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44 of 47 AM radio stations in Japan to switch to FM by 2028

TBS Radio Inc. Chairman Kiyohiko Irie is seen during a news conference in Tokyo's Minato Ward, on June 15, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Wide FM receiver promotion liaison)

TOKYO -- Forty-four of the 47 commercial AM radio stations across Japan plan to switch to FM broadcasting by fall 2028 to improve business performance by reducing the cost of operating both AM and FM broadcasting services, it was announced on June 15.

    The move to FM broadcasting will be made by all AM radio stations except those in Hokkaido and Akita Prefecture in northern Japan. AM broadcasting services are scheduled to start being suspended as early as fall of 2023 as part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications' test of switching to FM, meaning that AM broadcasting services will shrink in phases from 2023 onwards.

    Though AM broadcasting has a longer range, it has faced challenges, such as requiring large-scale facilities including an antenna at least 100 meters tall and high maintenance costs as they age. Furthermore, AM and FM radio channels broadcast the same programs through FM complement broadcasting, known as Wide FM, as part of disaster prevention measures, causing overlapping facility costs.

    As advertising revenue has been falling among commercial AM broadcasters, they requested the communications ministry in 2019 for system reform that would allow them to switch to lower-cost FM broadcasting, and the ministry has approved this reform.

    Tokyo-based TBS Radio Inc., Nippon Cultural Broadcasting Inc. and Nippon Broadcasting System Inc. have announced they will halt AM broadcasting in fall 2028 at the earliest. Overall, 21 of the 47 AM broadcasters are set to participate in the ministry experiment, and of the 21, 14 will take part with their broadcast relay stations. Even after the transition to FM by fall 2028, some broadcasters will continue AM programming as a supplementary measure.

    FM broadcasting is hard to receive in mountainous and other remote areas, and Wide FM radio requires a receiver corresponding to certain frequencies. A 2019 government survey showed, however, that the distribution rate of Wide FM receivers was only at 53%.

    TBS Radio Chairman Kiyohiko Irie told a June 15 news conference, "We must quickly act to promote (Wide FM) receivers. We have decided to announce our plans at an early stage to gain understanding from our listeners. While it's each broadcaster's decision whether to switch to FM, each of us are going to use this opportunity to address the challenges."

    The broadcasters plan to release annual progress reports on the ministry-led experiment.

    (Japanese original by Tomofumi Inagaki and Yuka Matsubara, Cultural News Department)

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