Pressure Night

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Twenty-five years ago, something like 96 percent of American homes had radios, but only about two-thirds of homes have them today. And today, as the COVID-19 crisis continues, stations are plugging their streaming capability and their apps, but it will be hard to make up for the drop in the number of drive-time commuters, or people in offices, pulling down megahertz or kilohertz from the sky.

Since the crisis began, some radio stations have actually gained audience shares, however: listeners are turning to all-news stations and public radio in greater numbers than before. If listening to those stations becomes a habit, listeners may stick with them if and when the crisis eases. But if habits can form in a positive direction for radio, they can also form in a negative direction. Some stations may never get back the listeners who have left them for Spotify or Pandora or podcasts or whatever they want from a smart speaker.

If and when the COVID-19 crisis ends, radio’s competitive landscape will be a lot different. Profit margins will be even thinner than they were before. Nobody will blame advertisers for an unwillingness to pay pre-plague prices for post-plague audience numbers when those numbers are lower. That new economic reality, combined with massive personnel adjustments at the major chains and at smaller groups like the one I have been furloughed from, make it clear that the industry to which some of us hope to return will be vastly different from the one we left.

Thinking about all this makes me nostalgic for the way it used to be, so it’s a good time for another podcast episode, with more stories from my radio career. You’ll learn the meaning of Pressure Night, and you’ll find out what it’s like to introduce famous rock stars from the stage. I’ll tell you about the most embarrassing money I ever made. You’ll hear about the day I nearly killed a co-worker by accident, and the night I got overserved while I was on the air.

It’s below, and it can also be found at the usual other locations:  Google PlayTuneIn, Stitcher, and Apple Podcasts. To listen to other episodes, go here. And stop back tomorrow for another rebooted One Day in Your Life post.


7 thoughts on “Pressure Night

  1. Scott Bennett

    Steve Lang, an auto writer, swears that in a couple of years cars aren’t going to come with radios any more.

    1. mikehagerty

      Scott: Steve’s a friend of mine (you can check out his work at Car and Driver, among other places) and he’s very insightful. I’m not sure I agree with him on this, though.

      First, automakers are very committed to infotainment in their vehicles. The chip that allows a system that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and eight or ten other functions to accommodate AM/FM radio is a very cheap investment.

      Tesla has dumped AM from some of its newer (post-Model S) vehicles, but they claim it’s because electrical interference from the car renders AM useless. GM, Kia and other EV manufacturers don’t seem to have that problem, though (‘tween you and me, I suspect Elon thinks AM is too unhip to be in his cars).

      Living in a place (Northern California) that sees evacuations on an annual basis (wildfires, and, three years ago, the threatened collapse of the Oroville Dam), there is simply no better means of being given critical, life-saving information when alone and driving a car than a radio.

      I anchored KFBK-AM/FM’s coverage of the evacuation of the town of Oroville and everything for 30 miles south of there—188,000 people in an evening—and what we heard that night and for weeks after was how we were the only source of information in real time for people trying to get to safety in areas where cellphone coverage was spotty and/or the ability to access it impractical or unsafe. The same again the following year when a wildfire destroyed virtually the entire town of Paradise (previous population 26,800).

      If you’re in traffic in Los Angeles or San Francisco when a major earthquake hits (the 1971 Sylmar quake was at 6:00 a.m., the 1989 Loma Prieta quake hit at 5:04 p.m.), the best thing you can have in your dashboard is a radio. I think even Elon Musk gets that.

      1. Scott Bennett

        He says he has it on good authority, but I certainly agree with everything you say. I listen to the radio just about every time I drive. I followed the Blancolirio channel on YouTube and watched the whole story of the Oroville Dam failure and rebuild. What a story!

  2. Leo Edelstein

    Real good AM radios in cars, and some home sets, are so adventurous at night when the clear channels burst to life. Falling asleep to Pay Hughes on WGN and John Rooney on KMOX and (just retired) Marty Brennaman on 700 WLW, priceless. Long live AM radio.

    1. mikehagerty


      The trouble is that even if we had the really good AM tuners in cars (the 1960s/70s Ford units were spectacular—as were the GMs before they went to the windshield antenna), the noise floor from commercial signage (those are flourescent tubes in all those backlit signs) to the electronic devices we all now can’t live without is too high to allow AM stations the range and clarity they used to have.

      Plus—and your mileage may vary—my attempts to DX at night usually end up in finding George Noory (Art Bell’s successor) at 16 different spots on the dial.

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