The 70s are over and MTV is just getting started. Your radio is more lively than usual. Disco has drifted off into the Sunset and Springsteen is the must-listen-to artist now. You never really got into Punk very much – it was a little too old for you at the time; you were 13 when Anarchy In The U.K. came out. But New Wave is another story. You’ve been glued to your TV lately because MTV started over the Summer and its the only thing you’re watching the past month. You freely admit to being a fan of The Buggles and you’re wondering why your radio station isn’t playing the new Human League single because Don’t You Want Me has been on MTV hundreds of times the past week alone. Something’s going on. It ain’t the 70s anymore.
If you remember 1981 you’ll remember that it was the year MTV made its debut – and even though it took weeks before it made its way across the country; going from New York to L.A., the effect it had on the music business and radio in particular was profound. Suddenly a completely different playlist of songs was being heard, and now seen, some not even released in the U.S. – Radio was scrambling to catch up. AM radio was rapidly dying on the vine with stations hanging on or changing formats completely, or being sold and disappearing by the mid-1980s. KFRC-AM would hang on as a top-40 station until 1986 when it decided enough was enough and went the Adult Standards route.
In a way, MTV signaled the end of an era – but for AM radio that end came several years earlier when FM exploded on the scene. Since the 1970s listeners to AM radio steadily declined, favoring FM for its high quality, and it was a listenership that never returned. Things changed and they changed for good. It’s difficult to imagine AM radio as being the unquestioned powerhouse it once was if you weren’t around for it while it was happening. Maybe this 1+ hour of Rick Shaw from KFRC-AM in San Francisco from late fall 1981 will remind you or familiarize you when radio was a bastion of personalities and high-pressure music.