While both AM and FM radio are considered “traditional radio,” the two are actually quite different and not just in how they work on a technical level. While FM radio tends to be music, AM radio is often referred to as talk radio, as there are a lot of talk shows, sports (which are essentially announcers talking), and news.
In the United States, FM radio is the clear winner when it comes to audience reach compared to AM radio. This can largely be attributed to the fact that there are 4 FM radio stations for every 1 AM radio station in the USA. But why are there more FM radio stations to begin with?
Part of the reason has to do with sound quality. AM is broadcast in “medium wave”, from around 500KHz to nearly 2MHz. FM is broadcast in the “very high frequency band,” from 87.5Mhz to 108Mhz. So the total space for AM broadcasts is about 1.5Mhz while FM broadcasting has around 20.5Mhz in space, which is about 14x bigger. This extra space allows FM radio to send more data and broadcast in stereo sound. As FM sounds better, it’s the better choice for music stations.
Another reason there are more FM stations than AM stations may be down to people’s view of AM radio. Many have come to associate AM radio with being the home to boring talk shows and low quality programming. A lot of people just never even switch to AM or scan AM stations, instead always staying on FM.
Many FM radio stations currently limit themselves to 12 minutes of advertising per hour. This typically is broken into commercial breaks that take place after a block of 3-8 songs in a row. Research has shown that users feel that they have listened to fewer ads if they are served in blocks after several songs in a row. A typical FM radio ad will be a 30 second spot.
AM radio, which is mainly talk radio, is typically syndicated. The radio shows come with their own syndicated advertising, which uses about 12 minutes per hour just like FM radio. However, AM then additionally has space for local radio ads. The combination of the 12 minutes of syndicated ads and additional time for local ads means that AM radio typically has much more ad time than FM radio.
As AM radio is less popular, some AM stations also don’t have as much demand for advertising. Fewer advertisers competing for ad space has resulted in some stations running longer ads in comparison to FM radio.
Some of the most common questions we hear about radio advertising revolve around the topic of cost. This makes sense as advertisers of course want to know how much they are going to have to spend to get their ads heard.
When comparing AM radio advertising rates to FM radio advertising rates, advertising cost really will depend on various factors like the station, location, reach, popularity of the program, time of day, length of the ad, and more.
However, we can generally say that AM radio is typically less popular than FM radio, with fewer listeners, and their ad rates typically are lower on average. This isn’t always true, as there are some AM radio stations that are extremely popular, and some FM radio stations are struggling, but it works as a generalization.
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