Anybody out there still listening to music on AM or FM radio?

Radio isn't dead yet, but its future isn’t exactly healthy.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read

The McIntosh Labs MR87 tuner.

McIntosh Labs

In the age of streaming, it's starting to feel like local AM and FM radio is hopelessly out of date. I know a lot of people still enjoy music on the radio in cars, but it's facing stiff competition from YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Pandora, internet radio and SiriusXM Satellite Radio.

It's clear that millennials and Generation Z grew up with those other ways of hearing music, so fewer and fewer of them are listening to radio. Still, broadcast radio is free and easy, and that's a potent combination for listeners of all ages.

I grew up with radio, but ever so slowly got out of the habit of listening to music on college stations, most notably WFMU. Then I moved onto SiriusXM Satellite Radio , which definitely was a step down in sound quality from FM.

The last radio I regularly listened to was the Sony XDR-F1HD I bought on Amazon for $90, and it went on to be considered one of the greatest budget tuners ever made. Even so, without any explanation Sony stopped making the XDR-F1HD just a couple of years after they introduced it. The XDR-F1HD reminded me of how great the diversity of terrestrial radio is. Not just the music, but the personalities of the local DJs, and their ability to turn me onto new music was an essential resource. The intimacy of radio was, and is, hard to beat. I can't begin to imagine how many thousands of hours of my life were spent listening to tunes on the radio, and those people on the mikes. It felt like a very intimate connection between me and my radio. It really did.

Though I've reviewed countless AV receivers over the years with built-in AM/FM tuners, I can't remember the last time I ever listened to radio over any of them. Nobody cares. Most high-end audio companies have all but given up producing tuners, but there are exceptions -- the McIntosh Labs MR87 for example.

Will music on local radio ever stage a real comeback -- is that even possible? Some might point to the LP's strong comeback, but at least with LP there were reasons for its resurgence, starting with the fact that some people like to hold and touch their music. Lots of audiophiles prefer the sound of LPs over any digital format and selling LPs is profitable for record companies and bands.

I fell out of the habit of listening to music on the radio 10 years ago, but millions of people still do. Even so, news, talk and sports radio seems to be where the money is in radio in 2018.

Broadcast radio from stations that have good sound -- usually but not always NPR, public or college radio stations -- heard over the very best tuners can sound quite good. So here's hoping that broadcast local radio stations will survive and prosper.