Merlin Media launched with grand plans for spoken word programming on FM. Economic and ratings realities led to a shift in direction after a year. Should that prevent every other operator to forget about the natural evolution of traditional AM programming to FM or to take chances that otherwise wouldn’t be done? Hopefully not. Radio needs innovation to continue to thrive. Even in Merlin’s failure other operators have learned from their mistakes.
Talk programming on FM is coming, make no mistake about that. Washington DC has two all-new stations on FM. Merlin Media recently launched a talk station on FM in Philadelphia. Is New York that different that talk can’t survive on FM? Well, let’s take a look at what already exists.
9.39 WNYC-FM is a public radio station that carried predominantly talk and news programming. 94.7 WFME-FM is a religious outlet (for now) with much talk programming. 99.5 WBAI-FM is a non-commercial station that air a lot of news and talk programs, with some music. These three stations may not be mainstream/commercial, but they have survived for many, many years. Does this mean the next FM talk station shouldn’t be mainstream? ESPN Radio has moved to FM (98.7), and it’s making some waves. WFAN may make its move sooner rather than later.
We’re entering an interesting time for terrestrial radio. Some years back, you could say (quite definitively) AM is for talk and FM is for music, and you’d be mostly right, save for the few AMs that did have music. Now, music is pretty much gone from AM, and FM is beginning to follow suit. Today’s generation of radio listeners may not be even aware, or even care, about the AM band. To them, music comes from their iPod. What is radio good for?
Talk programming on FM is coming. It’s becoming a viable option, and terrestrial broadcasters are learning what works.