TELEVISION may command more attention, but today the miracle of radio is, in its unquiet way, making new waves. So, too, is the Federal Communications Commission, which has been moving to deregulate all kinds of broadcasting -- including good old AM radio, where proposed changes could allow hundreds of new stations to enter the market and compete for listeners. In terms of programming, more may not necessarily be better, but opening up the AM band to more voices -- including minority broadcasters now unable to find frequencies -- is an important way to encourage greater diversity on the air.
The changes under consideration would narrow the frequency space given to each radio station from 10 kilohertz (or kilocycles, for those still flicking on the older-model consoles) to 9 kilohertz. By reducing this space, new frequencies could be made available. They would attract broadcasters not only because radio is still a popular medium, but because it generally costs less to operate a radio station than a television station. And once the FCC decides what kind of system should be used to allow stereo broadcasts on the AM band -- currently transmitted only on FM -- the radio marketplace should bustle all the more.
Television, too, is undergoing dramatic changes that are bringing all kinds of programs and services into homes across the country. In addition to the cable TV revolution, the "regular" VHF and UHF channels (from 2 through 69) may undergo radical changes. The FCC has also been considering ways to open these bands for thousands of new stations. One new service would be offered by low-powered TV stations that could broadcast within a radius of 10 to 15 miles. This could mean additional programming for rural areas where only a channel or two may be all that is now visible, as well as for certain city corridors where there may be minorities in search of special or additional programming.
In opening the broadcasting marketplace to more vigorous competition, the FCC should be careful not to cause sudden and severe economic damage to those broadcasters already in business. UHF stations, for example, have finally begun to win public acceptance, and sudden creation of new VHF stations could cause troubles for UHF broadcasters.But on the whole, the trend toward increased competition and new opportunities in broadcasting is preferable to the strict government limitations on quantity and quality that had their origins in a much different market.