Corpse Blinks: AM Radio Isn’t Dead

| December 8, 2016

By Mike Kinosian
Managing Editor
TALKERS

kinosian-2radioLOS ANGELES — There’s simply nothing groundbreaking about naysayers writing an obituary for AM radio.

This facet of the medium was supposed to be killed years ago by television and FM, or most recently by satellite radio, the internet, or time in general.

Many who claim AM radio has already passed away also choose to believe that all of terrestrial radio is a ghost or soon will be, but that’s another story entirely.

It would be ridiculous to the point of one existing in extreme denial and/or total lunacy to foolishly proclaim AM radio has never been in better shape, but at the same time, despite its plethora of detractors – the AM band is not in the morgue just yet, either.

An AM radio-geared item that appeared in yesterday’s TALKERS (Wednesday, 12/7) struck a nerve.

Quoting from the TALKERS story, “The Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council is presenting what it calls 12 imperatives to the Trump Administration that ‘address the persistent challenges in closing the digital divide, and advancing multicultural commercial ownership opportunities to create voices and participation in the telecommunications industry.’ Of those 12 imperatives, #12 is ‘Create a Glide Path for the Short-Term Survival and Long-Term Humane Decommissioning of the AM Band in a Manner that Preserves Minority Ownership.’ It states, in part, that the FCC’s future policies ‘should facilitate the preservation of AM radio’s program services when the AM band disappears.’”

A link was provided that included the 12 imperatives and two lines, in particular, jumped out (just as the last five words above did): “AM listenership is on a steep decline, and AM radio stations are feeling the brunt of it. Realistically, AM may disappear in 30 years or less.”

That could very well be the case, although we might note that roughly 30 years ago, AM Stereo was being called the only salvation for AM operators. There are some rare exceptions (see below) but music on AM radio generally did not make it, whereas spoken-word on that band continues to be viable in many markets as we head into 2017.

As far as the revenue side is concerned, according to BIA/Kelsey, four of radio’s top ten 2015 billing properties were AM stations. They are CBS Radio New York all-news WCBS-AM (#5, $45 million); co-owned, similarly-formatted WBBM-AM, Chicago (#6, $43.8 million); all-news New York sibling WINS (#9, $39.5 million); and iHeartMedia talker KFI, Los Angeles (#10, $37.8 million).

It is true the aforementioned stations are from the top three markets, but at the same time, AM stations do in fact comprise 40% of the top ten list of the country’s highest billers.

Extremely curious to see the true temperature of AM radio, we isolated stations that finished in the top 15 in all 48 Nielsen Audio PPM-markets KFI (November 2016, 6+).

Results appear below and it’s a pretty healthy list, with the lone hard-and-fast rule being only Nielsen Audio subscribers are allowed to be in print.

It should also be noted that some of these AM stations have an FM partner, but in all cases, the primary Nielsen Audio ratings listing is the AM.

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Email TALKERS managing editor Mike Kinosian at Kinosian@TALKERS.com. 

Don’t forget to register for Talkers 2017: A New Era. It takes place (Friday) June 2, 2017 at the Helen Mills Theater and Event Space in New York City. 

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Category: Analysis, Features