Saying Goodbye To AM Radio

In 2008, I gave a speech at the Jacobs Media Summit that was co-located with the NAB Radio Show in Austin where I called for the ‘Sunsetting’ of the AM dial.  My arguments were that there was too much radio inventory chasing too little business, that the technical deficiencies made it hard to listen to for many,  and that the best brands would migrate to the FM band if a date-certain for an AM switch-off were determined.

Later on in 2009, I reiterated my arguments in this blog post: Is It Time For AM Radio To Go Dark?  This post generated a ton of good comments but several really stuck with me – they argued that the AM Radio medium didn’t really require such intervention, that the band would continue to fizzle out on its own.

And while one must acknowledge the staying power of various AM powerhouses – especially strong-signaled stations in the largest markets – it turns out on some levels these predictions were correct.

A review of Nielsen data yields two fascinating data points from their PPM markets.

· In 2010, the first year with all 48 PPM markets up and running for the whole year, 30% of all persons ages 12 and over recorded at least some listening to AM Radio weekly.  In 2013, the percentage dropped to 25%.  In other words – three-quarters of all people who carried a meter for a week last year didn’t record a single five-minute period of AM Radio listening.

· The amount of listening to AM is falling even faster. The percentage of broadcast radio listening attributable to the AM dial has fallen from 15.3% in 2010 to 11.5% in 2013.

 There are many reasons for these declines – including in some cases the migration of AM brands to FM and that listening traveling alongside (think, for instance, WIP Philadelphia and WEEI Boston).  At the same time, many AM “talk” stations have seen significant declines in ratings.

Some members of the radio commentariat argue that the only thing hurting AM Radio is a lack of compelling content.  This may be in part to blame, but at some point one has to consider the technical aspects of the dial and how they play into the issue as well.  Despite some content that is indeed quite compelling – increasingly this a mall that few people are visiting.

2 replies
  1. Dave Mason
    Dave Mason says:

    Right on, Larry. The mall is becoming overrun with weeds and unless you’ve got a 50k ND stick you’re in trouble. I was 17 when I first heard Top 40 music on FM -and predicted back then that FM would win. That was 49 years ago. I’m no guru. The reasons are all of the above. Content, quality and choice are way too limited on AM in the age of THOUSANDS of audio choices. It’s a medium that’s run its course in relevance, and it doesn’t look like it will come back. Ever. That’s a shame. I’m sure there’s a 17 year old out there who’s found the next audio delivery system and is predicting that it will overtake FM. It’s a natural evolution of a product that no one’s taken the time to reinvent over the years.

  2. Gerard Paonessa
    Gerard Paonessa says:

    Larry, while I can’t argue with your business statistics, let’s not throw out AM altogether. It is as far as I know the only broadcast medium that can be received with a long piece of wire, a tuning coil fashioned out of an empty toilet paper roll, a 330pf capacitor, some high impedance headsets and almost any small diode rectifier. Heck, if you don’t have a diode you can make a primitive metal oxide rectifier out of an old double-edged razor blade – if you can find one! My point is simply, when nothing else is on the air, all the AA, NiMH, LiIon and other batteries have long gone dead, the old crystal radio can still receive an AM signal from very far away, no batteries required. Assuming, of course, there still are a few old AM engineers around who can breathe life into even a few transmitters to broadcast critical information. No, I don’t have a crystal radio in my closet. Yes, I do have all the parts to build one including an old Clevite “Brush” High-Z headphone. I am depending on at least one working AM to tell me what’s going on when everything else goes dark.


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