Off to the regeneration chamber!
“The Invaders” Quinn-Martin Productions
AM radio needs to be reinvigorated, say commentators considering the demise of the AM band in America. Some of what they have to say reverberates here in the UK, too.
“AM radio can become robust again if we overcome the self-doubt and lethargy that is consuming the thinking of radio operators. We must invigorate programming and invest in improvements in the technical side of the AM facilities. AM has become a dumping ground for lackluster programming” says radio station owner Saul Levine.
“Not only has AM become a dumping ground, few programmers believe in it enough to even try. More than 20 years ago, while doing research on a story to highlight successful AM music stations, I was appalled by the attitude held by so many programmers that success on AM wasn’t worth the effort – if a format was successful, then it would be copied by an FM station. I have long held that it is bad programming that caused AM’s demise. Bad programming forced listeners to FM and eventually to iPods and satellite,” writes Richard Wagner.
The Atlanta area has recently seen a considerable readjustment of its radio services with stations changing formats and changing bands. The Atlanta Journal Constitution decided to investigate what was behind the changes there. They found four main factors:
Pop is king. The top 40 format is hot nationwide, pulling in strong ratings during the summer. Top 40 hasn’t been this strong since the Michael Jackson/Madonna days of the mid-1980s, says Star 94’s operations director, Scott Lindy. “We’re seeing this wave swell up.” Clear Channel, has strong top 40 stations in many markets, is investing money in turning stations round, and poured “aggressive” marketing dollars into TV advertising.
Rock is a pauper. Rock stations drew only a slightly bigger audience than hip-hop/R&B stations. While classic rock acts from the 1970s and ’80s have sustained popularity, most current ones aren’t getting mass-appeal airplay. As a result, two stations’ rock formats have been killed and one altered because station owners felt other options could bring in more revenue.
AM is losing listeners. News/talk and sports talk stations on the AM dial have seen their audiences age and slip away. Radio companies with sinking AM signals have been adding FM simulcast signals to bolster their collective audiences. AM’s weakness is also encouraging radio companies to create new talk formats on the FM dial at the expense of music.
Alternative listening options are blossoming. Arbitron, which tracks radio trends, says at least 93 percent of Americans still listen to traditional AM/FM during any given week. As alternatives multiply, consumers are spending less time with traditional radio. Smartphone and tablet ownership have exploded the past five years, greatly expanding the landscape for online music apps such as Pandora and Spotify. Tens of millions of consumers now listen to music through these Internet options, especially appealing to people who don’t like DJ patter. According to a recent survey by Arbitron and Edison Media Research, 29 percent of the population listened to Web radio the past week, up from 12 percent five years ago. Pandora alone reached 16 percent of the total national audience, up from 10 percent in 2011.