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Why does the National Weather Service broadcast only to weather radios instead of on AM or FM radio?

Cecil Hester

Q. Why does the National Weather Service require purchase of a weather radio at additional expense and not provide their service on regular AM/FM radios? Perhaps that would have helped during Katrina and car radios are much more portable than A/C powered TVs and computers.

A. According to Steven Pfaff, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service off in Wilmington, when the initial weather radio network was being established in the 1950s, there was strong resistance to that idea at the federal level, given that those AM/FM frequencies could have otherwise been purchased and/or used by private interest groups.

In today’s world it certainly would be cost prohibitive (purchase of transmitters, receivers, etc.) to change the method, he said. Even if the FCC were to grant the National Weather Service the license to switch to either the AM/FM band, the frequencies are occupied by privately owned stations.

More importantly, if an AM/FM weather frequency were established, the person listening to the radio would have to be tuned to that specific weather broadcast frequency all the time to receive “tone-alerts” from tornado, flash flood, and severe thunderstorm warnings.


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