I went to an awards meeting with lots of people who are noteworthy for their contributions in broadcasting. A few of them clustered for a conversation afterward and they were waxing poetic that they could no longer hear stations they listened to in a previous time. "Guys," I said, "the internet? I was listening to Radio Luxembourg this morning and it sounded spectacular." In a sense, there are two topics here. The first is that we have the luxury of listening online to radio stations that have virtually no power alongside those that are traditional powerhouses. The second one is that AM Radio isn't programmed the way it once was, so you can never go back to those times many people of a certain age identify with and the great personalities that broadcast on those legendary airwaves. Or, can you? The internet has, in effect, leveled the playing field with the main difference being the money to back it for promoting their brands.
Recently, another lamentation that legendary station KQV, on the air since 1922, went dark on New Year's Eve, something that should never have happened. The bright side is that it was sold to Broadcast Communications, Inc., less than two weeks ago on January 30, 2017. Guess what? The station is off the air but their website is active. The station was sold to them for less than the cost of a BMW. There isn't a tremendous amount of information on it but, from what I've read, it doesn't look good as they will move their site and reduce nighttime power from 5kw to a mere 75 watts, downgrading the frequency to a Class D license. There's a time limit, which I'm sure Broadcast Communications, Inc. will meet. They must resume broadcasting within a year or the license goes kaput. Even if they're on the air for one day, the clock is reset.
But, let's think outside of the box and into the future.
I mentioned a few days ago that KABC AM in Los Angeles is in the basement. I would have said "toilet" but that would mean it was actually going somewhere. KABC AM has had some bad breaks and a station that was once a flagship is now in Davy Jones' locker, ratings-wise. There are over 40 stations in the L.A. area that best them. There are lots of things that led to KABC's poor showing in the market and they are not alone.
One of the best run radio stations that I work with is WIKY FM in Evansville. Sure, they have the advantage of being on FM but that alone will not get a winner in the ratings game. They are solidly at the top of the heap and I am proud to be their image voice. The reason WIKY FM has consistently been Number 1 in the market has a lot to do with the fact that they are a Full-Service radio station. Many stations that play music aren't. WIKY has news and information, they are involved in the community and the air personalities participate.
I have often said that being on the radio is a lot like being a politician. Everyone who listens is someone who could potentially "vote" for your station, someone who helps spread the word about your programs and personalities. Have you ever gone to a concert and come out of it a bigger fan than when you arrived? Same thing.
The internet can help convey what was once called "stationality," the overall feel and identity of a radio station. The internet, whether we like it or not, is the future for radio. AM Radio, for instance, sounds no different than the best FM, when it's done correctly. Thousands of stations stream their signals online. Many make money from non-traditional revenue... and the good ones, like WIKY, make a connection with their local audience.
But back to KABC AM and foundering AM in general. I don't want this to sound like a slam on them. They just are glaring example of a solution begging to happen. Whether it does or not depends on a number of factors. I am sure that those who work for KABC work incredibly hard to do the best job they can. With a .4 on the Nielsen numbers, why not go bold, do something daring on underperforming AM's and get back to Full Service. Play music, especially for an older demo, and offer news, sports, weather and information. Public Service announcements, once rigorously enforced, are all but gone since the FCC relaxed those requirements. Get personalities who like to go out and meet people. And most of all, promote the pure, clean audio on the internet. I don't feel at the moment that aspect is being promoted by AM Radio very well. But, as I said, like it or not, the internet is the future of audio programming and AM Radio must evolve to take better advantage of the technology and promote it more thoroughly.
Jeff Davis is a well-known image voice for Radio and Television and is based in Hollywood, California.