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McLane: Radio by the Numbers

Over five years, the number of translators and NCE licenses have boomed while the number of commercial FMs and, notably, AM licenses have been relatively stable

When someone asks you how many radio stations there are in the United States, you can say “14,420.”

Of course, as with most statistics, you can qualify this; you can say: “… unless you include LPFMs, in which case it’s 15,284. And of course, you can add in FM translators and boosters, which have been booming lately; that makes the number 21,439.” At which point your friend will wish you knew how to give a straight answer.

But that’s how the Federal Communications Commission reports these things, and those are the licensed station totals as of Dec. 31, 2009.

There are 4,790 AM stations. That’s four more AM licenses than at this time last year and 16 more than five years ago, which is of particular note considering our recent discussions in Radio World about the health of the AM band and whether a significant number of AMs have gone off the air in recent times. Though the number of current licenses is only one measure (and the statistic tends to lag the market because stations can be off the air and yet still licensed), this does seem to imply that there hasn’t been any kind of precipitous decline.

There are 6,479 FM commercial stations (an increase of 4% compared to five years ago), 3,151 FM educational stations (up 24% over five years) and 6,155 FM translators and boosters (up only a bit since last year but up 58% compared to 3,890 five years ago, a statistic that will surprise no one who follows the special world of radio translator strategies).

There are 864 stations in the relatively new class of low-power FMs.

Once you add in the various flavors of TV licenses, the total number of U.S. broadcast licenses is 30,503.