In recent months, ListenerThink has explored Pandora — one of the new approaches to delivering audio entertainment. Now, I’m curious to go retro, to the oldest radio — AM.  What does it stand for in listeners’ minds?

So last week, we  completed 412 telephone interviews with 18-64 adults in the U.S.  And we asked them…

What is the very first thing that pops into your mind when you think of AM radio?
Talk (Shows/Radio) 19%
News/Weather/Traffic/Info 13
Sports 10
Music   5
Static/Poor Reception   4
Dislike It/Negative Comment   3
Don’t/Rarely Listen to Radio   2
For Older People/The Elderly/Parents   2
Other 29

Not surprisingly, Talk radio is AM’s #1 top-of-mind image. Especially in our highly-charged and polarized political environment, Talk makes news. (Rush Limbaugh himself is named by 1% as the first thing that comes to mind about AM…the only individual volunteered. Separately, conservative/right wing talk also came in at 1%.)

Talk is even bigger than the overtly “informational” aspects of AM — news and sports.

But right up there with those responses is “Nothing” or “Don’t know.” One in ten 18-64’s “comes up blank” when it comes to AM radio, with NO idea whatsoever. As one respondent put it:

Something I don’t even know if my car has.  I don’t even know if they have AM radio anymore.

By demo cell, 18-24 year olds have the highest “Nothing/Don’t know” responses for AM, at 17%.

Then, there are those who flat-out say they don’t listen to AM…9% of the total. Of course, this does not mean that the rest do listen to AM…we know that’s not the case! It’s 9% that make a point of not listening:

Don’t remember the last time I listened to an AM station.

Interestingly, it is 45-54’s who express the highest percentage of “Don’t listen,” at 20%. They were teens in the ’70s, when FM really began to take over music formats. Perhaps more than any other group, AM is something they “moved on” from, while younger listeners are more oblivious to AM than overtly rejecting it.

Bottom line: AM is effectively branded (intentionally or by default) as a place for talk, information and sports. This imagery is a “survival mode” for AM.

But increasingly, that non-music programming is successfully shifting to FM. As that shift continues, AM’s “franchise” on those services — its remaining raison d’etre — will be gone. Based on this research, many won’t even notice.

Take away talk, news and sports. What does AM end up with???