October 2013
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I receive quite a few off line emails from my readers. I hope that I get to them all.  At the end of the day, after coming home from class, I can be pretty bleary-eyed and may make a mistake or two when parsing the inbox for relevant subject lines in and amongst all the other flotsam and jetsam that occupies my e-mail. Truth be told, I am often working on this thing in the 9-11:30 pm hours, which is not my sharpest time of day.

And so it is tonight.

Why do I expend so much time and effort on a blog?  For that, I would like to relate a little story.

A couple of years ago, I received an email from a woman in Russia.  She had somehow come across this blog and asked if I wanted to be her pen-pal for a while, as she needed to practice her English writing skills.  I was intrigued by the idea but had one condition for her; she must treat me like a Russian person.  Her response was something along the lines of:  “So, you want to be treated like a Russian person do you?  Fine, you asked for it.”  What followed was one of the most interesting and informative exchange of ideas I’d ever had.  At some point, we managed to exchange a few photographs and her comment on mine was “That is a terrible picture, you like like the worst sort of KGB agent.”  I laughed so hard my stomach hurt because it is true; I look terrible in almost any picture ever taken of me.  What made this exchange so interesting was the truth that was told.  There was no expectations or preconceptions, just two virtual strangers telling it like it is. People love the truth and know it when they hear it.

That reminds me of why I do this.  I would like to give some idea of what it is like to be a broadcast engineer in the United States.  I can say that the company I work covers the area in and around NYC all the way up to the Canadian border.  We see the operations of stations in small, medium and large markets everyday.  What I see in the day to day operations of the radio business are likely very different from the versions printed in the trade magazines.  The truth that I know and a lot of my readers know too, is one of slow decay over the years, cuts in operating budgets, reduced employees, declining programming quality, reduced or non-existent maintenance, suffocating bank notes, and so on.  And it is not just the mom and pops.

Radio will only exist for as long as it is relevant.  Crappy, bland, monolithic programming, stations on autopilot during an emergency, poor technical quality, prolonged off air periods; those sounds precede the sound of the off button being pushed.  It matters not the band or modulation scheme either.  If radio is going to be a viable business, the programming must get better.  Otherwise, the ride is over; time to collect up our things and move on.  And that would be a shame.

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5 comments to Why?

  • Noel MacClanahan

    Well said. The state of terrestrial broadcasting is a slow steady decay of equipment and programming. The corporate world of clusters, automation and small staffing leaves no room for personality, localization and the real fun that radio used to be. The FCC has abandoned us as the step-children of their lucrative auction business and like all abandoned beings…we either die, or find a way to survive and hopefully thrive. I’d like to think the latter will prevail.

    Best regards.

  • Paul,

    I enjoy reading your blog. As a whole, radio engineers are some of the most knowledgable and interesting people in the industry. They often “get” things that the programmers and suits ignore.
    For instance, satellite fed dreck is not going to attract any kind of sizable audience.

    My plan to apply for an LPFM station is moving forward and I have a completed application ready to go. One of the pledges is for at least 20 hours a week of local programming. I not only plan to meet that pledge, I plan to have the bulk of all programming originating from the studios.

    This has turned into a grassroots kind of thing. I am proposing a primary classic country format, with some light crossover pop songs. Well, Paul, I have had folks clean out their shelves and bring albums and 45s, cassettes, old CDs..converting all of this is a BIG task. I plan to also have older Christian music on Sundays, and a Sunday Night gospel sing of country gospel music,

    Will it thrive? I don’t know. I don’t expect to make loads of money. After all, it is non-commercial, programmed to a demographic and audience that is not served by the commercial stations. But if it can pay its way and not be a burden, then I am fine with it.

    I miss being involved in radio on a daily basis. LPFM appears to be the only possible way to be involved in doing what I really love.


  • Peter Ward

    It is blogs like yours with personality & honesty that make the industry worth tolerating.

    It is clear that most broadcasting loves advertising, tolerates audiences & thinks any programming is a “winner” based on the propaganda in industry trades. Truly a dishonest industry in a dishonest world.

  • Paul Thurst

    Noel, you are right. Radio has been counted out before. Smart radio owners that do not wish to see their investment vanish into thin air will make an effort to reverse the trend. We shall see if they are successful.

    Alan, I hope that you succeed in your effort. It sounds like you have the right idea.

    Peter, On a large scale, yes. On an individual, station-by-station basis, perhaps not.

  • Amen! –*Content* is what gets listeners. The technology is just how it gets there. If listeners are just after some slick packaged format, they can get it over the internet or via satellite radio. The local stuff will get them and hold them — weather, local news, high school sports, etc. Amazing how few station owners understand this. (One of the strengths of noncommercial radio is that they can’t really “ride the net” 24/7, so you get some local fine-arts type spinning classical recordings, or student talk-shows or whatever. Such “highbrow” fare is routinely thought to be a loser — yet people tune in for it.)

    Maybe local radio is just “wallpaper,” but it’s wallpaper that makes steady money if it’s done right – and performs a useful service, too.

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