Friday, November 12, 2004

AM Radio: Talk Radio

Last week, I said farewell to my pumpkin mobile: a poppy orange coloured 1965 V8 289cu Ford Mustang coupe. A splendid muscle car. It was actually the first car I ever bought myself.

Pumpkin - my poppy orange 1965 Ford Mustang

It is currently making its way to Southern California to be boarded on a cargo ship to Europe. Its new owner lives in Belgium and you might see it zooming by on the Belgian roads. I always tried to keep the car in as much as original state as possible. It still has the original engine, original transmission and original, working AM Radio. While FM radio had been invented by Edwin Amstrong in 1933, FM radios were not found commonly in cars of this generation. Most cars were equipment with sqeeky AM radios. When you driver underneath a bridge, the radio signal gets distorted. AM radios also ment long antennas and one had to watch out when driving into a garage (see how the antenna doesn't fit on the picture above).

At first, I wondered what to listen to on the AM band? Should I install a CD player underneath the seat? I drove around for awhile with a portable cassette player in the car to listen to my tapes, but that was really a hasle. I hardly listened to AM radio, until a friend told me she got addicted to Talk Radio and no longer listens to any of the music stations. And thus, for the last ten years later, I am a proud member of the cult of liberal (and on rare occasion conservative) talk radio listeners. While on Belgian radio you listen to music and little info segments (with the hourly newscast and one time evening behind-the-news segment), you do not find the all-day all-night discussion radio stations. I am a regular listener of KGO AM810 in San Francisco. My favorite talk show host has to be liberterian Gene Burns (lots of common sense and a great debater). While talk radio is predominantly on the AM band, you do find them also on FM radio. A great example is CarTalk which leaves politics outside and enters the garage.

I wonder if AM Talk Radio even has a slight chance to survive in Belgium? Probably not. Here's why:
(1) With exception of those betting on horses, very few people even know the AM band.
(2) There are few AM radio stations. The fact that Belgium is only a little country sure comes into play. AM Radio, by its nature, spans a much longer distance. On a good summer evening, KGO in San Francisco can be heard from Seattle to Baja in Mexico (and I don't mean via internet radio).
(3) Even though, on average, Belgians are more in touch with the news, the world and politics, you do not hear them talking about it all the time. The exception is 'The Seventh Day', a political debate program on Sunday morning. I believe Belgians do not feel as strong about an issue as the talk show listeners do. On many topics such as abortion, gay marriage, immigration, gun control, the US are very polarized, along the lines of "You are with them or against them." There is no middle ground. You therefor tend to have very strong opinions who will call into the talk shows.

On the other hand, maybe an FM sports talk radio, such as KNBR AM860 might work well in Belgium, covering national but also the local sports. Mmh? Let me get back to you on this.

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