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ARSCLIST  March 2009

ARSCLIST March 2009

Subject:

Re: AM radio sound quality

From:

Michael Biel <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 21 Mar 2009 14:33:53 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (100 lines)

This is a good answer but tells only 60% of the story.  In the late 
60s-early 70s AM radios started to be made with deeply restricted 
bandwidth--some as restricted as 3.5KHz.   The  Hi-Fi magazines stopped 
printing AM tuner bandwidth in their reviews, so it remained an industry 
secret.  Purchasers thought the lousy sound was the stations' fault, but 
it was the fault of their newer radios.  Why?  Because as the FCC 
allowed new stations on the air, they were "short spaced".  Stations on 
the second adjacent band frequency were too close together and their 
high audio frequencies overlapped.  If you were listening to a station 
on 660 you would sometimes be able to hear the splatter of highs from a 
station at 680, and the listeners to the 680 station would hear the 
highs from the 660 station.  Reducing the bandwidth of the receiver 
eliminated that problem by eliminating ALL high audio frequencies.  This 
problem could have been solved by just limiting the bandwidth of 
receivers to perhaps 9KHz, but as the AM band became more crowded there 
started to be problems with reception from adjacent channels, so the 
receiver manufacturers reduced bandwidths to 3.5 or 4.5 Khz.  To counter 
the dull sounding receivers, stations started boosting high frequencies 
using such crap as the Aphex Aural Exciter.  That increased the 
splatter, and made those stations sound even worse on GOOD radios--such 
as those made before 1965. 

In the mid 1980s the broadcasting industry came up with a solution.  In 
addition to the development of AM-Stereo, the broadcasters suggested to 
the FCC and the receiver manufacturers, that if the radios would be 
REQUIRED to have a bandwidth of perhaps 7.5 to 9 KHz, the stations would 
restrict their audio to 9.5 or 10 KHz.  That would end second-adjacent 
splatter even on wide-band receivers.  But this was in the era of Ronald 
Reagan and the free-marketplace theory, and he had appointed as the FCC 
chair a thoroughly evil character named Mark Fowler.  Fowler's FCC had 
already destroyed AM-Stereo by allowing the "marketplace" to decide on a 
system instead of selecting a specific standard as had been done with 
TV, Color TV, and FM Stereo, and now they decided to allow the bandwidth 
solution to be voluntary, not regulated.  The result was that no radio 
station would voluntarily restrict their audio if the receiver 
manufacturers wouldn't widen theirs.  The radio station industry tried 
to entice receiver manufacturers by a certification program called AMax, 
but only Denon made a tuner to AMax specs, and Sony made a portable and 
a walkman to AMax specs.  The Sony's, by the way, are the only radios 
ever sold in the U.S. that could receive all 5 AM Stereo systems. 

When Bush Sr. came into office, the Dennis Patrick FCC dropped one shoe 
by putting the AM transmitter high audio frequency restriction into 
place by law.  This is called NRSC.  They still hoped that receiver 
manufacturers would see the improvement and widen their bandwidths.  The 
hope also was that they would start making AM Stereo receivers.  I 
actually had an AM Stereo radio in a Nisson Maxima once.  I only 
discoverd that when the AM Stereo light lit up once!!!  The car manual 
didn't mention the feature. 

This is a long answer, but should explain why AM radio sounds like 
crap.  It actually also explains why the PROGRAMMING also is crap 
because the demise of music on AM and the growth of talk on AM evolved 
during the same era as the decrease in receiver quality.  It also was 
the same Regan-Fowler FCC which eliminated all Program Logging 
requirements, which eliminated all station public interest 
responsibility requirements such as comparing "promise vs. performance", 
and then without any programming ethical standards in place they 
eliminated the Fairness Doctrine which opened the floodgates to the 
unethical.  Then Clinton was convinced to allow almost unlimited 
ownership of multiple radio stations which led to unlimited 
concentration of ownership, coupled with new technical standards allowing
"unattended" operation of stations without any human being needing to be 
present at any time, and you have the unlistenable radio industry that 
plagues us now.

Mike Biel  [log in to unmask] 

Bob Olhsson wrote:
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From Tom Fine: ...what happened to modern AM
>> sound? Is it the broadcast itself
>> or modern AM radios?
>>     
>
> Both!
>
> AM bandwidth used to be restricted only by interference with other
> broadcasters. The commonly cited 5k bandwidth specification was only the
> minimum bandwidth that the FCC required. Response to 13kHz. was not uncommon
> for many of the larger stations although not all radios had the bandwidth
> switches that were required to avoid noise problems picking up more crowded
> stations. On top of that the signal wasn't crushed by signal processing and
> there were signal to noise and distortion mandates stations were required to
> meet. "Broadcast quality audio" was considered a high compliment during the
> 1950s!
>
> Unfortunately a bandwidth mandate was put in place in 1989 that reduced
> maximum bandwidth to 10kHz. Today most FM radio sounds worse than AM radio
> did during the '60s. I'm often left wondering if the broadcast and consumer
> electronics industries don't have some kind of a death wish.
>
> Bob Olhsson Audio Mastery, Nashville TN
> Mastering, Audio for Picture, Mix Evaluation and Quality Control
> Over 40 years making people sound better than they ever imagined!
> 615.385.8051 http://www.hyperback.com    http://www.thewombforums.com
>
>
>   

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