Radio Nerd Geek-Out! A History of Broadcasting Automation

If you’ve ever been involved in the radio biz, you’ll know that automation has almost always been part of the equation. (Anyone want to write up a description of the massive cart machines Moffat stations used to use?) This article posted on the official website of the Modesto Radio Museum shows how things have developed over the decades.

In the 1940s and 1950s, FM radio stations begin to gradually spring up all over the country, generally alongside a sister AM station. Most stations held their FM license by simulcasting the programming of the AM sister station.
In the 1960s the FCC introduced a rule that prohibited owners of AM and FM stations from simulcasting in an attempt to increase variety of programming and generate FM listenership. The FM audience share at that time was very small. Since the AM and FM stations aired the same programming, there was little reason to listen to FM. The rule targeted major markets first and had a “roll-out” period of several years with a less percentage of simulcasting allowed each year and smaller markets coming under the umbrella of the rule.
When station operators chose what format to air on the FM stations, one of the objectives was to not compete with the AM stations. During this time AM stations could target big audiences so you could categorize stations with broad definitions such as MOR, top 40 and country/western. So “counter-programming” the FM was simple. A young targeted Top 40 AM would likely target older on the FM and vice versa if the AM was an older targeted MOR station. Nearly every large market had a “progressive rock” album station, a forerunner to AOR, and a “beautiful” music station. Both approaches had some early success. The baby boomers were coming of age and gravitated to the better audio quality, fewer commercials and “hipness” of the free-form rock stations. Older FM listeners embraced the lush sounds and fewer commercials of beautiful music stations. Many offices and retail stores used the “beautiful” stations as free Muzak.
The station operators also wanted to be able to run the FM stations inexpensively. There wasn’t the revenue from FM to support a “live” presentation with another staff of announcers. The result was the birth of automated equipment and the pre-recorded, syndicated format business.
Drake-Chenault Enterprises (originally American Independent Radio Inc.) was the primo radio syndication company that specialized in automation on FM radio stations. The company was founded in the late-1960s by radio programmer and deejay Bill Drake (1937–2008), and his business partner, Lester Eugene Chenault (1919–2010). Drake-Chenault was the predecessor of Jones Radio Networks with its syndicated satellite-delivered formats.
Read the entire article here. There’s so much that I did NOT know.

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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