Local AM radio stations embrace FM offering

By Greta Lint O-N-E Contributor

NEWTON — The way people listen to radio in the Catawba Valley has changed. Loyal AM-radio listeners can tune the dial to an FM station and receive the same shows, music and information, giving a clearer signal throughout the day – and night.
Owners of WNNC, 630 Big WAYS and WHKY took advantage of a new ruling by the Federal Communication Commission last year to strengthen their signals throughout the county and broadcast coverage areas, helping their stations provide a greater service to local listeners and the community. 
The FCC is allowing small AM stations to simulcast their programming on FM stations.
Dave Lingafelt, owner of WNNC, 630 Big WAYS and WXRC-FM, explained that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai came from a small Kansas town with an AM station which served the community. However, as time passed, he recognized that modern technology, such as power lines, computers, wireless signals and fluorescent lights interfered with the AM signal.
So he proposed a change which would allow AM stations to simulcast their signal on an FM frequency which covered the same geographic area as the AM signal.
Pai was the first member of the FCC, in more than two decades, to seek a revitalization of AM signals. His efforts were put into motion in January 2016.
In a written statement dated February 1, 2016, Pai said, “On the first day alone, we received over 400 applications from AM stations.”
FCC spokesperson Janice Wise said there are around 2,000 AM stations in the country. So far, under the new ruling, the FCC has received some 1,100 applications to purchase new FM frequencies.
Jeff Long, owner of WHKY radio, explained that there were two opportunities for stations to take advantage of the new ruling.
Smaller stations, such as WNNC, with 1,000 watts, were permitted to start simulcasting on FM in late summer of 2016. Larger stations, like WHKY, with 50,000 watts, were able to make the transition in January 2017.
Both stations had to find an FM frequency which could be used locally. That isn’t an easy task, as the FM band is already full of stations.
Long hired a broadcast engineering company to find the right frequency. He said that not all radio stations have been able to afford the cost of adding the FM signal.
“You had to go 250 miles out to find an FM frequency which didn’t cross another local station, purchase that frequency and then put it on the air,” Long explained.
Long’s late father, Tom Long, Sr., flipped the switch, turning on the new FM station. He was 90 years old.
“We have a lot more power at night on the FM,” he said. “Our antenna is atop Baker Mountain. We no longer have to reduce our power at night. Our AM signal, 1290, is carried on the FM band 102.3.”
Lingafelt said his radio antennas – 1230 WNNC-AM, 630 Big WAYS-AM, 101.3 FM and 105.9 FM - are centrally-located for the county on Tate Boulevard, in Hickory.  WNNC is carried on 101.3 FM and 630 Big WAYS is broadcast on 105.9 FM.
Long said his stations have embraced the change, with a new logo and branding initiative.
Lingafelt said he has seen “an awesome response, with listeners saying they enjoy the new Oldies music format on the FM dial, some hearing the music formats locally for the first time.”
Both station formats are new to the local FM dial.
WHKY has a talk radio format, with NASCAR, high school football and local news. The station also streams its broadcast online. WNNC plays an oldies format with music from the 1960-70s, while Big WAYS plays American artists performing music from 1955-1964. WNNC also carries high school football, Lenoir-Rhyne Bears football, local news and sports.