No Research Needed – Radio is Not First Choice


I am one of the last believers in AM radio. I love the AM medium.  I truly believe as long as the signal is good, great content will overcome the band’s technical limitations.

Outside of just a few years, I spent the majority of my career on AM. There was some career failure, but mostly career success. It pains me to say this, but…

many AM radio stations maybe in their final days.

We've now lost the FM in Cedar Rapids.  Freaking Cedar Rapids.

We’ve now lost the FM in Cedar Rapids. Freaking Cedar Rapids.

Another FM talk station has been taken away.  This time in Cedar Rapids, Iowa as the usual cast of conserva-talk characters are being exiled to the content wasteland the AM band has become.  WMT-AM is a 5,000 watt station in Nielsen market #205 suffering from poor ratings and an audience heading to Walgreen’s to pick up another week’s supply of Dentu-Cream and Depends.


Disney is calling it quits with its owned and operated Radio Disney stations, knowing that few moms and kids are listening on terrestrial radio and since most of these stations are poor signaled AM facilities, it’s time to cash out while the real estate and equipment are still worth a few dollars.  It’s going to be interesting to see who bids on these stations since many brokers won’t even list AM stations for sale.

As researcher Mark Ramsey recently stated in his blog, Disney knows they’re in the content business and knows it’s about the consumer and their interests.  How the content gets to the consumer is irrelevant and as Mark stated, “the last time an AM radio station was particularly relevant to a juvenile audience it was the summer of 1975.”

You don’t need the brainpower and research knowledge of Mark to realize what’s going on with the terrestrial radio business. Bluntly said, it’s no longer first choice for the listener…AM or FM.

Think about it. Is there anything easier to operate than a radio? It sits there, powered by AC, DC…hell there are radios that have a crank to power it.  You turn it on and you hear sound.  There’s music, talk, news and sports play-by-play…all free to the consumer.  It may be the easiest appliance you have to operate.  The problem is so much of the content is repetitive and so much of the content is hopelessly detached from the consumer’s needs, the needs many programmers falsely believe they’re satisfying.

What a mess.

About 6 years ago my wife and I took a trip to Chicago with another couple. All the way up I-65 our friend, who’s my age…mid 50’s…struggled with her early generation smartphone, a tiny FM transmitter attached to it and a pure play app.  While her husband drove, every few miles she had to rescan to find a vacant FM channel.  I sat in the back seat and gave my wife the “uh-oh” look. Terrestrial radio wasn’t even a choice for her.  She’d rather struggle with (at the time) an inferior technology than listen to a terrestrial radio station through a device conveniently located in her vehicle’s dashboard.

The same thing happened again this past week. A gathering of people in their early to mid 50’s wanting to hear music.

“Hey turn on Pandora.  Let’s hear some music,” was the very first comment.

“Do you have Sirius? I love SiriusXM. I missed it when I didn’t have it,” said another.

“You have a smart TV.  Pandora is on that.  Find the Kenny Rogers’ channel.”

The TV was turned on.  The app updated and “The Coward of the County” found.  All in all this process took about 10-15 minutes before there were tunes.

"I can't close my eyes."

“I can’t close my eyes.”

First, in the interest of disclosure, I wasn’t the person wanting to hear Kenny Rogers and I rolled my eyes when I heard the “request.”  My point is NO one suggested turning on the radio and one was sitting right there.  Not one of the 15 or so people in the room.  Not one!

It wasn’t all that long ago when someone would say, “Let’s hear some music!  Turn on WXXX.”

Jesus. How did we as an industry become this detached from the consumer?  How did we allow radio that,  just a few years ago, was top of the mind to listeners to become second, third, fourth or no choice.

Our radio generation was entrusted with its future.  How did we become the generation to wound it, possibly mortally?

It’s an old twist on a phrase, but it was “radio that killed the radio star.”


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  6 comments for “No Research Needed – Radio is Not First Choice

  1. John Malone
    August 21, 2014 at 2:26 am

    Great post Darryl. My answer: Telecom 1996…gradually take radio out of the hands of the passionate local guys and put it in the hands of a publicly traded company.

  2. August 21, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    I have been saying this for the past several years. Whistling past the grave yard hoping somehow we’ll figure out how to put the genie back in the bottle. Content be damned, game over.

  3. Hans von Balkovsky
    August 21, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    Well, okay, it’s about money like the other post says.
    Radio should be a public service first, then a moneymaker.
    If the listener has been dumbed down, it’s radio’s job to invest a few bucks educating him.
    Not doing the work of another moneymaker.

    They don’t pay WLW’s Scott Sloan enough, for example to know –or care–that when he interviews the m-i complex stooge, Col Dean Smiddle about ISIS, Smiddle isn’t going to admit the United States funded and trained ISIS.
    To overthrow Assad.
    Then ISIS left Syria, Assad proving too tough, and went to Iraq. A robot out of control. Again.
    That revelation might dampen the success of the fearmongerers that say the US has to reengage
    in Iraq. Or fight em on the streets of New York.
    But in fairness,, how can the complex make money if it isn’t funding jihadists to oust the USSR from Afghanistan or Assad from Syria —before said jihadists turn on the World Trade Center or hapless American journalists?

    It’s part of the Great Game of policing the world until the Empire collapses, soon please.

    But allow Pepe to tell you what under and aptly paid Sloan and Smiddle won’t..

  4. Rick Miles
    August 21, 2014 at 8:23 pm

    Spot on …. radio in general and AM radio in particular is the new payphone

  5. John Davis
    September 4, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    I have to agree with this. 20-something years ago, I made my boss lots of money playing Urban AC in a market with a 2% black population on a garbage frequency AM. It was an oasis in a musical desert for my audience, I delivered a steady .8-1.0 share, and with a little cost per point magic helped the FM steal some buys when they sold us in combo. It was 100% automated, but we did community outreach to super-serve an under-served community and did it with the largest profit margin in the company because we ran it so cheap.

    New owners came in, flipped it country to try to help one of their other stations as a flanker, and that steady 0.8 became a 0.0. Today, after dumping nostalgia and business talk, it’s purporting to be the next generation of talk using a schedule of recycled conservative talk and a “local” host that was edgy 25 years ago. It’s scoring hashmarks.

    Could I plug in a hard drive and repeat the magic today? It would be more difficult. There’s more FM move-ins now and the format hole I used to have is partially filled by one of them. Also, that black audience that radio was ignored in that lilly-white town has other entertainment choices. I might be able to make a few bucks being hyper-local (as ethnic broadcasters are doing on a lot of brokered AMs right now) but on a scratchy FM up against a good stream I don’t know if I’d get enough ears to show up in the book or not.

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