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Whatever Made Auto Manufacturers Think AM Radio Is Over?

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.

Actions speak louder than words.

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