AM Radio will Grow and Change, Just like America

This past Sunday’s New York Times article (9/8/13) entitled “A Quest to Save AM before its Lost in the Static” offers another stilted version of the state of AM Radio that is not supported by the facts of AM Radio listenership today in Southern California, and the rest of the country as well.

AM Radio is NOT dead. Indeed, the facts prove that AM Radio remains a constant companion and close friend to millions of LA Metro area fans of General Market News, News/Talk, Spanish News, Spanish News/Talk, Sports, and the quietly growing, but rarely talked about, Multi-cultural audience. The Asian influence is growing all over the country. In brief, much like a changing America, the audience and ethnic background of AM radio listenership is ever-evolving, and fortunately for AM Radio, perfectly positioned for more growth.

Let’s begin with a few solid facts about AM Radio in the LA Metro area, the largest Radio revenue market in the United States, and home to almost 10 million people in LA County, also, the largest populated county in the U.S. 

  • From first quarter 2008 through second quarter 2013, the 22 AM Radio stations that offer original programming here in the LA Metro area, have shown only the slightest of audience loss over the past 5 years.
  • We can’t go back further as anything prior to 3rd quarter 2008 was with Arbitron’s diary method and to compare PPM data to Diary data in a large market like LA is not fair to either side.
  • In 3rd quarter 2008, AM Radio’s weekly Cume listenership was 3,766,300 Persons 12+.
  • By 2nd quarter 2013, that same listenership stood at 3,319,400, a loss of only 466,900 listeners, and that took place over 5 years!
  • Stated as a percentage of the total LA listenership, that’s 34.5% of the population in 2008 vs. 30.1% as of 2nd quarter 2013. ( Source: Arbitron, LA Metro, 6:00AM-12:00Midnight, Persons 12+)

That’s hardly the death of AM Radio; it’s more like a summer cold, if you follow the seasonality of AM Radio in Southern California and the rest of the country.

I would have urged Edward Whatt, the author of this article, to dig a little deeper before writing his observations about AM Radio, If he had, we would have directed him to focus his attention on the sweeping ethnic and demographic changes happening now in America and how AM Radio will directly benefit from those changes, as it has for the past 100 years.

Let’s talk about today’s Dynamic AM Radio audience…

In Southern California, over 40% of the population is now Hispanic. (Source: Census, State and County Quickfacts, 2012 estimates) That’s 9 million people and growing. Any wonder why 15 of the 100 AM Radio stations in Southern California offer Spanish programming? (Source: Wikipedia, So Cal AM stations by format)

In Southern California, 12.9% of the population is now Asian. (Source: Census, State and County Quickfacts, 2010 Demographic profile Data)

That’s over 2.5 million people and growing.
In Southern California, there are 8 Asian AM radio stations programming in 5 different dialects to over 2.5 million Asian Americans, all on the AM dial!

The aging demographics are a reality all over the country with U.S. birthrates at its lowest since World War ll, and yet, the LA Metro area has 11% of the population 65 years old and up. (Source: Census, Community Facts, 2010 Demographic Profile Data) Yes, older people listen to AM Radio and yes, as a demographic, this generation of 65+ citizens has more disposable income than any previous generation…ever!

Does anyone in 2013 really think this burgeoning group of American citizens listens only to FM Radio? In this mega-city and region, with our enormous traffic conditions, multiple languages, and this much diversity of culture, heritage, and interests?

…And now let’s look at the rich heritage and adaptability of AM Radio.

AM Radio has reinvented itself time and time again for a changing America over 10 decades. AM Radio began almost 100 years ago with Radio soap operas, big band concerts from major ballrooms all over the country, then added comedy, and in times of national crisis, our nation turned to AM Radio to hear FDR who proclaimed on-air, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”, calming a nervous nation during the depression. His “fireside Chats”, heard only on AM Radio, convinced a weary nation that a “new deal” was coming.

Since then, AM Radio introduced play by play sports coverage, weather reports, farm and futures reports, which were critical for the agricultural economy we thrived on back then, and also launched the careers of Radio’s brightest stars with each decade ushering in a new level of audience appeal.

Just as AM Radio evolved out of Top 40 back in the 1960s, it has morphed into new formats and found an entirely new audience to appeal to. Please keep the following in mind when you consider the “death” of AM Radio:

  • The explosion of Sports Talk formats happened only on AM Radio.
  • The creation and proliferation of All Talk formats happened only on AM Radio.
  • All surveys on the subject indicate that people listen to AM Radio as a primary source for breaking news, sports, and the stock market. (Source: Borrell Associates)
  • The most successful syndicated talk shows in the country can mostly be heard on AM Radio. (Source: Arbitron, RADAR Network)
  • Many AM Radio News/Talk formats can be heard in over 10 states, thanks to AM modulation that travels over mountains and booms 50,000 watt transmissions from 6:00PM to 5:00AM every day.
  • Religious spoken word programming of all kinds is heard mostly on AM Radio.
  • The All-business formats began and can only be heard on AM Radio.
  • All mass appeal car manufacturers continue to offer AM Radio in their new models with NO plans to change the AM/FM Radio offering. (Source: Press Releases and quotes from GM, Ford, Honda, Toyota, February- May, 2013)

As it has demonstrated for 100 years, AM Radio survives and thrives because it changes with its audience and all the while, inventing and reinventing new formats and programming for an ever changing America.

Get ready for more innovation from AM Radio that will excite, inform, and entertain millions of new listeners and new generations of AM Radio fans to come.

AM Radio…growing and evolving, just like America.

One thought on “AM Radio will Grow and Change, Just like America

  1. This comment was received via email from Saul Levine at Mt. Wilson Broadcasters, Inc.


    I pioneered the adoption and use of FM radio, at a time, ironically, that existing Broadcasters were not favorable to the introduction of FM along with the then existing dominant AM broadcast service. All kinds of excuses were used to justify why FM would never become a viable broadcast service.

    Today, AM radio is facing the same kind of narrow thinking to justify the belief that AM radio cannot remain a viable broadcast service.
    Such thinking is nonsense. FM radio became viable because we offered program content not available on AM.
    I am programming classical music 24 hours a day on AM radio in Los Angeles. The station is slowly increasing its share of audience because of its content. Our listeners are delighted to have this additional opportunity to listen to classical programming.

    We are now testing the addition of digital HD technology to our AM station. The quality and fidelity that HD has added to our AM analogue signal is astonishing. The HD is currently not on due to installation adjustments being made.
    But I miss that HD sound and am eager for the final installation to be made so that I can hear our classical programming with interference free high fidelity in stereo.

    I urge fellow broadcasters to add compelling program content, and digital technology to their AM stations. The audience and the advertising revenue will follow.

    Saul Levine
    Mount Wilson FM Broadcasters, Inc.

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