Rants, radio, and the AM iPod

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The review of Apple’s iPod Radio Remote by my Macworld colleague, Rob Griffiths, and a subsequent comment by Playlist forum visitor Hayesk, got me thinking about the state and future of radio.

As pointed out by Rob, Apple’s remote has no AM tuner. Given its size this isn’t surprising—AM tuners require an antenna, which the remote’s small size doesn’t allow. (FM tuners can use an attached cable as an antenna.) But is an AM band even desirable? Mr. or Ms. Hayesk suggests it isn’t: “Besides, AM radio is pretty much dead at this point.”

I disagree.

Yes, AM-radio-as-the-home-of-Top-40 is just about dead and gone. That music has shifted to the FM band. But what’s left is programming that, I dare say, is more vital to a lot of listeners than what’s beamed from local FM transmitters. Specifically, sporting events such as baseball, basketball, football, and hockey games; talk (or yell or scream or rant) radio; and non-English programming.

Look, I like NPR as much as the next guy, but with the advent of podcasting and services such as RadioTime, I can download the programming I want to my iPod and listen at my leisure. And music? Thanks to iTunes and the iPod, I’ve become my own music programmer—creating commercial-free playlists that appeal to me. When I’ve made a mistake and don’t care for something the iPod’s playing, there’s no need to bang on a radio station button looking for another random tune. Just hit Forward and I’m on to the next thing.

But what good does time-shifted radio and an FM tuner do me when I’m parked in front of a Giants game? Or, between innings, when I want to quickly get the blood boiling by tuning into the rants of the local loony talk jock? Or after the game when I need to quickly check local traffic conditions? Rather than carry both an iPod and AM radio, I’d love to have my listening rolled into one device.

I suspect that much of this will become moot in the next few years as radio shifts—talk radio and sports going to FM, FM’s music content moving to satellite and downloads, and AM becoming the home for non-English stations (where I live nearly half the AM stations are devoted to Spanish programming).

In the meantime, anyone interested in creating an AM accessory for my iPod? Spring training isn’t that far away.

This story, "Rants, radio, and the AM iPod" was originally published by PCWorld.

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