THE WORD "broadcasting" connotes serving the widest possible audience. Since the 1920s that is what AM radio was all about. A good example is Baltimore's WBAL, a 50,000-watt clear-channel powerhouse. audible from New England to Bermuda. For decades, it combined news and information with middle-of-the-road music, sports and some talk shows.
WBAL-AM has not had a music format for nearly two decades. One by one, other AM stations, too, have junked their music formats and have started programming for narrowly targeted audiences. When 56-year-old WITH is sold shortly and shifts to gospel, only one AM outlet, big band station WWLG, will keep on playing secular music. Some of AM radio's shift to narrowcasting -- from religion to various talk formats -- is due to technical reasons. In clarity and sound quality AM simply cannot compete with the FM band. That's where all the music has gone. Another reason for the trend is big corporations acquiring stations, says Harry Shriver, a local radio veteran: "Their only consideration is the bottom line. They are not interested in community service because they have never been part of the community."