A look at the AM band


Ajit PaiAM radio was more than the gold standard of broadcasting, for a long time it was the only game in town. But now it has fallen on hard times. Noncom program “The Takeaway” took a look.

Music, news, sports, scripted entertainment – it was all there in the early days of broadcasting. And it remained strong even after the advent of television forced radio away from block programming and into formatted programming.

However, the better signal of FM first made AM a second choice for musical programming, and now even spoken word formats are moving to the FM dial.

Nowadays, according to Veronis Suhler Stevenson, the medium is down to 15% of the American audience. That’s down from 60% in the 1970s.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai appeared on the NPR program, noting that there was still something for everybody on AM. Pai has been on a campaign to revitalize the AM band.

Pai said the medium’s technical problems are damaging its health – even things like power lines have a negative impact on the medium. He said it’s been awhile since the FCC has looked up close and personal at the medium, and said he believes there are regulations that can be removed that will work to the benefit of AM operators.

He’s talking about power increases, conversion to digital broadcast, using FM translators, and that’s just a start.

Pai stated his firm belief in the free market – and he believes that if AM is deregulated, the free market will tend to swing its way.

[audio:091013-takeaway-am.mp3|titles=Audio Clip]

Source: WNYC/Public Radio International


  1. Commissioner Pai is the first FCC commissioner in my 44 years in broadcast that has heard our pleas. He sees the AM bands’ rules and regulations stuck in 1966 mode. I encourage all AM broadcast licensees to stand behind Commissioner Pai in his objective to provide immediate relief for those of
    us trying to make AM live and local! It is wonderful to have a voice on the Commission that is willing to hear our pleas, and then act on it.

    For all too long all of the emphasis has been to stimulate FM. AM is absolutely viable and here at WIBG 1020AM, we’re playing live and local, but AM broadcasters need to reach out to Commissioner Pai and thank him for acting on these issues. We don’t have 10 years to wait for a solution. Its comforting to have a commissioner who actually walks the talk!

  2. A lot of people have been scratching their heads over that 3.1 million people tuned to AM radio in the USA figure in this news story. In a market like Philadelphia with 4.1 million listeners, KYW alone pulls in over 1 million cume. So start adding stations like 1010 WINS, WCBS, WFAN, WABC, WBZ, WLS, WGN, et al and you must really blow past that 3.1 million listener figure by a lot. That said, I would acknowledge that the AM band has it’s challenges in today’s media world, but let’s not add fuel to an already burning fire.

  3. @Dick: You’re right, it’s hard to immediately see where the 3.1M came from, so I’ve exercised some editorial discretion and removed it from our story. More to come on this issue…

    • Thanks Dave. If indeed AM listenership has fallen to 15% of the total of 242 Million (based on the latest RADAR report) that would mean that AM radio stations have about 36.3 million listeners to divide up by my calculation.

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