Radio Waves: 8/24/18

Shotgun Delayed

He was supposed to start August 20, but it got delayed another week … listen for “Shotgun” Tom Kelly starting after Labor Day, on SiriusXM Channel 6 from 4-8 p.m.

No explanation was given for the delay but it may have been related to a week of multiple tribute channels dedicated to Aretha Franklin, who passed away last week from pancreatic cancer. The tributes included music, interviews, and remembrances on as many as eight channels at various times per day.

Supporting Local Music

Terrestrial radio may have essentially abandoned the local music scene, but online “radio” stations – in quotes because it isn’t radio in the traditional sense, even though apps can make it seem that way on your transistor radio, er, smart phone – has taken up the challenge.

One example is C4OC Radio, available at www.C4OCRadio.Com. That’s an O (oh), not a zero, by the way. C4OC was netcasting live from Malone’s Bar and Grill in Santa Ana last Saturday night. On hand for their second annual Independence Bash were American Animal, Betrayed By Faith, Resurrection (all the way from the U.K.), Da Vang, White Hot Red, and Divine Intervention.

Online radio and podcasting has the potential to majorly disrupt traditional AM and FM radio, as people get used to on-demand entertainment. How traditional radio responds to the challenge will determine if the current owners and managers stay in power in the coming years. So far the outlook is not promising…

The Future of AM

Last week I teased you a little, stating: “Is AM radio dead? Absolutely. The problem is with the owners and programmers, though, not listeners. Before I expand on this, however I am curious what you think … can an AM station attract you as a listener if it played the right format? What would that format be?”

This topic came up, ironically, through a discussion on a Facebook page called “I Love AM Radio” in which any call for change to bring in new listeners was met with responses that can best be described as depressing. Basically, don’t bother trying to program anything of interest on an AM station, listeners left for FM years ago. Makes you wonder what the “I hate AM Radio” page would have.

One post in particular caught my eye. Among multiple reasons to run tired talk or sports programming that has, in my opinion, driven listeners to FM, satellite or online listening was the comment, “younger-leaning formats will obviously not work, since few under the age of 30 even know AM exists.”

My position: the reason few under the age of 30 – more accurately few under the age of 50 – know AM exists is because the last time AM stations programmed to them was in the 1970s. Back when AM music giants like KFI (640 AM), KHJ (930 AM) Ten-Q (KTNQ, 1020 AM) and The Mighty 690 could still be found in the top half of the ratings.

Yes, I know FM has a technical advantage. Though AM can sound excellent, it is generally easier to get good sound from an FM station than AM. Yet in the three decades I have been writing this column, I have never once received an email or letter stating that someone refused to listen to AM due to sound quality. I have received hundreds of letters and emails over the years stating that no/few AM stations offer the type of programming that appeals to them.

So I asked my 16-year old radio-shunning son, Sean, the essential question: If an AM station played music he liked, especially music you can’t find elsewhere (such as his favorite artist Plini), would he listen? “Yes,” he said without hesitation, “especially if they had things like interviews.”

Remember, he’s 16 … the age that “doesn’t know about AM.” The truth is he knows all about AM … he knows it’s awful.

As I see it, there are two pathways AM owners and managers can take: first is the path of least resistance taken since 1979, in which they run syndicated talk, sports, or brokered programming. They can use excuses that AM doesn’t sound as good, that AM stereo died due to the FCC, that HD on AM won’t work, or any other excuse to hide their utter failures as programmers … therefore why bother trying. This is what has led to the lowest level of AM listenership in the history of the band.

Or they can think outside the box and find formats that appeal to those disenfranchised from FM. Appeal to younger listeners who have no station to call their own, and would love to be different than their parents who all listen to FM or satellite. 

AM radio needs someone to take the reigns and program without the tired excuses of today’s programmers. If no one will step up, then the future of the oldest broadcast band is dismal indeed. Your comments – next week.