Fred Jacobs on “Rekindling Our Fading Romance With AM Radio”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dennis Dura, who shares the following article which appeared in Jacob’s Media Strategies on Dec 31, 2018. I’ve pasted an excerpt below, but you’ll want to read the entire piece by clicking here:

Rekindling Our Fading Romance With AM Radio

I know I may sound like a relic from another era, but chances are if you’re a Baby Boomer (or gasp – even older), you were inspired by AM radio as a kid growing up whether it was in a big city or a small town.  If you’re a member of a younger generation, you may not even know that AM – or amplitude modulation – has a magic power.  At night when the clouds are just right, AM signals have the ability to “skip” across geography, unlike frequency modulation (FM) which is line of sight.  “Clear channel” stations had an even easier time being heard beyond their metro confines – often covering many states during the nighttime hours.

Many of us radio veterans remember those nights, lying in bed, where your trusty bedside AM clock radio pulled in signals from all over the U.S. As a boy in Detroit and not especially well-traveled, I learned how to pronounced Des Plaines (Des-planes) and Touhy (2E) by listening to Chicago radio stations like WBBM and WLS.  Tuning in KYW in Philly (which came in “like it was next door”), I learned how to spell the quirky town of Conshohocken from listening to Phillips Ford commercials.  It was from a jingle that got in your head (CON-SHO-HO-CKEN).  At least, it got in mine.

It didn’t matter if you lived in Dallas or Des Moines, or a small town in Delaware – you were able to pick up big AM radio stations from faraway.  And if you talk to today’s broadcasters on the other side of 50, many will tell you their careers were likely inspired by these booming, exciting blowtorches on AM radio that provided a soundtrack for our teens.

AM radio was where we first heard the Beatles, the Supremes, the Stones, Stevie Wonder, and even the Doors.  Big AM Top 40 stations of the day – KHJ, WABC, CKLW, WLS – played all these cool rock songs, right next to Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, Elvis, Bobby “Boris” Pickett, and the Singing Nun.  And even though the fidelity of amplitude modulation is obviously technically inferior to that of FM, there was something very different and even romantic about hearing all those songs first on AM radio.[…]

Continue reading the full piece at Jacob’s Media Strategies.

Thanks for the tip, Dennis! I think this piece speaks to so many of us radio listeners–especially this one who prefers the “fidelity of amplitude modulation” over so many other mediums.

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8 thoughts on “Fred Jacobs on “Rekindling Our Fading Romance With AM Radio”

  1. Luke Perry

    I still listen to AM a lot and I suspect a lot of others do. I live in a larger market (top 25) and there is something like 4 AM sports stations. So somebody must still be listening. Also it depends on what is out there. Of course there are the Limbaugh’s and his clones, but is there anything else worth listening to? In my area yes…..there is a great AM stereo station that plays a real great selection of oldies and there is more variety on that one station than just about any streaming service that you could find. You hardly ever hear the same song within a week or more.

    I doubt that Millenials or younger people will ever pick up the AM habit but oh well time moves on. I have no fear that the stations will be going away anytime soon as the radio stations have too much money invested.

  2. Jake Brodsky

    It’s all about content. And let’s face facts: if you want to hear a new format, you’re better off listening to any of the many radio stations around the world from a streaming service on your phone. It sounds better and the fuss factor is minimal. As bandwidth and cell coverage increases on phones, so too will listeners.

    My kids listen to play lists from various streaming services. They connect their phones to the bluetooth audio in the car.

    As much as it pains me to say this, AM is dying and there ain’t much that can bring it back. The only places where it will be of much interest will be if it includes digital audio broadcasts and people are far from any cell phone infrastructure.

    Even satellite radio services sound too homogenized to be interesting. Program directors are killing radio with very vertical formatting that is so dull and repetitive that it bores many people to tears. Why? Because they’re chasing audience based upon statistics that previous audiences have liked. It’s sort of like using the Heisenberg uncertainty principle to find a particle and where it is going. The more you attempt to refine these efforts the less you actually know about them and the more uncertainty you have.

    I really do enjoy listening to AM radio after dark, particularly the stations that play music. For example, CFZM on 740 has Stardust and Midnight Blue by ziggy at 11 PM Eastern time. The faint echoes of old Jazz music (and the risque stuff that was never meant to be played on a radio) sounds like a time-warp with a perfect stage. I also enjoy listening to the All-nighter from WSM on 650 and later the Tennesee WRA reports on what fish are biting which lures in what areas.

    There are some real gems to be heard on the air. But I can get all of that with my phone and a decent cellular connection.

    I will miss the eclectic and wonderful discoveries. But it’s getting harder and harder to justify an AM broadcast station. Unless we start doing something radical to attract new listeners (like maybe a digital stereo broadcast without the nasty audio compression that you hear on satellite radio) and open up a new tropical shortwave broadcast band for domestic use, I don’t see it reviving.

  3. Mario

    Great story. AM radio was where lots of us first dipped our toes in the water. Mine started with a 50’s rocket radio that used a germanium diode and a length of wire terminating with an alligator clip that you attached to a “ground” such as the finger stop on a rotary phone.

    Many decades later AM radio is still a thrill. Last night I listened to WBBM (710 kHz), Chicago, WSM (650kHz) Nashville, and WLW (700 kHz) Cincinnati on my Panasonic RF-2200. You never know how far away a signal will come in; it is the capriciousness and distances traveled that makes AM radio fun. Sorry, but FM, Internet/satellite radio, and other types of streaming are just too clear and predictable.

    QSB, QRN, lots of dial spinning, antenna rotating and unpredictability is nirvana, hi hi.

  4. Kire

    I moved from am/fm over to shortwave because of content, or lack of content. At least on shortwave i dont have to listen to politics, or narrow music programming.
    I listen to radio for fun, i don’t like to be treated like an idiot and most media is dumbed down, and superficial (in my opinion). Shortwave brings me Greece, Spain, Romania, Zanzibar, Brasil, Bolivia, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Phillipines, Tiawan, New Zealand.
    Its been a long time since Art Bell made the night interesting on AM. As for the internet, don’t you have to pay for access.

    1. Joe

      I’ve heard some horrifying political content on shortwave. Unfortunately, there’s apparently too much interference in my area for me to receive any foreign content, so all I get are the domestic stations that are too fringe-y (politically speaking) even for AM talk radio.

  5. Gary

    Never even thought of hipster-AM as a possibility, but honestly, it sounds viable-ish. What a cool idea!
    For me, pulling in 50kw AM stations from the midwest got me into chasing SW pirates as a teenager, which in turn got me to thinking how expanding LPFM would create so much cool, weird content. AM never even occurred to me, but it does make sense. If vinyl can come back, why not AM?


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