Which Stations Are Signing Off in 2020?


(By Jeff McHugh) In 2014, I wrote about Gordon Borell of Borell Associates making the prediction that half of all AM/FM stations would go dark by 2024. In 2020 we learned that stations going silent are at an all-time high.

The pandemic economy is to blame for some recent sign-offs. Some are low-power FMs and small AMs which are tough to make money with even in a good economy.

But pandemic aside, there are now more smart speakers in homes than radios, more at-home listeners tune in through computer and smartphone and AM/FM car radios are being replaced by internet connected dashboards. Talk about competitive!

Radio lives on the economy, which will determined in the short term by our pandemic response and it has not gone as well in the United States as in other countries. (Wear a mask, people!)

In tough times, debt-ridden corporations may run out of people to fire and resort to station sign-offs. Perhaps it will not be half of all stations, but I’ll bet a lot more will go silent by 2024.

The signals that remain lit and profitable will belong to companies that build on the human connection that has always been radio’s strength.

Research proves that entertaining personalities are the #2 draw to AM/FM today right behind, “it’s free.”

Music is less of an attraction reason for traditional radio listeners. Without a likable, well-prepared host to keep them company, generic music playlists and heavy commercial loads are a poor competitor to customizable services like Spotify.

What corporations missed as they “restructured” is that personalities are more important to people than the station.

Howard Stern has way more social media followers than SiriusXM. Charlamagne Tha God has more followers than his show, The Breakfast Club.

Entertaining talent is the path to profit. Our clients build long-lasting relationships with advertisers through personality endorsements, and many are building podcast audiences for future revenue growth.

There are over 10,000 stations on the air in America today. On your next evening drive, look around at the red lights of all the many blinking towers on the skyline.

More than any other decision, the content we choose today will determine which of those stations lives and which ones die.

Jeff McHugh is known for developing talent for radio, TV and podcasts. He brings a mix of positivity, creativity, and strategy to the shows that he coaches. He is a member of the team at The Randy Lane Company and coaches on-stage presenters with Own The Room.


  1. AMEN! to both Jeff McHugh and Gregg Simonsen. Big groups, the FCC, and the NAB seem to consider the competition to be Sirius/XM and Pandora (et al). That is totally incorrect! Local is local and national is national.

    The auction business is a good analogy. Ebay is the big kahuna for the national picture. Local auctions (pre-COVID, at least) have been doing just fine though as what they do is similar but very different.

    If radio is just about music with a morning show from a thousand miles away with the only local thing being (maybe!) a recorded weather forecast and liners, you haven’t got much going for you. It should be obvious but people want local information and local talent who they relate to even if they aren’t as good as the people on that morning show.

    I am sitting here at WREN-LP in Charlottesville where I have just finished a live afternoon show. We have local people on the air from 6 AM to 11 PM and weekends from noon to 7 PM. We are in an unrated market but I do believe that we have listeners. While I have little doubt that many (most, all?) of their stations have more listeners than ours, they have been busy firing people including a lady who was their best sales producer and the morning man from their 50 kW classic rock station who had been on air since 1987! We even have an excellent person (Lisa Allen) who was a voluntary Saga Communications casualty who is programming our oldies station. Saga is trying to position themselves for “expected acquisition opportunities in the near term”. I suppose that they can program from the home office and compete with iHeart (same idea) and Spotify.

    In all honesty, I do have to say that our station is fighting a costly fight with Saga who petitioned the FCC not to renew our license. It is my view that their goal is to open up a potential translator opening allowing them to broadcast one of their canned “translator formats” on an HD channel which as a “fill in” translator would be essentially a class A station. Something is wrong with this picture but that is unrelated to the above comments. I did feel that I should disclose that though.

    I do love radio and its huge potential. It is sad to see its state today with about 90% of stations owned by just a few companies and organizations with most interested, seemingly, is signal collection rather than running quality local radio stations. For commercial operations, especially, you guys are leaving piles of money on the table by missing the value of investment in your (local) product to maximize returns. My two cents, at least!

  2. Well put. Stations need to consider that ‘entertainment’ is not enough. As you point out there are many ways a consumer can be ‘entertained’ … in my opinion, the ONLY thing a local station has going for it competitively is it’s ability to program ‘locally’ …

    I see a return to that local platform only after we cycle through stations that opt out of being local, and after they go dark and find themselves being sold, at auction or other distress means, to the small operators (operators like those who built the industry decade ago — locally) who can rebuild the industry. I’m confident the industry will reboot.


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