The slow decay of FM radio and how to save it

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Photo by Simone Fenzi

The control board used for the Guy Gordon Shown in the WJR Radio studios.

DETROIT — Every day, people listen to radios in their cars. Whether it is satellite, FM or AM, radio station try to find content to make car rides more enjoyable. However, FM radios are currently facing a crisis that, as it has already happened in Norway, might bring them to extinction.

The graph shows how Detroit biggest FM radio station has been losing market share in Detroit. The graph also represents one of the biggest AM radio stations in the area and how its control of the market has remained unchanged.

Graph showing the percentage of market is captured by some of the biggest radios in Detroit, Mich.

Data taken from EFA Global Monitoring Reports

Graph showing the percentage of market is captured by some of the biggest radios in Detroit, Mich.

Laura Hessen is a producer at WJR Radio and a former employee of Nash FM Detroit. Having experience in both field of radio she said “you’ve got all these streaming services like iTunes and whatever else you may use for your music.” With this she said “you can eliminate commercials for the most part.” This will definately put FM radios at a disadvantage as they are bound to commercials.p>

Despite the major flaws that are present in the FM industry, Hessen also said “I don’t believe that FM radios will shut down completely anytime soon.” Hessen thinks that even though there might be a decrease in the listenership, FM radios will always exist.

Guy Gordon standing in his studio at WJR Radio Detroit.

Photo by Simone Fenzi

Guy Gordon standing in his studio at WJR Radio Detroit.

Guy Gordon is one of the voices of WJR and for many, a personality to connect with. He said “when I talk, I imagine having a conversation with a friend of mine.” He says that this is what brought him to radio, the ability to talk to listeners and be with them in their daily lives. Gordon has come to radio in January of this year from a television network. “The transition has not been too hard” he says. “AM radio is about the emotion we create in our listeners,” which, according to Gordon, is something that journalist know how to deliver.

Hessen seconds this statement as she chose this job because of the relationship she could create with the listeners. WJR’s listeners are mostly retirees and sometimes leave the radio on for the whole day as a background. She says “I think that our listener base is loyal.” According to Hessen this allows the station to have repeated interactions with the same listeners. “Take WDVD FM,” she continued. “It is targeted at moms with younger children” who are interested in having safe music for their kids.

Ken Regulski works as a news reporter for WJR radio and believes that the final piece of the puzzle missing in the explanation of why AM is more constant in popularity then FM, is the news aspect. Regulski said, “we cover local and national news; we give the people all the information they need to survive their days.” He continued, “FM radios just don’t give that sort of holistic information.”

While these might be good reasons why FM radios have lost popularity among the listeners, Peter Whorf believes this is not the entire story. Whorf is WKAR’s radio station manager for both FM and AM stations. The FCC’s AM revitalization program is one of the reasons why Whorf believes AM have gained momentum. He said “this program would allow AM stations to repeat their programs using FM translators.” He also added “I think this program has shown success in revitalizing AM stations.”

Ultimately, Whorf agrees that “it is unlikely that 20 years from now AM radio stations will have the same success that they are having now.” However, the problem is more general as he says “I think all broadcaster should make an effort to live more on the digital.”