By Susan Nilon
SARASOTA — Time and time again, the question is asked, “What does the future hold for AM radio?” Articles are written with predictions of AM’s demise due to the lack of interest of the “Millennials,” or how the internet and satellite radio will make it almost impossible for AM to compete in such a fickle industry. While these predictions seem to make sense to the untrained ear, it reminds me of a time several decades earlier when experts attributed the demise of movie theaters due to the advent of the video cassette recorder. Or the slow death of vinyl records, due to the portability and popularity of the compact disc. Well, here we are 30 years later, and the US and Canada box office revenue in 2013 was $10.9 billion with 68% of the population in attendance and “vinyl sales hit their highest level since at least 1991, with six million units sold” according to industry data. While it’s fun and sometimes smart to try to predict the future, if these “predictions” impact the decision makers of this industry by encouraging them to enter into a self-fulfilling prophecy of AM radio, then they are not only short-sighted, but are foolish as well.
Take a look around at all of the markets that are dominated by large media companies. You can travel 50 miles in one direction on the highway and pick up numerous stations that repeat the same rotation day after day. If we have lost the listener, it is not because of technology, it’s because we have become stale. It is because we have worked so hard to become efficient with our industry that we have taken the listener out of the equation. We challenge the listener to seek alternatives and then evidence the collected data as a fait accompli.
Ajit Pai, the senior Republican on the Federal Communications Commission, has it right in his argument about AM radio when he said, “I don’t think anyone else can replicate in terms of its personal connection with its audience, its localism, and, frankly, its diversity.” AM stations have, not only the will, but the ability, to be a locally focused radio station. With the lack of red tape and bureaucracy, AM owners are quick to meet the needs of the community. And if insightful enough, they can be the epicenter of all that is important for that local community. In a day when the homogenization of radio has become the norm for the FM corporations, AM radio still has a foothold on independence.
But I will take the argument further than that. AM radio will continue to be what gives the radio industry its identity. With the right strategy in place, unencumbered by baggage and bureaucracy, the AM owner can navigate their way to a dedicated listenership and a profitable return on their investment. We are not the dinosaurs of an age gone by. We are the back bone of our industry and the face of our communities.
Susan Nilon is owner and GM of WSRQ Radio in Sarasota, Florida and a self-described AM radio enthusiast. She can be phoned at 941-952-1220 or emailed at Susan@WSRQRadio.com.