While the radio advertising business may be stuck in a prolonged rough patch, that doesn’t seem to be deterring broadcasters from starting new radio stations, judging by the latest figures on station operating licenses from the Federal Communications Commission. The number of licensed radio stations in operation has increased steadily in recent years -- at least on the FM side.
From 1990-2007, commercial FM stations grew steadily from 4,392 to 6,279, buoyed by record-setting radio ad budgets, while the number of educational FM stations exactly doubled from 1,440 to 2,880 over the same period.
The number of AM stations declined slightly from 4,987 in 1990 to 4,779 in 2007. The combined total of radio stations increased from 10,819 in 1990 to 13,938 in 2007.
Perhaps surprisingly, the economic downturn which began in 2007 doesn’t appear to have reversed the trend.
From 6,279 commercial FM stations in 2007, the number grew to 6,404 in September 2008, 6,479 at the end of 2009, 6,512 in September 2010, 6,533 in June 2011, and 6,555 as of March 31, 2012. Educational FM stations continue to proliferate as well, jumping from 2,880 in 2007 to 3,712 today. The number of AM stations has mostly held steady, with a modest decline to 4,762.
Overall, the number of licensed radio stations operating in the U.S. increased from 13,938 five years ago to 15,029 today.
The uptick is interesting, especially since radio ad revenues have declined steeply over the same period. From $21.3 billion in 2007, total radio ad revenues fell to $16 billion in 2009 before rebounding somewhat to $17.4 billion in 2011.
Looking to the future, BIA/Kelsey forecasts revenue growth of 3.5% in 2012, due mostly to increased political ad spending, with continuing modest gains in subsequent years.