Radio stations in the Americas
The expansion and dominance of FM radio, which has better audio quality but a more-limited broadcast range than AM, represented the major technical change in radio during the 1970s and 1980s. FM radio (aided by the development of smaller portable radios and "Walkman" headsets) dominates music programming, while AM has largely shifted to talk and news formats. Talk radio became more popular during the 1980s as a result of improved satellite communications, the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine and (by the mid-1990s) extensive concentration of media ownership stemming from the Telecommunications Act of 1996. While before the 1980s talk radio was primarily a local phenomenon, the development of national spoken-word programming contributed to the renewed popularity of AM radio. However, this popularity is fading as previously AM-only stations begin moving their operations to FM simulcasts or translators.
Both FM and AM radio have become increasingly specialized. Music formats (for instance) comprise a variety of specializations, the top five in 1991 being "country and western", "adult contemporary", "Top 40", "religion" and "oldies". Radio has been shaped by demographics, although to a lesser degree than television; modern radio formats target groups of people by age, gender, urban (or rural) setting and race. As such, freeform stations with broad-spanning playlists have become uncommon on commercial radio.
In an era in which TV is the predominant medium, the reach of radio is still extensive. Ninety-nine percent of American households in 1999 had at least one radio; the average is five per household. Every day, radio reaches 80 percent of the U.S. population. Revenue more than doubled in a decade, from $8.4 billion in 1990 to more than $17 billion in 2000. Radio continues to prevail in automobiles and offices, where attention can be kept on the road (or the task at hand) while radio is an audio background. The popularity of car radios has led to drive time being the most listened-to dayparts on most radio stations, followed by midday (or the "at work" shift). Transistor radios, a technology that has been available since the 1950s, were the method of choice for listening to music on the go for most of the late 20th century, before digital media players and later smartphones (many of which have FM radios as part of their hardware) took those roles in the 20th century.
The majority of programming in the United States is in English, with Spanish the second-most popular broadcast language; these are the only two languages with domestically produced, national radio networks. In the largest urban areas of the United States, "world ethnic" stations may be found with a wide variety of languages (including Russian, Chinese, Korean and the languages of India); relatively widespread languages French and German have comparatively few radio outlets (in the case of German, due to the fact that most of its speakers are Amish or from similar sects and thus shun radio technology). French speakers can generally receive programming direct from Canadian broadcasters, which are receivable near the Canadian border, and a handful of local stations serving the Haitian diaspora and Creole populations also serve areas in the southeast.
Until the 1980s, most commercial radio stations were affiliated with large networks such as Capital Cities/ABC, CBS, Mutual Network, NBC, and others (e.g., RKO in the 1980s). The traditional major networks that had dominated the history of American radio up to that point began to be dissolved in the 1980s; RKO was forced to break up in a billing scandal, while NBC Radio and Mutual sold their assets to up-and-coming syndicator Westwood One, which itself would be bought by rival CBS in the 1990s. ABC maintained most of its radio network until 2007, when it sold off most of its stations to Citadel Broadcasting (it maintains two specialty networks, sports-oriented ESPN Radio and youth top 40 Radio Disney). CBS sold off Westwood One to private equity interests in the late 2000s as well, but unlike its rivals maintained ownership of its flagship stations. As of 2012, most commercial radio stations are controlled by media conglomerates and private equity firms such as Bain Capital (Clear Channel Communications), Oaktree Capital Management (Townsquare Media) and Cumulus Media.
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