The Dismantling Of AM Radio

Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, was quoted in the Times playing down WFAN’s 50,000 watt signal.

“[T]he idea of a radio station that is heard in 25 states is kind of a quaint concept.”

AM is relegated to talk for angry old guys, ethnic stations and passive network affiliates with little or no local programming.

I was in radio when radio was big and AM radio was the big dog!

There weren’t as many stations. There certainly weren’t many FM radios. Where they did exist, FM stations spent little on programming.

In the early 70s I was on 1110 WBT in Charlotte. We were a 50,000 watt AM station with a nighttime signal that blanketed the East Coast. My dad would drive home on the Belt Parkway from Brooklyn to Queens listening to me. How cool was that?

No one cares about AM anymore.

Today’s prime example is WFAN in New York City. CBS Radio just bought WRXP 101.9 FM. 101.9 has featured every format possible under a series of callsigns. Even good friend, blog reader, golden throater v/o guy Rick Allison worked there!

The progressive rock format begun on 101.9 just months ago is out. Sports talk WFAN will now be heard

WFAN will continue to be simulcast on 660 AM, but the smart money says not for long. FM is where the listeners are–certainly the younger ones who still listen to terrestrial radio.

Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, was quoted in the Times playing down WFAN’s 50,000 watt signal.

“[T]he idea of a radio station that is heard in 25 states is kind of a quaint concept.”

AM is relegated to talk for angry old guys, ethnic stations and passive networks with little or no local programming.

CBS is about to do this to one of the top-10 billing radio stations in the country!

AM stations don’t sound as good as FM (or any other technology invented in the last 90 years). Lightning crashes in the summer make some stations unlistenable. That hurts.

Many stations have highly directional antennas sending signals where people lived 60 years ago, missing today’s suburbs.

When I worked at WMEX in Boston we often heard WKBW on our studio monitors at sunset! At night WPEN, my station in Philly, couldn’t be heard on the Main Line or other western suburbs after dark.

I’m not saying AM deserves to be preserved and supplied with high priced programming. It’s just a shame to see it go. It was such a big part of my life.

14 thoughts on “The Dismantling Of AM Radio”

  1. Geoff, WRXP at one point was WPIX-FM, as in New York’s channel 11, broadcasting “From the PIX Penthouse” and the two really worked in sync during the first run of 11’s Yule Log at Christmas (notice I did not say the holidays) where PIX-FM would provide that “stereo” sound to go along with the crackling flame. The log was put out to pasture in 1989, but was brought back in 2001 and has become popular again.

    The other problem with AM radio is that especially in Fairfield County it has joined the “state” run media. At this time last year WSTC/WNLK, owned by Cox media were sold for $500,000 to Sacred Heart University’s WSHU to become relays of NPR’s News and Talk which are also heard on 1260, the former WMMM Westport. Greenwich’s WGCH once a local beacon, since becoming Business Talk Radio, has become corporate and boring not to mention not a good place to work (I KNOW, but that is another story for another day) and if Greenwich loses power, IT HAS NO BACKUP GENERATOR.

    Only locally-owned radio left in CT…

    WATR Waterbury…still owned by the Thomas Family since 1934

    WLIS Old Saybrook/WMRD Middletown…locally run by Dom DeCesare’s Crossroads Communications

    WINY Putnam, owned by Osbrey Broadcasting (Gary Osbrey)

    The rest are run either by low level national companies (Hall Radio [Norwich and Willimantic] Buckley [WDRC, et al]), CBS [WTIC, et al], Clear Channel (the WORST OFFENDER) [WELI, KC 101, Kiss 95.7, Country 92.5], Cumulus/ABC [WICC/WEBE, WXLM, et al New London]

    You can thank (or in my case blame) Bill Clinton and Congress for allowing Telecom 96 to go through. Our country’s media is for the most part state run and also part of the Military industrial complex as the Pentagon decides what is news and what is conspiracy theory (mainly support for the Constitution, bringing the troops home, ending the Federal Reserve, wanting the real story on 9/11, ending the war on drugs, supporting Ron Paul, etc. Yes I have gone Alex Jones on you, and he would be on my station along with Jerry Doyle, John Batchelor and despite going into the occult, George Noory and Coast to Coast). I am tired of the fake left-right paradigm being thrown about in the corporate media, and that goes for Fox News (partially run by a Saudi Prince).

  2. I remember listening to my radio at night after I’d gone to bed and just turning the dial to see what I could find. I’d hear voices from all over – I loved it.

  3. Also…WLAD 800 AM, Danbury and WREF 850, Ridgefield, both owned by Berkshire Broadcasting Corp., which is family-run. WQUN, Hamden 1220 on the AM dial, is owned by Quinnipiac Univ., and has a credible local news outfit.

  4. Quality has replaced AM. AM just cannot compete with all the ways we are able to receive informational audio. As great as WFAN is-they will always be at a disadvantage being on AM, they had no choice but to make this move.

  5. ESPN Radio in New York also went FM and then dropped their AM simulcast (1050, WEPN). Well, actually they switched WEPN to Spanish.

    If you look at the coverage maps of the big AM stations they are MUCH bigger than the FM station maps. I guess the advertisers on radio are local enough to not care about losing a ton of potential listeners who are not directly in the heart of the FM coverage?

    In the case of 1050 WEPN it could be heard all the way to Newport, RI during the day. The FM version doesn’t make it to New Haven. Go figure.

    WFAN has a massive coverage area, which includes everything from Syracuse to Baltimore to Boston. They will sound better on FM but they will be axing millions of potential listeners.

  6. I’m one of those AM listeners. I wish the car radio had more AM presets. When traveling I enjoy hearing about what’s going on nearby and when coming home it’s great to be able to hear WCBS until sunrise.

    The October snowstorm last year, (Alfred if you’re into names :), was a great opportunity to do some candlelight AM DX listening. With the power out there was much less interference.

  7. How long before radios as standard equipment in cars go the way of the cigarette lighter and non-power windows?

    Perhaps replaced by a streaming media internet device.

    These are the “good ole days”

  8. I suppose that the 50,000 watt clear channel broadcasting days are pretty much done.
    A few weeks ago 1050 AM in NY–aka ESPN NY formerly WFAN and for us real old guys was once WMGM with Top 40 DJ Peter Tripp, the Curly Headed Kid in the Third Row!

    The advantage that they had and still have was that 50,000 watt clear channel signal. Since Michael Kay moved his ESPN NY show to FM, from WEPN to FM it can’t be heard at all in our area. I gave 101.9 a try yesterday to see if the problem was the same for WFAN and it certainly is. There doesn’t seem to be an advantage when they shrink their coverage area.

  9. Hi Geoff:

    Great Article. For 30 years, I used to drive across the American Outback listening to the clear channel radio stations … WBBM, WCBS, WSB, KOA, KOB, WWL, WABC, KMOX, not to mention the great CBC Am stations, amongst others, listening to news, Larry King, Sally Jessey Raphael (before she went into TV) amongst others …. and it was really something … now its gutted, boring and downright unlistenable …

    In other news, was in Hartford a few weeks ago and it was great to see you still on the air … a real tribute to your talents … You’ve some a long way from out ‘GRZ days …

    Hope you are well.

    Frank Sundram

  10. I still listen to 1110 WBT at night (for Coast to Coast AM) – they seem to have a better signal in Waterbury than 1080 WTIC or 960 WELI which is down county. Geoff – do you think the massive build up of cell towers has had an impact on AM signals? Pardon my ignorance but I live in downtown Waterbury and it seems in the last 3 years that AM signals are more difficult to pull down than before. I wonder if the increase of cell towers, wireless “hot spot” RF sites, and surveillance equipment (not to mention enhanced radar) are causing degradation of AM signals?

  11. I work at a car rental agency. You’d probably be surprised at how many cars come back from rental that have AM station (especially 660) set on the dial. That doesn’t make what you’re saying untrue, but just that AM still has a lot of listeners. At least around here. Two guys I worked with listened to it religiously (interference and all).

  12. KNX-1070 AM in Los Angeles can be heard for quite a ways. Have been able to easily hear them in San Diego, and as far north as Seattle under the right conditions.

    They are an all-news format station that has traffic reports every 10 minutes 24/7.

    Near as I can tell, they are doing fine…but they did add an HD FM feed recently as well.

    They are somewhat of a local institution, to the point that they mentioned on-air that they were thinking of changing their traffic report intro sound, and they got tons of letters protesting any thought of doing so. They wisely kept it..I remember that distinctive sound from 1976 in San Diego…

    They are the place to go for breaking news and weather reports as well–it’s mostly live with the occasional recorded segment special reports.

    Dunno how powerful their transmitter is, but based on how far away I have heard it, it’s no slouch…

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