On a clear cold night in Northern Minnesota, while driving down the highway in your car, you may just be surprised to switch on your AM RADIO and pickup broadcasts from stations all over the United States. Many of these are known as CLEAR CHANNEL AM RADIO STATIONS (not to be confused with a radio conglomerate known as Clear Channel Communications).
Clear channel AM radio began around 1922 when the government designated large stations across the United States to be given exclusivity on their frequency, meaning no other stations in the nation could broadcast on the same frequency (channel number). In some cases 2 stations received the same AM frequency if they were on "opposite coasts" and the distance between them was far enough apart to limit interference. Gradually the maximum power granted to these stations was increased to 50,000 watts. Many of these stations had what they called "non-directional signals" meaning they beamed out in a 360 degree circle from their transmitter, giving them huge geographical coverage across much of the United States. In the 1950′s debate rage in the industry about the justification of clear channel AM radio. Those for it said it gave coverage to rural areas not being served. Some said it was important to have clear channel AM radio stations to be available to the nation in times of crisis, such as during WWII. Those against it said it provided unfair competition and that if clear channel AM was cut back, rural areas would get new stations giving them local coverage. Eventually, different classes of radio stations were developed by the government with different power levels allowing more stations on the same frequency, although many of these are known as "daytimers" and need to cut back power or go off the air at night, again giving the nation over to the big clear channel giants.
Many people do not realize that the AM Radio Band is allocated into 3 categories (and its not TALK RADIO, SPORTS RADIO, and NEWS RADIO!!). They are LOCAL, REGIONAL, and CLEAR CHANNEL. Local channels are usually 1230, 1240, 1340, 1400,1450, and 1490. These stations are usually limited to a maximum of 1000 watts of power, are on congested frequencies, and rarely cover a radius of more than 30 miles. Regional stations can have power up to 20,000 watts, and are licensed to cover a specific geographical area. Many times they will lower their power levels at night as the AM signal travels farther at night due to less interference.
Here are some of my favorite AM CLEAR CHANNEL RADIO STATIONS you should be able to pick up most nights in our area.
650 khz WSM Nashville TN (Home of the Grand Ol Opry on Saturday Nights!)
700 khz WLW Cincinnati OH (Known as "THE BIG ONE" and home for a nationwide overnite "Truckin BOZO" show)
720 khz WGN Chicago (The VOICE of Chicago)
760 khz WJR Detroit (News/Talk…signed on May 4th, 1922…85 years on the air)
780 khz WBBM Chicago (Newsradio 780…40 years on the air…a CBS station)
830 khz WCCO Minneapolis (The Good Neighbor…The Nightime Station for the Nation…started Oct. 2nd, 1924 by the Washburn Crosby CO…the forerunner of General Mills)
850 khz KOA Denver (Newsradio)
890 khz WLS Chicago (Where Chicago comes to TALK…started by Sears Roebuck Co. on April 9th, 1924…WLS standing for "Worlds Largest Store")
1040 WHO Des Moines IA (Newsradio…started in 1924 by Bankers Life Insurance)
1090 KAAY Little Rock, AR (currently religious programing but a well known Rock and Roll station during its heyday)
1120 KMOX St. Louis, MO (the "Voice of St. Louis…on the air Christmas Eve 1925 and touts that it is regularly heard in 44 States and holds the distinction of being "Americas Most Dominant Radio Station in History" with the largest share of audience of any station with 129 consecutive #1 Arbitron radio ratings in a row.
1500 KSTP Minneapolis/St. Paul ( AM 1500 The Talk Station…started Feb. 13th 1925. They were the 1st radio station to employ a news department, in 1926 the 1st clear channel radio station in the United States. By the way KSTP TV in 1948 was the 1st television station between Chicago and Los Angeles).
1520 KOMA Oklahoma City, OK ( a great "oldies" station)
There are about 80 clear channel giants…I only listed about 13 of them that regularly come blaring into most areas of the Midwest. As a side note…depending on weather conditions you may even pick up some radio stations from Mexico as several of their "clear channel" radio station are allowed to blow out at 100,000 watts (twice that what is allowed in the United States). Wolfman Jack had a regular show on one of these huge Mexican stations giving him an audience coast to coast across the United States. Another bit of trivia…in the early days of radio…all AM radio stations located WEST of the Mississippi began with the letter "K" and all AM radio station located EAST of the Mississippi began with the letter "W". There are about 30 exceptions to this rule…mainly in states where the Mississippi River flows through.
Although many of these are available with live streaming broadcasts on the Internet, I invite you to give the car radio test a try. Car radios are exceptional as their metal acts as an extended antenna and gets great reception. Feel free to comment on your experience.