AM radio’s real problem
… is the value of its property
It’s kind of funny, perhaps a bit sad, and definitely a reality that while some supposedly are working to improve the AM band, others — primarily owners — are doing things that actually hurt it..
I’m not talking programming here, though that is certainly a major cause of the lack of listeners to broadcasting’s oldest and original band. No, I’m talking the economic reality that the land many AM transmitters sit on is often worth more than the radio station itself. To the point where many stations, dominant in the past with monster signals, are now often barely receivable.
The next station to make the move appears to be KSPN (710 AM), as the all-sports station has been approved by the FCC to move to a different transmitter site, and at a lower level of power.
As explained by Doc Searls — a fellow since 2006 at what is now the Berkman Klein Center who studies technology and related issues including radio — the plan has KSPN moving to the KRDC (1110 AM) site and sharing the transmitter. “That plan is in place because the current KSPN site (in use since the 1930s) is the vast spread of land in the Valley on which the station’s three towers sit, and that land, surrounded by suburbs, is worth far more than the signal itself.”
Searls expects that the format and call letters will be transferred to 1110 AM, which is already simulcasting KSPN’s programming, though that is complete conjecture. But the move is not unexpected … as he says, “AM station owners are doing this everywhere. KHJ (930 AM) and KABC (790 AM) have already done it — moving to other sites they share with other stations —and unloading the land under their old towers. In both those cases, the signals aren’t much different.”
Unlike KHJ and KABC, however, this one appears to be something that will cause signal degradation … lower power on a former landfill in Irwindale — worse land as far as signal propagation — cannot be an improvement. I can barely receive 1110 AM in some rooms of my house near San Pedro.
But the reality is that real estate is indeed more valuable than many AM stations. Sad, but true. Makes you wonder how much longer the cycle can continue.
What’s With Bongino?
Dan Bongino, heard locally on KABC from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, has been “fighting” with Cumulus Media — distributor of his syndicated show as well as owner of many stations on which his show is carried — threatening to quit over the company’s Covid vaccine mandate.
Interesting especially since Bongino has already been vaccinated. For his part, he claims he is sticking up for his fellow employees who may not wish to get it; like may others it appears that he is pro-vaccine, anti-mandate. And it may indeed be true.
But a few flags were raised when I first heard the story. First off, Bongino is no Limbaugh. Yes, his show is run at the same time, but like all wanna-be Limbaugh’s from both sides of the political isle, Bongino doesn’t get what made Limbaugh tick … what made him popular. Essentially, outside of Cumulus Media management, which would need to find a replacement if Bongino actually did quit, few would care.
Secondly, by protesting, he is breaking the intent of company policy … Cumulus doesn’t want to be part of anything that may be considered anti-vaccine. So you have someone with marginal ratings threatening to leave a company barely hanging on when he probably doesn’t much care if he has a daily radio show or not … he can always go back to podcasts and cable television exclusively.
My hunch? Cumulus wants or at least likes the publicity. We’ll see how this plays out.
Almost 85 years ago — October 30, 1938 — War of the Worlds was broadcast on CBS Radio, including KNX (1070 AM) here in Los Angeles. In it, Orson Welles scared the nation into believing that the earth was being taken over by martians through his presentation of a radio adaption of H. G. Wells’ book on his program Mercury Theater on the Air.
Panic ensued as people believed that the program was actually real radio bulletins and news being reported over the network. Or at least that’s what we have all been led to believe.
While there may have been a few who missed the numerous announcements — made at every break — that this was a play, the idea that the entire country panicked has been at best an exaggeration. An urban myth.
As it turns out, the audience for War was small. Most of the nation was tuned to the popular NBC program, Edgar Bergen’s Chase and Sanborn Hour, a comedy and variety show. In fact, the Hooper Ratings service had telephoned households the night of the broadcast for its national ratings survey and determined that only two percent of the potential audience was listening to Welle’s show. This means that 98 percent of America was not.
Slate.com stated it this way, in a report they ran about ten years ago:
“Far fewer people heard the broadcast — and fewer still panicked — than most people believe today. How do we know? The night the program aired, the C.E. Hooper ratings service telephoned 5,000 households for its national ratings survey. ‘To what program are you listening?’ the service asked respondents. Only 2 percent answered a radio ‘play’ or ‘the Orson Welles program,’ or something similar indicating CBS. None said a ‘news broadcast,’ according to a summary published in Broadcasting. In other words, 98 percent of those surveyed were listening to something else, or nothing at all, on Oct. 30, 1938. This minuscule rating is not surprising. Welles’ program was scheduled against one of the most popular national programs at the time — ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s Chase and Sanborn Hour, a comedy-variety show.”
(See it for yourself at https://slate.com/culture/2013/10/orson-welles-war-of-the-worlds-panic-myth-the-infamous-radio-broadcast-did-not-cause-a-nationwide-hysteria.html”)
It must also be added that some CBS affiliate stations had preempted the Mercury Theater program in favor of local programming, further limiting the audience.
So how did a non-panic become a known panic? Blame newspapers. As Slate explains, “Radio had siphoned off advertising revenue from print during the Depression, badly damaging the newspaper industry. So the papers seized the opportunity presented by Welles’ program to discredit radio as a source of news. “ Kind of sounds like television news today … but I digress.
Regardless, the show is considered a classic. While KNX no longer airs the Drama Hour that once ran War annually at Halloween, you can still find it on-line. Do a search or just go to one of the Old Time Radio sites, such as otr.net, which has a download available at http://www.otr.net/?p=merc.