Do not tune local AM radio yet

ALBANY – The Capital Region has a rich AM radio heritage, starting 100 years ago when General Electric Co. launched WGY, New York State’s first radio station.

WGY remains a powerhouse in the local radio market after all this time, broadcasting at 50,000 watts as News Radio 810, making it by far the strongest AM station in the area.

But AM radio is a tough business these days, and the value of the business is like a “melting ice cube,” according to one broker.

Most young listeners today prefer to listen to FM radio or satellite or streaming programming because of the better sound quality and greater variety of options beyond the sports and political programming that dominates the AM radio.

AM stations aren’t worth what they were worth either. An AM radio station put up for sale in 2022 could receive just 30 cents on the dollar compared to what it cost the station owner to buy it 15 years ago due to dwindling revenue streams and other trends.

During this time, mobile devices have provided consumers with new ways to be entertained and get their on-demand news and sports on the go, forcing advertisers to seek out new places to spend their marketing dollars, leaving less for radio commercials.

But AM radio still has a strong following in the Capital Region, anchored of course by WGY and supported by very strong stations that have a loyal following.

WGY’s AM broadcast is by far the highest rated AM station in the local market and regularly competes with top FM stations for top spots in local Nielsen charts.

Stations with higher Nielsen ratings may charge more for advertising, although other metrics, including those that measure average fan listening time, also come into play, as well as a station’s geographic reach. and the market population it serves.

News Radio 810 recently captured 6% of the local radio listener market, which has dozens of competing stations. In the three-month period from September to November last year, WGY’s AM broadcast was listened to by 6.5% of the radio listener market, which includes AM, FM and streaming broadcasts, according to Nielsen.

It was good enough to outperform all other local stations, including Fly 92.3, a Top 40 music station on the FM dial, and 107.7 WGNA, the top country music station in the area.

But if you take a closer look at these local Nielsen radio ratings, you won’t come across many other AM stations, which have lost popularity over the past few decades as they face fierce competition from FM and streaming broadcasts, which have much better listening quality.

AM stations still operating in the Capital Region are doing quite well. This includes WROW, which works like Magic 590 on the AM dial playing “oldies” music. The other is Talk 1300, an AM radio and news station run by longtime local radio host Paul Vandenburgh.

During that same September-November period, Talk 1300’s AM broadcast drew a 2.7% viewing share, while Magic 590 received a 2.8% share, according to Nielsen.

Analysts have been predicting the downfall of AM radio for decades, ever since the introduction of FM radio and streaming radio, which is now easier than ever to listen to with 5G wireless service and satellite radio service. which is often now standard on new cars.

Michael Bergner, a well-known broker for radio station deals, told an industry conference last September that COVID-19 had helped accelerate the fall of broadcast radio, which has already lost billions of dollars in annual revenue to benefit social media and other online platforms. .

“Radio is a melting ice cube,” Bergner told the audience at the 2021 Radio Ink Hispanic radio conference. “As a broker, there’s no money in AM radio. The technology is outdated. “

Harold Bausemer, a Massachusetts broker who runs RadioStationsForSale.net, says AM radio station values ​​may have fallen 70% over the past 15 years due to declining revenue streams.

But AM radio stations in larger markets and with a strong signal can be just as valuable as FM stations, he said, mostly because their towers require much more land than FM stations.

“It’s kind of like real estate, every property is unique,” Bausemer said.

There are other unexpected trends impacting AM radio. Some new electric cars are sold without an AM radio these days because the electromagnetic waves generated by the electric motor interfere with the AM radio, causing static electricity.


So how do AM radio stations survive with so many trends going against them?

The formula for success seems to be a local talk radio format that engages its audience and has a loyal following.

Paul Vandenburgh, who like many local radio personalities worked at WGY, launched Talk 1300 in 2007 as a new entry into the local AM radio market.

But Vandenburgh has many perks built into his business. Not only did he build a fierce following doing morning radio in the capital region for decades while working at other stations, but he tapped into business partners from the local business community who could also help secure advertisers and provide local content.

The key, however, is the talk-radio format, with strong local hosts like him, Vandenburgh said. This keeps listeners engaged and makes them extremely valuable to advertisers.

“They’re very loyal,” Vandenburgh said. “The talk radio listener is historically very loyal. They’re going to spend money on these advertisers.”

But it’s also Vandenburgh himself who keeps both listeners – and advertisers – in the fold. The local morning show is typically the most popular programming from any radio station, making it the most important time for companies to air ads — and the biggest revenue generator. Vandenburgh has a deep connection with his listeners whom he knows by name – and he is very knowledgeable about local politics, sports and business. It’s a rare combination on local live radio.

“I’ve always been able to sell myself,” Vandenburgh said. “A lot of the value here is my 36 years in the business and the other value is my partners. That’s what drives him, but it’s not an easy thing to do. L “morning show always runs the station. If you don’t have a good morning show, you’re not going anywhere.”

The same goes for WGY, which is no longer affiliated with GE and is owned by iHeartMedia, a media conglomerate that owns more than 800 stations across the country.

WGY executives also say their morning show (currently called “WGY Mornings with Doug Goudie” after previous hosts Kelly Lynch and Chuck Custer retired last year) is the station’s biggest earner. .

With all the new technologies and competing formats, listeners appreciate the hosts they love and know more than anything else, says Diane Donato, a news anchor with WGY whose voice is instantly recognizable on the airwaves, announcing news important to listeners.

“The relationship is between you and the audience,” says Donato. “There are a lot of choices about how people spend their time, but there are a lot of people spending their time with us.”

John Gabriel, a longtime radio host in the Capital Region who recently worked for Magic 590, says WGY has always been ahead in the Capital Region due to its strong reporting heritage, ties with GE and its 50,000 watt range.

When Gabriel started in radio in the 1970s, WGY was still the best radio station. And AM radio stations have always dominated the top of the list.

He said it wasn’t until the 1980s that FM radio began to replace AM radio in the capital region with rock and Top 40 music stations like PYX 106 and Fly 92.

Because the terrain is so geographically varied in the Capital Region, with many hills and valleys, FM stations were originally at a disadvantage because their signals travel in line of sight. AM signals essentially travel along the ground, which makes their range much greater.

This gave AM stations like WGY a small advantage over their FM upstarts, which focused more on music but became increasingly popular in the 80s and 90s. WGY also had the advantage of being the oldest local station and a pioneer in the industry.

“WGY was the big stick,” Gabriel said. “They’re still the big stick. They’ve got the legacy going for them.”

Gabriel says AM radio isn’t dead and can be lucrative when done right — and local. He says Magic 590 works well because it’s owned by a local company, Albany Broadcasting, and has local hosts. And it’s playing music boomers love, filling a niche where demand is still high.

“It just depends on how smart you are,” Gabriel said. “If it meets a need, it should be fine.”

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