AM radio, the scratchy medium that long ago aired Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fireside chats, soap operas and the day’s most popular music, is trying to avoid becoming static.
Across the country, stations are vying to hold on to listeners as AM radio’s audience slowly dwindles. The persistent technology, long dwarfed by FM, has weathered more recent threats including satellite and Internet radio. It is also contending with a new assault from smartphones.
How long before AM radio disappears, if ever, is anybody’s guess. But analysts say the fight for relevance is playing out in Los Angeles, the nation’s largest radio market by revenue. And KFWB-AM (980), a station founded by movie studio mogul Sam Warner back before the golden age of radio, might be in the thick of it.
After 46 years of presenting news and talk, the veteran station of the AM dial is switching to an all-sports format to rev up its paltry ratings. The change comes after years of erosion for an institution that once was one of L.A.’s top outlets, from the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, when KFWB was known as “Color Radio,” to the years when it had news bureaus throughout California.
“This was one of the crowning jewels of news radio for four decades,” said longtime newscaster Phil Hulett, who hosted his last show for the station in late August at the Ports O’Call Waterfront Dining restaurant in San Pedro.
KFWB has been particularly hard hit as listeners have abandoned AM radio at a steady rate.
The station drew 172,000 listeners a week in July, a small sum considering that it broadcasts to a region that has millions of potential listeners. Top-rated music station KBIG-FM (104.3) pulled in nearly 3.5 million during the same time frame.
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