(By Curt Krafft) AM radio is in dire need of a boost. Yes, it is still the home for political talk, news, and sports. But not every AM station in every market, big or small, can have those formats. So what are those other AM stations broadcasting?
Without getting specific, a lot of them are doing formats that are pretty bad, not just in content but also execution. I would go so far as to say that some of these stations have absolutely no listeners whatsoever. NONE! This is the primary reason AM radio is suffering. It’s not because of the static, it’s not because of the weak signal. It’s because if you put aside the talk, the news, and the sports there’s nothing on the AM dial that anyone wants to listen to. All your successful ethnic and religious stations are now on FM. So what does that leave you with? Yeah, exactly.
Of course, there are some pseudo-intellectuals who feel that if an AM station isn’t making money it should just go off the air, period. Not be sold, just vanish. As a matter of fact if they had it their way the entire AM band would disappear. That’s how they deal with situations for which they have no answer to. Just get rid of it. Now that’s what I call sound business thinking.
So just what is a solution to AM’s problems? How about asking the listeners? What would they like to hear on the AM dial? One answer you will get is oldies. 50s, 60s, and 70s oldies. I am always amazed at how some people respond to this format idea. Some of them get terribly angry and outright snotty. They usually are not even in broadcasting. So I dismiss them for what they are, non-entities. When I do hear plausible arguments, they usually focus on the demo factor. The demos are too old. Advertising agencies don’t want any part of them. My response is this: Studies show — and you can look them up on the Internet — that seniors have money and they do spend it. But you have to approach them the right way in order to get it. By that I mean not just effective copywriting but also the overall presentation of your station. If you’re going to have a limited playlist, if you’re going to be strictly satellite and have no live, local air personalities, if you’re not going to get involved with the seniors and their needs and problems, then you will fail. And you will fail not because your demos are too old but because you sound like a dull, repetitious radio station that no one, especially seniors, will listen to.
It is the overall presentation of the oldies format that counts. It’s the songs you play, a BIG variety plus live air personalities who talk to the listeners, saying hello to them and giving out information that they, the seniors, can use. And when I say hello, I mean on a first-name basis, especially to a senior who may live alone. Adopt the attitude that we will be an oldies station that will always be there for them. They will NEVER be alone.
I must also add that seniors are now living longer and there are more of them around than ever before. Obviously, this format won’t work in every market. But there are many where it will. And not just Florida. You would be amazed at how many other sections of the U.S. have large senior populations, including Maine, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and New Jersey. Many seniors prefer to remain where they are rather than heading south.
If you put together a professional-sounding Oldies format, that includes good air personalities and good salespeople, you will win, even on the AM dial. Yes, if you can acquire an FM translator, do so. That will definitely help. I believe that when it comes to success in radio, image is important. How you treat your listeners is important. And if you do it right then this is what you present to the local advertisers and the advertising agencies. And you will make money. Saving AM radio is not rocket science. And a 50s, 60s, and 70s Oldies format, done right, is one way to do it. Just turn on the mike and deliver.