out. It’s the same for the mobile signal in that area too, though.
    At least when FM degrades, it gets hissy but you can still hear the broadcast.
    When that happens with DAB it sounds like invasion of the daleks!
    Plus, all this reliance on 3, 4, 5G… what happens when the cell towers go dark during a major blackout? At least with stuff like PMR / CW / Shortwave et al. you can still communicate.

        1. August 2003, Toronto. First the Rogers landline went down (needed local power), then cell towers went down, then the Bell landline, then some of the radio stations went down.

      1. comms engineer here: I studied that stuff.

        CW / Morse is about the least power efficient method you can use to get data out. The Joule per bit you need at a specific SNR to get a correct bit of information across is higher than most other modes.

        So, basically, you’re asking “what other mode is better in Watt per (bits per second) than a badly source coded On-Off-Keying” and the answer to that is: Yeah, basically any other digital mode.

        FT8, WSPR, LoRa, Sigfox, NB-IoT, … that list is really long.

    1. I normally listen FM radio with an old Kenwood receiver and a couple of JBL speakers I bought more than 20 years ago. The sound quality is good even with music. I also have an RTL-SDR dongle and I decoded the DAB signal and used the receiver to listen to DAB radio. The quality it’s far worse and all sounds mushy. Probably Kenwood engineers known how to get the best from an FM signal and compression on a FM analog signal it’s more pleasant compared with the digital counterpart, but in this cse I think older technology it’s better.

        1. As someone who’s worked with and supervised multiple theses on DAB+: I agree with the sentiment that your Kenwood radio probably has the right equalizer to make the music sound like you want it.

          Other than that, an excellent FM transmission comes kind of close to a medium-rate DAB+ stream. In general, under the same reception strength, DAB+ is audibly better; note that between DAB and DAB+, the dropout resilience was significantly increased.

  14. Just last summer I was really grateful for AM radio when I was driving across the most remote parts of Montana, no cellular data at all, no FM stations, didn’t have anything downloaded, but oldies on KOFI-AM were coming in loud and clear, with none of the urban AM interference! Didn’t know am could actually sound that good.

  15. I’m old, and I haven’t listened to the radio in years. Except when I’m in some mom & pop business and they have the radio playing as background “music” and it drives me nuts because it is 98% commercials. Ditto for network TV. I don’t have ‘net in my vehicle so no streaming there, but I have an in-dash MP3 player with a large flash drive filled with enough music not to repeat for a year. Don’t care for internet streaming anyway and at home I ‘stream’ music from my own server, with enough songs for 10 years.
    But still the author has a point, as all the people I know even older than me listen to/watch nothing but radio and network TV. They don’t grok just how much commercial-free stuff you can put on an itty-bitty micro SD card.

  16. New York USA resident. FM broadcasts took over in importance from AM in the 1970’s. It was downhill for AM from then on for many of the already stated reasons as well as the radio manufacturers producing radios with poor AM reception. There was quite a difference in the typical AM/FM radio sold at a department store and discovering the AM signal quality that could be pulled out of the ether by a GE SuperRadio as well as others. The attempt to launch AM Stereo in the 80’s failed. IBOC HD AM failed (why was that?). Alot of FM IBOC HD signals still heard in the Hudson Valley but I don’t know many people who listen, most head for their MP3 playlist. Then you have the programming which for mainstream stations can really suck. Morning drive is typically two talking heads laughing and giggling and bad mouthing whatever, talking on top of one another, then interview a right wing politician, one song and then three times as many ads followed by canned news. The AM stations that want to survive are now also on FM translators. The AM stations left are right wing talk, sports, foreign language, all news, and a few local owned stations with ratchet jaw announcers in the morning and switch to streamed or satellite fed news and top 40 from the cheapest source. There are exceptions. I’ll tune into WAMC NPR for a real 5 minute long weather forecast around noon and a few shows during the day, maybe a New York City news station in the morning for a half hour. There is one eclectic independent station WHVW 950 AM in Hyde Park that is just so different it’s interesting, but the only way I can hear them is with a 150 foot dipole antenna I usually use for the HF ham bands. The broadcasters and equipment manufacturers killed off broadcast radio in their never ending quest to make gear cheaper and make more profit. We went somewhere else for our entertainment. As I type this I’m listening to my daughter’s streaming music show on Deep Nuggets, so you know where my head is at.

    1. That’s a good observation, but I think that statistics is missing the point: in an age where operating a radio station doesn’t mean you need a local team with at least one person manning the studio 24/7, the number of stations is a pretty bad metric for both impact and quality.

      I’d argue this: Whereas the US population increases by roughly 12% every decade (that’s astonishingly stable), the number of stations increased pretty much exactly at that rate until 2016. It stagnating after is actually kind of significant.

      With a stagnation in number of stations but a clear decline in young people flowing into the audiences, these station age – and not the good kind of aging, but more the bad kind of aging where in a declining market, formats with enough surplus income to do what they considered beautiful become formats where accepting every and any kind of advertisement, and focus on a stagnant audience.

      That means more “classic rock”, “religious nutcase”, “retirement home radio” stations, probably heavily centralized. Yay.

      1. “That means more “classic rock”, “religious nutcase”, “retirement home radio” stations, probably heavily centralized. Yay.”

        Left out local sports and talk radio.

        1. hey :) I hope I did, but I have not too much trust that in 20 years from now, anyone will care to report on local sports – after all, that takes a person “on the ground”, and with an aging audience, as sports shift, I don’t know how interesting things stay.
          We’ll see, I guess?

  17. Yknow I’d love to listen to AM more but in a lot of places the ambient electromagnetic interference really ruins the listening! Lots of our modern equipment happens to do nasty things around an AM signal, it’s no wonder that so many successful AM stations are doing FM simulcast like it’s the 1960s again.
    But it sure is true that vacancies don’t last long here in the US, FM or AM – there always seems to be a random niche broadcaster ready to pay the license and transmitter bills. There sure are a lot of dubious preachers who’re always begging for donations on the AM band these days, you used to need to turn on the shortwave for that!

  18. Biggest hazard to AM radio in all but the smallest of markets is development and real estate values. American towns have expanded out and encompassed many of the huge directional arrays. Imagine that you have been running an AM Radio station and barely eaking out enough money to pay staff and rent (think Weird Al “UHF”) and all of a sudden a developer came to you with many millions for the *land* your towers were sitting on. All you gotta do is go away. Most AM arrays are too expensive to re-build, considering the limited revenue.
    Lotta folks selling out and going dark.

    1. Another thing to consider is the low frequency have insane penatrtion for low power usage. Could be used as Short range wifi. Or used by other devices etc.

      Long range am Will die but uses for spectrum won’t.

  19. As Ukrainian who lives near Kyiv i can say that FM and MW stations are essential in blackout situations and, of course, during war, occupation. In big city in case of total blackout FM – is the only reliable news source. You cant rely on cellular coverage at all as well as other ground communication lines. MW broadcast stations is commercially unviable, but as emergency information source – essential.

  20. I, for one¹, welcome the new spectrum. I have no shortage of ideas what to fill it with for the actual benefit of society:

    IoT devices typically need some cellular infrastructure if they’re not part of very local networks (i.e. your autonomous vacuum is in your wifi, sure, but your autonomous bridge-material supervision system is not), or battery-intense mesh networks. The ability to, rarely and at random, transmit very little data, is the stuff that makes IoT-as-Infrastructure-for-society; as opposed to IoT-so-my-toaster’s-part-of-a-botnet.

    There’s also nothing wrong with shutting down high-powered AM and FM transceivers, ecologically, and replacing them with a system that can actually form a single-frequency network. [This](https://ham.stackexchange.com/questions/21540/how-to-create-fm-radio-mesh/21547#21547) post goes into why FM (and AM, too) are kind of the worst choices.
    Essentially, this: Assume I live in a very flat area. There’s one transmitter that needs to cover a radius of 200 km, so an area of roughly 125,000 km². To reach the receivers 200 km away with a sufficient amount of power, it needs four times the power it needs to reach a receiver 100 km away – power area density drops with the square of distance.
    So, any schoolchild would see why dividing that 200 km radius into, for example, four overlapping coverage areas with a radius of 75 km each would be beneficial: you need four times the power for one transmit tower, but each tower needs *less* than one fourth of the original transmit power.
    Small problem: the receivers in the “overlap” areas will get a superposition of two signals from two towers, and will not work as desired. (unless we spend four times the spectrum, and give each tower its own frequency.)

    Enabling this is easy, since the 1990s (reminder, that’s 33 years now): we have the technical means to let receivers have an RF equalizer, so that the same signal coming from different transmitters with different travel distances and hence delays can be reconstructed just fine. Problem is that you cannot do this with FM receivers sensibly, and even with AM its near impossible to do sufficiently, let alone well.

    You would need a mode that’s not literally 90 years old.

    ***Analog broadcast *must* die, so that broadcasting might live!***


    ¹ seriously, these comment chains read like broadcast audio used to be the greatest boon to culture since the invention of the roofed house. I’ll be honest, most of it reads like misplaced nostalgia, and being used to one form of annoyance, but not the other. I really like my public radio services, but man, the focus on irrelevant intricates of high-class cultural bs is a sure way to make me shift to a science podcast, or to a podcast by someone who actually does direct or play theatre. And getting into a rental and getting four different stations from four different neighboring cities of the same program (SWR4 – German schlager if you want to know) is not increasing the worth of the medium.

    1. There’s a world of difference between Germany and the US. That 200 km radius will Germany cover a great many towns and villages, and most likely a larger city or two. You’ve got infrastructure to put up those sm aller transmitters.

      Move to the US, and the picture changes drastically. There might be one larger town with infrastructure (and people to operate the equipment) in that 200 km radius, with scatter villages and farms. You’ve got one place that can provide all it takes to operate and maintain a transmitter, and tens of thousands of people scattered over a large region where they don’t have what it takes to keep a transmitter operating. You’ve got to have power lines to the transmitter site and communications to it from where ever your DJs sit. You’ve got to have personnel trained to operate and maintain the equipment.

      What makes sense from the RF engineering view often times won’t make sense from the operational and financial point of view.


      Parts of the USA are more like Europe as far as the listener density is concerned – the smaller, densely populated states on the east coast or the densely populated parts of California on the west coast. Large parts of the US aren’t like that, though.

        1. What are you doing here?
          Seriously, that’s just wrong. Take a physics class. Perhaps electric fields.

          G.P. For ref California is roughly the same size as Germany has half the population, but bigger cities.

    2. It doesn’t quite work like you think. If you calculate the square km of a circle with a 200km radius, you’ll find that it’s 4x the area of a 100km radius. So, it would require more than 4 additional low powered transmitters to recover the service lost from the one high powered station. Ultimately, a centrally located high powered transmitter is far more efficient and requires less infrastructure than a cellular type of model. It’s incorrect to compare a broadcast model to a cellular model. The reason we have cellular in s because of the need to service lots of two-way communications from individual handsets. The denser the population, the more short towers are needed.

      1. Hey! Thanks for reading my post with a critical eye! Means a lot to me.

        So, I did make a mistake calculating the radius in my example above, but you’re making the same mistake, and otherwise you’re wrong in claiming this is less power efficient. Let’s both be smarter, and redo my calculations properly :-)

        Don’t take my word for it – we can do the math, here, in a Hackaday comment (@JennyList, tell me when to shut up in the comments under your article; your time, in which you also help run an important charity, is valuable to me).

        (I think this might be simpler to understand if you have a piece of paper and a pencil. Draw a circle on it. Mark its center, draw a radius, label that radius “R”.)

        Say, we’re in the flatlands of Illinois, somewhere near a town called Isengard. We stick a tower in the middle of nowhere, and say “we want to cover a circle with the radius of R around . The goal is that every receiver around gets *at* least a receive power P_min wherever they are within that circle.

        Now, we know that (since, like the light of a lamp in the dark), the area illuminated grows quadratically with the distance r from the transmitter. That means that a receiver antenna with some fixed effective area “catches” a power that is inversely proportional to distance to the transmitter:

        P_recv = P_transmit / (C · r²)

        That proportionality factor C depends on the frequency (see: FSPL), but it’s a nice constant. We can calculate it later. (That’s why it’s called calcu*later*.)

        So, to guarantee our P_min for every receiver, we need to go to the very edge of our circle, R away from the tower, because that’s where the least power area density hits us; a bit of rearranging the equation later:

        P_min = P_transmit / (C · R²)
        P_transmit = P_min · C · R²

        Nice! Now we know how much transmit power P_transmit we need to pump out our single tower.

        Now, this Marcus dude from the internet shows up, is generally unpleasant but apologizes and proposes: Let’s actually divide up that area to be covered by a regular grid of smaller transmitters.
        He’s very fond of math and such, but he’s willing to simplify: instead of considering that any receiver could actually benefit from multitple receptions (there’s so-called diversity gain to be won there, where driving behind an obstacle doesn’t as likely drastically reduces your reception – so-called “deep fades” get less likely), he says, let’s act as if every receiver could only “hear” the tower that’s actually closest to it. A bit of drawing on a blackboard later, the familiar shape of a honeycomb¹ appears as the map of which piece of flatland will listen to which tower.

        He says: Here, let’s say your circle with area π·R², is divided into N of these smaller hexagons.

        (This would be a good time to scribble small hexagons into your circle on your paper. These will look very um hand-drawn, so don’t mind them too much. It’s about seeing that you can actually *can* tile a circle pretty well with hexagons, with very little “drawing outline the circle” necessary to cover the full circle.)

        Since we know that a regular hexagon with edge length b has area 3·b², we can pretty directly calculate that if we want to cover these π·R² with N hexagons, each hexagon will have an edge length of b = R·√( π / (3·N) ).

        If we now shut down transmitter Isengard and instead take these N transmitters into operation, we still need to guarantee P_min for each receiver – just that these minimal-strength receivers are no longer at the edge of the circle, but on the corners of each hexagon.
        But what transmit power does each hexagon center tower then need?

        P_hex = P_min · C · b²

        (That’s the same C as above!)
        Now, insert our b from the calculation of the edge length for our N-transmitter service area division:

        P_hex = P_min · C · b²
        = P_min · C · ( R·√( π / (3·N) ))²
        = P_min · C · R² · π / (3·N)

        OK, but how does that compare to transmitter Isengard? After all, we said we’ll need N of these small hexagonal-service-area transmitters?

        P_all = N · P_hex
        = P_min · C · R² · π / 3
        P_Isengard = P_min · C · R²

        Oh wait! The factor between these two powers is that our hexagonal tiling needs π / 3 as much power as Isengard alone?! π is 3.141.…, so π / 3 is pretty pretty close to 1 (It’s about 3% off).

        P_all ≅P_Isengard · 103%

        OK, so at first approach it’s not *that* smart to take down Isengard and replace it with N smaller transmitters – you need 3% more power. (By the way, the cool thing is that there’s no N appearing in that final formula anymore – as long as N is large enough to cover the circle without putting a lot of hexagon area outside the circle, the 3% extra holds.)
        But then, the technical reality of modern radio economies kicks in:

        – Building a couple kW of transmitters is cheap, low-service, pretty safe; a 500 kW transmitter is going to be quite an expensive beast and you need long-term planning. If you miscalculated the P_min, or your R, upgrading becomes very expensive.
        – maintenance can be done on each station separately; there’s no one complete downtime for all receivers
        – The simplification that you only hear your nearest tower really doesn’t hold – the overlap can be made useful. That can (and often does) lead to better quality of service (as in: probability you lose reception when driving behind your house) beyond the 3% additional power
        – Got a lake, inhospitable mountain, nuclear test zone or political opponent’s hometown in your big circle? Save yourself the hexagons for that!

        Most importantly:

        – Even Illinois is not *that* uniform. There’s a hill somewhere, which casts a shadow, and there’s riverbeds, bridges, cities. That uniform circular coverage that station Isengard promised is usually not that useful – you need auxiliary towers to get behind these “radio obstacles”, anyways, and because the interesting area to be covered by your transmitter isn’t circular, either, having a perfect circle covered with better-than-P_min service isn’t that advantageous, anyway.

        As I mentioned, DAB, DAB+, DRM and DVB-T, ISDB-T… all these modern broadcasting standards thus support single frequency networks: for continuous coverage without having to allocate multiple frequencies for each program.
        Talking about frequency allocations:

        Because you “accused” me (I don’t feel attacked, at all: thanks for reading my post skeptically!) of proposing a cellular architecture:
        What I describe is also explicitly not a cellular model (hence no need for four-coloring to allocate spectrum). Cellular networks look like this:
        Notice how neighboring towers always use different frequencies {F1, F2, F3, F4}. Hence the word “cell” – they have boundaries, and user equipment moves between the coverage areas, and these boundaries look like honeycomb cells – as bees are subject to the same math that tells us that this gives the densest regular 2D tiling under certain constraints.

        What I describe above is a Single Frequency Network (SFN), where all towers use the same frequency. You’ll find that in DRM, DAB, DVB-T… broadcast networks: nobody would call these cellular! They’re SFNs. Receivers are typically receiving multiple transmissions at once, and can use the power of both, on average.

        You’re however very right about the throughput considerations: in a mobile two-way comms scenario, you want to maximize overall throughput, i.e., allow as many participations to send and receive as much data as possible – but this isn’t in contradiction to the power benefit of SFNs.

        ¹ The honeycomb is understandably probably why you called my model cellular (although it’s not; see my notes to that below) appears: that’s the pattern for the area where a certain tower is the closest when towers are arranged in triangles, so that the distances between two towers is always the same. So, if you place towers on the edges of equilateral triangles, and use these triangles to tile the plane, the “service” area of each tower happens to be a equilateral rectangle. It’s kinda neat.

        1. Jesus tittie f#W*ing christ, Wall of text to double down on ‘wrong’.

          Squaring power doesn’t generally double range. It’s called ‘line of sight’. Ionosphere involved and depends on frequency.

          What you’ve got is just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

  21. People still listen to their radios. I know those who provide services don’t want you to but they are still used.

    If anything is done about the bands, I am sure that none will become Ham Bands, and all will be auctioned off to various companies, as always.

    1. So, not a ham, but very ham-adjacent, been advising and workshopping for hams quite a bit:

      Hams don’t *need* more low bands. Seriously, we need to stop acting as if “we have a ham band” is a societal benefit on its own. It’s not. If a company can do something that benefits an industry, public infrastructure, safety, or science, that’s a good use of the spectrum.

      If you hope a band gets assigned (or stays assigned) to amateur radio operations, then you need to think of “what kind of desirable thing does giving this group of people this spectrum deliver”. I know the argument for “emergency communications” is popular, but a) I don’t fully buy that this much. If it’s about that, go and buy emergency services new equipment to use in the case of an emergency – you don’t need a permanent assignment for that at all, and b) you don’t need a lot of bands for that, at all.

      Having more bands where old men ragchew – nobody actually needs that, and I, with an actual amount of admiration also say that about the old men that dominate the ragchewing aspect of the hobby; it’s challenging to do it QRP.

      There’s non-ragchewing applications for ham radio. APRS and WSPR/FT8/other low power modes come to mind.

      – APRS is nice, but is it *that* nice that instead of actually deploying a modern well-designed mesh network, we rely on 1970’s technology (we really *do* know better, I’m an engineer in that field – I will die on that hill) and get a tiny fraction out of the bands of what we could actually do with that. So, in practice, amateur mashes: Had a lot of time to mature… Fermented instead.
      – Low-Power modes are nice for the social, research, and inclusiveness of the hobby, but do not benefit from getting more bands

      So, I’m always left to wonder about this: Whenever a ham (understandably!) voices concern about not getting a band, or losing a band, do they realize that they are basically getting a privileged access to a public resource that has, at least from what we’ve learned from the financial reports of Sprint, T-Mobile, Vodafone and the like, a very sizable worth to *someone* in society? Is a many-billion-dollar privilege fair to be reserved to a meagre amount of about 600,000 amateur radio enthusiasts in the US?

      1. There may be a lot of hams just chatting or trying to score long distance contacts, but the other thing about the ham bands is that it’s one of the few *options* for a regular person to cheaply have access to spectrum with acceptably low restrictions. A similar option is the option to camp in a national park for free, even though that land is very valuable.

        If you want to experiment, the ham bands have at least one band that will have the right physics for what you want to try. Every time a company buys spectrum, they charge customers for a limited use of it, while everyone else is excluded. When it’s made more available, even if not everyone ends up using it, it’s still an option. The wireless ISPs using CBRS are an example of the benefit of being more open than selling spectrum permanently to a single company without restriction and without sharing. FRS/GMRS/MURS/CB are a small core of voice bands with heavy restrictions, but because regular people can actually use them they’re still pretty nice. Lowfer/medfer are somewhat neat for experimenting, but it’s pretty hard to get a lot out of them. A lot of hacking with uhf frequencies seems to be “meh probably won’t get in trouble and if I do I’ll claim part 15” rather than “I am using a frequency band that I’m allowed to mess around in”. And all of these examples are for things with less options / more restrictions in most but not all ways than ham bands. I’ve always thought moonbounce would be fun.

        1. Hey, I’m a comms engineer and I 100% share the sentiment that I (and the students I worked with) should be experimenting!

          So the thing is: Here’s people worrying that former broadcast bands *not be given for ham usage*, which only to a very very small percentage is at all experimental. We don#t need that much spectrum to experiment, honestly, and if we do, one low, and then a license to operate 2.4 GHz with > 40 MHz band would probably be all you want for most parts (technological advantages that make the mmWave region relevant, nonwithstanding; basically the idea is that sub-microwave, Every time a company buys spectrum, they charge customers for a limited use of it, while everyone else is excluded.

          True, (mostly), but don’t forget that farmers also don’t give away the produce they grow on land that they acquired or rent, quite commonly from the state, for free, either. That really, to me, doesn’t suggest it’s a generally bad model – I mean, there’s been other models for the relationship of property to providing a product or service to the public. But I don’t think we’re aiming very much for the Sovkhoz model of the Soviet Union there!

          Also, the 2.4 GHz being free for unlicensed operation is actually a big display of noncommercially cooperative band being a great hit.

          So, being a commercial steward or allowing unlicensed access to a band, under strict regulation, does seem to be a much better use than serving for a handful (I exaggerate) of hams; imagine the things we would *not* have if there was no Bluetooth, no wireless doorbells, no… and especially, how expensive cellular data was, had the mobile network operators not have direct competition from 2.4 GHz local WLAN.

          Assigning spectrum to any single group *always* makes spectrum a more sparse resource, and I think we agree about that. I argue that with who the current ham population currently is, and what we do in practice on the ham bands, that is not a purpose that should rank as highly as, say, having 10% more 5G spectrum.

          That being said, what would **I** like to happen:

          – The large national amateur radio bodies introducing an age cap for executives. I always though that was a populist demand, until I saw how it is arguing with an old man about whether or not putting the maximum power amplifier into each station makes sense when trying to build a ham last-mile national network (there’s hard mathematical reasons why going for maximum power is a terrible idea: basically, in a room very everyone uses a megaphone, nobody understands anything). I wasn’t even trying to convince him to stop doing the hobby he had done for decades the way he did it; I was just trying to explain how a work group should proceed designing a system. Can you imagine the same people taking away spectrum from their ragchewer friends to assign them to experimental low-power operations with maximum bandwidths larger than four SSB channels? Me neither.

          – Without being too forward (there’s a very important aspect of availability, cost and reliability in the hobby) about it, new spectral assignments should always be coupled to a minimum spectral efficiency. Using 4.2 kHz to transport 1.8 kHz of voice? Getting 50 kHz of bandwidth and operating modes that can only do 9600 bit per second on a 8 dB SNR? Not on the spectrum that we are keeping from the public. Dear hams, you’re being gifted a sparse resource: use it responsibly. Force yourself to design, use and improve modes that can actually make use of all the things one *could* do with that gift!

          – Clear communication of regulatory bodies under which conditions they’ll consider (and not consider) reducing existing allocations; clear metrics (such as: you need at least so and so many people *actually* using it, we want reporting about what the things that were done on that spectrum, and we want approximative statistics that tell us whether we’re actually helping people from different backgrounds communicate, innovate, learn and socialize, or whether it’s just old relatively wealthy folks, for example) and an open communication that, yes, ham radio is a desired activity, and as a self-governed society people want to support that.

          – Retirement of the emergency comms infrastructure argument: I don’t want to even *think* my government would need to rely on the skills, presence, equipment and goodwill of hams in case of disaster. I really don’t mind hams training to participate in emergency comms – but the infrastructure just has to be maintained, be accounted for, be paid, and administrated by actual emergency services. I have *multiple* people from different continents tell me they had to repeatedly tell ham operators to stay the hell away from the emergency services’ bands. There’s an illusion of heroicism that comes with thinking that hams will save the day, and it’s neither doing the ham community nor disaster recovery a service.

          1. Well, so I feel like if we’re ever going to stop officially broadcasting on the FM or especially the AM band, the public should be able to continue using the same radios in some way. 5G can expand into denser and denser cells with higher and higher frequencies, and get tons of bandwidth. It doesn’t need to pick up a few MHz down low where the devices it’s mostly going to talk to are much much smaller than the wavelength. It can also take over more of the TV spectrum over time. But it’d sure be nice to leave at least part of the FM band still allowing personal use at higher than a few milliwatts. Ham rules wouldn’t be ideal for that, but at least you don’t get wiped out by needing certified equipment and a narrow bandwidth.

            For hams, there’s no way you could just have just one low band. It’d be easier to have one single high band. Even apart from the various bands you have to switch between on the regular depending on propagation, there’s real differences in 6m/2m/70cm. And those three are related such that the same wire antenna can cover two at once, which you want if you’re going to have a dual band radio that’s worth using. The lower bands too, but that isn’t always as convenient. Apart from some of the rules on usage, it’s much more convenient to set up a way for people to talk in good quality at a distance when some people have a handheld when you pick from those three than if you look at cb/murs/gmrs. GMRS being closer to equal with 70cm, to be fair, as both can have a few watts and a repeater.

            2.4GHz is fine for random microwave stuff, even if your gain suffers compared to higher bands. There’s a few other options people have found useful even then… but still. At least hams are not so likely to be doing the kinds of things you do when you want to do 5G / wisp stuff so their high band wants are different. It would suck not to have a token MHz here and there among the higher bands, just for when some particular thing is convenient, and then various mmwave stuff of course. Maybe instead of allowing hams on the area that’s good for communication (60GHz, for example) allow them in a region with lower absorption, where internet / cell phone comms would interfere with each other a lot if the usage was very high, but a handful of hams will be happy.

            BTW a couple of limits on spectral efficiency for ham data use is that a) narrow stuff just uses an audio input on an analog radio and b) there’s the combination of that sort of low-budget equipment and a dated bandwidth rule which actually just restricts symbol rate and not bandwidth. Since there’s a limit on symbol rate, and trying to use a large constellation on independently-built equipment with dubiously-linear amplification would turn into soup and cut your range down… you’re basically always going to see things on the order of bpsk or qpsk, with just a bunch of carriers to make enough bitrate. Isn’t it easier to make a transmitter keep up with a single carrier at a higher rate? Either way, kind of a shame but there’s not *that* much waste compared with, e.g. VHF TV channels last used sometime when it was still analog, so you got one low-res low-fps video per 6MHz.

            I am more willing to let stubborn old men hold onto something in a way that still lets others use it better than they themselves do than to let hip modern companies buy their way in. Kind of like if they keep the view nice outside their window by lobbying to keep a park that I could go hike and picnic in.

            Not really interested in having hams help provide connectivity to public servants who have their own radios, but if they want to help by helping members of the public get in touch with their families and stuff, that could be more reasonable. Especially e.g. phone patch systems. Or if there’s a search party of civilians, embed a ham in each group since their FRS walkie talkies can’t bridge very far. That kind of stuff. Which isn’t what the ones you’re talking about are doing.

            So in summary generally agree but I am more understanding of the dumb way that things work, and less interested in squeezing out the last drops of spectrum down low when there’s tons elsewhere that’s available for and better suited to cell data / wisp data / wifi.

      2. Walling off all of the PUBLIC airwaves is unacceptable. There needs to be a place for the general public to utilize the RF spectrum for experimentation or general enjoyment (with appropriate qualifications to ensure that you will not disrupt them or other bands). Imagine if someone said that you no longer could use a band of visible light because it had been sold off (and no, registered pantones are completely different matter). You’re looking at this matter backwards.

        1. I agree! But Let Me Rephrase Your Comment, not acting as if unlicensed bands do not exist. They exist. Ham allocations **currently clash with their existence** on multiple frequencies.

          The unlicensed 433, 868/900, 2450 and 5850 MHz bands are available to the public, as long as they are operated cooperatively. The main mistakes we did there is allowing primary users in these public-use bands. These primary users include hams.

          Thinking your argument any further (not necessarily my position):
          Thus, we should take away the primary ham assignment in these bands which are used by the public already; hams could continue using it *like anybody else does*.
          We should not add more ham assignments without much in-depth considerations of what that would allow people to do that they could not do if that band was unlicensed like the current “WiFi bands” are. We should default to the unlicensed model.

  22. The greediest corporations will take over the bands with lots of bribe money paid to polititions. Then well get tones of garbage adds shoved down our ears and eyes, and corrupt scam businesses wil multiply defrauding everyone. Oh, wait. I don’t have to tune in. I can access the internet and find entertainment that might actually be worth watching. Oh, well. A lot of lawyers and pollititions will make a lot of money, and I don’t have to listen and see their cr@p. Hmmm… Mayby this Low Frequency band will stay dark. Or we can do something usefull with these frequencies, and establish an RF band for controlling home appliances. Hmmmm…. No pollititions or lawyers will get any money with this. OH, WELL, I GUESS THEY WON’T DO THE USEFUL THING WITH THIS BAND. Get ready for more advertizing cr@p. The stupidist idea wil prevail.

  23. The old days of analog TV? It’s barely 10 years ago that it got switched off. I know this is tech and in the US time is seen differently. But please, let’s stop this age and time exaggeration, it’s kind of annoying to read. Just add dates, and keep it neutral. It ruins memories and fun otherwise.

    1. The US digital switchover was June 12, 2009. That’s more like 14 years. Also, yeah… I’m very sorry about the specific personal memories and fun you attach with not having aged 14 years since then, but it’s still *a long time in the past*. The world has changed a lot in the meantime, in wireless communications. There were very few people running around with smart phones, even dumb mobile phones had nowhere the penetration that phones have today, and video streaming in qualities surpassing these of broadcast didn’t even exist.

  24. [citation needed]
    I have seen absolutely no evidence that there are any less radio stations in the United States. Earlier this week, I was able to switch between 3 radio stations so that I had uninterrupted music on FM in a mountainous area, on a 40 mile trip. AM is still important in extremely rural areas for emergency broadcasts. AM, FM, and SW aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon.

  25. I think a major reason why the current 20-somethings aren’t interested in radio is because it’s boring. And it’s not just terrestrial broadcast radio, but also XM satellite radio as well. Program directors have developed very dull and very limited vertical formats with small play lists, dull ads, and very little information that might be of use. Meanwhile, most of the 20-somethings I know (my children and their friends) have musical tastes that don’t align with anything these program directors play. They don’t easily fit in to nice neat little packages like most format consultants have managed to do to generations before them.

    They can get better news from their phones, and wider ranges of music from the likes of Spotify and their ilk. The only button on their car radios that gets any use is Bluetooth.

    Radio will capture their imagination when they stop trying to chase older generations with payola music from decades past. Until then, the format consultants will continue to disappoint the industry.

    1. Another reason why young people and myself don’t listen to the radio is that politicians and religious leaders make the stations cut out a lot of the words, which makes the songs sound gapped and aren’t played the way they were written and produced. I, as well as young people, will get their music where it isn’t controlled by older adults that are afraid someone might hear a word that they disapprove of. In the real world just talking to old people, ( I am 70) so talking about my age and somewhat younger or older, most of the words they find offensive aren’t anything but words now days. For example, the word fuck, used to have only one meaning to fuck, to have sex; now, it has many purposes rarely used to describe sex, primarily nouns, adjectives, verbs, or any combination.

  26. Radio in the US has degenerated to the point where many of the ads are for actual scams, and are so jarringly annoying and different than the content of the stations they are being played on that they make the stations unlistenable.
    It’s just better to listen to streaming radio on my phone. No ads, just music, exactly in the niche that I picked. Unfortunately, Google shut down their excellent Google Play Radio, and LastFM went pay-to-listen a decade ago, but after all these years Shoutcast streaming still works same as always.

    Unfortunately, one isn’t going to get information on local bands and shows or other local news from internet radio, usually. Our one good indie station lost their broadcast license and went online-only, but also lost all the DJs and just became shuffle-play with annoying ads.

    So “radio” as a format has had a well-deserved quick decline, as streaming options are simply better. But we did lose something in the process.

    More importantly, the “medium” of AM/FM radio that includes analog OTA broadcasts has declined, which makes us ever more dependent on our more fragile, more locked-down, digital infrastructure. That is a real problem for emergency preparedness, local news, privacy issues, and financial elitism.

  27. Make AM the wild west, and let them use wider 10khz signals, CQAM Stereo. Even on mono radios it sounds good. HD AM is crappy.

    Those stations do whatever they want, and they might want to contact the fine folks at WION to see how it can be done.

    I suggest podcasts, broadcast in stereo. I am sure some deals can be made. Let AM be a bit edgy and see what happens.

    For FM, go local. Rebroadcasting one guy voice tracking half the nation sucks. Daily relevance is what will draw people in.

  28. AM and FM are just fine here in the United States, in large part because we didn’t have them ruined by dodgy digital systems. The best thing about AM is that you can still receive a signal 200 miles away. Much of the country is sparsely populated, so this can be essential to getting any signal at all.

    As for the loss of UHF TV channels, the one thing that digital TV did was allow the use of adjacent channels in the same market because the signal doesn’t stray outside of its 6MHz allocation. Previously you could not have a channel 18 and a channel 19 located anywhere near each other. In the end, we ended up with roughly the same number of usable channels in a given TV market area, though we basically lost channels 2-5 as they are not good with ATSC.

  29. Shortwaves bands are what allows people to listen to foreign transmission from different countries and continents without anyone in the middle. If a corrupt government wants to prevent their use, they need to build big transmitters along their borders to jam all transmissions on all frequencies or cover them with more powerful local government aligned radio stations. With online radio, all they would need to do is changing a routing rule.

  30. I worked 50 years in broadcasting, the first 10 in radio and the remaining 40 in TV. I’m retired now, but I do 2 podcasts for fun, not profit. AM radio may well die eventually, maybe FM too, but they don’t have to. There is a literal bottomless pit of podcasts the AM or FM stations could air and share profits with the content creators, if they wanted too, but most are too lazy or stupid to try that. Then localize it with news and or some other local content wrapped around the podcasts. By the way, linear over-the-air TV isn’t far behind.

  31. In the Netherlands, since the closure of many 100-500kW medium wave transmitters in all of Europe, we now have 1w, 50w and 100w allocations for small scale local and regional broadcasters. The cost of the allocation is about the same as the yearly cost in electricity.
    This resulted in there now being about 50 small medium wave broadcasters in the Netherlands, more than we’ve ever had. Each frequency is given out multiple times, with care being taken that they don’t interfere with each other.
    It’s different from the USA’s Part 15 LPAM stuff, because you can have a range large enough to cover the whole city and the towns around it. The 100w ones get a usable range of about 25km, the 1w ones 5km. Of course very dependent on the antenna. Many 1w stations use a CB base station antenna with a coil and a top load, and such a small antenna is not very efficient at all.
    Long wave will probably be claimed by time signals and grid control signals. BBC Radio 4 already transmits telecontrol data, France’s broadcast transmitter is still doing a time signal, and there’s probably some more obscure stuff out there. I do hope the Netherlands allocates their one LW frequency for LPAM stuff , just for the novelty of having a local LW station. I know there is one single pirate station that occasionally transmits on LW, but i’ve never received it, nor do i know what their antenna system looks like.
    I also hope the 2kHz wide LW ham radio section gets expanded a bit. It’s now sandwiched between two super strong telecontrol signals, which means a very narrow crystal filter is not optional.

  32. I am not an expert (but I play one). Back in 2017 I started a streaming Station in the US. Back then, most people did not know what streaming was. Well, almost 6 years later and we are still going strong thanks in part to the Corona virus. Most people now understand streaming as all smart tv’s and cell phones stream. Radio is changing. Today, if you want to hear your favorite station from the other state you grew up in, you simply go to the web and put the station call letters in and your old station pops up. I spoke to an electronics engineer and asked why fm was going away. He told me “because the frequencies are more valuable for 5G.
    Back in 2017, the radio dial in my area, Houston TX did not have any blank (empty) frequencies. Today there are 13 or more blank spaces. Radio is changing and if you want to just listen to music there is Apple, TuneIn, Spotify and many other music platforms available. Same is true if you want talk. Now, podcasts have taken hold and dominate the streaming world. In some ways I hate to see AM and FM going away but when we take a car trip (it’s Texas) we bluetooth our phone to the car radio and follow the station we listen to (radioKAIR) the whole way. All smart AM FM stations have a streaming side nowadays and that IS THE FUTURE OF RADIO. But, want to be successful, do more than just play music. Good, interesting, relevant content may be the key to your success.
    Bob Robertson

  33. I’m happy to say that my 8 year old daughter loves listening to the radio. She has a music station that she likes because (as she says) “it has the right mix of songs and talking for me”. She’s an old soul.

    All that said, I do fear what is going to happen when we have a major disaster and all of the complex infrastructure upon infrastructure that is modern “broadcasting” goes down and no one knows how to find out what they are supposed to do or where they are supposed to go.

  34. I would really like to see an energy efficiency study on streaming vs conventional OTA broadcast. There probably is a trade-off point where a local station becomes popular enough that it is more energy efficient to transmit it over the air than over the internet, especially if its audience is geographically concentrated. How many watts of power do I consume by listening to a stream (including all the upstream hardware that I am putting to work)? Multiply that by the listening audience (I know that it isn’t strictly linear), then compare that to the transmitter power required to reach that same audience.

  35. Dad was a ham operator, he said that the FCC told hams that no one can own a frequency.
    And the government goes and sells what THEY say, no one can own. Go figure..

  36. Traditional broadcast radio still has a ton of value in a natural disaster and other circumstances where the more fragile internet based services might break down. I would like to see broadcasting based upon a new high tech shared infrastructure. A single transmitter would transmit programming over a number of bands and a number of “channels”. And the different streams would combine to provide higher resolution when needed.

    At the most basic level, the transmitter would transmit the current date and time along with the location of the transmitter and the transmission power. A signal like that used in aircraft VORTAC/DME navigation systems would allow a receiving set to determine its approximate bearing and distance from the transmitter. Additionally metadata like the programming available would be carried this way.

    With the approximate location of the receiver known, emergency alerts like tornado warnings can cause the receiver to turn on and alert the user. National Weather Service bulletins can be targeted for the user.

    A number of channels would be based around low speed bit streams. Weather reports and important emergency messages would be transmitted at 2400 bps. They would appear in text on an e-ink style display. PNG images and GIF style short videos could be provided. An optional second inexpensive LCD display would display these. They could be used for weather maps and the such. The receiver would cache the text and data, so that the last several minutes of transmissions could be reviewed.

    Higher bps transmissions would be reserved for basic mono voice – which would have the basic sound quality of a telephone call, better mono voice for news shows, interviews, sports broadcasts, etc., basic mono music – which would be the quality of FM Mono, basic stereo music or better mono music – which would have the quality of current FM Stereo or use the same bandwidth with a higher quality mono, and high quality stereo music – which would be close to CD quality.

    Each higher quality tier would not require retransmitting the entire signal. Each additional stream contains the data to add with the prior tier bit stream in order to produce the enhanced quality. This mirrors how analog FM Stereo radio works. The main transmission is L+R (left plus right) to produce a mono signal. The second transmission is L-R. Adding the two signals together gets L. Subtracting the second signal from the first results in R.

    The streams would be designed to degrade with distance. A nearby receiver might have the ability to listen to a music program in high quality stereo. As distance increases they might need to shift to basic stereo or high quality mono and then basic mono. At further distances only voice programming is available. At the furthest distance and worst transmission conditions only the text display is available.

    The transmitter’s metadata transmission would include the location and transmission details of repeaters. The receiver can switch to these as needed. The country would be blanketed with a network of these transmitters. In a dense urban environment they might be every 15 miles. In rural areas without many obstructions like the plains they might be every 50 or 100 miles.

    Receivers could be built with off the shelf mass produced parts. They would be cheap, probably $100 each at the start but dropping quickly to just $20 or $30 at scale. They would be the size of a thick cell phone or eReader and have a battery that can be recharged and replaced.

    A single physical transmitter might handle 50 or 100 different “channels”. Broadcasters wouldn’t need to operate their own infrastructure, slashing their costs. The system would be somewhat subsidized by the government since it is built specifically to serve as part of the emergency response infrastructure. National Weather Service Radio would be rolled into this infrastructure. State and municipal governments would be given access as part of their public safety role. A portion of the channels would be set aside for non-profit broadcasters like PBS/NPR and broadcasters associated with community organizations, colleges, etc.

    The transmitter would transmit over several bands at once. The most basic services would transmit over bands that propagate around obstructions well so that those transmissions are available even in deep valleys. Higher quality music services would be in bands that don’t propagate as well.

    1. > Traditional broadcast radio still has a ton of value in a natural disaster and other circumstances where the more fragile internet based services might break down. I would like to see broadcasting based upon a new high tech shared infrastructure.


      I love the things you propose! This would have overlapping purpose and intent than things like 2G/3G/4G/5G cell broadcast warnings, but it’s not bad to have redundancy there, and in the case of emergency, a lot of the warning content *is pretty broadcast-useful*, so that makes a lot of sense to me :)

  37. Short wave eventually faded into the sunset as well as the larger news organizations gave up on the band. I read recently some car brands are abandoning AM radio band too. The FCC has wanted to limit celestial TV transmissions as well but digital has saved that band for now. Satellite radio seems to want to replace celestial radio altogether. I find local stations provide a service to local communities unmatched by digital.
    Not every country lives in a digital world, I think we do a disservice to underdeveloped countries who still rely on celestial radio systems for information and entertainment.

  38. While it may not happen anytime soon, it’s possible that AM/FM radio will eventually be replaced by satellite radio. This could be the year that marks the beginning of the end for local broadcasting. Cell phones are already capable of making emergency calls via satellite and it’s likely that all calls and internet capabilities will eventually be available through this technology. With companies like SpaceX launching new satellite constellations, the future of connectivity is changing rapidly. In time, satellites may even be able to broadcast to local areas, allowing us to maintain our sense of community.”

  39. Everyone thinks kids are always gonna do what they do now. When I was young I always listened to my own music at home, on my bike, in my car etc. Nowadays I don’t mind that much and just listen to the radio. people change and what’s important to you at young age may be different later in life.
    I also had big booster and big speakers in my car in that time, nowadays the normal speaker system is enough.

  40. I did see on QRZ that RTL is going off the air.


    I do remember the day WABC MusicRadio77 (770khz) went to an all talk format. WNBC (660khz) became WFAN an all sports station, and a real New York staple WCBS FM-101 (The Golden 101) dropped it’s format for that stupid JackFM we play what we want. Listenership dropped, as did advertising revenue.
    There is a youtube video where WCBS-FM 101 returned to it’s previous format, kicking Jack(ass) FM to the curb. There is a radio staion here in Seattle, KIXI 88 (880khz) that plays older classics from the 50’s to the 70’s for the most part. At 8:00 at night, they play old time radio shows, the Shadow, Superman, The Cisco Kid, Life of Riley, Yours Truly Johnny Dollar. I still remember as a kid picking up WKBW from Buffalo NY in West New York New Jersey on a late winter’s night on a little transistor radio. The New York radio market is indeed unique. I also remember listening to the CBS Radio Mystery Theater on WMCA 570 AM. I’ve been questioned about my ham radio which always leaves the house with me. “Oh I can listen to radio on my phone.” My reply: “Oh yeah? Do it without cell service out in the middle of nowhere.” BCB-DX (Broadcast Band DX) has always been a hobby of mine. For me, the magic will always be there, even during the dawn hours when you pick up the Farm Report from a radio station out in the Midwest. I’m a ham operator, but I’ve been a lifelong broadcast band DXer. The radio landscape changes like this:

    “New licensee Lotus Seattle Corp. has changed KOMO(AM) and KOMO-FM to KNWN(AM) and KNWN-FM, respectively. Sinclair Broadcast Group exited the radio industry last fall with the sale of three stations in Seattle to Lotus Communications.”

    I don’t think AM radio will ever really go away. From the little TIS (Traffic Information Stations) that are helpful to travellers, to the small AM radio stations in the midwest that bring local news to their communities, AM still is useful. There are still AM radio stations that go off the air at sunset. Like this one:


    This is to keep from interfering with a station down in California.

    There’s also the National Radio Quiet Zone where for the most part radios, computers, routers, microwaves, etc. aren’t allowed because they may interfere with the radio telescope. I’ll leave that one for Google. :)

    Yes, AM radio will probably be broadcasting long after I’m taking a dirt nap, but for now….
    “What evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows……………

  41. It would be nice to see a swath set aside for digital broadcast radio. Corrupt forces created the HD Radio disaster but there’s no reason a separate band of backwards-incompatible radio couldn’t be created.

    HD Radio, aside from the ongoing required licensing fiasco, hence way overblown prices for receivers and transmitters, was pretty sweet at first while the agreement to limit ads was in place. I could find several 2nd or 3rd channels playing far better music than the primary, all without commercials. The strategy to “hook ’em, then add ads” would’ve worked, too, had there not been a steep fee per unit and only a de facto standard set by the FCC. Chicken-and-egg syndrome, and it was 100% predictable.

  42. Part of the reason that modern radio bands are languishing is that a few communication conglomerates control most of the radio stations in the country. Clear Channel Communications by themselves controls about 10-20% of the nation’s radio stations and there are several other companies that are not too far behind.

    If you have a tall enough antenna attached to an FM radio, you can hear several stations that are just retransmissions of some master playlist with a different station ID. All the national news spots are from Fox News and if you are lucky, you might have a locally owned station that will actually have local news. Don’t worry though, the local news will be read in a robot voice, because the local station owners in small markets couldn’t afford to maintain a regular staff.

    With the same trash music playlists being played on most of the stations on FM, barely any local news, and AM radio being a noisy mess due to poorly shielded electronics everywhere, can you blame the younger generation for going online to find their entertainment?

  43. I’m in country Victoria, I ran my pirate radio on 80MHz FM 1 watt for over a year nonstop 24/7 and most of the shops in town tuned in to my music selection. 10km range at 1 watt and not a lot more with a 25 watt amp.

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