Rush Limbaugh single-handedly revived AM radio. In 1988, his syndicated talk show brought people back to a place they had left for the FM dial.
AM radio once was all we had. The advantage of the AM spectrum was the number of stations you could pick up, especially at night.
I listened to stations from all over the country. Late at night, stations from Chicago, Denver, New Orleans, St. Louis and other distant cities would come in loud and clear. And even during the night shift when the jocks were talking their lingo, the stations still reported the news, weather and sports.
The first station for which I worked was a standalone FM station. In the late 1970s, an FM station that wasn’t paired with an AM station didn’t have much of a chance of survival. That’s because it wasn’t until the early ‘70s that car manufacturers began adding an AM/FM radio as an option in cars and trucks.
The first vehicle my family owned that had AM/FM was a 1971 Buick Elektra 225 Limited. It was as long as a yacht, and the sound system was excellent. Even though we had FM, most of the more well rounded stations were on the AM dial. So, we still listened to a lot of AM. One reason was Paul Harvey.
That is until about 1978. That year, a movie called FM debuted and drew attention to the FM dial. One line from the lead song on the soundtrack by Steely Dan was, “FM … no static at all … ”
FM? It definitely sounded better. A lot better. The music was in stereo. Storms didn’t cause static. But FM focused on music. Consequently, news, local swap and shop shows, and other local programming disappeared.
AM stations provided a much better and more well-rounded programming schedule. News at the top of the hour, weather coverage, music, and many stations carried a man who became an institution — Paul Harvey.
This guy was on the radio with his News and Comment segment from 1952 to 2008. That’s 56 years. Eisenhower was president when he started.
His reporting was to the point. I’ve never heard any other broadcaster master word economy close to the level of Paul Harvey. And his reporting was down the middle. It was reporting as reporting is supposed to be.
My degree is in journalism. When I was studying in college, the one thing that was hammered into our heads was that reporting is simple. You go out, write down what you see and hear and then come back and tell your listeners, readers, or viewers what you saw and heard.
Opinions had to be labeled as such. My column is an opinion piece.
What Paul Harvey perfected and delivered to America (his audience was as high as 24 million each week) had already begun to go the way of the AM dial. National TV networks are filled with news pieces laced with opinions. Facts are secondary. But the major news networks purport to be reporting just the news.
Paul also had a segment he called, “The Rest of the Story.” He’d tell a story, and at the end he’d surprise you with who the story was about. It was masterful and always educational. There’s nothing like that on the air now.
The state of the news media has changed. Local news is really our last line of defense to keep people honest. Covering school board and city council meetings is boring (I’ve done both), but those who serve in an elected office or lawbreakers have a hard time hiding things when the press is asking questions.
If we lose that, we’re in trouble.
Rush Limbaugh may have revived AM radio, but his program is opinion. We no longer have a Paul Harvey.
And I’m sad about that.
But there is something we can do about it. Subscribe to your local paper. Listen to your local news radio stations and watch your local TV stations. Patronize the businesses who advertise with them.
There’s a reason the First Amendment is first. If it goes, so go the rest.