I grew up listening to overnight radio way before I needed it to help keep me sane while at my last job. One fun thing that has not changed over the years is the ability to pick up "far away" stations after dark. Some of the powerhouses come in remarkably clear. This was all you could do in the days prior to Internet streaming. WCBS, WFAN and WJR were a few of my favourites back then.
In Montreal, we've had some really entertaining stuff on after midnight over the years. I can go back as for as the mid-80s and the late Dave Patrick. He was the first voice in the night that I can remember hearing on our local airwaves. Just because the program began at midnight didn't mean that it wasn't going to be very entertaining!
The last man standing in our local overnight radio land was Sol Boxenbaum. His program began at 3 AM, so if you were sleeping and never had a chance to hear his show, you're probably not alone. It took him about 50 years to realize his dream of becoming a radio announcer. (So I guess there is still hope for me...) I'll always have a soft spot for Sol, since he was the first guy I ever interviewed while at radio school. He couldn't have been nicer.
So who makes up the audience at 3 o'clock in the morning? Obviously, people who work the graveyard shift make up a significant part of the audience. I don't have any stats to back this up, but I am assuming there are probably more overnight workers now than ever before.
Then there are the people who can't sleep, or choose not to. A lot of them may be alone, and many of them are seniors. The voice in the night comes across as a welcome friend for a lot of lonely people. Having said that, when a french radio network did away with their overnight talk show last year, it caused a great deal of distress to many of their listeners who were left with no alternatives. Even as we enter 2010, conventional radio is still important to a lot of people.
Advertisers don't seem too impressed with the overnight audience. No real surprise there. Ratings numbers come across as pretty miniscule after a certain hour, if they are measured at all. In the case of the later scenario, proper ratings figures might be hard to come by. The new "people meters" are not specifically handed out to people who are up at night, so ratings numbers will appear pretty non-existent. Syndication and replays seem to be the post-midnight choice for most AM stations nowadays.