James Cridland

A last ditch attempt to save AM in the US

AM radio - turned off in many parts of Europe already - seems to be having a last-ditch effort in the US to keep it relevant somehow, as car manufacturers pull it out of their new vehicles.

GM has decided to go one further and will remove access to Apple CarPlay from their vehicles for some reason (CAUTION: LAZY BUGGLES HEADLINE).

Anyway, in a country where more than 50% of radio listening happens in a car (the figure for much of Europe is about 20%), radio feels threatened. Cumulus finds “82 million reasons to keep AM radio in vehicles”. Much of the data actually relates to AM/FM radio, but it’s a spirited defence.

The owner of WABC Radio (an AM station) in New York, John Catsimatidis, is “leading a campaign to Save AM Radio”, says a press release.

Naturally, it’s now being politicised, as seems to be the way in the US - it’s a government conspiracy, apparently. Catsimatidis is offering a “Save AM Radio” spot voiced by… Mike Pence. Because there’s nothing that we need to do more than make this a red vs blue debate.

As Bloomberg correspondent Liam Denning suggests, though, more than two-thirds of AM radio listeners in the US are older than 55; and the total AM radio reach has more than halved in the past twenty years.

Fred Jacobs, too, is realistic about AM’s future, pointing out that in the Techsurvey - which is made up of core radio listeners - fewer than a third of new car purchasers believe an AM radio is essential in the dashboard. He also writes more information for Hypebot - a great piece with data from Xperi, a company that collects in-car radio data.

The main argument appears to be “BUT EMERGENCIES”. FM radio also works in emergencies, of course, as do mobile phones (which have a priority setting to enable important users like police and fire crews to get access even if the cellsite is otherwise swamped). An AM radio is only going to work in an emergency if a) you have one, b) you know the frequency to tune to, c) the transmission tower is unaffected, and d) a station actually broadcasts emergency information and not just automated satellite-fed stuff from hundreds of kilometres away. FM stations broadcast just as much emergency information as AMs. I’m not sure the argument has legs.

That said, Edison Research shared this heartening research about in-car listening listening overall, ending with this comment: “For radio listeners of all ages, the best thing for radio is an in-car interface that makes both broadcast and digital audio easily accessible.” Yes to that.

The interface is the important thing (and possibly one of many reasons why AM radio is failing so hard - it’s a dumb, poor-sounding experience that is hard to present on the same screen as RDS-FM, DAB or satellite radio).

Meanwhile, if your flagship services are on AM, what’s your strategy?

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