Is AM Radio Dead in 2014?

April 9, 2020

That was the question posed to the “I Love AM Radio” Facebook group yesterday. A lively discussion ensued, eliciting over 100 responses before the end of the day.

Many seem to feel that AM radio is doomed. Headed towards the ash heap of history, alongside spark gap transmitters and teletype machines. Others feel AM radio is still relevant in 2014 and needs to be given a new lease on life.

Here’s my two cents: “It depends.” If the AM station in question is simply churning out the same syndicated programming that can be heard in 12 other places on the dial, it’s doomed. If the station’s owners treat it as an afterthought: a poor red-haired stepchild to the 5 FMs in their cluster, it’s doomed. If nothing is done to improve the audio quality of the station, it’s doomed.

Contrary to popular belief, music can actually sound very good on AM radio IF the owners are willing to spend a little time and money. Anyone here remember the final “Musicradio” days of WLS/Chicago? They were broadcasting in AM stereo, utilizing the Motorola C-QUAM system. The audio was gorgeous. I was working in Garden City, Kansas at the time. At night, I would sit in the station vehicle and listen to Turi Ryder, amazed at the sound quality I was receiving from nearly 900 miles away. The best example I can recommend today is Ionia Michigan’s WION-AM 1430. Give ’em a listen when you have a chance and let me know what you think. Yes, that is the actual air signal that is being streamed! This is a small market, independently-owned station. They don’t have a million bucks to spend on engineering. Proving that it doesn’t take a huge budget or an army of engineers to make AM sound good!

Then, there’s the programming issue. In order for an AM station (or ANY station) to survive, it needs to provide compelling, innovative programming. Serve your local community! Give your listeners what they can’t get from a satellite syndicated corporate clone. If it’s good, they will listen. They will tell their friends. Some of their friends are potential advertisers. You get the picture. Make your AM station a facility worth listening to and you will have listeners. Pretty simple, really.

I grew up on AM radio. So of course, I’m somewhat sentimental about this and would hate to see it go by the wayside. But I firmly believe that with a bit of effort spent on programming and technical improvements, AM radio is most certainly still viable in 2014.