Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Radio: This Old Frequency

You’ve probably read Dan Mason’s comment about AM radios in hotels.

“I haven’t seen an AM radio in a hotel for a year,” he said. “The first time I didn’t see it, I didn’t think much about it, but then it was 6, 7 times.”

He’s right.

I’m sure hotels have done market studies and learned that few use the radio other than to set its alarm as back-up. And we already know why they don’t have the AM band. You can’t hear most AM stations in a hotel room.

Before you say it, I’ll will. It’s true that some of the upscale and boutique hotels in Europe and Asia have Internet radios in their room – but we'll save that story for another time.

Dan has good reason for concern. CBS Radio has powerhouse AMs in a number of major markets and wants them heard.

The decline of AM radio listening is not entirely due to a migration to FM. Much of it is due to neglect.

You’ve probably heard of the recent modest proposal made by the Broadcast Maximization Committee, an assemblage of consulting engineers – and a broadcast lawyer.

They want to move all AM stations, along with public and non-commercial stations, and existing LPFMs (low power FMs) to a new frequency.

To wit, repositioning them to TV channels 5 and 6 in the U.S. once their existing occupants move to digital.

I can’t think of a better way to kill AM radio. You want to talk about a transplant killing the patient? This is it.

Questions, questions.

Didn’t they learn anything from the overwhelming failure of HD Radio?

Wonder if that broadcast lawyer’s pro bono? That one’s a joke.

Brilliant. Create a new frequency for what already exists on AM and to the left of the FM dial.

Render every existing AM radio extinct.

I can visualize hundreds of thousands of consumers rushing out to buy those “new frequency” radios.

Did I already mention HD Radio and how well those sold?

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said you can’t step in the same stream twice, right? Tell that to the BMC.
I’m thinking about starting a new show called This Old Frequency.

It’ll be about rehabbing AM radio by restoring sound and signal strength to neglected stations.
Every week, we’ll visit a new AM transmitter site to see how well maintained it is.

We'll uncover neglected ground systems coupled with the same old pretext: our engineers have too many stations to deal with and not enough time to pay attention to detail.

Can’t hear the station inside a building? Well, how about the antenna tuning system?

While you’re at it, how about those transmitter tubes? Who was President the last time they were checked?

It seems a bit more logical that with all the existing AM radios in homes and cars we’re better off maintaining what we have. While we’re at it, are there any plans to improve the stations’ content ? Compelling content = revenue.
And how about this? If you don’t want a visit from This Old Frequency, you can surrender your AM license to someone who's willing to make the effort to take care of it. Fair enough?

See, the problem isn’t AM radio. The problem is with those who don’t know how or don’t bother to maintain them.


Anonymous said...

"To wit, repositioning them to TV channels 5 and 6 in the U.S. once their existing occupants move to digital. I can’t think of a better way to kill AM radio. You want to talk about a transplant killing the patient? This is it."

This would complete the hijacking of our airways by iBiquity and the HD Alliance-owned larger stations. They propose to leave the larger 50kw AM stations behind on the exixisting AM band, and kill off the remaining AMs and LPFMs by moving them to the EXB band:

"Could EXB Band Be Your New Home?"

"The group says most AMs should move to the new band, where they would operate as FMs on channels of 100 kHz width, enjoy more parity with current FM stations in terms of audio fidelity and gain the ability to go all-digital. AMs could transition to 100 channels and operate in the all-digital mode. In this way, AMs 'can solve the current digital problems they are experiencing, especially at night', the group states. But while most would move, the existing band could, under their plan, also remain populated with clear-channel stations that would enjoy more elbow room. Under the proposal, filed with the FCC in its diversity proceeding (Docket 07-294), the old AM band would be 're-packed.'"

Just like with HD Radio, good-luck selling these new radios.

Anonymous said...

This Old Frequency? That is what we needed to hear/read. There is nothing wrong with AM that TLC and attention to detail cannot solve. AM is more than syndication, religion and sports. How about a real oldies format and not the classic (s)hits WCBS-FM turned into? There is nothing wrong with your AM radio except for their current owners, operators and programmers.

Anonymous said...

eliminating the fairness doctrine didnt save am radio - it ruined it. it gave birth to right-wing religious right zealots from rush to laura. it ruined am. those that didnt do syndication or spots or news talk went religion. localism died on am radio. there are so many formats like 50s and 60s oldies, big band, middle of the road,- music that was recorded in mono for am radio that could be done on am radio. oh maybe being fifty plus is too old. instead we are force fed the same old junk. i will give cbs credit for wbz, wins, kdka and a handful of others but that is it. otherwise cbs ams are as bad as anyone elses. same with cc. ben homel set up his wlw but what are most of his ams programming? when ben homel got kicked out of cc john hogan did nothing to improve them. am radio is alive and well and should be treated with respect and there are plenty of formats that are a perfect fit for it.

paul vincent zecchino said...

ACBS cheasze claims hotels don't provide AM radios?

Does he imply they provide FM's?

Hotels also no longer provide dancing girls, playing cards, or Dr. Lyons' Tooth Powder - because as with radios, guests supply their own.

Is he saying, though hotels don't have AM radios, if a few AM's - those owned by his cronies - could grab AM and sweep the 'indians' to channel 4, all hotels would have AM in every room?

He knows AM's valuable. Isn't he pulling the old trick of insulting the treasure so as to better take it for a spoil?

HD stooge radios haven't sold. Why do they think HD stooge radios with channel 4 will? Reading this plan makes one realize that indeed, dingbats are dangerous.

Why is it that so many statements and actions on part of BigRadio have the common denominator of benefitting iNiquity - to the detriment of all others?

Paul Vincent Zecchino
Manasota Key, Florida
24 September, 2008

Anonymous said...

You said it!

Nothing wrong with AM radio that proper care and engineering can't handle. Maybe some daytimers are past their prime but most AM stations if maintained and properly programmed will get listened to. I am in my late 50s. I grew up with top 40 radio on AM. I was glued to my favorite stations. Now I can barely hear those same stations. There are four AM stations I used to listen to that I can no longer pick up at home. I cannot hear most AM stations inside a concrete building. The only AMs that still some in clearly are those "clear channel" ones and even then they don't have the ummph they once did with their signal. Why don't we have oldies stations on AM. That is a good point.

Anonymous said...

As Sarah Palin would say - "exceptional".

Seriously. I enjoyed your diatribe on supporting AM radio and I fully agree with you as well as the poster who mentioend that there is music that was produced specifically for AM mono back in the fifties through early seventies.

I am in Cleveland, still home of the rock and roll hall of fame and it is a sin for this city not to have a real AM oldies station. I am so sick of WMJI and WDOK and WMVX playing the same old music.

Except for an occasional "Brown Eyed Girl" and overplayed Motown song you don't hear any of the great rock and roll and soul classics of the fifties sixties and early seventies. Why? Are we suypposed to be put out to pasture at age 50? Does our money not spend as well as someone who wants to hear Jay-Z?

You will have a successful AM station if you do an oldies format like WMJI used to do with the whole CKLW approach and real DJs.

How many Christian right-wing, hate Blacks and Jews and Catholics and Democrats AM stations do we really need in Cleveland anyway?

My opinion.

Detroit Breakdown said...

Please come to Detroit. We have WJR and that is it. This Old Frequency could do a whole season rehabilitating the AM stations here.

Great blog. I did nt leave AM radio. AM radio left me.

Anonymous said...

Funny thing is for the last 30 years AM has been the crystal ball for the future of FM. Format after format, the FM programmers would lift from AM, make it hipper and stupider until it died, and then look for the next idea to rip off and ruin. Morning show, Talk, Sports, they've all gone down the same road. But it was a good organic process, because AM was a great incubator. They worked harder and took bigger risks to stay competitive. The FM guys could bring it to a wider audience and everybody profited.

Then as consolidation finally ran its course, all the programming was being done by the same mindless lemings who knew nothing other than how to steal ideas. With morons stealing from morons, it didn't take long for the whole business to start to have the same stink of failure.

And now AM is contemplating suicide. I guess it still is the crystal ball for FM.

Anonymous said...

Any proposal to move AM should involve ALL AM stations, but allow them to simulcast or operate both for five years like with the 1610 to 1700 Expanded Band. After that, they would have to stay on the AM band or the digital band, just like the 1610 to 1700 expanded band.

Arguing politics is not appropriate on this thread. But if not for talk radio, there would be many fewer AM stations now.

You CAN get many AM stations in hotel rooms with a decent radio. It's the crummy radios they get that don't perform.

Anonymous said...

I disagree w/last post.

AM signal strength has deteriorated w/many AMs. There are AMs I was able to pick up in my suburb that I no longer can. I called one to see if they reduced their power because I listened to it on occasion and I was no longer able to get it at my business. I was told nothing had changed.

Like a car or anything else that needs regular routine maintenance. If you don't provide basic maintenance like oils changes, tire rotations the car will not perform its best.

If companies are not maintaining their AM radio stations of course the signal and sound will deteriorate. I'm no techie. This is just plain obvious.

No I cannot pick up most AM radios in a hotel room. ZZZZZZzzzznnnnnttt! That is what I hear. Static and buzz.

YEKIMI said...

I also grew up on AM radio and nowadays it's just a joke. Didn't have an FM Stereo radio until 1974 and listened to WGCL [sorry, John] a lot but found myself drifting back to the AM side a lot. Why should I listen when I can tune up and down the dial and hear the exact same syndicated crap on every AM station I can pick up across the nation? Or a sports game of some type which also doesn't interest me. And unless I'm around for the top of the hour IDs, I don't even know what city some of theses stations are out of anymore, unless I know what freqs they're on. I cannot even remember the last time I even saw a radio in any hotel I stayed at....possibly sometime in the late 80s or early 90s. As one comment said, I didn't leave AM, they left me.

Anonymous said...

John Gorman wrote: "Compelling content=revenue".

I don't know if the following counts as compelling, but a country-music FM in Albany, GA had been simulcasting a local TV station's 6:00 news until just recently when it decided to pull the plug. This prompted an editorial from the manager of that TV station. [transcript]

Since when is playing the same country songs as another FM station in the same city more compelling than simulcasting local TV news?

pocket-radio said...

John AM Radio is dying because an aging demographic are the only ones listening.
It’s not the sound, though some improvements can be made without trashing the whole system. It’s the content! It’s Rush and Hannity radio ALL THE TIME.
The next generation radio’s future, know nothing about AM radio, and they think Fm radio really sucks.

Broadcasters focused on cheap short term fixes and now the chickens have come home to roost!

Anonymous said...

"The decline of AM radio listening is not entirely due to a migration to FM. Much of it is due to neglect."

This is factually not true, and if you check your ratings books from the 70s, you'll find out the truth.

You might remember that during that time, we still had some of the greatest AM music stations of all time, with best air personalities ever. And even with DJs at the height of their power, and some of the best music ever made, AM lost share to FM once it became widely available.

In other words, there was nothing the best programming could do that could keep listeners on AM once they heard FM. That battle was fought and lost 30 years ago, and AM has been on life support since. Had it not been for Rush Limbaugh, sports radio, religion, and non-English radio, AM would have completely disappeared ten years ago. Now that those formats are migrating to FM, the future is not looking good.

Anonymous said...

"While we’re at it, are there any plans to improve the stations’ content ? Compelling content = revenue."

Not necessarily true.

Compelling content is available anywhere, mostly for free. If something is available anywhere, it's value is diminished. Therefore, if you're in the content business, whether we mean radio, newspaper, music, or internet, you will find that revenues are not growing right now.

I really wonder if Pandora's technology is unique enough for its customers to sit through commercials. And imagine if a competitor comes along offering similar service without commercials. It could happen.

I thought it was interesting that, which is one of the most visited news sites on the web, made $6 million last year. The print edition of the paper lost $60 million. Content doesn't equal revenue. Content just gets you eyeballs. Translating eyeballs to revenue is the next great frontier. And we're not there yet.

Ted Alexander said...

Hi John,
I agree with your comments on the less than ideal signals that many AM stations are transmitting. Back through the 70's, AM's were allowed to transmit full 15kHz audio. I know, I did it on stations ranging from 500 to 50,000 watts. But, the NRSC frequency limitations, approved by the FCC, removed the top third of the audible spectrum from AM (everything above 10,000 Hz. Many antenna and ground systems have seriously deteriorated. I measured the signal strength of a 500 watt station I worked at in the mid 60's again in the new millennium, and the signal about 20 miles out was only about 20% of what it was when it went on the air. Also, ground conductivities have changed over the years.

Along with that, man made noise levels have drastically increased over the years. Its now hard to hear a 50,000 watt signal clearly in some areas less than ten miles from the transmitter. The FCC has dictated for years that if an AM station made a significant change in its antenna system, the station would have to "reduce the interference it causes" by 10%, the 'ratchet clause'.

Instead of giving the AM stations a power INCREASE, to allow them to deliver a STRONG LOCAL SIGNAL, the FCC concerns itself with "interference" that may show up in calculations, can only be measured on precision meters, and has no effect on real world listening. No wonder AM has developed such a bad reputation for sound. Has anyone had a chance to listen to a good AM signal these days on a restored 1940's type radio?

Using a modern AM transmitter, with modern audio processing, and employing advanced receiver designs, such as synchronous detection and advance noise reduction circuitry, an AM signal can sound nearly equal to an FM signal. I once was on a remote broadcast at a suburban Cleveland shopping plaza, and had a wideband Sony SRF-A100 receiver (from the mid 80's, a "pocket sized" radio), and was showing it to a visitor who stopped by the booth. She commented "When did you guys go to FM?" She clearly heard the difference between the junk AM radios of that time (and even junkier AM radios today)and an $80.00 wideband radio.

AM can sound great. There are a billion radios out there. The FCC needs to mandate minimum performance standards for AM (and FM) radios, like it has done to television tuners.

Then, of course, the owners and programmers have to do their part.

Give me a great AM signal, and I'll gladly fine tune it, hire some great talent to modulate it, and then make money on it. And if the FCC and receiver manufacturers get their acts together, we will see AM radio live proudly in ANALOG, for many years yet.

Anonymous said...

Three cheers for Ted Alexander. Ted I don't know you. I have heard your name associated with Cleveland radio over the years. You made very valid points.

Your comment >>Give me a great AM signal, and I'll gladly fine tune it, hire some great talent to modulate it, and then make money on it.<<

That should be copied and framed and put in the lobby of every AM station in America. Let CAN-do, not CAN'T-do.

Thank you, John Gorman, too, for one of your finest blogs to date.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone here who supports AM radio. If you put good formats on AM you will get an audience. That includes oldies for the old people and indie rock for the young. How about classic country? I agree that the music before 1973-74 was produced for AM radio and all those single hits were in mono and sounded great through AM processing. Put a killer oldies station on and I'll bet it would do very well provided you have the other elements like personality to match.

John Hogan has to be the dumbest radio executive today. This is from Inside Radio this morning: --------Clear Channel CEO John Hogan told the packed room that when it comes to Madison Avenue radio suffers from a “perception problem” — specifically the divide between what radio can accomplish and how buyers sometimes perceive it. To that end, some of radio’s most popular personalities, including Premiere Radio’s Glenn Beck and Ed Lover, were brought in to help change the very perception that radio is a “dinosaur” medium. Hogan said “It’s incumbent on us to attack those misconceptions.”------ How can anybody be that dumb and still have a job. Where is Mitt Romney when you really need him

Anonymous said...

YOU GO, TED ALEXANDER!!!! I love your passion for AM radio. I hope there are some AM operators/owners reading this. DON'T GIVE UP THE AM BAND!!!!!!!!

Gorman, you frigging rule, too.

Anonymous said...

John, the day will come when as you have said that a great convergence will take place and everything will originate from the same place. It will be an iPhone like device that will be everything from your computer to phone to TV to radio to player.

Until then, and even after that there will still be need for back up in the form of AM and FM radio - and I agree that smart owners and programmers should be developing unique formats for the AM dial. Glen Beck and those idiots have a shelf life.

Anonymous said...

I would have no qualms about listening to AM radio provided I like the format and that the station throws a half decent signal.

AM is not a dead frequency for us. Radio station owners have not provided any formats other than varieties of news and talk and b.s. religion for AM.

Your fault not ours.

Anonymous said...

Many of the larger 50kw AM stations are ranked in the top-5, if not #1 (WLW, for example). News/talk/sports is very popular on AM, and it is the FMs, that will be losing ratings because of iPods/MP3s, iPhones, Satrad, etc. Formats on AM do not have the competitors that the FMs do...

Anonymous said...

There are the old warhorse AMs that still get numbers...WBZ, WLW, WJR.

Clear Channel heavily promotes its 50,000 watters with boards and promotion.

CBS does the same with their outdoor and their heritage AMs.

What CC, CBS and others don't know what to do with are their other AMs.

I agree with others here who know that oldies, classic country, standards and even experimental formats would bring new life to AM.

Oldies and classic country are made for AM.

There is more to AM than ESPN Sports, Rush, Beck, Imus and the usual easy way outs. Lets see how many of these names are still names five years from now. Rush is already a parody of himself and is not translating to the next generation.

Anonymous said...

Requesting THIS OLD FREQUENCY to come to Philadelphia.

Older and NOT in the way said...

I was one of the first defectors to FM. College radio and the first 'prog rock' stations. I lived in Boston (WTBS, WBUR), New York (WOR-FM, WNEW-FM) and San Fran (missed KMPX but heard KSAN). My music migrated from AM to FM because FM was a brave new world creating new formats to appeal to clean sound and stereo.

That does not mean that I totally gave up on AM. I listened to AM for news and information which FM did not have.

Fast forward to today. FM sucks. It is as noisy and confusing as AM>. There was a time when there was silence between each station. Now there is static and distortion and FM plain sucks.

Isn't this an opportunity for AM and I don't mean Hd radio. AM radio could come up with a combo of creative formats (the next progressive rock)and play the music of the 50s and 60s that was made for listening to on AM radio.

How difficult is that? What is wrong with someone in their late 50s listening to radio? Are we supposed to be dead when we turn 60? I have more disposable income than anyone half my age and the downturn in the economy is not effecting me because I as well as my peers invested wisely.

How about giving ME the music and formats I want and put them on AM radio? I would even listen to an early classic rock station = not the shit they call c.r. today = if it were on AM. Early Airplane, Quicksilver, Traffic, artists like that.

Wake up, radio. You have a huge audience you are not paying attention to.

Anonymous said...

"Instead of giving the AM stations a power INCREASE..."

The policy of the federal gov't since the Reagan days is to decrease power and add more stations. More stations, in their view, mean more voices and more diversity. That's the mantra in government today. Not quality, not profitability, and not preservation of the band. The other mantra is localism. So rather than have a few hundred great stations, they'd rather have thousands of bad ones. And they think somehow having more stations will get them more local coverage. You can't cover your community if you can't pay your electric bill.

Someone needs to explain that more stations doesn't mean more voices, and more stations won't lead to more localism. More stations mean to no money and no money means no radio.

Anonymous said...

"Many of the larger 50kw AM stations are ranked in the top-5"

Typically though only one AM per market gets great ratings. The rest are much lower. That one with great ratings has a big demo problem, with average age near 50. So what some companies, like Bonneville, are doing is moving the popular AM to the FM.

Anonymous said...

Reagan not only allowed the creation of more AM and FM stations (80/90s - the biggest scam prior to dereg) he also did away with the fairness doctrine which gave birth to right-wing talk shows and syndicators. Radio was already in trouble financially with too many stations before dereg. Dereg created the greed that ultimately destroyed the radio business.

Yes, there are too many radio stations and not every station should survive nor should they be given any incentive to.

Instead of more choices we should go for better choices and more attention paid to the product and to localism.

There is nothing wrong with AM radio that can't be fixed.

While you're at it, fire David Rehr and investigate the HD Radio Allinace and iBiquity.

John, a good piece and kudos to Ted Alexander for his passion toward AM radio.

Anonymous said...

"he also did away with the fairness doctrine which gave birth to right-wing talk shows and syndicators."

Not exactly true. Syndicators have been in business since the radio networks of the 1920s. What really gave rise to syndicators was when satellite distribution replaced AT&T long lines in the late 70s. The radio networks had the distribution. When satellites came along, anyone could become a network.

What the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine did is it allowed radio stations to actually address controversial issues. Under the fairness doctrine, stations that dealt with controversial issues had to seek out all sides. Once that requirement was gone, radio was free to address those issues without penalty or obligation. Reinstating the Fairness Doctrine wouldn't eliminate right wing talk. It would simply move it to other non-regulated media and eliminate another profit center from radio, leading to more layoffs.

"Instead of more choices we should go for better choices and more attention paid to the product and to localism."

You can't have localism without more stations. And more stations leads to lower quality.

Anonymous said...

>>You can't have localism without more stations. And more stations leads to lower quality.<<

What? You don't need more stations to have localism. You need MORE stations doing local programming. There is a difference. We already have too many radio stations.

Except for the Jersey shore and a handful of growth markets, 80/90 FMs should be shut down. They are worthless.

If an AM can't make money, turn it off or sell it to someone who may be able to do better.

This Old Frequency will never run out of AMs to rehab. That is for certain!

Anonymous said...

"You need MORE stations doing local programming."

How many stations in the same town do you need reporting about last night's school board meeting?

I think one is enough, don't you?

How many things happen in a typical town on a typical day that are really so damned important that a dozen radio stations should devote all of their programming to it? How many remotes from the county fair do you need?

Suppose the only local programming listeners care about are the weather and traffic, and they can get both from their cell phones. THEN what do you do?

Lots of stations are doing lots of local programming. The majority of it is local DJs introducing national hit music. What's so special about that? What's so local about that? Nothing.

When you watch TV at night, now much besides the news is live & local? None, right? And no one is complaining about how TV isn't live or local, right?

Maybe this whole thing about how radio needs to be local is one big fat myth, made by radio people, rather than coming from the audience.

Anonymous said...

"If an AM can't make money, turn it off or sell it to someone who may be able to do better."

That's what's about to happen. And the people who are buying those useless AM frequencies are religious broadcasters who use the stations for round the clock salvation. Live & local? Absolutely not. Lots of syndicated brokered religious programming from churches around the world. That is the future of the AM dial, folks.

Anonymous said...

Leave AM and FM analog stations alone. If we're gonna move anything, it should be moving all digital stations to a new frequency.

I would like to see a little less nighttime clutter on the AM band though, many of the once loud clear channels are now often difficult to receive, even with my top of the line AM radio and antenna. I also suspect that much of the am reception problems that have gotten worse recently are due to general increased interference that didn't exist 20 years (from more computers, more tv's, etc) as well as decreased quality in many of today's receivers.

Anonymous said...

"Typically though only one AM per market gets great ratings. The rest are much lower. That one with great ratings has a big demo problem, with average age near 50. So what some companies, like Bonneville, are doing is moving the popular AM to the FM."

Fuck you, Eduardo! The FMs are dying also, but with competition from iPods/MP3s, etc. Young adults don't listen to FM, either!

Anonymous said...

Eduardo said...

"Typically though only one AM per market gets great ratings. The rest are much lower. That one with great ratings has a big demo problem, with average age near 50. So what some companies, like Bonneville, are doing is moving the popular AM to the FM."


"Proposal for FM Translators for AM Stations Deleted From FCC Agenda - Along With Many Other Broadcast Items"

Tomorrow's FCC meeting was to consider the proposal to allow AM stations to use FM translators on a permanent basis (see our post here). However, it is not going to happen - the FCC released a Public Notice today removing that item from the agenda for tomorrow's meeting. While a number of other items were also withdrawn from the agenda, most of them were decisions on specific cases which are not routinely decided at open meetings, and most of these matters were decided on circulation (i.e. voted on by the Commissioners without a meeting). Two more general items, one dealing with a simplification of AM proof of performance procedures and another with requests for reconsideration of the FCC's noncommercial comparative standards, have also been decided on circulation (and we will report on these decisions when the decisions are released). But the item on FM translators for AM stations was pulled from the agenda, and has apparently not been decided by the FCC.

Rumors that this item would be pulled circulated last week at the NAB Radio Show. We have always expressed concerns that this item would be held up by pressure put on the FCC by LPFM advocates who fear more demand for FM translators from AM stations will make it harder for LPFM applicants to find open channels. We have no idea if this is in fact the reason for the deletion of the item from tomorrow's agenda, and will have to wait to see when the matter reappears for final consideration.

Ha! Ha! Fuck you, Eduardo!

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