FM News/Talk Watch: Phoenix

This is the latest in our ongoing watch of news/talk stations moving to FM in other markets.

Though Bonneville news/talk KTAR/620 Phoenix was already readying an FM broadcast on 92.3 there, as it turns out, the station is actually MOVING to the FM dial…leaving its long-time AM home at 620 behind.

The station announced this week that it’ll create an all-sports station on the AM frequency KTAR will open up. KTAR’s sports rights, which include most of the Phoenix market’s major league and major college properties, will stay at 620 surrounded by the new sports format.

KTAR will simulcast on 620 AM and 92.3 FM starting next month, and will solely air on FM starting in January 2007.

Bonneville is by far the largest proponent of FM news/talk and news formats in the country. It moved Washington DC all-news outlet WTOP to 103.5 FM, and simulcasts its 50,000 watt news/talk KSL/1160 Salt Lake City on an FM frequency in its home market.

Does this mean we’ll one day see Clear Channel talk powerhouse WTAM/1100 on the FM dial, either as a simulcast or alone?

We’re not saying that’s even in the near future. The four Clear Channel FM outlets in Cleveland are established, popular and basically not going anywhere.

But one day…mark our words. All major news and talk outlets will migrate to FM. The AM band is basically being held up by the presence of these stations, and popular sports talk stations. Without stations like WTAM on the AM band, the band may as well blow away and die.

And the biggest reason? Aging demos. And the fact that more and more, younger demos, even as they “grow up” into the time in their lives where news/talk stations become more important to them, are barely aware of the AM band.

Ask any 25 year-old. We did…asking our niece who is about that age. They don’t even know the AM band exists. Heck, at this point, with the iPod, MP3 downloads and the like, they aren’t tuning into the FM band as much as their, say, older uncles were at that age.

If you’re a news/talk station hoping to catch people as they age into their 30’s, tooling around on the AM band may be like driving an aging Oldsmobile trying to give them a ride.

Will it be in the next couple of years or the next 10 years? We suppose at least a part of it depends on how successful the existing FM news/talk stations are – especially in lowering demos. Clear Channel is no stranger to this concept, with FM news/talkers in Pittsburgh and Minneapolis.

The Pittsburgh station was basically an instant success, taking a large chunk out of dominant CBS Radio AM news/talker KDKA/1020 – and helping out sister Clear Channel FM rocker WDVE/102.5. The jury’s still out in Minneapolis…

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