Friday, July 15, 2022

Can AM Radio Be Saved?

When I was a kid, I dreamed of owning my own radio station. I had no idea what it cost to buy one, but it seemed like the best of all possible things to acquire-- after all, radio was a central part of my life, and I knew lots of other kids who felt the same way. We all loved rock and roll, we all loved listening to the deejays, and many of us enjoyed going to record hops and hearing the local bands perform. Owning a station seemed like such a cool thing to do, something that would make a lot of people happy.

In the 1950s and 1960s, top-40 ruled, and AM radio was king. Every city had live and local stations, and the deejays often made appearances at local businesses. I remember getting my first car and driving to Paragon Park, about a half-hour from my home. Paragon was a popular amusement park back then, but more importantly, WBZ Radio sometimes did live broadcasts, direct from their "Sundeck Studio." I was so excited to watch my favorite deejays in person; and as a college radio deejay, I did a couple of remotes too, from the quadrangle at Northeastern University in Boston. FM hadn't taken over yet. Many people didn't even own an FM radio, and most cars only had AM.  Perhaps the audio quality wasn't the best, but the signals carried a long distance, and whether you were listening with your portable radio or listening with your transistor, AM radio could accompany you everywhere, kind of like a best friend. 

These days, it's all different. If you turn on a station on the AM band (something few young people ever do), all you hear is angry political talk shows, foreign language programs, religious broadcasts, and lots of news and sports. Some AM stations do still play music, but increasingly, it's songs for people over 60, since research says they are the only ones who still listen. Everyone else long ago migrated to FM, or to the internet, streaming audio, and YouTube. Many AM stations have gone dark-- owners have just given up and pulled the plug.

But does it have to be that way? Maybe I'm naive, and maybe I'm a dreamer, but I want to believe that AM could still make a difference. For example, if you put a live and local station on the air, play interesting music, have strong ties with your community, and give the listeners something worth listening to, they might just give you a chance--even if you're on the AM band.  Anecdotally, I'm told some AM community stations are doing that-- entertaining the public, giving local bands a chance, providing something unique for their community. And people seem to like that.

I understand the media environment in 2022 is not the same as in the 1960s. I understand that most young adults haven't listened to AM in years. But what if we gave them a good reason to? What if we brought back radio that had entertaining personalities and was fun to listen to? It might not work everywhere, but somewhere, in some city, there's a signal going to waste, and some good people who want to make that signal mean something. I still want to own a radio station, because radio changed my life; and I don't want to give up on AM just yet, even if all the experts say the odds are against anyone succeeding. So, what do you think? Is it too late for AM radio? Or can AM radio be saved? I welcome your opinions. I've already told you mine!        



  1. No, not really. I think it will continue to exist as a very basic news entity. But with modern internet and social media, it's done for.

  2. You mention that you would want to buy a station. Would you want to buy an AM station with no FM translator, in a decent-sized market?

    1. It would depend, but I'm certainly willing to explore my options!

  3. It is not too late for AM radio! It can still be the beacon it was in our youth. I’m turning 60 next month and remember the dazzling DJs and the beautiful music.

  4. Bring Back the Fairness Doctrine. Talk is relatively cheap, pardon the pun. if our local Fox affilate had to limit Sean and The Hooligans to only 12 hours , they would not get the value from ginning up the base. Conservative talk radio is a gold mine. Liberal Radio died from lack of support. Again , broadcasters make money by exploiting the polarization. The Conservative base buys everything from gold coins to prayer cloths. Dilute the market and we will see another cheap format . Heaven forbid they served their coverage area with LOCAL material.

  5. I strongly believe that the potential exists for an AM resurgence. The key is localism, true localism where the announcers live and work in the same community. Unfortunately, most owners these days are not willing to spend the money necessary to pay live announcers because the business/advertising support is not there and it’s too cheap and easy to pull talent off a satellite. If it happens, it will take a visionary approach to business.

  6. I'm in my mid-50s, and I've never known AM as anything but elevator music and talk radio, from the late 70s at least. I vaguely remember the rock FM stations having AM frequencies in the late 70s-early 80s in Mobile, Alabama, but I never listened to the AM stations by the time I was listening to rock radio at that time. I like the simpler technology of AM, and think it opens up the airwaves more democratically and locally.

  7. It is really all about revenue, AM and even smaller FMs can’t pay a living wage and generate enough ad cash to keep the lights on