The big AM switchoff gathers pace

James Cridland - radio futurologist

Jan 16 2023 • 9 mins

The UK continues its effective switch-off of the AM waveband. The station I knew as “Virgin 1215”, more latterly “Absolute Radio”, comes off AM this month in the UK. After working for Virgin for a number of years, it’s sad to see the AM signal go.

In the same press release - the first station I worked behind a mixing desk for - the station I knew as Classic Gold West Yorkshire on 1278 and 1530, will also be turned off.

The first commercial radio station I ever listened-to at home, which I knew as Signal Radio 257, is also being turned off.

And the first commercial radio station I listened to while being stuck at school, Radio Tees (also 257), will also see the big switch-off by the end of this month.

It’s almost as if Bauer are doing this personally!

No wonder, really: according to a government official, AM radio in the UK has about 2% of UK radio’s listening hours, yet costs 35% in electricity costs. It’s eye-wateringly expensive to be on AM if you look at the power costs.

Adam Bowie knows more than most, and has blogged about the intricate details of one of the UK’s special INR analogue licences coming off the AM band. He suggests it’s “a healthy six figure sum” to broadcast a national radio station on AM.

Steven Goldstein, blogging from CES, notes that Tesla, Porsche, Audi, Volvo, and Ford have all removed AM from their electric vehicles. Some suggest that it’s an interference issue; that’s probably part of the reason, though my hybrid Toyota Prius manages AM just fine - I also suspect it’s the cost of antennas and shielding.

Remaining on the AM dial in the UK - and using the same, shared, transmitter network - are talkSPORT and BBC Radio Five Live. It’s likely that this will, long term, mean that their costs increase.

AM radio is clearly on its last legs - regardless of what the DRM Consortium will tell you - and what happens in the US and Europe will have its effects elsewhere in the world.

Here in Australia, the ABC’s flagship speech services (ABC Local Radio, News Radio, and Radio National) are all on AM in the capital cities. Their presence on DAB - surely one of the escape rafts for these services - is never once mentioned. Each of those services is in decline. I worry.

  • Interesting to spot new, frequency-free logos for Nine’s radio services, like 4BC in Brisbane, and 2GB Sydney. I hope that they will be accompanied by the AM frequency in marketing (since that’s still important to market), but as a long-term change, it’s one that makes sense.
  • A good piece from Valerie Geller in 2006 - which radio programmers would have been wise to have listened to: arguing for doubling-down on radio’s unique selling proposition, rather than cutting it out and relying on syndicated stuff.
  • Devices used when listening to audio in the home....