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Amplitude Modulation (AM)

In amplitude modulation, the strength (amplitude) of the carrier from a transmitter is varied according to how a modulating signal varies.

When you speak into the microphone of an AM transmitter, the microphone converts your voice into a varying voltage. This voltage is amplified and then used to vary the strength of the transmitter's output. Amplitude modulation adds power to the carrier, with the amount added depending on the strength of the modulating voltage. Amplitude modulation results in three separate frequencies being transmitted: the original carrier frequency, a lower sideband (LSB) below the carrier frequency, and an upper sideband (USB) above the carrier frequency. The sidebands are "mirror images" of each other and contain the same intelligence. When an AM signal is received, these frequencies are combined to produce the sounds you hear.

Each sideband occupies as much frequency space as the highest audio frequency being transmitted. If the highest audio frequency being transmitted is 5 kHz, then the total frequency space occupied by an AM signal will be 10 kHz (the carrier occupies negligible frequency space).

AM has the advantages of being easy to produce in a transmitter and AM receivers are simple in design. Its main disadvantage is its inefficiency. About two-thirds of an AM signal's power is concentrated in the carrier, which contains no intelligence. One-third of the power is in the sidebands, which contain the signal's intelligence. Since the sidebands contain the same intelligence, however, one is essentially "wasted." Of the total power output of an AM transmitter, only about one-sixth is actually productive, useful output!

Other disadvantages of AM include the relatively wide amount of frequency space an AM signal occupies and its susceptibility to static and other forms of electrical noise. Despite this, AM is simple to tune on ordinary receivers, and that is why it is used for almost all shortwave broadcasting.