Lessons Of AM Radio

As it turns out, most of what I needed to know about succeeding with social media in the 2010s I first learned from AM radio back in the 1970s.


The AM radio I'm talking about is not the Rush-Limbaugh/Talk-Radio/Light-Rock-Less Talk radio of today, but the personality-driven radio of decades past. It wasn't easy for radio stations in those days. They had to deal with increased competition, the changing tastes of the consumer, a highly fragmented audience, a crappy economy, the emergence of competitive platforms (FM/car stereos) and increased production costs. Sound familiar?

The key to being successful in social media is to find and engage an audience with fresh, relevant content, stimulate conversation and react quickly to feedback. If you think about it, AM radio's been doing that for the last 40 years.

And how did AM radio thrive during that era? In a nutshell, here are a few of the things the aspiring social media maven of today could learn from the kings of AM radio:

  • Make sure you have original, engaging content. With 20 other stations just a push button away (remember, we're talking the '70s here) it wasn't enough to have the same play list as every other station. You had to add some wrinkles. You had to give your audience something they couldn't get anywhere else. Quirky personalities. Esoteric programming. One-of-a-kind features.
  • Realize that getting them to visit once is not enough. To succeed in radio, you gotta give your audience reasons to come back, over and over again. Re-engagement is crucial to long-term success. So stations relied on contests, events, promotions, turkey give-a-ways. Anything to keep listeners coming back.
  • Think of your listeners in terms of a "community." When I was in college, there were two rock stations in town. You were a listener of either one or the other. Nobody danced back and forth. We wore our allegiance in the form of bumper stickers and station swag. And when you saw someone else with the same t-shirt, well, you recognized him as part of your clan. You greeted him as a long-lost brother.
  • Give your listeners a voice. AM stations took requests. They took dedications. They had callers rate records, and asked listeners to stop by during remotes. Sometimes they'd just put listeners on the air for the heck of it. Thing is, AM radio was great at conversing with its audience and accepting feedback.
  • Have a personality. AM radio figured out that outrageous, distinctive personalities create a loyal following. More than anything else, what define a station are the personalities that represent it.
  • Above all, stand for something. AM radio never tried to be all things to all people. Some people love country music, some hate it. That's okay. Know who your audience is and program just for that audience.



In short, AM radio survived by asking the question "How can we be of use to our audience?" That basic question is the basic driver today in developing a social media strategy.

Success in social media is not as complicated as many would make it out to be. The basics of audience engagement and re-engagement don't really change much medium to medium, generation to generation.

For many of us, the media we grew up with provide a pretty solid foundation for success in what lies ahead.

5 comments about "Lessons Of AM Radio ".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Walter Sabo from HitViews, January 29, 2010 at 9:15 a.m.

    As an AM and FM programmer and executive in major markets, all of what you say is true. But you are speaking of a specific type of AM Radio---top 40. When that format was offered on a superior "platform", FM, the audience went with it. AM MUSIC radio's demise was complete by 1983. All of what you say applies to FM today and they had best pay attention or that audience will all be gone to whatever medium is offering the show you describe.

    But note, audience went from AM to FM to hear the SHOW not the platform. Foolish, fear-based investors put their money over and over in the platform rather than the show. The show, not the platform generates the business.

    Trivia: In many cities the number 1 radio station TODAY is an AM talk or news station. The most listened to station in North America is an AM station--1010 WINS. Why? It provides the best show. (Or as you digital people insist...content.)

  2. Randall p. Whatley from CYPRESS MEDIA GROUP, January 29, 2010 at 3:14 p.m.

    Your article reminded me of what I learned from AM radio, too, but in the early 80's instead of the 70's. You are correct in pointing out the parallels between AM radio and social media. Essentially, the question I ask when I set up a new social media account for marketing clinets is, "How can we use this account to help the followers?" If we do a good job of producing content to help the followers, success follows. Just as radio listeners used to tell others about a station or program, so do social media followers spread the word to their contacts, albeit digitally now.

  3. Dale Brooks from db media, marketing & consulting, February 3, 2010 at 5:42 p.m.

    I agree with Walter, it was specific stations doing things right and it always has been that way with radio, regardless of the format.

    The AM radio Mickey refers to was from such a different time. Today it's all about the user being the star--being the show--and the winner's in social media will be those who build the concert hall...and of course, put butts in the seats.

  4. Walter Sabo from HitViews, February 3, 2010 at 7:20 p.m.

    ahh but the way we know it's all digital land and not radio, phone calls to author go unanswered. You know what's especially wacky about digital executives? They schedule phone calls. What's that about? Just pick up the phone and call, then answer the phone when it rings! Magic. Social interaction.

  5. Jackie Fisher from JFM&M, February 11, 2010 at 1:51 p.m.

    Radio is the original Social Media. Even today- listeners are communities with similar interests in music, events, etc. Radio/radio websites/streaming allow advertisers to create focused targeted integrated marketing. In January-one clients saw an increase of 35% in web visitors when we added a new station to the mix. Radio creates top of mind awareness and the desire for more info. Today- that means a visit to the advertisers website. Google is yellow pages on steroids!

Next story loading loading..