“AM radio matters more than you might think”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Fahey, who shares the following piece from Politico:

The Lo-Fi Voices That Speak for America

For decades, AM radio has felt as commonplace as a utility, such a basic fact of life that it’s taken for granted. But that’s changing: Across America, AM radio stations are dwindling in number and profitability, as better-sounding FM signals become cheaper to broadcast and would-be listeners turn to the internet for entertainment.

Yet even in decline, it has a strength that politicians and media insiders who want to understand America would do well to heed. In 2019, thousands of AM stations remain on the air, many of them thriving—in part because they serve unique sets of people whose voices aren’t always heard loudly. For generations, it was considerably cheaper to buy or start an AM station than any other form of mass media, making ownership more accessible to people of color, immigrants, non-English speakers and those with political views outside the mainstream. Without the line-of-sight restrictions of FM radio, AM radio can also cover vast geographic areas, and so remains a staple of rural media. Even now, if you tune into the right frequency on a clear summer night, you can hear a broadcast from half a continent away—listening in on the kinds of conversations that shape identity and politics far outside the Beltway.[…]

Click here to read the full article and view photos at Politico.


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14 thoughts on ““AM radio matters more than you might think”

  1. Jim Nipper

    I started off in ham radio with cw and AM
    Radio in 1953. Those were the good ole
    days. Jim Nipper. W4AGN.

  2. Paul Montella

    I love AM radio been listening to it since I was 9 years old. 630 WPRO here in RI is for me where it all started no FM back then. Today I have a Grundig G8 for home, Yaesu Ft-817nd for jeep, and a Yaesu Ftm-10sr for Harley. I love listening to other stations from different states when conditions are right. I hope they continue to rule the air waves.

  3. Kire

    Before this post disappears down the web hole I just got to say I love receiving ktnn AM 660 here in California, altho in recent years a lower power Christian am station was put on 660 which interfered with my ability to hear the voice of the Navaho nation.
    Will AM radio restructuring kill my ability to hear actual Native programming and favor evangelical ranting?

    1. Robert Reedholm

      I live outside Phoenix, in Buckeye. I have 660 as a memory on my PL-880 as well as my Icom IC-7300. I knew a DJ that retired last year. Always like to hear them. Always loud here. Have you been to their two tower array?

  4. Jason

    Funny that FM broadcast footprints often perfectly match 4-bars of LTE coverage, while AM extends far beyond the “EDGE” range of phones, even into valleys. As data gets cheaper and especially as car stereos become more integrated with phones or apps, it makes more sense that could hurt FM rather than AM -given that the regulatory system didn’t fight AM broadcasters.

    1. Roger Fitzharris

      Sorta free. Did some AM DXing this past Sunday eve, because conditions seemed good. However, some of more distant stations, that I pulled in were broadcasting nothing but wall-to-wall commercials and/or infomercials — never was able to hear a station ID.

  5. Mario

    Am a dyed-in-the-wool AM radio enthusiast. FM radio, satellite and Internet radio isn’t for me, it’s just too reliable and devoid of QRM, QRN, QSB and the effects of ionospheric dynamics. AM radio isn’t that way at all, it’s forever changing, especially at night. Listening to a fading, distant AM station at night playing some rock song from the 60’s or 70’s is nirvana.

    Good example: during the day on 860 AM there’s a station from Philly broadcasting all types of ethnic programs. In the evening a Canadian station can be heard on that frequency in the French language. To add to the fun, Nashville’s WSM, 650 on the dial comes in, but sometimes not.

    I’d be just as happy with an AM-only radio in the car and in the house.

    Good post, thanks.

    1. Roger Fitzharris

      Ah, the magic of skywave propagation after the sun goes down. At times, priceless.

      And you’re right: the QRM/QRN, and QSB are all a part of it.

  6. Alex

    The “thing” about AM Radio in general is that all these people run around saying “Radio is dead….” Since When???!!!! These are some of the more shallow people that you’ll even meet. They know nothing of current events, local news, etc. But they love streaming music, and podcasts…… problem is you pay out the nose for streaming data, and “run out of bandwith” under their plan, and the phone and power systems go down, they have no back up. With broadcast radio, those with studios, as long as the facilities and the transmitter are intact, they have a signal, and can give life saving information…….. but so many youngsters can’t find a AM FM radio in there house, never mind batteries for their flashlight. SAD.

  7. Jake Brodsky, AB3A

    I have two sets of AM preset buttons in my truck. I use one for local daytime use, and the other for nighttime.

    I have WBZ, WLW, CFZM, WSM and others in those presets. Conditions vary. When the K-index is very quiet, Zero, other stations emerge underneath these powerhouse stations. When the K-index is 1 or 2 they come in pretty well.

    The important thing to note is that these stations provide radio programming that one doesn’t find on the heavy handed program management on FM.

    For example, Ziggy has a great program late at night on CFZM. Wild Side radio on WSM at around 6:30 AM Eastern time is great for learning what fish are biting which lures and what hunting is in season. It makes me want to visit Tennessee just for that. I like discovering offbeat programs like that because one simply doesn’t hear such things on FM.

    Paraphrasing Yogi Berra “It’s too crowded on FM, nobody goes there.”

    1. Roger Fitzharris

      Couldn’t agree with you more. You mentioned some of my favorites as well. Long live those, and other, clear channel and regional AM powerhouses. National treasures in my opinion.

  8. Leonard Hacker

    That is true! Used to listen to the AM giants at night and still listen from time to time the ones near where I grew up in Ky.


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