Sounds of Change

A History of FM Broadcasting in America

By Christopher H. Sterling, Michael C. Keith

336 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 7 illus., 20 tables, 8 maps

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5888-2
    Published: July 2008
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7755-5
    Published: September 2009
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8082-6
    Published: September 2009

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Awards & distinctions

A Choice Outstanding Academic Title

When it first appeared in the 1930s, FM radio was a technological marvel, providing better sound and nearly eliminating the static that plagued AM stations. It took another forty years, however, for FM's popularity to surpass that of AM. In Sounds of Change, Christopher Sterling and Michael Keith detail the history of FM, from its inception to its dominance (for now, at least) of the airwaves.

Initially, FM's identity as a separate service was stifled, since most FM outlets were AM-owned and simply simulcast AM programming and advertising. A wartime hiatus followed by the rise of television precipitated the failure of hundreds of FM stations. As Sterling and Keith explain, the 1960s brought FCC regulations allowing stereo transmission and requiring FM programs to differ from those broadcast on co-owned AM stations. Forced nonduplication led some FM stations to branch out into experimental programming, which attracted the counterculture movement, minority groups, and noncommercial public and college radio. By 1979, mainstream commercial FM was finally reaching larger audiences than AM. The story of FM since 1980, the authors say, is the story of radio, especially in its many musical formats. But trouble looms. Sterling and Keith conclude by looking ahead to the age of digital radio--which includes satellite and internet stations as well as terrestrial stations--suggesting that FM's decline will be partly a result of self-inflicted wounds--bland programming, excessive advertising, and little variety.

About the Authors

Christopher H. Sterling is professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University. He is author or editor of two dozen books, including Stay Tuned: A History of American Broadcasting.
For more information about Christopher H. Sterling, visit the Author Page.

Michael C. Keith is associate professor of communication at Boston College. A former broadcast professional, he cofounded the Broadcast Education Association's Radio and Audio Media division and is author of twenty books, including Dirty Discourse: Sex and Indecency in American Radio.
For more information about Michael C. Keith, visit the Author Page.


"Well researched and documented. . . . This interesting, well-written book is worth acquiring. . . . Essential."--Choice

"Sterling and Keith . . . intelligently consider FM's present and future. . . . Allowing FM's story to date--a distinctly American tale of art, science, business, and ingenuity--to conclude satisfyingly, loud and clear."--The Atlantic Monthly

"Another solid contribution to our understanding of the broadcast industry."--Journalism History

"A story of ambition, depression, hope, and success told with skill by two of broadcasting's best scholars."--Centre Daily Times

"Fills a significant gap in the literature. . . . Likely to remain the definitive history of FM radio for some time to come."--H-Net Reviews

โ€œThe history of FM radio is often overlooked in general accounts of broadcasting; television gets the limelight while FM fades into the background. Chris Sterling and Michael Keith tell an important and neglected story in the history of broadcasting and, by implication, the history of American culture. The authors are two of the leading historians of U.S. radio, and their depth of knowledge is apparent throughout the book. Sounds of Change fills a significant gap in broadcasting scholarship.โ€--Michele Hilmes, University of Wisconsin-Madison