In the end, survival in radio requires revenue, not “ratings”. For commercial radio, that means advertising revenue. For non-commercial radio, that means donations or government handouts. Some radio owners try to supplement revenue with concerts, carnivals, and community events.
Countess has indulged me in spending a lot of time recently updating the directory, and the new FCC public information file database makes it easier to locate radio stations with a “difficult to find” website. The process is not complete, but some of the patterns are becoming very obvious.
I would stipulate that my format category scheme is unconventional – partly because I am not in the radio business. I have no need to protect the status quo.
Going through each section…
So-called Progressive talk radio is dead as a doornail. I only count 11 surviving liberal stations, although NPR and native American radio take up some of the slack.
The stunning change is in music radio that generally carries the description of CHR, top 40, hottest hits… The way I group things, I include classic hits, oldies, and nostalgia in the category – the thinking is this was music that was hit music back when it was new. If you remove the old hit music and ignore simulcasts, there are only about 700 contemporary hits radio stations, out of a total of over 12,000 licensed AM and FM stations. Despite the industry hype that young people are still listening to radio, they aren’t listening to it to hear Justin Bieber. Even if they are listening, advertisers are not willing to pay to reach them.
Compare that to the 1,737 country music stations! Even if you exclude the classic country stations, there are still twice as many country music stations as contemporary hit music.
Almost half of all rock music stations are playing classic rock – baby boom era nostalgia for those too young to care about Frank Sinatra. Perhaps the heavy drug influence on rock and roll has killed off its young audience – literally.
Adult contemporary (AC), generally targeted at women, and “safe for work” music is doing better than music targeted at young people. Most people do not want to hear heavy metal or rap music while they are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room.
In most cases, when you have a radio station that you don’t know what to do with and don’t want to spend money – you switch it to national sports talk (Fox sports, ESPN, CBS…). These are the stations most likely to be sold to a spanish-language broadcaster, sold to K-love for cash or donated to a religious charity.
Religious stations are rapidly becoming the most common radio format, especially if you count simulcasts like K-love and CSN – that is over 2,800 licenses (not counting FM translators)
There are more Spanish language broadcasting stations now then there are contemporary hit stations. Most are targeting Mexicans, but also stations in Puerto Rico and others targeting Caribbean listeners.
Around 10% of licensed radio stations have no discernible internet presence or even a presence in their community. I still maintain that many of them just tore down their towers and never told the FCC. That piece of paper became valuable when Ajit Pai decided to “save AM radio”, although the alleged AM station the new FM translator is paired with does not actually exist or is turned off or running with unauthorized lower power.
Radio stations with a website almost universally now offer streaming. Digital assistants like Alexa are really becoming important to radio stations. That sort of suggests that Alexa is putting this website out of business, but then again it never was a business!