This letter to the editor is in response to the recently-published story “How Can Radio Appeal to Young Consumers?” The author has 20 years of experience in public radio. He is currently volunteering as a jazz host for KUVO(FM) in Denver. Comment on this or any article. Email [email protected].
AM radio is dying, or so everyone says. A revival is possible. History proves it.
It seems like it takes forever for car manufacturers to make up their minds over what kind of listening device should be included in the dashboard. Compared to today’s dilemma, there was a similar conflict for car radios in the 1960s. Back then, the question was: Should we include FM radio — then considered to be the “poor sister” — to the AM radio cash cow? In a classic case of role reversal, now AM radio is being jettisoned in new car models.
Not so fast!
We should not forget a similar predicament in 1964 when the FCC handed down its AM-FM duplication rules. It eliminated simulcasting of AM-FM “combo” signals, meaning combo owners had to come up with different programming for their (then) inferior FM appendage. FM was looked down upon because of the shabby signals emitted. The FM vertical and horizontal signals created multipath problems in places with buildings or hilly/mountainous terrain.
(I remember listening to Jazz WHAT(FM) in Philadelphia in the early 60s, when the station’s signal would bounce off airplanes approaching the airport. It created an echoing effect when the direct signal and one reflected from an airplane would arrive at my radio a split-second apart.)
With the 1964 FCC directive, FM station owners started programming anything (low cost) from “beautiful music,” to classical, jazz or folk music, all with marginal commercial appeal. Then, two groundbreaking events occurred in 1966-67 which changed the FM world forever. The first change came on the technical end, as major developments dramatically improved FM coverage in unfriendly terrain.
The second event was the advent of “album rock,” a format that started out slowly but grew along with the counterculture of the late 60s and 70s. The pay wasn’t great, but on-air hosts of the new FM format had little or no resistance from management, as if the inmates were running the asylum. (See Tom Donahue).
James Careless writes about a need to develop alternatives to stale radio programming. It mirrors the warranted changes to stale top 40 radio 55 years ago. AM stereo was invented decades ago, but it hasn’t taken off. Could that, or some other technical improvement, make AM viable again? The easy way out is to can AM radio altogether, the way (FM) HD-2 and HD-3 signals are under-utilized. Perhaps in the future AM will be a primary source for not just news and discussion programming. It can also serve as a music alternative, against what has become stodgy commercial FM programming.
It will be a dark day when AM takes a last gasp, fading into darkness, as the world screams for more listening alternatives over the “public’s airwaves.” Sure, online music services can fill that need, but they don’t incorporate “localism” into what they offer.
Hold on to AM, please!