Tyree: Can/should AM radio be saved?
September 13, 2013
I don't think my relationship with AM radio is particularly unique.
I have priceless memories of the early morning drive to college, listening to bluegrass music on "clear channel 650-WSM, the Air Castle of the South." But 30-plus years later, I find myself habitually relying on FM stations or CDs.
According to the New York Times, there are still a few powerhouse AM stations; but AM in general is struggling for listeners (especially listeners in the younger, more desirable demographic) and revenue.
Federal Communications Commission member Ajit Pai is waging a valiant effort to ensure the long-term viability of the venerable AM method, through relaxed regulation and technical fixes.
Technical fixes? Yep, the 21st century has played havoc with the process. The AM signal can be mangled by tall buildings, smartphones, plasma TVs, cable boxes, LED traffic lights, energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs and other staples of modern life. The undeclared war against AM is even holding medical progress hostage, as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tells patent seekers, "We'd love to approve your new cancer drug, but it doesn't do enough to hamper AM reception."
Indeed, one of the brainstorms for financing the shoring up of AM is to charge Kellogg for decades of free advertising of Rice Krispies, assessing a retroactive fee for each snap, crackle and pop.
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While many listeners cheer Pai's attempts, others think he's barking up the wrong tree. They say it's the programming, not the static, that is the primary turn-off for listeners. Even some fans of AM have derided the current landscape as being full of unadventurous, "calcified" formats, soulless automated programming and a general acceptance of second-class status.
Apparently AM is having a hard time shaking the image of the long-in-the-tooth religious broadcaster whose original pleas for contributions involved sheep and goats – and the behind-the-times station owner whose concept of innovation involves figuring out a way to piggyback smoke signals with the AM signal.
Don't think of AM radio as a relic ready for placement in the scrap heap of history. Two-thirds of the Major League Baseball teams still use it. Two-thirds of minority-owned stations broadcast on the AM spectrum. AM radio ties together rural communities. Battery-powered AM radios are invaluable for providing emergency information when disaster takes listeners "off the grid." (Modern priorities make it supremely important to transmit messages such as ROFL, even if it leads to messages such as ROFDDFATIHNWO: Rolling On Floor Dodging Debris From A Tornado I Had No Warning Of.)
AM stations form the backbone of talk radio, so conservatives should be willing to come to the rescue — especially in light of the repeated insistence that the Original Intent of the Founding Fathers was to have Paul Revere shout, "Set your dial and rip off the knob! Set your dial and rip off the knob!"
Granted, for the millennial generation, the whole idea of balancing AM and FM is a moot point. One too many tech-savvy youngsters has condescendingly groused, "Radio is for old people."
Um, actually, young man, what is reserved for old people is (a) deciding for whom to co-sign a loan and (b) deciding whom to exclude from a last will and testament.
Hmph! Remember our battle cry: Let's Not HISS At Amplitude Modulation!
Danny's weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.
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