Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Sound of Radio

Posted to OGR on 07/18/2010

I saw an interesting article this week about AM radio coming back. That reminded me of the time that I was a Top 40 DJ; AM ruled the airwaves and FM stations were few and programmed easy listening, instrumentals, or classical music. At my station, the effort was put into the AM station and an automation system ran on the FM station. The AM jock was responsible for keeping the music tapes loaded and the announcements queued up. For a period of time, I ran a hard driving AM rock show on the “A” side of the air console and a classical FM show on the “B” side of the same console. This naturally led to timing conflicts and when they occurred, I was to give priority to the AM show. It all began to change in the late 60s when we began experimenting with “underground” music on the FM station because we could do stereo presentations of the albums we were receiving from the record companies.

I didn’t think of it too much at the time but the music didn’t sound much better on the FM station than it did on the AM. Sometime later I learned that many record producers and engineers actually shaped the sound of the recordings to make them sound better on the limited quality of the AM system by limiting the deep bass lines and playing to the treble heavy AM spectrum. That practice began to fade during the 70s and eventually ended around 1982. The article I was reading called this the “oldies endpoint.” Music programming on the AM band had almost entirely given way to talk radio. Broadcast music was now mainly on the FM band.

Today, when I listen to oldies on FM, something seems missing. I think there is a “fullness” of sound on AM that has more to do with the fact that the music matches the medium rather than the overall frequency response of the system itself. As if passing the sound trough those huge vacuum tubes somehow added power to the music itself. And this is where it gets interesting, the article goes on to discuss that some entrepreneurs are putting 50s – 70s music back on AM! It is not happening in my market yet but it is happening all over the country. My research shows that some of these stations are also hiring old top 40 “personality” DJs, using old jingle packages and bringing the entire experience back. No music blocks for these guys. They are going flat out and their audiences are digging it. These stations seem to be bucking the trend of most broadcasters operating in the red! They are profitable. Personally, I love it!

Copyright 2010 Rick Wrigley

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