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Should We Care if AM Radio Fades Out?

These are difficult times for the commercial broadcast-radio business, both AM and FM. According to various articles, such as this one from The Los Angeles Times, listener ratings are continuing to fall, and some carmakers — where most radio listening is done, apparently — are considering eliminating radios in the car completely, and not even offering it as an available option. Today's drivers don't need old-time radio (a.k.a. “terrestrial radio”) for music, weather, traffic, news, or whatever, as they have smartphone connectivity, MP3 players, satellite radio, and much more.

Despite the attempt at positive spin that this article from The Wall Street Journal tries to put on the situation (sorry, may be behind a paywall), most people hearing AM radio now get snippets of it as little more than background noise, such as when they are on a short drive or in a store; a lot fewer people deliberately turn to listen to a given show than did so just a few years ago. The only successful remaining AM stations, relatively speaking, are talk shows covering sports, politics, and religion; as a music-delivery vehicle, AM radio is pretty much dead. We've come a long way from top-40 radio and the “hit maker” stations of yesteryear, that's for sure.

Ironically, putting an AM radio into a car was actually once a very big deal. Companies such as Motorola prospered by designing tube-based radios that could fit into the car's console space, withstand the vibration, and operate from the car's 12-VDC supply. To boost that DC voltage to the much-higher voltages needed by those tubes, an interrupter device was used to chop the DC into rough AC, after which it went to a step-up transformer and then was rectified.

Was this switching supply — which is conceptually the same as today's far more elegant and sophisticated ones — fairly crude? Yes, indeed. Was it effective? Also yes, and it was the only solution available. It also generated lots noise in the AM band, so it actually advanced the design and production of filter technology as well. You think you have thermal and dissipation issues? Just try designed a multitube radio to work in the console of a car.

Should we care about this sharp decline in both casual and dedicated AM radio listenership? It's always a little sad when a system, which has served us for decades and done so much to advance technology through mass-market production and needs, fades out (here, literally and figuratively), but progress is progress…

Continue reading on EBN's sister site, Planet Analog.

20 comments on “Should We Care if AM Radio Fades Out?

  1. Daniel
    October 7, 2014

    “According to various articles, such as this one from The Los Angeles Times, listener ratings are continuing to fall, and some carmakers — where most radio listening is done, apparently — are considering eliminating radios in the car completely, and not even offering it as an available option”

    Bill, when internet radios and FM are embedded in I pad/Tablets and Smartphones; the traditional AM type radios can be easily fade out. Moreover; it has the burden of installing additional receiving modules in dash boards.

  2. SP
    October 8, 2014

    I guess radio in the car will always remain. You hear someone talking, giving you live updates and feel somewhat connected. Especially on long drive no matter how many audio/video cds you take along, you always wants to hear the latest songs, radio jockey's voice or live updates. Radio is just like fresh food, your hunger can be filled by frozen food or ready to eat items, but fresh food always has its attraction. Same is with radio. Also the samrthphones are getting too personal, it has lot of personal data of the user and he/she may not want anyone else to even see it.

  3. Daniel
    October 8, 2014

    “I guess radio in the car will always remain. You hear someone talking, giving you live updates and feel somewhat connected. Especially on long drive no matter how many audio/video cds you take along, you always wants to hear the latest songs, radio jockey's voice or live updates.”

    SP, FM radio can serve all these purpose and common now a days.

  4. Eldredge
    October 12, 2014

    @Jacob – I'm sure any current AM programming could be migrated over to FM. Part of the thsi article mentions elimination of radio from cars entirely. Most of the other listening options don't provide local news and information, so I don't think total elimination is a good idea.

  5. Daniel
    October 13, 2014

    “I'm sure any current AM programming could be migrated over to FM. Part of the thsi article mentions elimination of radio from cars entirely. Most of the other listening options don't provide local news and information, so I don't think total elimination is a good idea.”

    Eldredge, FM is mentioned only for entertainment and as of now there are some limitations of broadcasting news and other information over FM radios. Such limitations have to be removed and then it can be at par with AM in terms of broadcasting contents.

  6. Ariella
    October 13, 2014

    It used to be that AM was the main thing. I think I still remember radios not in cars that only played AM, though they were quickly become obsolete then. I don't like much that's on the radio, though I will listen to the news for traffic reports and then try to tune in the one classical music station, which has very little range. 

  7. Eldredge
    October 13, 2014

    @Ariella – You're right – there was a time long, long ago, when cars only had AM radio. This would date back to the time before cassette tape decks, and may even pre-date 8-track tapes! (what are those?) Certainly, range and noise are detractors for AM, but is is a significant part of radio's culturral history.

  8. Daniel
    October 14, 2014

    “I don't like much that's on the radio, though I will listen to the news for traffic reports and then try to tune in the one classical music station, which has very little range”

    Ariella, FM is manly meant for entertainment with music and related items. They broadcast mainly music related info's, instantaneous traffic issues, jokes, various quizzes etc. But AM is somewhat informative having a wide variety of programs ranging from space station to agriculture.

  9. Daniel
    October 14, 2014

    “You're right – there was a time long, long ago, when cars only had AM radio. This would date back to the time before cassette tape decks, and may even pre-date 8-track tapes! (what are those?) Certainly, range and noise are detractors for AM, but is is a significant part of radio's culturral history.”

    Eldredge, I know in my father's car even there was no radio at all. Later I brought a tape recorder having AM radio and fitted with the car. Now a day's all cars are coming with factor fitter music system and AM/FM radios.

  10. Ariella
    October 14, 2014

    @Jacob cars progressed from including just radio to also including a cassette tape player and then the latter was supplanted by a CD player. Now that those are disappearing, though, I'd expect something else in cars for the music.

  11. Daniel
    October 15, 2014

    “cars progressed from including just radio to also including a cassette tape player and then the latter was supplanted by a CD player. Now that those are disappearing, though, I'd expect something else in cars for the music.”

    Ariella, what's next?

  12. Adeniji Kayode
    October 22, 2014

    @SP, I agree on that, Radio still helps to stay up to date and while that would be cheaper when compared to data consumption in tablets.

  13. Adeniji Kayode
    October 22, 2014

    @Jacob, What else do you expect to see in cars after cd players with Bluetooth and port to mount protable music devices?

  14. Daniel
    October 24, 2014

    “What else do you expect to see in cars after cd players with Bluetooth and port to mount protable music devices?”

    Adeniji, we can imagine it to any extend; no limitations for dreams.

  15. Adeniji Kayode
    October 26, 2014

    @Jacob, You are right on that, our minds keep expanding for more but then there should be some level of control and caution

  16. ahdand
    October 27, 2014

    @jacob: True but if we try to control it a lot then there will be issues where new requirements will get blocked. So its better to let it flow as it happens. 

  17. Daniel
    October 27, 2014

    ” You are right on that, our minds keep expanding for more but then there should be some level of control and caution”

    Adeniji, you have to have good control over your minds and actions.

  18. Daniel
    October 27, 2014

    “True but if we try to control it a lot then there will be issues where new requirements will get blocked. So its better to let it flow as it happens. “

    Nimantha, it's the way you think. Nothing get blocked and nothing will comes without a cause too.

  19. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    October 27, 2014

    @SP, younger people are used to curating their own expereince–my kids want to plug in their iPhone and choose a playlist rather than rely on a DJ to spin the right tunes. I kind of like the surprise of potentially hearing music i would never listen to independantly, but i guess that makes me old. 🙂

  20. Adeniji Kayode
    October 29, 2014

    @Hailey, I think the reason for that is what is called “Generational Differences”. The way its used to be when you were that age has been improved.

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