Local radio pro on AM radio’s downfall | Mann Overboard

Bill Mann
Posted 5/24/23

Car (Radio) Talk: There will be something missing if you buy a new Tesla or Ford or several other electric vehicles: an AM radio.

BMW, Mazda, Volkswagen, Volvo, and others are also removing AM …

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Local radio pro on AM radio’s downfall | Mann Overboard


Car (Radio) Talk: There will be something missing if you buy a new Tesla or Ford or several other electric vehicles: an AM radio.

BMW, Mazda, Volkswagen, Volvo, and others are also removing AM from their new electric vehicles, and Ford is going even further, removing AM from both electric AND gas-powered new cars.

AM radio has been synonymous with car-radio listening for many years, just as dead-tree versions of newspapers once were standard.

I listen daily to Vancouver’s outstanding All-News 1130AM and Seattle sports/Seahawks station KIRO-AM (710) in my car.

Terrestrial (both AM and FM) radio is slowly dying, with car listening more and more being replaced by podcasts, satellite radio, Pandora, and Spotify. FM radios might be the next thing automakers start eliminating from their new models. A bipartisan bill was introduced in Congress last week to require automakers to include AM radios in new cars without charge.

I knew just the guy locally to ask about the state of radio.

Kala Point resident Fred Flanzer (Smokey Rivers on the air) has more radio credentials and experience than anyone on the Peninsula. He still does some radio from his home studio.

Flanzer/Rivers programmed WNEW in New York as well as being program director at stations in such major markets as San Francisco, Dallas, Seattle, Phoenix, and also, at CBS Radio.

“Radio seems to be stuck in the past,” agrees Flanzer.

“Ratings are down, even lower than the Nielsens indicate. Radio sounds stuck in the past,” Flanzer says. “Innovation is hard to find on AM or FM. With few exceptions, radio is in defense mode.”

Sagging ratings and sales have had major impacts in major markets.

A station I know well and where I once regularly appeared as a talk-show guest — powerful, 50,000-watt talk station KGO-AM in San Francisco — was recently “blown up” in a desperation move, its talk shows replaced with a sports-betting format that’s proven a losing bet.

Conservatives are upset that AM talk radio, which made famous Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and others, is endangered.

And liberals are upset that many Black or Spanish-speaking AM stations are imperiled, too.

Flanzer says digital ads are far more focused and researched than traditional radio ads, data-driven and more advertiser-friendly. “They know if you’re looking for a new lawnmower, for example.”

Plus, way too many stations, both AM and FM, in a technologically changing world is not helping things, Flanzer adds.

“BBC-1 is a good thing,” he says, “but 50 stations in Phoenix, for example, is not. Maybe 20 make money.”

The National Association of Broadcasters, Flanzer says, is fighting this elimination of AM car radios. “But … streaming providers can write bigger checks to automakers.”

Although 82 million Americans still listen to AM stations each month, according to the NAB, the AM audience has been aging for decades. Ford says its data, pulled from internet-connected vehicles, shows that less than 5 percent of in-car listening is to AM stations.

“Remember free air to inflate your tires?” says Flanzer. “There will come a day when we (or a generation in the not-too-distant future) will fondly remember free TV and radio. Just like with TV: Analog is wild and free. Digital is controlled and can be sold to subscribers. It’s all about the Benjamins.”

“I grew up on AM Radio. (So did I). AM seduced me as a boy and sent me into a career in broadcasting. In the absence of other media I believe AM content is essential to local communities. For those reasons, I am rooting for AM radio,” says the Kala Point resident.

Flanzer even recently built from scratch an AM radio station. In Reedsport, Oregon, for nationally syndicated radio personality Delilah (Reedsport is her hometown).

And NPR? Flanzer says NPR is doing a pretty good job on its stations.

“But … they could use more tentpoles like (the now-departed) ‘Car Talk’ and shows like ‘Fresh Air.’ And ‘Wait, Wait.’”

OK, how about community radio stations, like KPTZ  here? Is there a place for them? “Definitely,” Flanzer says. I prod him about KPTZ, which surprisingly, hasn’t approached him.

“In concept, they’re very good,” he says of the PT station celebrating its 12th birthday. “But they fall down in execution. And they need well-organized community news. They might consider using the library and the schools more as resources.”

When KPTZ went on the air — I helped set up its Twitter feed — I feared it would become largely volunteers bringing in their record collections, and Rivers agrees there’s too much of that on the local station.

But KPTZ has some breathing room. No one’s eliminating FM radio from new cars. Not yet, anyway.

— Speaking of radio, nationally syndicated Stephanie Miller has a great handle for 45: Mango Mussolini.

(Bill Mann is at newsmann9@gmail.com.)