By Holland Cooke
BLOCK ISLAND, RI — Today, the USA’s top-billing radio station is multi-FM simulcast WTOP, Washington. I remember a discussion in the newsroom there in the 1980s, when we were a stand-alone at 1500AM: We wondered aloud how soon the AM band would be repurposed. “Maybe for hailing cabs” one among us theorized?
Soon, Rush Limbaugh led the vaunted Talk Radio Revolution, and rejuvenated radio’s senior band. Music formats moved to FM; and for the next couple decades AMs talked about politics a lot, and ask-the-expert shows became popular and profitable weekend fare; then the all sports format came about.
As music did then, sports radio is now migrating to FM, and we hail rides on smartphones. And those smartphones, and other technology, are introducing crippling interference to AM reception. But not before receiver manufacturers skimped on AM receiver circuitry, copper thieves struck transmitter sites, and management neglected once-proud stations now largely automated and dismissively referred to in-house as “the AM.”
No, we can’t just turn it up to 11.
If the solution is to hand out more-more-more FM translators, these “AM Revitalization” plans seem more about AM abandonment. And some indignant voices in the debate about limiting 50KWs’ night patterns are from 50Ks whose programming is mostly syndicated.
God bless Rush, who’s had one helluva run; and affiliates eagerly await news that his deal – up this year – will be renewed. Although Limbaugh himself has exited the 35-64 demographic, the 2016 Trump Bump has energized political talk. But – as station owners so frequently ask me – what about 2017?
Per the recently-released Edison/Triton “Infinite Dial” research study:
- 1/3 of Persons 18-34 have NO in-home AM/FM receiver.
- 207 million Americans (76% P12+) tote smartphones.
- Most now listen to online audio (155 million each month, 136 million each week).
Yes, AM/FM is still “most-used” in-car (54% P18+); but Pandora is still the #1 pure play netcaster, and Spotify is in the new Volvo dashboard.
Don’t take it personally.
“Disruption: is everywhere.
- The world’s largest taxi company owns no taxis. There are more Uber drivers than cabbies in New York City.
- The biggest movie exhibitor (Netflix) owns no theaters.
- The most popular media owner (Facebook) creates no content.
- The top accommodation provider (AirBnB) owns no real estate.
Admittedly, asking “Will 2016 be AM radio’s last presidential election?” makes me sound consultant-provocateur. But as Tip O’Neill surmised, “all politics is local;” and AM stations that still DO-local well are still doing well.
Those of us who populated AM radio’s heyday in the snowbelt remember what a franchise no-school announcements were.
Holland Cooke (www.HollandCooke.com) is a media consultant, working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. Follow HC on Twitter @HollandCooke, and meet him at TALKERS 2016: Bridging the Generations at Hofstra University on Friday, May 20 when he presents “Talk Media: The Next Generation.”