A personal appreciation of AM radio

[This was my weekly column for GlobalNews.ca – AC]

Many years ago, someone asked singer Tom Waits about his favourite sounds. He replied, “a baseball game on an AM radio on a warm summer night.” He’s not wrong. To generations of radio listeners, there’s something mystical about the tinny, crackly sounds of an AM radio broadcast.

AM radio (or if you’re from certain parts of the world, mediumwave, which accounts for the “MW” marking on some radios) has been with us since the earliest days of wireless transmission more than 120 years ago.

After governments loosened the restrictions in civilian use of wireless communication after the Great War, AM radio turned into a profitable commercial enterprise after 1920, spreading all across the world.

To say that radio exploded in the 1920s and ’30s doesn’t do it justice. Instant human communication! Entertainment! Music! News! Fireside chats from government leaders! Broadcasts that travelled over hundreds or even thousands of miles! It didn’t take long for every country and territory in the world to have its own AM radio stations.

Reception could be fussy: static from thunderstorms, interference from power lines, noise from automobile ignitions, and fluorescent lights. But AM broadcasting established radio as humankind’s first mass-media tool that could be consumed in real-time.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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