Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Romance of AM Radio

#383 The Romance of AM Radio

Old radio hounds really like AM, which is a semi-dead medium unless you're a right wingnut talk show person. There's little or no music. There's static, and every time there's a thunderstorm, you get more snap, crackle and pop than a truckload of Rice Krispies. You get pops and scratches that are offend ears raised on digital recording. You get fade-ins and fade-outs and sometimes you get nothing at all if the radio's turned in the wrong direction.

But in a country that's becoming more homogenized by the minute -- a McDonald's and a Star Bucks on every corner, and every newspaper looks like USA Today or the New York Post -- there's something you get with AM radio that you get nowhere else. Distance.

Yes, because of peculiarities of transmission, reception and atmospheric conditions, sometimes you can bring in programs from a zillion miles away. And while satellite radio gives you the same mileage, it doesn't give you the same romance, because the signal is the same from Los Angeles to Bangor to Miami.

One morning, years ago, the manager of WOR, New York, walked into the newsroom and said "I heard the 4am newscast. Why ever do you give the weather from Newfoundland?" Good question. WOR, Jersey-centric as it was at that time, served New York and vicinity. Newfoundland is not in its orbit.

Here's the answer: "The Newfies called a few months ago. They said ours is the only signal they can get at that time of day and they'd like to know what the weather will be like."

And it was true. The station's big signal reached Newfoundland at that hour of the day. So, why not serve the audience.

In that same newsroom, we regularly fielded listener calls from places like St. Louis and Kansas City. Oh, and Nicaragua.

Roaming around the hills of Central Pennsylvania, it's easy to hear WCBS, New York at night. The traffic report is no longer of any big interest. But the local news IS.

Want country music? It's no trick to pull in WSM most nights. Nashville's not exactly around the corner. We have a fine country radio station in town. But it's not the same.

It's tough to find any other music on the AM band. That's a shame. These old ears don't care about digital high fidelity. Wasn't there when the listening started, never cared one way or the other when they invented the thing.

Not in the mood for country? There's a fine station on 740 in Toronto and they play nice music and talk softly. And you can hear them from sundown to sunrise, and sometimes earlier and sometimes later.

It's better than having to listen to Rush and Savage and O'Reilly hour after hour. And it's WAY better than listening to the local rockers that all play the same incomprehensible noise.

they've written the obituary for radio since the widespread use of television in 1947. Fifty one years later, the patient is still on a death bed, to stupid or stubborn to die.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®

©WJR 2008


2 comments:

Steve said...

I still love roaming the AM dial on a summer night, and searching for out-of-town baseball broadcasts. In the NYC area, I can usually hear the broadcasts from Baltimore, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia and occasionally Cleveland. (I really miss the Montreal Expos broadcasts in French) As you mentioned Wes, you can now hear most these on satellite radio, but it's not nearly as fun.

pipskippy said...

The WSM radio tower in Brentwood, just south of Nashville in the very wealthy suburbs is MASSIVE. It's almost certainly the pet of some of the country music money that lives just down the street. I drive by it everyday and can hear some tunes in my head with the radio off, that's how massive it is.