The Changing Radio Audience

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.

Station counts by format

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!

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Rap – the new “Country” music

Independent (.uk)

Facing a social media campaign to push a rap song to the #1 hit on the country charts – despite getting no air play on country radio – Billboard is in a very bad position. Having a rap song at the top of the Country chart makes it clear how out of touch Billboard is. Saying that a black “musician” is not eligible to make country music would be riot worthy material. So Billboard disallowed the song on the basis that it as not “country enough”. So Billy Ray Cyrus is “helping” by doing a remix to add some real country cred to the song and putting Billboard on the path to incineration.

(Billy Ray Cyrus is the father of Miley Cyrus)

So if you can get to #1 without being on any country music stations, what does that say about radio?

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Would you buy stock in a “new” iHeartRadio?

Part of winding down the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of Clear Channel / iHeart is that iHeart is going to have an IPO. By creating a liquid market in their common stock, debt holders who accepted the debt-for-equity swap can exit their positions and write off their losses, if they so choose.

Inside Radio

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The end of WBT-AM

Not the license, but the original building that housed the station.

The earliest radio stations had an odd collection of owners competing to use the new technology. Pioneer owners included newspapers, department stores, religious groups – and in the case of WBT, the local Buick dealer. WBT stood for “Watch Buicks Travel”. Westinghouse had a presence in Charlotte (and still does). C. C. Coddington was the local Buick dealer and smelled opportunity. He set up 500 watt WBT on the roof of his new five story building. The auto parts department was on the second floor, cars were stored on the 3rd and 4th floor and the roof was used for testing, presumably to keep fumes out of the building.

WBT is now a class A 50,000 watt clear channel station, but with less than optimal signal propagation. AM requires not only a tower of the correct height, but a copper ground system to send the signal through the ground. The perfect location for an AM transmitter is wetlands. The soil in Charlotte is not conducive to good ground conduction, so reception is spotty.

The station was soon moved to a location way out in the country, where it is still located, although the studio is no longer at the tower site.

Lost Charlotte

Charlotte Observer

Mr Coddington died in 1928 at age 50, and his heirs sold WBT to CBS radio in 1929. That ended the local ownership. The building eventually was taken over by the state of North Carolina for use by social service agencies. The building was renamed the James K. Polk building, as President Polk was born in Mecklenburg County.

The Polk building is conveniently right across from the Greyhound bus station and the future transportation center. It has remained empty since the 1990s. Various architects have looked at the building, but can’t figure a way to reuse the building. It is just a strange building.

Work is already underway to construct the new Amtrak/NCDOT sidings at the same location where the Southern Railway passenger station was until Amtrak took over and tore it down – and moved to a small building next to the freight yard in a seriously bad neighborhood. With it clear the streetcar line extension and transportation center are on track, it is time to tear down the Polk building and build 358 more luxury apartments in uptown Charlotte, which currently has a 22% vacancy rate.

As I drove by on Saturday, I snapped a picture of the final rubble pile

James K Polk building debris

I feel confident that nobody at Entercom HQ in Pennsylvania gives a damn about Charlotte or history.

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Creeping censorship

Most recently, Facebook has banned links to Zero Hedge

Google/Youtube is giving a bizarre warning on a video by China uncensored

Clicking on the link for “Why am I seeing this?” reveals why a video that has nothing to do with 9/11 is flagged with a warning

The “do no evil” company is in the midst of a revolt over Alphabet jumping in bed with the Chinese Communist Party.

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Bruce Williams has died

Tampa Bay newspaper

Back when NBC still did radio, Bruce Williams and Sally Jessy Raphael were pioneers in national syndication on a network called NBC TalkNet that was started in 1981 (many years before Rush Limbaugh)

Bruce Williams cheated death when he crashed his airplane in New Jersey. In the final years of his show, one of his main sponsors was Jersey Pork rolls, of which he was a co-owner. At that time, I expressed sadness that he didn’t understand it was time to leave the stage.

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The Green Great Leap Forward

At least 15 million people in China died of starvation during the “Great Leap Forward”, followed by the murder of at least 3 million “intellectuals” at the hands of the youth of the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution.

Senator Diane Feinstein (CA-D) just had a runin with a group of young girls who have been whipped into a frenzy because they believe they are going to die in 10 years unless the US implements the Green New Deal. Even the Venerable NY Times was shocked by her response to the children

Don’t you know who I am?

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Entercom, the 900 pound gorilla

Entercom inherited from CBS who had a streaming partnership with AOL 20 years ago.

Having integrated CBS Radio and Entercom into the apps, it is time to aim higher. Cox Radio just signed on to stream using Since Cox just agreed to sell its TV stations, it is not risky to guess Cox could be in talks to sell its radio stations to Entercom. Cox previously gave away two AM stations in Connecticut to Sacred Heart University for a tax writeoff. They were acquired in 1989 from Buckley Broadcasting who had to divest the smallstatins in order to buy WOR-AM at a fire sale.

The same story mentions that Bonneville is joining Bonneville is the for-profit subsidiary of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Bonneville has already sold their stations East of the Mississippi River (All News WTOP in Washington DC being the most important). The Mormons might be getting tired of selling Donny and Marie Osmond records.

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System rollback

Something today clobbered the blog, disconnecting every single comment from its post. Because I am not routinely backing up just the blog(s), the only alternative was restoring the entire server as of 4 AM saturday morning, which fortunately worked. Linode rocks.

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Cumulus bails on New York City

It is rare when my jaw drops reading a radio news story. Cumulus itself did not have a presence in New York City. They acquired three stations that originally belonged to Disney who owned ABC radio, which they sold to Citadel Broadcasting which immediately imploded and was acquired by Atlanta based Cumulus.

Cumulus is unloading WPLJ-FM (former home of Scott Shannon) to our friends at EMF (K-Love and Worship Air1). For their $103 million, they get five other stations in Atlanta, Washington DC, San Jose CA, Savannah GA and Syracuse, NY.

Cumulus is also unloading WNSH-FM, the Nash Country Music affiliate in New York City, trading it (and two stations in Massachusetts) to Entercom in order for Cumulus to take over the prosperous Indianapolis market.

That will leave Cumulus only owning WABC-AM. Perhaps Toll Brothers could build a luxury community in Lodi, NJ at the WABC transmitter site.

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