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Radio

The other AM radio band that’s disappearing

Time is short for longwave.

Here in North America, AM radio occupies a spectrum that runs from 540 kHz up to 1700 KHz with channels separated by 10 kHz, hence stations like Global News Radio AM 640 and 680 News. (There are spots in the Caribbean where the separation is 9 kHz, but it’s the same band cut up in different ways.) AM is sometimes identified on radio displays as “MW,” which stands for “medium wave.”

However, in Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia, some AM radio has occupied a different part of the spectrum: 148.5 to 283.5 kHz, which substantially below the frequencies we use. This is known as “longwave.” This spectrum works well over long distances and can traverse obstacles like mountains. For example, it’s theoretically possible for a LW signal to travel up to 2,000 km using something known as “groundwave propagation.”

There’s currently talk of AM radio in North America (MW) disappearing as the world moves on from this 125+-year-old technology. AM broadcasters have signaled that they won’t go down without a fight.

Meanwhile, Europe is turning off AM (the medium wave version). The BBC is moving to shut down all AM transmitters with programming migrating to other frequencies.

Longwave is also disappearing fast. RTÉ Radio 1 in Ireland shut down broadcasting on 252 kHz in April. A network in Denmark will stop their LW signals by the end of the year. BBC Radio 4 will be off LW by next March. Iceland will drop LW from RÚV sometime in 2024.

So which countries are left? Poland, Mongolia, Romania and Morocco.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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7 thoughts on “The other AM radio band that’s disappearing

  • As a kid in 70’s Britain, I had a tiny transistor radio with one ear bud. But it had SW, MW, and LW. It allowed me (at night, under the covers so Mum and dad wouldn’t hear) to listen to stations from all over Europe. It opened my mind to a whole world of music and culture I would never have found otherwise. Thank you AM radio, you will be missed.

    Reply
  • I am an electronic engineer of 40 yrs experience. Another thing killing these services is emissions from part 15 devices. Your LED lights and every device with a processor in it. Keyfobs, smart home devices…. The FCC has never changed the class A and B rules since the days when a home had ZERO prosessors. Wall warts for everything have switching power supplies which are light weight and efficient but also radiate noise. All these noise sources combine to trash the band.

    And it gets worse! The FCC rarely enforces the rules so devices that radiate WAY over the limits are everywhere.

    In the mid 70s I would sit in my car at night and listen to LA am stations, on Oahu Hawaii!

    All of this E-Smog is shrinking your coverage areas and therefore your market.

    The FCC is simply not doing their job!

    Reply
    • Absolutely. As a teenager in western Colorado I listened to stations from Chicago to Juarez Mexico. I recently bought a radio to use in Chicago and had to return it because of all the noise pollution. Even FM is not safe.

      Reply
  • The last time I tuned in to AM radio was eh, uh, er, I can’t remember. Maybe around 64 years ago when I was a little kid. The only AM radio I own is in my car, and I never use it. It’s FM all the way. Actually, now I listen to my cell phone. If AM were to go away tomorrow, I wouldn’t notice.

    Reply
  • The problem is, AM radio is still HIGHLY effective at broadcasting vital information in times of emergency to people who may not have any other other means of receiving it. (Think Rogers Internet / Ice Storm / Multi-day Power Failure scenarios.) Your wind-up emergency radios can receive it with other forms of communication stop. I don’t listen to Talk Radio or other Sports Radio or similar but I still want to know it’s there and working when SH*T hits the fan. I have other radios and means of communicating but most people do not.

    Reply
  • I listen to AM radio every night, enjoy the Canadian stations which aren’t so heavily loaded with Ads.
    There isn’t any cell coverage here in the mountains of Montana or very much FM broadcast so Am works well. I use a Sangean 909 at home and a Sangean MMR 99 while camping , they work very well.
    Yes, it’s a trend to shift broadcast stations to internet or satellite. Remember when we could listen to all those BBC stations from all over the world like Quito, Ecuador? There mostly gone now. I fear being too dependent on internet radio so I keep battery radios on hand and practice sending/receiving my emails on shortwave radio.

    Reply
  • New Electric Vehicles are being made with no AM radios. I don’t think kids today ever use AM. Which is drying up advertising money for the stations that do use the band.

    Reply

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