Radio: FM By Stages

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When FCC decided last May that static-free Frequency Modulation broadcasting was mature enough to doff its experimental diapers, the radio industry was pretty worried that revolution was just around the corner. This week the prospects of technological upheaval, while still real, seem somewhat less immediate. Although WOR is opening the first Manhattan station designed from scratch for FM transmission, new applications are moving very slowly into the Washington offices of FCC. Partly due to summer doldrums, partly to FCC's stringent rules for FM operation, this lethargy will probably give FM pause until 1941 is well under way.

FCC's recently issued requirements for would-be FM-ers are set down in a 42-page application blank. FCC discourages get-rich-quick Wallingfords by advising them that no individual or group under common control may exercise authority over more than one station in a given area or over more than six FM stations in all, that each FM operator must go on the air at least six hours a day, and devote two of these hours to original FM broadcasts.

However tight the FCC requirements, they have not discouraged such devout FM enthusiasts as small, bald, Yankee-shrewd John Shepard, president of New England's Yankee Network. Shepard now relays Yankee Network programs over an FM transmitter on Asnebumskit Hill 45 miles from Boston, and hopes by the fall of 1941 to organize a cooperative network of 40 FM stations feeding programs to major U. S. cities. Under FCC's regulations, such a network will have to be cooperatively operated, will concentrate, according to Shepard's plan, on the largest urban centres. Rural districts now serviced by powerful standard stations will probably continue with amplitude modulation sets for a long time to come. Reason: while FM can blanket large areas without interference, it cannot reach as far out from centres of population as the present loud-voiced amplitude stations. In crowded, hilly New England, however, two powerful mountaintop FM transmitters now in the formative stage will probably cover as much territory as all of the Yankee Network's old-style (amplitude) stations. Distance with FM depends on height, while amplitude broadcasting usually works best in level country.

The concentration of FM transmitters in New England (see map) is largely due to the fact that AM reception has been persistently poor due apparently to absorption of long-wave signals by the earth. Static-ridden reception also gums up the works in Florida, but as yet there are no FM transmitters in action below Washington, D. C. (see map). Most FM stations today operate over a radius of 50 miles, but WOR's station W2XOR will now be heard within a radius of 60-75 miles of New York. Both CBS and NBC pipe some of their shows through FM stations around Manhattan, but they grab-bag the items from program lists from day to day instead of selecting them in advance.

Applications are on hand for FM stations from New York to San Francisco. NBC intends to apply for a batch of these, CBS for another, but until FM has an audience big enough to appeal to advertisers, both of these big networks intend to keep their fingers crossed.

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