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Radio, the vast wasteland revisited

Sunday, 14 July, 2013

I am presently reminded that Newton N. Minow’s vast wasteland was in fact television, and not commercial broadcasting in its entirety. This editorial gaffe shall not be corrected largely because I can’t think of a better title.

By which is meant information relayed in audio form from a central point, electrically encoded on a specific frequency, which may be received by a mass audience equipped with electrical receivers designed for this purpose.

By which is not meant music streaming services, automated or otherwise, or the relay of similar programming via internet, satellite, wire or as a carrier on another airwave service.

You know, radio. The medium that started to abandon its audience around 1984 and somehow persists today by sheer inertia. Like this:

I tried to find a video of the same kind of thing from another era, but that just isn’t going to happen.

I am remembering a friend, 30s at the time, who one day on a lark, elected to press some of those buttons installed in the dashboard of her car, ostensibly for playing compact discs. She discovered beloved internet service NPR played programming on it. When this was excitedly revealed to me in conversation days later, I realized the thing I wanted to do when I grew up really was irrelevant. Content-free chatter by unpaid hosts pushing their latest crapola via satellite, the same songs they were playing up to fifty years ago, and not as a specific format (Led Zeppelin’s Communication Breakdown was released forty-four years ago), or newly produced music intended to be the soundtrack of a short film without the compelling images of implausibly attractive people,  two minutes of vague headlines at the top of the hour if you’re lucky, a commercial set which makes you wonder exactly what kind of scum do they think listens to this, &c. I shall avoid discussion of the technical and related bureaucratic issues which make what programming you find awkward to process with the mind.

By my count, one finds nineteen (19) protected full-power-at-night radio stations in the US with programming which is not a mere relay of content on hundreds of other similar stations.

If you want news, and you don’t, you can go to television or something like it on your computer, phone, tablet or whatever. Headlines and “what people are talking about” are a mainstay of the internet. Weather is trivially available through similar means. You can get really, really into the weather in a way which cannot be done traditionally quite easily. Traffic information is often custom tailored by satellite-established location, or at least readily available with compelling detail through your mapping system by city. Music delivery is so diverse it defies concise description. I have no idea how the old farm-report information is disseminated, but it isn’t by radio. If you want content in your talk, you can find podcasts or listen to public radio. With all of this said, if non-content-free radio persists on this continent, it almost certainly is on a station with access to a high-power skywave after sunset. It is with a certain irony I turn to the internet, specifically Wikipedia, to search for these isolated jewels in a sea of, frankly, two thousand stations all playing Coast-to-Coast AM. I am literally going through the listings by hand, the old-fashioned way, to see what is out there. Actually tuning on an actual radio doesn’t seem to work for this purpose.

A protected station of 25 kw or higher from dusk ’til dawn qualifies as “high power”.  Here is the list, categorized by futility:

Brokered religious (that is 100% paid content from “Christian” sources) programming:

  • KAAY 1090, Little Rock AR
  • KJNP 1170, North Pole-Fairbanks AK

Over 50% of broadcast hours as syndicated chatter, some are over 75%. Conventional hard-right but not explicitly religious unless otherwise noted.

  • KBYR 700, Anchorage AK
  • KENI 650, Anchorage AK
  • KEX 1190, Portland OR
  • KFAB 1110, Omaha NE
  • KFAQ 1190, Tulsa OK
  • KFAR 660, Fairbanks AK
  • KFBK 1530, Sacramento CA
  • KFI 640, Los Angeles CA
  • KFQD 750, Anchorage AK
  • KMOX 1120, St Louis MO
  • KNZR 1560, Bakersfield CA
  • KOA 850, Denver CO
  • KOAN 1020, Anchorage AK
  • KOKC 1520 Oklahoma City OK
  • KXEL 1540, Waterloo-Cedar Falls-Cedar Rapids IA
  • WABC 770, New York City NY Flagship of several national talk shows which define this category.
  • WBAL 1090, Baltimore MD
  • WBAP 820, Dallas TX Flagship for Red Eye Radio
  • WGY 810, Schenectady NY
  • WJR 760, Detroit MI
  • WLAC 1510, Nashville TN
  • WLS 890, Chicago IL
  • WOAI 1200, San Antonio TX
  • WOR 710, New York City NY Flagship for several Premiere Radio Network talkers.
  • WRVA 1140, Richmond VA
  • WSB 750, Atlanta GA Flagship station for Clark Howard and Herman Cain.
  • WTAM 1100, Cleveland OH
  • WTIC 1080, Hartford CT
  • WWKB 1520, Buffalo NY Unique on this list center-left talk
  • WWL 870, New Orleans LA
  • WWVA 1170, Wheeling WV

NPR-affiliated “member” stations. All are in Alaska.

  • KBBI 890, Homer AK
  • KBRW 680, Barrow AK
  • KCHU 770, Valdez AK
  • KDLG 670, Dillingham AK
  • KOTZ 720, Kotzebue AK
  • KYUK 640, Bethel AK

Syndicated sports talk, which could be the most compelling radio on the air but never rises to merely listenable

  • KCBF 1290, Fairbanks AK
  • KIRO 710, Seattle WA
  • KSTP 1500, Minneapolis-St. Paul MN
  • KUDO 1080, Anchorage AK
  • KWKH 1130, Shreveport LA
  • WCKY 1530, Cincinnati OH
  • WMVP 1000, Chicago IL

Local-origination sports, with the exception of syndicated coverage of sporting events and statutory requirements.

  • KNBR 680, San Francisco CA
  • WFAN 660, New York City NY
  • WSCR 670, Chicago IL


  • WSM 650, Nashville TN Flagship station of The Grand Ole Opry
  • WQEW 1560, New York City NY Radio Disney
  • Honorable mention: CFZM 740, Toronto ONT Mostly music, oriented toward adult standards and golden-age reruns.

All-news, over 75% of broadcast hours dedicated to locally originated news reports. These are all CBS owned-and-operated stations.

  • KGO 810, San Francisco CA
  • KNX 1070, Los Angeles CA
  • KRLD 1080, Dallas TX, some syndicated talk.
  • KYW 1060, Philadelphia PA
  • WBBM 780, Chicago IL
  • WCBS 880, New York City NY

Stations that fulfill the requirement as a full-time, full-service or news-and-information outlet serving upon the community in which they are based. Several of these stations merely provide a regional spin on the hard-right, national hate machine. For purposes of this list, that is not relevant.

  • KDKA 1020, Pittsburgh PA
  • KNOM 780, Nome AK
  • KOMO 1000, Seattle WA
  • WBZ 1030, Boston MA
  • KSL 1160, Salt Lake City UT
  • WCCO 830, Minneapolis-St. Paul MN
  • WFED 1500, Washington DC Primarily news and talk of local origin specifically for employees of the United States Federal Government.
  • WGN 720, Chicago
  • WLW 700, Cincinnati OH

Much syndicated content, but does not achieve the 50% of broadcast hours criterion above

  • WBT 1110, Charlotte NC
  • WHAM 1180, Rochester NY
  • WHAS 840, Louisville KY
  • WPHT 1210, Philadelphia PA

Not classifiable by the above standards

  • KICY 850, Nome AK This is a local-affairs station with much live-and-local programming, including daily music, a focus on regional music and only three hours of syndicated programming per day. They broadcast religious programming from 11 PM to 4 AM in Russian directed to Siberia.
  • WBBR 1130, New York City NY The same Bloomberg Radio service available via satellite and internet.

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