A quick death for radio was predicted once television began to grow, but radio has survived and even prospered. There is a long term trend, however, toward more talk and less music on radio. Radio in the United States is broadcast in two bands, amplitude modulation (AM) and frequency modulation (FM). The FM signal is weak but of a better sound quality, suitable for music or stereo broadcasting. AM stations, which are both more powerful and much more numerous, are now almost entirely news and talk format. Just as with television, the national broadcast networks have affiliations with local stations around the country, though usually the only national programs are news and some interview shows.
Talk radio is big business, 24 hours a day. Many talk radio hosts are controversial, even abusive to their listeners. The vast majority of talk radio shows encourage telephone calls from listeners which are then broadcast. Even interview shows will bring their guests on by telephone. Some talk radio stations are 100% news, 24 hours a day. Most radio stations have frequent weather and traffic reports, with the largest operating special helicopters for following traffic conditions in major cities.
Music radio, either AM or FM, has many formats. “Easy listening” stations play soft, undemanding music, often called “elevator music” because sometimes similar music is piped into elevators in large buildings. Many ethnic groups have their own stations. Specialized stations play jazz, country music, classical music or even classic rock and roll. But the most distinctive and most American type of radio station is the “Top-40” pop station. These stations play the most popular pop songs accompanied by commercials and commentary from a rapid-fire professional announcer (a “disk-jockey” or DJ). These stations also have frequent promotions and contests to encourage people to listen. (“We’ll give $100 to the 45th caller.”)
Satellite radio is a relatively new phenomenon. Subscribers can access the signals from their homes or cars anywhere in the United States. In return for a monthly or annual fee, most satellite music stations have no commercials.
Commercial-free public radio stations are either listener supported or run by cities and universities. National Public Radio (NPR) provides many news and information programs on a nationwide basis to its affiliated non-commercial stations.
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