The Dismal Future of AM Radio and Why?

Mark's picture

Article is right on.



timinbovey's picture

Every morning I get up and go  do a morning show on a 5000 watt AM station, where I've been for 30 years.  I see revenue continue to grow year after year, listenership continues to grow as the population in the area grows and people discover real, live, local programmed radio. You can blame all you want on the FCC, and noise, and rules.  But you can also blame a lot of programmers and owners who don't want to put in the work to do it right. 


radio8z's picture

The article focuses on the technical problems of AM exacerbated by government and FCC ineptitude and there is some truth to that but the major failing of AM I see is the programming.  Migrating current syndicated programs with saturation level commercials to FM will not make any difference to me since I will not tune in.

In the 20s up through the 50s it was common practice for listeners to supply an outdoor antenna which connected to the terminals provided on receivers.  It was not unusual for listeners to choose to tune in stations 100 or so miles away to seek programs of their preference and in many cases these were the closest stations.  My point here is that if a person seeks programming to their liking they will find a way or ways to overcome techincal issues with AM. 

There are a few distant AM stations which I seek because they offer programming to my taste and unlike most urban stations they are comparatively sparing with commercials.  In order to receive these signals I have erected an outdoor antenna and use an outstanding quality receiver which has no problem with sensitivity or selectivity.

Similarly, in the pre cable days, TV reception often required outdoor rooftop antennas and it was a normal and accepted mode of obtaining reception.  Likewise for AM an outdoor antenna with a balanced feedline provides reception on a suitable receiver without noise from things inside the house.

The AM band can continue but it is not just a technical fix which is required.  There needs to be something there which people want to hear, at least in my opinion..



Mark's picture

They could re-run old theater of the mind radio dramas and a lot of people would listen to that.

There's a station in Hamilton, west of Toronto, that every night from 10PM to 1AM broadcasts old radio dramas as they were aired in the 30s 40s and 50s with the original commercials including the cigarette ads and it's great.

Just an example.




wdcx's picture

Mark: we run OTR on our LPFM here in Florida. Running old shows with cigarette ads is still a no-no in the United States.

Druid Hills Radio AM-1610- Dade City, FL. Unlicensed operation authorized by the Part 15 Department of the FCC. We do not censor free speech and hide public information.

wdcx's picture

Tim you make valid points about programming but the best programming is useless when it fades into powerline noise, plasma TV's etc while still in the predicted coverage areas. Also, where does the average Joe go to buy a quality AM radio? Certainly not Wal-Mart.

Druid Hills Radio AM-1610- Dade City, FL. Unlicensed operation authorized by the Part 15 Department of the FCC. We do not censor free speech and hide public information.

MICRO1700's picture

Just regarding that radio station

you mentioned:  CHML 900 in

Hamilton, Ontario - - yeah - it

is great!   I listen to it

 here too.  Old radio shows

with great reception at night here in

Hartford, CT

Brooce, Part 15 in...

Oh yeah you know that



MICRO1700's picture

I have not looked into it but:

I wonder if AM radio is 

providing any useful assistance

for the present disaster in Texas

and areas nearby...

And what about FM

and over the air TV.

Maybe my question

is just plain silly under

the present circumstances?

I think there is another thread

that might help answer the

question.  I geuss I should

look over there.









Carl Blare's picture

In answer to Brooce... while Hurricane Harvey was approaching the coast of Texas I tried to tap into the streams of two news talk stations in Corpus Christy, KKTX 1360 and KEYS 1440. One of them had Michael Saage the other had Sean Hannity. Neither one had any sign of local reporting.

So I connected with WOAI 1200 AM in San Antonio which had total storm coverage as "Operation Stormwatch". I re-streamed it on KDX for 2 days.

When Houston got involved I re-stream KTRH 740 AM which was devoted 100% to storm coverage.

As the storm began threatening Louisiana I carried WWL 870 AM New Orleans for reports on what they anticipated.

I was amazed at how these stations managed to be on the air during the disaster.

Carl Blare

mighty1650's picture

KKTX was simulcasting KTRH on air, KEYS I believe was simulcasting the local TV station. At some point all radio stations were simulcasting eachother or the TV station or KTRH. (If they weren't rolling their own)

The streams are fed via alternate methods so they probably weren't always relaying what was going out on air. (Not to mention nearly all of them went offline at some point but stayed on air)

I know iHeart evacuated their studios, could have been the same story for KEYS.

wdcx's picture

It won't be long to start tapping into Florida stations.

Druid Hills Radio AM-1610- Dade City, FL. Unlicensed operation authorized by the Part 15 Department of the FCC. We do not censor free speech and hide public information.

Carl Blare's picture

Druid Hills Radio, we will be following things very closely and watching Irma, hoping it decides to make a right turn and go back out to the Atlantic!

We will start posting information about the big 50 kW News/Talk stations in Florida.

Carl Blare

Carl Blare's picture

We just did a quick brush-up on Florida cities and radio stations.

The most populous city is Jacksonville, the second is Miami.

Because Miami is closer to the tip of the state and may potentially receive first impact from Irma we have selected News Talk 610 WIOD for Operation Stormwatch.

Tomorrow we'll have a Jacksonville station selected, either WBOB or WOKV.

Storms often change course and that is what we hope in this case.

We have been preferring AM stations for disaster coverage, probably unfair to FM news/talkers if there are any. Maybe we'll take a look.

Carl Blare

Carl Blare's picture

WFLF AM 540 50 kW between Tampa and Orlando.

Carl Blare

wdcx's picture

Is providing information about how to aquire sand bags in eastern Pasco County. Our tiny FM foot print covers the towns of San Antonio, Saint Leo, Dade City and parts of Zephyrhills. It's funny how I see posters here and over on other sites who claim that 5 watts will give you 20 miles coverage. Our station runs 85 watts with the antenna mounted 85 feet high on a hill thats 140 feet above sea level. :-)


Druid Hills Radio AM-1610- Dade City, FL. Unlicensed operation authorized by the Part 15 Department of the FCC. We do not censor free speech and hide public information.

Carl Blare's picture

Looks like WLSL has some reach into several wildlife management areas.

Might be some listeners working as wildlife managers located amid the hills and trees.

Your footprint may be small but the sand bags are full sized.

This morning there is hopeful talk that Irma seems to be tilting toward the east, maybe just enough to leave Florida undamaged.

Carl Blare

gamewell's picture

AM radio has a bleak future for the following reasons (IMO); lousy radio receiving circuits in car and home radio's; lousy programming (deregulation has killed AM Radio and is working on FM radio as well); the advent of the internet and audio streaming.  The millenialls listening habits have drifted away from AM Radio and radio in general. AM (and FM) are envisioned down the road as secondary media services since it is anticipated that the internet and downloading music will be the wave of the future.  The only way that AM Radio can survive is if they can offer the listening public something they cannot get anywhere else and improve the technical quality of the broadcast.

ab1aw's picture

It's clear which is the winner and the future of "broadcast oriented" news and entertainment.

Carl Blare's picture

I'm thinking there are probably thousands of people in the path of hurricanes who wished they'd had a portable radio with fresh batteries, especially when the internet went down.

In the end, radio is the greatest invention of all time with railroads being second.

The internet and cellphone system cannot stand up to the forces of nature.

Carl Blare

Thelegacy's picture

I talked to Jeff Station 8. He told me how a lot of FM stations were not even covering the hurricane itself but continue to play music and advertisements as normal.


I am really disappointed to hear the fact that no hobby radio station was in the news for covering storms while commercial AM stations and FM stations did not. I know for a fact that if radio had better receivers to the General Public that AM radio would be the way to go for hearing news about the storm.


Station eight also reported that the FM signals seem to drop in and out far worse than the am signals did during the hurricane. This is interesting to know because when it comes to news and information during severe weather it seems that AM radio does have a place.


If the broadcasters are going to give up am I think that the FCC should give part of the band to hobby radio operators. I'm not talking about ham I'm talking about Hobby DJ operators. Maybe just maybe doing this could save AM radio for many reasons.


I do not agree with allowing all these translators to come on to the FM band and spew the same programming that they have on am which isn't working for them on am so why do they think it should work on FM?


I will also say this again and again if they do expand the FM band or even think about expanding the FM band we need to be right in there fighting for a few hobby frequencies on FM. Mainly the 87.7 and 87.9 megahertz frequencies.


We will just have to see how that goes but another thing that hurts radio is the fact that not all cell phones can receive FM radio. The main reason for this is that the cell phone companies want to make money by forcing people to use the cellular data. There are consumer groups that are fighting to allow all smartphones to receive FM radio frequencies.


I have listen to FM radio on some smart phones that were capable of it. Some of them had remarkable reception on the FM radio chip.

Progressive Rock (Album Rock, Deep Tracks), Classic Rock

More Power for Hobby Broadcasters

gamewell's picture

Carl, that's very true.  However a vast majority of radio stations are commercial and their goal is generate profits; it's one thing if they have enough profits to stay on the air, much less in times of emergencies remain on the air giving people the news and information they need to hear.  

Herein lies the issue; most AM stations, except for most major market clear channels are really having a rough time remaining profitable and as such, when so many smaller AM's are turning in their licenses, It is anticipated that--in due time--many smaller FM's will follow suite since they are noticing a downtrend in their listener base, something the ad agencies are taking notice off as well and that means less advertising dollars to flow into station coffers.

Unless AM and FM radio come up with a plan to keep their listeners tuned into their radios, improve the technical quality of AM Radio, have better quality receiving circuits built into both car and home AM radio ciruits, AM & FM radio will be evolving into a seconday form of communication in this country.  Aside from that, I'm not sure what the answer is; that'll be left up to the present generation as to what they want to hear and where they want to here it.

Carl Blare's picture

Unless a station owner is set with armored trucks filled with money I think what Gamewell WBXO said is dead on. That is, hits the nail on the head.

To make matters even less certain I would say that even given enough money to operate for a year or two at a loss, ANY format we might try to get the books into the black would be a gamble.

Granted, a very fun gamble as long as it lasts. I might do it if it wasn't my money.

Carl Blare

ArtisanRadio's picture

I'm not sure what the reference to 'improving the technical quality of AM' means.

AM CAN sound pretty good.  I listen to AM a lot, and do hear a lot of stations that have muddy audio.  But there's a station that I listen to regularly (TSN1040 - sports) that has great audio, with lots of dynamic range.  It's not FM, but there are plenty of formats, including the talk of this one, that sound just fine with GOOD AM audio processing.

I even had a station for a while that could compare to the big boys.  It was a Rangemaster, with outboard processing by a Symetrix 421, and then run through an Inovonics 222.  I certainly didn't notice any difference between my audio, and the best licensed station that I could find.

So you can do AM right.  Even with Part 15.  It's the programming that matters the most.  If it's interesting, people will listen (or, at least, the interesting people will listen - there're obviously a lot that will listen to crap, as evidenced by the programming of the big boys, and the fact that they continue to exist).

Carl Blare's picture

Booster and translator stations are rampant these days and it's interesting to read about them.

AM & FM Booster Translator Stations

Carl Blare

gamewell's picture

Most part 15 AM Transmitters are not too bad; it's the receivers that make or break the overall sound (not including audio processing).  I own a couple of AM Wide Band receivers and you'd be amazed at how good an AM stereo station (even Mono) can sound on them.

The trick is getting the manufacturers of car radio's and home stereo's to build them with wide band receiving circuits so they sound half way decent.  For music AM stations audio processing can enhance the stations presence over the air; that combined with good quality programing that doesn't mirror every other FM station out there can make a big difference in your listening audience.

I am not sure how many manufacturers of wide band AM radio's there are if any since it's been years since I bought mine.  I have a couple of SONY SRF A-100 portable receivers, along with a Sanyo "boom box" which sounds reasonably good as well and finally an old narrow band radio shack stereo receiver, that while narrow band, still sounds reasonably well for its receiving circuit.  Might be a good project to go online and find out who, if anyone, is still making them.  Just my two-cents.

Carl Blare's picture

Finding radios that sound good is one problem as you've said.

Another problem I've had with three modern vintage radios with analog tuning instead of digital tuning is drift.

The Grundig FR-200, now discontinued, is a nifty dial tuned AM, FM, SW radio  which never stays long on a station. It detunes. On all bands.

The other one is a construction zone radio that looks like a yellow gas meter... Sangean U1 with a great sounding 5-Watt amplifier, but again, it drifts off frequency and drives me insane when I'm out doing yard work.

Thirdly, C.Crane very briefly had yet another re-incarnation of the famous RCA SupeRadio, but it hates being tuned. Stations jump away from attempts to tune them in. The AFC switch doesn't matter. It's horrible.

If I didn't love radio I'd hate it.

Carl Blare

ArtisanRadio's picture

Yes, good radios help.  But good radios can't help already crappy audio.  AM CAN sound decent, and with good programming, it can compete with FM stations (particularly those that have horrible programming, as many have).

The only FM station that I listen to occasionally is a classical station in Seattle.  Other than that, the FM dial where I live is a wasteland of Top 40 and Classic Rock.

I listen to AM a lot more, some talk radio and sports radio.  There is (or I should say, was) a station that played oldies, but I couldn't listen to it because of the muddy audio (even though I wanted to).  They've since become a sports talk station, and I still can't listen to it, as obviously the broadcast engineers stayed constant during the genre switchover, and it still sounds muddy.

Give people good and interesting programming, with at the very least, decent sound, and they'll come.

That's my opinion, anyway.

wdcx's picture

for 48 hours here in Florida.

Druid Hills Radio AM-1610- Dade City, FL. Unlicensed operation authorized by the Part 15 Department of the FCC. We do not censor free speech and hide public information.

kc2wex's picture

I heard of a technology that might save AM. If I am listening to a station and it fades away because of distance the receiver would drop and  would pick up the internet and my station i am listening to would still be there probably useing wifi at a cell tower. I heard of other ways as well useing narrow bandwidth which would help out to stream left and right to compete with FM. but mostly I think the guy is right  on this article. The FCC have to deregulate laws rather than create new ones that make it harder for broadcasters to exist, and the content would follow with  a bettermint to the band for operators whom exist at the entertainment level creating better content simply because the FM is becomeing overcrouded and limited to a few that is allowed to exist there, and the diversity would be more broad in nature and there would be more jobs available in the field. advance the technology and see what happens on the AM band.

ArtisanRadio's picture

Interesting technology.  I can see issues, primarily around cost (using wireless isn't inexpensive while radio waves are free).

Actally, I can't think of a single instance where I would want that technology enough to pay for it.  If a station fades away currently, I just tune to another station.  There are still plenty of them around.

Technology isn't going to save AM radio, if indeed it needs saving.  Improved, innovative programming will.  Stations that are local and really care about their community will. If current analog AM goes the way of the Dodo and turns into a modified form of streaming, or HD, or whatever, then it's no longer AM.  That could be OK, but even then, you would need that improved, innovative programming to successfully compete for listener ears.  Gone are the days where people will listen to any old crap just because it sounds good.