The author is editor in chief of Radio World.
Journalists need to be cautious when seeking to connect events that happen to occur around the same time. Nevertheless, it feels like U.S. AM radio just had a particularly bad day.
First, the National Association of Broadcasters, which represents U.S. commercial stations, took the effort to write to BMW and ask the carmaker not to remove AM reception from its new i3 model over concerns about interference from other components in that electric vehicle.
This is exactly the kind of thing AM proponents and revitalization supporters have been worried about for some years now. They don’t want to see any kind of camel’s nose under the tent when it comes to keeping AM radio as an integral part of what consumers get and expect in the dash.
On the same afternoon came the unrelated announcement by Radio Disney that it plans to invest more in its digital distribution platforms and music-centric programming and as a result will sell off 23 of its 24 owned radio stations. (The network has no non-owned station affiliates.)
Recall how notable it was in radio circles when Radio Disney launched and built a business of children’s radio programming, largely around AM signals. Now, 22 of the 23 stations it will sell off are AMs. Anyone want to buy an AM?
To be sure, the company was clear about its reasoning: “Radio Disney will increase its investment in both digital distribution platforms and music-centric programming to optimize the network for long-term growth and to better reflect the habits of its listeners, a national audience of kids and families.” But that sure doesn’t sound like a vote of confidence in radio. (The fact that the one radio signal it plans to retain is in a massive media market reinforces the problem for smaller-market AM managers.)
Radio Disney looks toward its distribution arrangements with SiriusXM as well as newer platforms like ShowMobile, Slacker (soon) and Harman’s Aha Radio and TuneIn; it talked about its apps and the distribution of content via a syndication partnership with Dees Entertainment; it mentioned “new multi-platform extensions”of Radio Disney programming, including Radio Disney’s Next Big Thing showcase and the Radio Disney Music Awards.
As we have seen with Clear Channel, big media companies are moving in the multi-platform, event- and content-driven direction.
But it sure feels bad for the senior band.
PS: Reviewing what I wrote above, I don't mean to be overly pessimistic; to be sure, the Disney stations that will be sold are largely in the biggest markets, and many are likely to bring hefty price tags. We will find out quickly enough if big-market AM sticks, at least, still pull the money that they once could. But a big media company has just apparently turned its back on AM, and my larger concern for the band remains. What do you think? Comment below.