Saving AM Radio

The radio trades have been full of headlines about saving AM radio, especially in the dashboard of America’s cars and trucks. Here’s some of the most recent ones I’ve seen:

NAB launches campaign for AM radio

State Broadcasters Group Ask AM Stations for Help

Can The Industry and Congress Keep AM Radio in the Dashboard?

Detroit Newspaper Looks at Loss of AM Radio in New Ford Vehicles

The National Alliance of State Broadcasters Associations (NASBA) even put out an online survey “to more accurately craft the AM broadcaster owner’s message and to develop actionable items to keep AM [radio] in the dash.”

Let me tell you why everything I’ve read in the broadcasting newsletters, magazines and websites seems to be focused 180-degrees in the wrong direction.

What Features Do New Car Buyers Want?

Keeping AM or FM radio in vehicle dashboards has nothing to do with what broadcasters want, it has everything to do with what car buyers want. The lists from various sources I’ve found are all pretty much the same, though ranking positions may vary a little from publication to publication.  Here is what car buyers want:

  1. Proximity Key – a key fob that allows you to unlock (and lock) your vehicle’s doors and start it without having a physical key in your hand
  2. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – smartphone connectivity is as important as a steering wheel to today’s car buyers*
  3. USB Outlets – lots of places to charge or run tablets, laptops and other electronic equipment
  4. Blind-Spot Monitoring and Rear-Cross-Traffic Alert – to keep you informed of what’s going on around your car while you’re driving
  5. Adaptive Cruise Control – systems that adjust your car’s speed while maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you.
  6. Surround-View Camera Suite – this puts the backup camera on steroids and allows a driver to see a 360-degree view of everything around their vehicle
  7. Wireless Smartphone Charging – a place you can put your cellphone to charge while you’re driving
  8. Rain-Sensing Windshield Wipers – a step-up from intermittent wipers, these blades automatically adjust to the amount of road spray or rainfall coming at you to keep your windshield clean
  9. Automatic High Beams – No need to raise and lower your headlight power manually, these systems do it automatically for you, so you always have the most light your vehicle is capable of producing shining on the road in front of you
  10. Heated, Ventilated Seats and a Heated Steering Wheel

What you don’t find on any of these lists are people asking for a radio, let alone an AM radio to be in their next vehicle.

What Features Do New Car Buyers Feel They Can Skip?

It surprised me to find that ‘Navigation’ topped lists, but then when Sue & I rented a car a couple of years ago, I learned that rental cars no longer offer a navigation system option. What they do offer is Apple CarPlay and Android Audio that automatically connects to your smartphone and displays the navigation software you enjoy using to the car’s video screen. (And yes, that arrangement worked for us perfectly, while driving cross-country.)

So, let’s look at the features car buyers don’t mind not having:

  1. Navigation
  2. Premium Audio System – most feel the hefty costs to upgrade the standard audio system the car comes with is not worth the money
  3. Onboard WiFi Hotspot – like Satellite Radio (which most new car buyers are also OK with skipping) WiFi Hotspots require a monthly subscription fee and are deemed not worth the added expense

Your Baby’s Ugly

The real problem the radio industry has is that it lives in a reality distortion field that has it thinking it’s still 1960s/70s. In other words, it needs to put on a pair of headphones and hear it for what it is.

John Frost’s most recent Frost Advisory email, told the story of a small AM radio station that broadcast a financial talk show that he occasionally tunes into hear. John says “it’s terrible radio, but the guys are really smart, they cough a lot, have lots of room noise and give insightful advice.”

On Good Friday, the show was a repeat of Thursday’s show and so what the listener heard on Friday were invitations to call in (which they could not because the show wasn’t live), announcements that Friday’s show would be a repeat of Thursdays show (but this was Friday) and commentary about the current day’s stock market prices (the market was closed on Good Friday) and nothing is more meaningless than yesterday’s stock prices.

Sadly, this kind of thing isn’t an isolated incident, but standard operating procedure on both AM and FM radio stations across America.

No one wants to hear their baby is ugly,

but for today’s radio industry, that’s the truth.

What Should Be The Focus of the Radio Industry

What keeps running through my mind is,

if the radio industry spent as much time, money and effort on producing a great product on AM radio stations across America, might their radio listeners be leading the charge with the auto industry to keep AM radio in the dashboard?

Let’s look at what fans make happen when a favorite TV show gets cancelled. The first television program to be saved by its fans was Star Trek in 1968. The franchise began in 1966 and 57 years later, it is still going strong.

More recently, fans of the FOX series Friday Night Lights organized a Facebook group with online petitions to show the network their support for this show, having it continue for five seasons despite its less than stellar audience ratings.

In both cases, it was not a television network that tried to convince an audience to watch a program, it was the audience that convinced a network NOT to cancel a program. That’s how it’s suppose to work.

AM radio isn’t coming back, so what the radio industry should instead be focused on is making FM radio the best that it can be and insuring that it won’t suffer the same fate befalling AM radio.

To win in today’s media marketplace, you must have a product that listeners want to hear;

today’s audio consumer has an infinite number of choices available.

When it comes to what new car buyers want in their next vehicle, broadcast radio is not on their list of wants, needs or desires.

That’s a real wake-up call,

if there ever was one.

*On April 1, 2023, General Motors plans to phase out widely used Apple (AAPL) CarPlay and Android Auto technologies that allow drivers to bypass a vehicle’s infotainment system, shifting instead to built-in infotainment systems developed with Google (GOOG) for future electric vehicles. It made me wonder if this was an April Fools prank, but apparently GM is that tone death. 


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

21 responses to “Saving AM Radio

  1. Rick Foster

    This is an incredibly insightful article. It is spot on! I’ve been behind the mic for over 60 years and was trained from day one to give the listeners what they want to hear. I did mornings on a local AM station for over 20 years and the numbers were very good, beating out several FM stations. If AM broadcasters would pay attention to articles like this, AM wouldn’t be in the decline it’s facing.

    I was taught to simply chat with the listeners like you were sitting at their kitchen table, having coffee, reading the paper, listening to the radio, etc. You don’t have to yell “I’ve got the weather and I’m gonna lay it on ya!” Same in the car, just chat with the driver. Many announcers think they are talking to hundreds, if not thousands of people all in a big room. NO, there may be all those listeners, but only 1 or 2 people are in the same place. I’m still on the air, albeit, quite part-time, but same approach and same response as 60+ years ago.

    Well said, Dick.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rick, you & I grew up with the same kind of coaching advice. Radio is one person talking to another person. Done correctly, the medium provides companionship to a listener, a bond that the listener looks forward to every day.

      Thank You for the positive feedback.


      • Rick Foster

        It’s always good to chat with people like you who really understand what radio is all about. When I first started back in 1962, my PD told me that my training was to listen to Ted Brown on WNEW–1130 in New York and sound like him. Well…that would be impossible–Ted, in my opinion was the best. But Ted was a communicator and talked to “me”. I certainly don’t have his ‘pipes’, but I always remember his style and try to emulate him in a small way, even today.

        I just discovered you blog. Tell me more about yourself, how long have you been in the ‘biz’, etc.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You can find my full bio on my blog.

        I’ve been in radio for over five decades (still doing a radio show six days a week) and was a broadcast professor for seven years (my second career, before retiring).

        Thanks for stopping by the blog today. My nine years of weekly blog articles are all available in the archives. Enjoy!


      • Rick Foster

        After I sent my last email, I found your bio. Impressive, Dick! It’s amazing about us ‘old-timers’. I also had a small AM transmitter I got from Lafayette Electronics back in high school. I would record the Top 40 songs from a Boston station and play them back to the neighborhood kids.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Mike Buxser

    Here’s what I hear when listening to AM radio locally. Long periods of dead air, commercial breaks with fill spots that air 2-3 times in the same break, recorded talk shows, often out dated, that give call in numbers and no message that the show is recorded so listeners can’t call in, horrible audio, and two or more audio segments running on top of each other. Compelling radio isn’t it? It’s obvious these stations aren’t monitored. If radio operators don’t give a damn about AM, why should manufacturers continue putting it in vehicles? This save AM radio movement inside the industry is hilarious. The very people screaming to save AM radio in the car are the very same people who put no resources, no time and no effort into making AM radio even listenable, not to mention interesting. I know there are AM stations that continue to do a great job, but they are few in dial full of many.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Totally agree with you Mike. The big NAB Show in Las Vegas kicks off today. I wonder if anyone will be addressing the real issues confronting radio — radio owners/operators shooting themselves in the foot.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective.


  3. Ray Whitworth

    I found your article to be
    very informative and absolutely on target. I spent 36 years on the air and I have an internet show that is also played on a few terrestrial stations The chief complaint I have heard about AM is the signal is static, especially when storms are around. It’s “mono” Programing is flooded with sports, religion, Spanish and hate filled talk radio There is nothing compelling to attract a young adult and even teen audience. It is mostly geared to those 60 and older ( I am 68 myself). The block of commercials is way over acceptable “listeners time”. Too many informercials lasting 30 minutes. The announcers voices sound tired, except on most commercials done by agencies. There is very little professionalism, with dead air between segments, or the announcer is not prepared and stumbling, not trying to adlib to make up the difference, it’s just rambling. The other part is nothing truly speaks to the community. It’s syndicated programming, block programming, nothing live, local except maybe a liner. It became “real estate: not a station that serves its community. I predict that AM will go the way of shortwave by 2035.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Walter Luffman

    Dick, no carmaker would consider eliminating AM receivers if most AM stations provided the entertainment and information people want/need. But the demand for AM isn’t there in most areas today, and the fault lies mainly with AM broadcasters — including those with AM/FM combos, FM translators for their AM signals, and heavy reliance on streaming audio.

    And it isn’t just cars: we need reliable and high-quality AM radio service in homes too.

    I survived an F3 tornado just two weeks ago. My home(near Memphis, TN) was mostly undamaged, but power was out — which meant no TV or Internet. AM nighttime coverage here is close to nonexistent, and the stations I could receive (both AM and FM) were already in “weekend mode” with canned and syndicated programming — and they stayed there, for the most part.

    Don’t blame the carmakers; they don’t see a demand for AM receivers. It’s the radio industry that is primarily at fault for not creating and maintaining the demand with AM programming that people want.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The auto industry is following the radio industry’s lead; if we don’t care about our product, why should they do backflips to keep our “service” in the car.

      We all know a radio station that is exemplary. The real problem is, those stations are outnumbered by so many more that are not.

      As a transmission repair shop owner once told me, if just one transmission guy dirty deals a customer, we ALL get a bad rap. It’s no different for our business.

      If customers aren’t banging down the auto industry’s doors demanding radio, the broadcast industry sure as heck isn’t going to change their minds.


  5. Dave Benson

    The only ones affected by the loss of AM are the owners of those stations and the far-right Republicans, who I noticed this week took up the torch. Which is funny in its own way; the rap on Republicans as being the party of the rich, and the extreme republicans are now crying about the automaker being anti- conservative. GM’s decision is not about politics, its about making more money and not sharing it with Apple, a very repubican concept.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dave, you hit the bullseye.

      In addition to the consumer not asking for radio to be in their vehicle, the auto industry knows that the company that controls the data, controls their future and makes all the money.

      Thanks for making that point.


  6. Phil Beckman

    Sad but true about my favorite radio delivery system. I would add consolidation to the reasons for AM’s decline. Too many stations being run by too few people. And the loss of the “show biz” aspect of radio due to the mom and pop operators who enjoyed what they were doing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It seems like the few, or only people that are interested in AM (or FM) radio these days are the “DXers”, hobbyists, and/or other “media junkies” who still want to listen to faraway stations at night. Any comments or questions?

    Liked by 1 person

    • DX’ing was fun when you could hear different things. These days the same syndicated programming is running on virtually all radio stations and so there’s no local flavor to hear and enjoy.

      DX’ing was what I did a lot of in my growing up years, but these days, I can have a similar experience to my youth when I scan the world via streaming internet radio stations.

      Stations in Australia or South Africa, for example, give you a new and different listening experience.

      The only people worrying about AM radio stations are the owners, who feel there won’t be a “bigger fool” standing around wishing to buy their property for more money than they paid for it.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Bradley Olson

    Even cable channel RFD-TV has been reporting a lot about these campaigns as in many rural/farming areas, they get more AM signals than they do FM.


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