What Is That?

One of my granddaughters, who’s 8 years old, was at our home the other evening, before heading off to dance class, when she looked into my curio grandfather clock and exclaimed, “What is that?” I walked over to her to see what she was pointing at, and saw it was one of my miniature radios. I said to my granddaughter, it’s a radio, to which she replied, “What’s a radio?”

What’s a Radio?

We’ve all probably seen the YouTube videos of young people trying to figure out what a rotary telephone is and how to use it, along with having a good chuckle along the way. But, if you’re a lifelong radio person, like me, having your granddaughter ask you what a radio is, can be rather disconcerting.

My grandkids are all connected to audio sources via their iPads, smartphones and smart speakers. The only place they may even be familiar with a radio is when they ride with their parents in the car.

Saving AM Radio

Last week’s blog was another in a series about the state of AM radio in America and if it could be saved. You can read that article HERE

As the latest monthly radio audience ratings get released, I can’t help but notice how most markets have one big AM radio station – maybe – that’s still a dominant force. In our nation’s capital, there is none.

Recently, seven former heads of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) said “AM radio serves as a linchpin of the infrastructure behind the federal National Public Warning System, which provides emergency-alert and warning information from FEMA to the public during natural disasters and extreme weather events.” Which made me wonder if our nation’s capital is in severe peril, as AM radio listening is virtually non-existent.

However, fear not, as I’m sure that no one in Washington, DC doesn’t know that WTOP News Radio at 103.5 FM is fully staffed and ready to provide that emergency information 24/7.

AM Radio Formats

The real problem, it seems to me, is that people confuse the AM and FM broadcast bands with a particular format. The reality today is, both commercial broadcast bands are filled with music and news/talk/sports formats. What has been different, for many years now, is more people listen to FM radio stations than they do AM stations; and by a wide margin, with most of that listening taking place in people’s cars and trucks.

Car Radio Listening

Research presented this past week at the NAB Show in Las Vegas says 46% of radio listening by people over the age of 13 only takes place in the car; a number that jumps to 58% for teenagers, according to Edison Research.

The U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics says that most people’s car trips are only three miles or less, so they aren’t listening for any length of time.

When asked what they listen to on long car trips, streaming jumped to 68% and broadcast radio fell to 32%.

Today’s Youth & Car Ownership

If radio’s last beachhead is a vehicle dashboard, the future for the next generation and car ownership should also be concerning.

It was only about two decades ago that 80% of American youth (18 year olds) had a driver’s license; today that number has fallen to just 60%. Here’s some of the reasons for the drop:

  • Lyft and Uber take them anywhere they want to go
  • Cost of getting a driver’s license
  • Cost of owning a car
  • Fewer teenagers have jobs compared to past decades
  • Having a car is no longer a “virtual necessity” (which the Supreme Court enshrined in law in 1977 for anyone living in America)

What Do Today’s Youth Do?

Today’s youth have their faces buried in apps and social media. It’s all about Instagram and Snapchat, YouTube and video games.

When you can easily access everything you want, from home on your digital devices, it’s easy to understand why teenagers today have little interest in getting a driver’s license and owning a car.

Digital interaction has replaced real social interaction for today’s youth.

And that’s another fly in the ointment of future radio listening by the next generation.

In my youth, there was nothing greater than putting down the top on my convertible, cranking up the radio and driving off to explore the world in my own car.

“On some nights, I still believe that a car

with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles

if you have the right music very loud on the radio.”

-Hunter S. Thompson


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

12 responses to “What Is That?

  1. WTOP used to be a 50,000 watt station at 1500 on AM. According to radio-locator it has changed call letters numerous times over the last few years. Not a good sign.
    But even the 50,000 watt signal is supplemented by an 190 watt FM translator. W283DG 104.5 FM Sterling, VA (190 watts)

    In my mind, this really shows the plight of AM when a 50,000 watt powerhouse needs a 190 watt FM signal.

    formerly WTOP-AM.
    WTWP first used 1/11/2006
    WWWT first used 9/20/2007
    WFED first used 9/15/2008

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just a comment on your statement about today’s youth. “Digital interaction has replaced real social interaction for today’s youth.” I have seen this first hand when my grandkids will site on opposite ends of a couch in the living room and be texting each other on their phone rather than just talking. As a 73 year old.. I just don’t get it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jack Coupal

    Re: What is that?!?
    I still have my Zenith TransOceanic radio my parents bought for me in the 1950s. Yes, black-painted huge – and heavy – wood cabinet, string tuning, multi-band received AM and short wave and various other wavelengths and still performs to this day. You say it was manufactured in Chicago, of all places? Getting replacement tubes is a problem today.

    As a high schooler, I listened to foreign stations beaming their short-wave English-language signal to the US. BBC and Radio Nederland (Keep in Touch with the Dutch!) were two of my favorites. Believe the Dutch used a relay to the Netherlands Antilles(?) to strengthen its US signal.

    Radio Moscow was always entertaining, in its own way. Hard to believe that the US once had such a strong manufacturing sector!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dave Mason

    Well, we KNOW why very little listening on AM exists. As you point out, Dick there’s format confusion. But even in 2023 when a disaster hits, people will tune to WCBS, KNX, WHAM, WLW, WHAS, WBBM, KFI, KCBS, those stations still known for providing emergency coverage. The rest of the time it’s kinda iffy as to what the content is. FM stations (other than those in Washington DC) aren’t really equipped to cover emergencies. The last “full service” FM station was the old KVIL-FM in Dallas when Ron Chapman was there. The investment in staff and resources was legendary, and the revenue was too.

    In 1977 the entire east coast tuned to WKBW for its excellent blizzard coverage. Today the station runs out of a closet.

    Even powerhouse WLW has eschewed local programming overnights. Once, out of Cincinnati its overnight “Truckin’ Bozo” helped to catch a robber at a convenience store in Camilla, Georgia. That’s public service.

    Ya got me started on that, but there are other “flies” in radio’s ointment. Young people are distracted by texting, gaming, TikTok and numerous other apps. Phones are “full service” devices as long as the internet exists. Younger people realize that they can hear “their” music online-without censorship, if they want to. Podcasts can say what they want -without censorship.

    Things are changing daily. The media pie is being split among more and more players and the legacy media (AM/FM) is being left in the dust due to its complacency and the need to feed the Wall Street beast.

    I think you’ll agree the need for more relevant content and improved technology (enforcing interference rules, widening receiver bandwidth), marketing, and stations that actually compete with each other can help fix both AM and FM issues.

    There are other issues- but you can’t eat the elephant that technology has created in one sitting.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Maynard Meyer

    Perhaps if radio stations made actual radios available people would know what they were! We sell them in the lobby at the radio station and we can’t get them in fast enough. The last time I got a half-dozen in, I posted it on our facebook page…sold them all and had 28 more people asking for one. I sell basic little pocket size AM/FM/Weatherband portables about the size of a pack of cigarettes for $20. Believe it or not, there is a demand for a basic radio receiver but they’re rarely available in local stores (one local hardware store actually has a couple on the shelf at all times. Newspapers sell subscriptions, radio stations should sell radios! Come on people, think outside the box! When you need prizes to give away…get some radios! When people come in looking for prize donations…give them radios! Ask your local stores to stock a couple of radios. If people don’t know what radios are…it’s radio’s own damn fault!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent idea Maynard.

      Jerry Lee gave away high quality FM radios for years in Philadelphia when the whole world was tuned to AM radio — and it worked — as he ran the #1 radio station in The City of Brotherly Love for decades.

      In Cedar Rapids, IA, when HD Radio came out, KZIA gave away HD Radios to listeners.

      But currently, other than you, I can’t think of any other radio operator doing it these days.


  6. Larry Rosin

    Dick — to clarify — 46% of radio listeners only listen in their cars on any given day and nowhere else — 58% of 13-24s listen in-car and nowhere else (and plenty don’t listen at all). Not a big deal but slightly different than how you wrote it above.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Prinson

    Radio Stations can collaborate with some restaurants where mostly teenagers/youth are often seen. These restaurants can tune into their stations during busy hours so that their customers can get chance to listen to them and take interest. The restaurants can benefit by associating themselves as their media partners.


    • Music played in a restaurant, as you suggest, is subject to paying for that public performance with fees due ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.

      It’s often why such establishments will opt for another source for their music to avoid those charges.


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