The CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters touted that 47 million people listen to AM Radio every week during a fireside chat at the Country Radio Seminar in Nashville this past week.
“It’s short-sighted for the automotive industry to consider
dropping AM Radio (from the dashboard).”
-Curtis LeGeyt, CEO, National Association of Broadcasters
Putting that number of listeners into perspective, the current population of the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau is 334,233,854 people and AM radio reaches 47 million of them or about 14%.
Saving AM Radio
In 2013, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, said he was going to make it his mission to save AM radio.
“The digital age is killing AM radio, an American institution
that brought the nation fireside chats, Casey Kasem’s Top 40
and scratchy broadcasts of the World Series.
When I was born (1973), AM radio accounted for approximately half of all listening.
Today it’s less than twenty percent.
The number of AM station is declining,
and every day it seems harder to receive a quality AM signal.”
-Ajit Pai, FCC Chairman
So, where are we, a mere ten years later?
Pai’s Plan to Save AM Radio
I never understood the wisdom of trying to save amplitude modulation (AM) by using low power frequency modulated (FM) transmitters, but Pai said this in his speech delivered during lunch at the RAB/NAB Radio Show in Orlando, Florida on September 20, 2013:
“We should make it easier for AM stations to get and use FM translators.”
-Ajit Pai, FCC Chairman
Do you think the automotive industry was listening to this plan for broadcasting in America?
What Happens When an AM Radio Stations Gets an FM Translator?
In market after market, when an AM radio station got an FM translator, two things usually happened, it changed its format from news/talk/information to a music based programming one along with re-branding itself as an FM radio station; even though it had to continue its AM service.
An example would be WNTW 610AM in Winchester, Virginia. In 1994, the station’s programming was news-talk-sports with newscasts from CNN. In 2014, an FM translator was acquired by the station, and in 2015 the station rebranded as “102.9 Valley FM” featuring a classic hits format.
WTOP’s Big Change
It was on January 4, 2006, that the owner of WTOP 1500AM in Washington, DC announced that it would be moving its successful news franchise from the AM radio band to the FM band. Bonneville International accomplished this by eliminating its classical programming on co-owned WGMS 103.5FM and putting all of WTOP’s programming on that signal.
The results were impressive, as WTOP has been the dominant radio station in the 25-54 demographics since moving to FM and has been the nation’s top billing radio station in America since 2014.
The Future of AM Radio in the United Kingdom
AM radio in the UK is in terminal decline with audiences vanishing and AM transmitters shutting down. The current forecast for AM in the British Isles is for the majority of the remaining transmitters to be shut down by the end of 2027; four short years from now.
AM radio was the dominant listening medium in the United Kingdom until the mid 1980s when it was overtaken by FM.
In America, when the number of FM radio signals equaled the number of AM signals, 75% of all radio listening was to FM. Today, there are 21,858 FM radio signals broadcasting in America compared to only 4,484 AM radio signals.
FM Radio Ends in Norway
Norway was the first European country to shutdown its national broadcasts of its FM network, switching to digital audio broadcasting or DAB; and that happened six years ago. Other countries that say they will be doing the same include Switzerland, Britain and Denmark.
BBC & CBC
Both the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) have said they are both planning for the day, in the next decade, when they will be turning off both their radio and television transmitters, to become an online-only service.
Which came first, the Chicken or the Egg?
So, while the radio industry in America is up in arms over auto manufacturers eliminating AM radio in their Electric Vehicles (EVs), we need to be honest with ourselves about
who started down this path first.
You can’t save the AM radio band by moving it programming to the FM radio band. All the FCC and broadcasters succeeded in doing was to send out a signal to listeners and vehicle manufacturers alike that it was time to say goodbye to AM radio.
25 responses to “Whatever Made Auto Manufacturers Think AM Radio Is Over?”
Is it true that the electric motor of the EV will cause so much static over an AM signal, that motor interference will render AM reception impossible? Seems like there should be a workaround for that “problem”, if it’s a valid a reason to ditch AM.
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It’s true Jack, and yes, there is a workaround, but the world is moving from analog to digital.
It’s like a lot of things that used to be, and are now a museum piece.
I grew up editing audio on magnetic recording tape using a grease pencil, razor blade and spice block. Today, I edit using a digital editor. Would I want to go back to the old way? NO WAY.
Dick, ‘m not sure you are right when you say, “the radio industry in America is up in arms over auto manufacturers eliminating AM radio in their Electric Vehicles (EVs),” apparently the NAB and other organizations maybe. Bu I’m sure many broadcasters want to shut down that old big maintenance AM transmitter which they are not getting much revenue from. And haven’t for decades.
You asked, “What Happens When an AM Radio Stations Gets an FM Translator?” in addition to the new identity, you mentioned they get a new lease on life and some times start to turn a profit (if it is not part of a big organization). The major companies seem to just run the new/sports cheap syndicated programs on FM. But some do change to a music based format which normally sells better.
We have local success story here in the “sticks of Kentucky” where a local broadcaster purchased a 1,000 watt (basically daytime AM) with a translator. I say “basically daytime” as their Nighttime Power is 42 Watts. Basically enough to cover the downtown area. the 250 watt translator covers most of the original 1,000 area and most of the local county. It’s strictly a “mom and pop” operation but this Kentucky county has a local radio station again with local news (including obituaries..as they only have a weekly newspaper) high school sports, and a classic country format.
Thanks for the tip on.. WNTW 610AM in Winchester, Virginia. I expect to be there later this summer and will definitely listen in.
So the “The Future of AM Radio in the United Kingdom”.. like you said many countries around the world where the AM signal is owned by the government is shutting off OTA transmitters.
I’ve heard the FCC has other plans for the AM band if it is deserted. So it will not go to waste.
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Thank You Paul for sharing your perspective on this subject. I haven’t heard about any FCC future plan for the AM band. What have your heard?
It will be 10 years this fall that I wrote my infamous blog on the so-called “AM Revitalization” plan. I took a lot of heat for it. In retrospect, I guess I was correct. Truth be known, I knew then not a single word was wrong, but there were many in the industry in those days who took offense as they were called out for their hypocrisy.
I have said many times over the past years, “You can’t save the AM broadcast band by putting its programming on a low power FM translator for the simple reason – IT’S ON FM!
Just as you have stated, the radio industry said, “AM radio is inferior,” and now the so-called industry “leaders” are shocked when the automakers say, “Well if it’s inferior, let’s get rid of it.”
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I would love to read your post from ten years ago again Darryl. If you have it, please share it here.
Dick that demographic that listens to AM radio is the dying baby boomers that never adopted streaming services. They are the never adopters that cling to free OTA signals. Advertisers, car manufactures, and radio stations do not cater to their preferences. One story reported, ” While Pai played a role in these efforts, it is important to note that the AM radio industry continues to face challenges, and the future of the medium remains uncertain in some respects.”
Actually Victor, many of us Baby Boomers are not only adopters of the new technology but love it.
It’s really more a state-of-mind, than it is one of age IMHO.
You missed my point. I’m a boomer and an early adopter of digital media. The demo you cite as AM signal listeners to OTA radio are ones I’m referencing. I left as a producer of an AM radio station two years ago because I saw it was hopeless cause. That station is now shifting to podcast production services to attract a younger demo.
Victor, as you point out the AM is challenged by many of the same issues that challenge the FM band with the next generations of listeners. The bigger problem is AM fidelity and no stereo signals, only exacerbate AM’s ability to attract a listening audience, except those that still have a habit for a particular personality or program that is only available on their local AM radio station.
Podcasting really seems to be the way younger people prefer to get their talk programming and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the world they’re growing up in.
Thank You for clarifying you position.
No analysis of the British AM Radio dial is complete without considering Radio Caroline which was finally authorised to take over a BBC frequency used to broadcast its Home Service and to beam allied propaganda into the continent during WWII. Caroline is the former pop pirate that outlived its critics and their regulations some 50+ years later to be granted a plum AM frequency (648 khz.) allowing them to be heard up and down the British Isles and into the continent. Their programming is music/personality intensive and is scoring big-time with that AM frequency backed up by regional DAB signals (no FMs in the mix). They’re a non-profit, funded by adverts, support groups, souvenir sales and top of the line clothing from their on-line shop, fit for wear topside in heavy seas! My wife wears her RC top with pride ! They will be getting a power increase assisted by their own solar array supporting their 25 kilowatt American-built Harris transmitter. The fan E-mail and phone calls from appreciative mediumwave listeners are non-stop, especially from countless listeners with good reasons to switch their car & lorry radios to the AM band. If you want to experience a successful AM station, go to http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk
for a good listen to their “album” service. Oh, all right. I’m prejudiced as an occasional on-air contributor due to my multi-decade association with TheAlbumZone.com, where our boss, Guv. Johnny Reece first cut his radio teeth as an on-air shipboard Radio Caroline personality. Come listening!
Thank You Rich for keeping us informed of the success Radio Caroline is enjoying.
But as you point out, it also is available on both DAB and streaming, in addition to its AM signal. That’s so important in today’s world; being available on the platform they wish to receive the programming on.
Seems to me there is another issue as well here. As noted in the article and comments, there are significant interference issues with AM radio, especially in EV. Granted they can be fixed, but that comes with a cost. That’s a cost the automakers do not want to incur.
Add to that the belief among automakers (like other industries as well) that buying habits are already set among those of us of a certain age. They will design vehicles that cater to a younger audience who probably knows little about AM and cares less, but aren’t yet loyal to a particular brand. (I was basically told that automakers didn’t care about our age group when I inquired as to why it was so hard to find a vehicle with a CD player any more.) Follow the money.
P.S. Your point about FCC Chairman Pai is right on target. You don’t save a dying band by moving it to another band.
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The FAA goes to great lengths to protect an airfield or heliport. Sadly, the FCC never went to bat for AM radio when it came to the many devices that produce noise to the AM band. (But then neither did Mother Nature and her lightning bolts.)
It’s this situation that prompted Armstrong to invent FM.
More and more radio markets are being served by news/talk/sports radio formats on FM and not all of them are low powered translators.
The real problem seems to be no formal plan for the future and just a series of patch jobs.
Thank You Roger for stimulating the brain cells on this Monday, 1st Day of Spring.
Roger wrote: ” You don’t save a dying band by moving it to another band.”
I think the thought pattern was as a method to save the commercial or marketability of AM stations by issuing translators to improve reception. Some FM stations also us FM translators in areas where their signal is hard to receive, like urban areas with large buildings that will block the primary signal.
Paul, sadly the use of translators in many cases were abused by broadcasters who used them for purposes other than what they were originally intended for.
In Sussex, NJ, one of my FM radio stations had an FM translator to provide 360 coverage to our marketplace. A mountain blocked our signal from going 360 and the translator filled in that hole in our coverage. It provided the perfect solution to this signal problem.
Using an FM translator to help a daytime AM provide 24 hour coverage to a market that was otherwise under served made sense on the surface, but what would have made more sense is to just license those radio stations to full-power FM signals, that went with the requirement they could never be moved.
Unfortunately, since nothing like that was ever done new fullpower FM signal was often moved out of the market and into a bigger metro, which left the original city of license not just under served but with no service at all.
Enter the LPFM signals to try and rectify that issue.
Again, with no unified plan, radio broadcasting in America has been left to a series of patch jobs.
I once had a discussion with John Riggs (DOE for iHeart San Diego) about the feasibility of HD radio, and the sideband hash that affects many stations both AM and FM. He said it’s “real estate”, owning as much of the band as possible. An HD AM station on 600 khz can cover from 580-620hkz with the HD signal. FM HD signals in San Diego can blot out adjacent signals from Los Angeles and other Southern California markets.
I bring this up because there’s a “real estate” battle for the dashboard. AM. FM. Spotify. Amazon. Sirius. On and on-and the struggle for that real estate will only get stronger with more players entering the battle.
If AM gets pushed off, it leaves more audience for the data-thirsty digital applications. Would FM be next ? Would Spotify make an extra effort to get Sirius/XM pulled from the dashboard? The “interference” issue is only part of it. Walmart has driven scores of smaller businesses into the ground. There’s a lot to be had by the data providers in getting more people online, even in vehicles. I’m sure I’m not the only one considering this.
There’s no doubt about it, competition for a piece of media dashboard real estate is on. Radio for too long assumed that it owned this space without any real competition other than 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs and thumb drives. Now, it is in the fight of its life.
But it’s really not about the delivery platform, but the want/need for the information/entertainment the public desires.
If you want digital delivered content in your old car (like my wife and I did) you can easily install the equipment to receive it.
I doubt SiriusXM will be removed from any dashboard as they pay auto manufacturers to be there. Spotify might do that as well, but radio thinks they were born there and it’s their birthright to be in the automobile dashboard.
AM radio is being kicked out as much because there is a lack of consumer use/demand as there is electrical noise issues.
I have a software program that a recent upgrade made it no longer operable on my MacBook Air (vintage 2005). A little investigation revealed that the company didn’t feel it worth it to fix the problem because very few of their customers ran their program on this particular laptop.
My solution, was to re-install an older version of the program and it works perfectly and serves my needs. I didn’t really need the latest version (which operates fine on my iMAC) and they didn’t need me & my old laptop.
And so it is, with AM car radio and, I suspect, one day FM car radio as well. We’re seeing this happening already in European countries.
Again, thank you Dave for expanding the brain cells with your thoughts.
I am one of the people who have resisted having a SiriusXM subscription. I can afford it, but none of the cars I have purchased over the years had the radio built in and I am not a fan of aftermarket radios. My current car does have the antenna built into the dashboard.. but no radio.
My son, being a younger generation, has always had a SiriusXM subscription.
One of my complaints with satellite radio is many of the channels are just streaming music with no human voice which is something I miss on even modern radio stations. The trend of playing 4 or 5 songs together without saying anything, to me is not radio.
In a recent discussion my son did admit he generally likes to hear the channels on SiriusXM that has a human voice. He said for some reason the music even seems to sound better though he can hear the same tunes on other channels without the personality.
I told him I assume the music is programmed on those channels not just randomly selected by a computer to fit a time spot. I maybe wrong about that.
I told him in the old days when I was a DJ (now known as radio personality) we called it the flow of the music.
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I too, have never had a SiriusXM subscription. They’ve had so many free listening opportunities I’ve heard it quite a bit, however.
I love the air personality channels.
I have a brother who’s ten years older than me and he only listens to his era of music (no longer available on OTA radio) on SiriusXM in his car. When he’s home, he only uses his cable TV.
I find that both of our daughter’s families have SiriusXM in all their vehicles, but use Spotify on smart speakers when they want to listen to music at home.
When it comes to my grandkids, it’s Spotify on their smart speakers (they have those as their bedroom “radios”) or on their iPads, which they take with them everywhere they go.
It’s seeing the next generations growing up without radio that concerns me about the future of OTA radio.
Thanks for sharing your experiences Paul. I always learn something from you.
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Hi, to my buddy Paul, and to you Dick!
My wife and I bought our 2015 Subaru Forester at the end of its model year. It had a trial SiriusXM subscription and a CD player installed as delivered.
We considered the SiriusXM contract too expensive for the short distances we drove the vehicle and did not renew the contract upon its expiration (I don’t remember how long that initial XM coverage lasted). Both features were selling points to us when we bought the vehicle. Sadly, I now hear that finding an installed CD player in a new vehicle is difficult.
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We have a 2006 Subaru Forester Jack and we play all of our music/radio off of our iPhones. It works wonderfully well and we don’t use the CD player in the vehicle any more. Likewise with our 2009 Honda Accord. We have the same digital interface that uses Bluetooth to get the music libraries and streams from our iPhones to our audio systems. It’s amazing how well things work in our older cars.
I know that when we move to a new year in vehicles, the one feature we will want is the ability to connect our iPhones to the audio system.
Welcome to the blog!
Great observation, Paul. Back in the day (I think it was July 7th 1974) I was getting a haircut and the barber had a local FM station on doing what many of the online streamers do now, and that’s playing song after song with no human interaction. The fear of missing out was intense. That’s been my issue with the streamers as well as the current practice of talent not relating to the surroundings (music, promotions) and just dropping in with some inane Hollywood story and then the next song or set of commercials.
Sirius/XM has a similar practice of voicetracking (through a program called “Zetta”). Some of the personalities have a way of making it sound live and even some of their programming is presented as “live”. But much of what they do is unhosted.
The discussion of AI might help alleviate the lack of friendly voices but from what I’ve heard it’s going to be a long haul before that makes sense. Til then we have to keep searching.
I guess the good news is that you can search online for what you want-and programming is available from around the world. While it still exists.
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DT wrote: “voicetracking”
My definition is “walkaway radio.”
You load the system up and walk away. I got outta radio before that started, and have no interest today in such operations.
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Ooops that was Dave Mason’s comment.
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