How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 291

Occasionally my receiver will pick up two stations at the same time, fading in and out and fighting to be heard. How is this possible?
In AM radio, the sound is encoded as the strength of the radio wave. If two transmitters are using the same frequency (or your receiver cannot distinguish between them due to its limited resolution), then it will responds to both of them at once. The sound that you hear will be the sum of them both, as though they were two musical instruments in the same room. In FM radio, the sound is encoded as the exact frequency of the radio wave. In this case, your receiver is likely to follow the strongest of the two stations and flip in between occasionally when their strengths change (due to weather or reflections from moving objects). Thus it is common for AM radio receivers to superpose two stations but not so common for FM radio receivers to do the same trick.

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