Trunk Line

Entries from November 2021

On where radio is going

November 18th, 2021 · Comments Off on On where radio is going

On the I Love AM Radio Facebook group, somebody asked if the branding of legacy AM stations, including giants WFAN/660 in New York and KDKA/1020 in Pittsburgh, would move entirely their FM side (101.9 and 100.1 respectively).  I replied,

Eventually, the branding drops for both FM and AM. There will just be legacy callsigns, channels or nicknames, attached to streams on the Net.

As a native New York area sports fan, I enjoy listening to WFAN on 660 AM in the daytime from Cape Cod to Cape May and at night from Maine to the Carolinas—and in Indiana, where I’m living right now. The FM on 101.9 is good for the metro, but gone halfway across New Jersey or out Long Island.

While that may argue for keeping the AM signal alive and branded, another fact is that I can also get the station on my phone, and also in the dashboard of my car. Coverage may only be where there is cellular data; but that’s across most of the developed world. It also sounds better in streamed digital form.

Not that “tuning” into a stream is easy. WFAN has no app of its own. Nor does KDKA, which I’m listening to right now on the live stream on its website, which is a subdomain of the Audacy site. WFAN is similarly subordinated to the same corporate parent.

Both avoid mentioning their AM and FM channels. In the last fifteen minutes, its channels have not been mentioned by KDKA. On WFAN you hear the channels more (or at least 101.9, because they are still somewhat new to that channel and want to promote it).

KDKA’s traffic reporter just said, “on 100.1 FM and AM 1020, KDKA.” I thought that might be the official top-of-the-hour ID, but then the real thing came: a rapidly-spoken recording that said “KDKA AM and HD FM HD2 Pittsburgh. An Audacy station.” Let me unpack that:

• KDKA-AM still exists and may have HD. (Does it?)
• The same stream on FM is itself HD on W261AX/100.1, a 99-watt translator of KDKA-AM, which is also on the HD2 of KDKA-FM on 93.7.

All the big owners—Audacy (Formerly Radio.com, Entercom and CBS Radio), iHeart Radio (formerly Clear Channel),  and Cumulus—know that radios have been replaced by phones in pockets and entertainment systems in dashboards and homes. The wireless that matters is digital and cellular, in the sense that home and car wi-fi are now effectively cellular as well. What will survive are branded forms of “content.” Some will be live shows, some will be podcasts, some will be streams of what were once stations and are now apps or streams within apps. AM and FM will eventually be gone. Until then they will survive as legacy expenses, necessary only as long as the FCC continues to require them.

Much as I love AM radio (or I wouldn’t be here), it is a dead band walking. Even for giants like WFAN and KDKA.

Tags: Industry · Media · Radio