AM Radio Dying A Slow Death – Is There Anybody Under 40 That Even Listens?

Old 4 Comments on AM Radio Dying A Slow Death – Is There Anybody Under 40 That Even Listens? 689

The latest radio ratings continue to spell it out – AM radio is down again. It’s a trend that’s been going on for years – but recently – many heritage talk stations have taken a hit – and that may be due to format fatigue. The problem is – AM doesn’t have much to do after talk.

AM – amplitude modulation – was the centerpiece of homes everywhere. Once upon a time – it was radio. It’s where you got your news and entertainment each night. Anyone living say, through World War II has stories of families huddled around their radios for the latest. Then television came – and AM and radio had to adapt or die. In fact, many believed it was the end – but not so. During the 1950’s music and disc jockeys (along with rock ‘n roll) gave it new life. Then came transistor radios – so baby boomers could take their music everywhere. By the 1960’s – revenue was up and top-rated stations did quite well.

By the 1970’s – AM had new competition – as FM stereo began to gain traction. Sure, It had been around, but FM radios weren’t the best. Stations drifted and, FM didn’t work in cars. Those problems were solved by the mid-1970’s and, as more and more FM stations began playing popular music – by 1978 – AM and FM stations shared 50% of the audience. By 1979 FM began taking over – and – it’s been a slow death for AM ever since.

During the 1980’s – AM tried to compete with FM with stereo broadcasts. The problem, unlike FM was – the FCC never sanctioned a standard – several competed – and that put confusion in the market place. Interestingly – AM stereo was around during the late 1950’s – but no one cared.

So, during the 1980’s – AM stations ditched pop music formats by the droves. The winning formats during this time were talk, middle-of-the-road music (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin) and all-news (usually in larger markets). Smaller stations added more religion or foreign language programming.

Some life was injected into AM radio during this time. When the FCC got rid of the Fairness Doctrine – that meant talk radio was free to offer programs slanted one way or the other – without an opposing voice. That opened the door to shows such as Rush Limbaugh and others. Stations carrying these talkshows actually went up in the ratings. AM got another boost when WFAN-New York proved that all-sports could work as a viable format. Today – there are hundreds of talk-formatted AM stations.

Compared to FM – AM always carried more noise. It’s just the nature of “amplitude” in the modulation scheme. One advantage the AM band has over FM – is service in hilly areas. The lower AM frequencies literally “follow the ground.” As FM – tries to go through the mountain – AM goes up, down and out – not through. Here in California – take the AM test. If you go up the Cajon Pass (past San Bernardino) – try tuning any Los Angeles FM station. Then try KFI or KNX AM. The AM’s win every time.

Also, AM skywave: that portion of tower/antenna energy that gets radiated up – can service areas hundreds of miles out (especially those 50,000 watt 1a stations). Skywave can also be a burden, as it can cause interference to AM channels.

Today, the AM band accepts so much noise – you really have to have a strong signal. Power supplies, computers – anything that switches electronically – will put noise on the AM band. Not to mention power lines, nighttime skywave – you name it. It’s such a concern – that companies such as CBS – put their sports WFAN-AM on FM. It’s an interesting trend as more AM’s are getting “protected” by FM simulcasts.

As AM gets older – its audience gets older. Hardly anyone under 40 even listens. Do you?

Author

Gary West

Historian Gary West built his first website in 1998 with www.pophistorynow.com. That addressed now forwards to www.mrpopculture.com - an amazing pop culture/news database with 25,000 pages, covering the years 1955-2014. He's also the author of www.technologynewstimeline.com - covering consumer technology from 1952 to the present. West has been a contributor to numerous books, radio-TV shows, CNN & USA Today & the History Channel.

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4 Comments

  1. Phil June 29, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    If there was more interesting content, I’d listen more. I usually tune in AM 880 KIXI for some big band or standards. I’ll listen to FM radio for more current music. I can’t stand “HD” radio. the quality is only 96kbps-120kbps. Most people think HD means high definition. On FM it means huge disappointment. Mostly because of where I live, we deal with a phenomenon known as multipath. Radio signals reflected off the mountains will arrive slightly delayed from the direct signal. Analog FM can switch to mono mode to reduce the noise and allow continued reception. Digital radio cuts out if there isn’t enough data to recreate the audio. So I digress… AM radio still has a great place in this world. Signals can be heard from great distances. Now we just need great content to listen to.

  2. rad September 3, 2014 at 4:45 am

    Am radio is dying out, just like the dial phone & the telegraf machines, More & more peeps today get what they want on line,out with the old in with the new.

  3. Chris McAuliffe September 3, 2014 at 5:29 am

    I am 38 and still listen to some AM radio. Mostly sports radio or news that isn’t available on FM stations or doesn’t come in very well. That being said AM is a very weak signal where I live and there is a lot of interference and background noise which makes it very annoying. Not to mention all the AM news and sports radio is now online there is almost no need for the dial any longer.

  4. Al May 20, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    I’m 55 and have one AM station I listen to–WBZ, the all-news station in Boston and it’s usually just for traffic reports. It’s definitely on the way out.

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