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Thread: The Future of AM

  1. #1

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    The Future of AM

    Once upon a time, TV stations got viewers strictly via over the air reception. Then came cable TV and most people began paying to watch TV because by paying you got more choices. Once cable moved to the big city and many, many began paying to get all those channels, but those broadcast TV stations kept plugging along. In fact, I have to wonder if they'd survive without cable/dish carriage. Sure, a percentage does not have cable or dish but I suspect the biggest reason they don't is because they can't afford it or those dollars are better used elsewhere.

    The point is the broadcast TV station likely remains because without that license and transmitter, the cable companies would not have to carry it. Thus, the expense of broadcast and legal liability is required for all that off air viewing via cable and satellite.

    Now think AM. That FM translator likely covers only a small percentage of the overall coverage yet has the greater number of listeners. You have to be thinking, hey FCC let me keep the translator and I'll turn in my AM license. The AM, like for over the air TV, is the necessary money drain to get the listeners you can't get otherwise.

    In the near future, I think we might see a rush for AM stations to drop those directional patterns, lower power, etc., in order to lower operational expenses. In many areas the land is worth more than the station, not to mention maintaining that directional signal or paying that big electric bill and where two AC systems is preferable to the damage of a day or two without AC during that record hot spell in July (the AC only goes when it is the hottest...a quote from Murphy Law).

    Then again, perhaps a savvy Broadcast Attorney can persuade the FCC to allow the troubled AM to reclassify that translator as a 250 watt full fledged FM (with higher filing fees and annual spectrum fees) and actually turn in or sell the AM. In the very least, a less crowded AM dial, I think, is in our future.

    What do you think?

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by b-turner View Post
    In the very least, a less crowded AM dial, I think, is in our future.
    Sure, just like the CB band is a lot less crowded now than it was in the 70s. Back then, lots of people had CB radios in their cars. Now they have cell phones. Basically the same thing. But it freed up that band, since no one cares any more.

    What REALLY has to happen is some serious repurposing of the band by the FCC. They talk all the time about more diverse ownership. Here is a chance to take a band that is losing its profitability, and give it to people who could use it for the public good. Will it happen? Probably not.

  3. #3

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    I certainly agree TheBigA. The AM dial could serve as a great spot for community service to benefit the public at large. Not more than a few months ago I was talking to a college station about why they no longer streamed their station but opted for the AM radio dial. The head of the department found over 90% of the college station's listening was over the AM band with the remainder split between a cable TV channel audio and online listening. The station is essentially a full service college station with an actual format, hourly campus-wide news coverage (with input from the college newspaper) and college sports. In fact, the college paper uses the station to promote itself but still lags far behind radio even though they're a good paper and available free at 60 spots on campus. That told me the right product in the right situation is the key to AM.

    In running an AM daytimer in a major city I used to say I was a modified community access station selling time to groups who could not afford a radio voice for their community. We had lots of ethnic groups represented and plenty of the bubbling under the top 100 denominations buying time. These groups would have had few, if any choices had it not been for us. Some call that garbage or claim we 'sold out' to anybody with money in their hand, but we actually were sort of selective and wanted groups that wanted to reach their respective communities. Nowhere else could you hear Czech Polkas hosted by the head of the Texas Polka Music Association or Texas Polish Polkas co-hosted by one of the top preservers of this traditional music as well as leading musician in the genre, a program for Russian immigrants and another for Polish immigrants or a show for the tiny Bangladeshi community. We even had smaller religious denominations represented like Primitive Baptist, Apostolic Lutheran and so forth on the station.

    Ownership diversity, public service and even educational radio makes sense on AM. It seems a unique product is good bait and it doesn't matter if the same is online beacuse radio is free and can be localized unlike the streaming station operating from their yet to be disclosed location.
    Last edited by b-turner; 04-06-2017 at 05:33 PM.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by b-turner View Post

    Ownership diversity, public service and even educational radio makes sense on AM. It seems a unique product is good bait and it doesn't matter if the same is online beacuse radio is free and can be localized unlike the streaming station operating from their yet to be disclosed location.
    So how much you wanna bet on the FCC doing what it takes to get it done?

  5. #5
    Even as a "community station" the inherent problems with AM are still:

    Millennial's don't even know it exists, nor do they care.
    Given the amount of (potentially valuable) land required alone, much more expensive to operate.
    Inferior audio quality

    Purposely moving the band to those kind of services would be dead man walking option to both. Boomers who still rely on AM for news, sports, religion and political talk will continue to support the stations on the band. As the boomer ranks die-off, so will AM stations.

    Would AM have had a better chance of a future had it gone hybrid or full digital? Maybe a little bit, but a small group of Boomer Curmudgeons with the 'don't tread on my distance listening' pretty well killed that option.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Kelly A View Post

    Would AM have had a better chance of a future had it gone hybrid or full digital? Maybe a little bit, but a small group of Boomer Curmudgeons with the 'don't tread on my distance listening' pretty well killed that option.
    Not sure about that. The FCC gave full support for HD AM, but consumers weren't willing to buy new radios. The radio industry has experimented with full digital in a number of cities, including Pittsburgh, but it really doesn't change the fact that if it isn't receivable on existing devices, it's DOA.

  7. #7
    Generally speaking, you are stuck with an off-norm-format and have to be very resourceful. Interesting thing is the small local communities (businesses and local citizens) still will moderately support an AM station as part of the public goodwill and these stations can do ok if you do the right things. It's not easy. This is a very good post, so I hope others comment on it. The FM dial is sounding just as bad as AM with some hint of a small power station on each and every channel.

  8. #8

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    Granted, in small markets AM finds adequate support in most cases but it is never a cakewalk. Many AMs with substantial coverage do fairly well on average (those big clear channels and regional stations). For most AMs, it is a struggle. How many of the top 10 billing stations in the nation are AM signals. I think that's about 30% but I'll concede they're not 1,000 watt high on the dial stations in bad ground conductivity with 7 watts post sunset.

    Among those that struggle, it seems those that try serving those that cannot amass the audience to command an FM signal or even a regional stick will listen. A station I managed proves that and actually, we did pretty well on costs vs, revenue. To the top dog in that metro, our monthly take was about 2 hours worth of commercials on that station. So, while AM in most spots struggles, the best option might be the unique format that fulfills the need of a few. It will not be the huge biller but can turn a profit if expenses are closely watched.

    I agree AM is disadvantaged at every turn but the trick is the recipe for making lemonade. And that recipe requires just enough to do okay but too little to make a competitor want what you have because slicing the pie never leaves enough for both to survive. Certainly the cost of land in densely populated areas is a big factor which is why I see lots of directional signals opting for a lower powered non-directional at some point.

    Sure millennials don't go to AM but what programming is catering to them on AM?

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by b-turner View Post

    Sure millennials don't go to AM but what programming is catering to them on AM?
    How about sports talk? It seems to be doing well in San Francisco.

    Just putting music aimed at millennials on AM isn't going to solve the audio quality issue. In a competitive situation, audio quality is a factor.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by TheBigA View Post
    Not sure about that. The FCC gave full support for HD AM, but consumers weren't willing to buy new radios. The radio industry has experimented with full digital in a number of cities, including Pittsburgh, but it really doesn't change the fact that if it isn't receivable on existing devices, it's DOA.
    The Commission approved the use of the Ibquity hybrid digital model, but hasn't considered let alone approved, full-digital Medium Wave broadcasting. Stations were allowed to do experimental full digital testing, but that's about it. Problem is, traction for anything that has to do with the existing AM broadcast band has diminished because of the focus on AM to FM translators. It's doubtful that the whole digital AM thing will be revisited, because the assumption is AM has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.

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