In almost every broadcast company I have ever worked for, there is always some communications dysfunction between management and the technical staff. It is perhaps, inevitable given the different cultures. Most managers come from a sales background, where everything is negotiable. The engineering field is fixed in the physical world, where everything has two states; right/wrong, on/off, true/false, functional/non-functional, etc. Try to negotiate with a non-functional transmitter, let me know how that works.
Engineering eggheads often couch their conversations in technical terms which tend to confuse the uninitiated. While those terms are technically correct, if I said “Радио генератор инвалида.” You’d say “Huh?” and rightly so. If the receiving party does not understand the terms used, it is ineffective communication.
The other mistake I often see, which irritates me beyond reason, is long rambling e-mails or other documents that fail to come to the point, directly or otherwise. Time is a precious commodity, waisting other people’s time with long needless diatribes is ineffective communications. Likely, the recipient will not read the entire thing anyway. If a person gains a reputation for generating huge amounts of superfluous verbiage, then it only becomes so much background noise to be filtered out. When I was in the service, I went to a class called “Message Drafting.” This was back in the day when everything was sent via radio. The gist is to get the complete idea across to the recipient with as few words as possible. Think: “ENEMY ON ISLAND. ISSUE IN DOUBT.” Clear and concise, six words paints the picture.
The key to effective communications is to know your audience. If you are writing a white paper for a bunch of MIT graduates, use all the appropriate technical terms. More often than not, however, as a broadcast engineer, our intended audience is more likely station management and/or ownership. Their backgrounds may be sales and finance.
In order to get those technical ideas into the heads that matter, a good method is to use the lowest common denominator. If the general manager is a former used car salesman, car analogies might work. The transmitter has 200,000 miles on it, the tower is rusting out like a ’72 Pinto, and so on. Almost anything at a transmitter site can be compared to a vehicle in some way. Find out what the manager’s background is then figure out what language he or she speaks and use it. You may say, “But he is the manager, it is up to him (or her) to understand this stuff.” You are not incorrect, but that is not how the world works.
Secondly, use brevity in communications. Managers are busy, engineering is but one aspect of the radio station’s operations. If written, provide a summary first, then expound upon it in follow up paragraphs if required. If you are in a meeting, give a brief presentation then wait for questions. Always have a high ballpark figure in mind when the inevitable “How much?” question comes along.
Don’t assume that the manager will follow through with your ideas up the chain of command, always follow up a few days later. If it is important, continue to ask, in a friendly way, if there is any progress on the issue.
There are so many ways to communicate these days that failure to communicate is almost unfathomable. One additional thought, if you find yourself out of the loop, find a way to get back in or you’ll find yourself looking for a new job.
There seems to be a growing trend lately; Stations that had previously separate programming being simulcast. There are two big ones around here: WGY and WHRL and WPLJ and WXLM.
Lets begin with the first one: WGY, now WGY AM/FM.
WGY (Clear Channel Communications) has been the regional power house since it’s inception in 1922. It consistently ranks in the top 5 arbitron ratings for Albany/Schenectady/Troy NY and is well received in the community. It carries the standardized Clear Channel talk radio format of Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, etc. As of September 20th, WHRL 103.1, class A licensed to Albany changed it’s call sign to WGY-FM and began simulcasting WGY 100%. 103.1′s 60 dBU contour is entirely within WGY 2.5 MV/M contour.
It would seem that radios, even bad radios, would have no problems picking up WGY’s signal within the 103.1 listening area. According to Clear Channel Management:
The decision to simulcast our 24-hour news/talk format on the FM will open up our content to an even wider audience. Despite the huge audience we currently enjoy, the fact is a significant portion of the Capital Region audience never thinks to visit the AM dial.
There is some small amount of truth to that statement; the younger segment of the population generally never listens to AM. Yes. The reasons, however, are not just because it is AM and they are prejudice. More likely, there is nothing on the AM dial that interests them. Satellite syndicated talk is not everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak.
The other side of the coin is the former WHRL had an alternative rock format, which never did all that great (I have a theory on why Alternative Rock, AAA and other such formats never get good ratings, but not right now). They also had a station staff, which by the time they pulled the switch, was down to one person. The Capital District Business Review notes:
According to BIA/Kelsey, a media research firm in Chantilly, Va., WGY did about $2.8 million in revenue in 2009. WHRL took in about $875,000.
Which is really not bad for a class A FM in market #63, during a recession. Apparently, not good enough however.
The second example in our little story is that of WPLJ and WXLM. WPLJ 95.5 (Citadel Broadcasting) is of course one of the heritage FM stations in Market #1. WXLM 104.7, now known as WELJ broadcast from the far eastern end of Long Island (Market #18), so the respective coverage areas do not over lap. Prior to September 24th, that station was doing a News/Talk format.
That end of Long Island is pretty affluent, a local (unique) station might even prosper. In fact, up until 2003 it did quite well for itself, then known as “The Beach.” However, nothing lasts forever and in 2003 Citadel Broadcasting purchased the station.
It has gone through a number of changes since then, most recently a syndicated news talk format. Unless I am missing it completely, the last ratings period, this station did not even show up in the book. As of September 21, it began to simulcast the co-owned out of market AC station, likely for the drive by PPM listeners in it. Again, no word on the fate of the former radio station’s staff (if there was one).
So what gives? Consolidators have already cut staff levels to the bone with voice tracking, syndication and automation. Even a voice tracked syndicated station still need some staff members; the occasional morning show, somebody to do promotions, some form of program direction do to things like music logs and other such behind the scenes work. Staff require salaries and salaries are expensive. Anyone that has ever looked at a companies P&L can tell you, salaries are the number one expense. If, however, the entire format is blown out, and something can be plugged in to fill the void that costs nothing and has no overhead and no staffing, well, now they are really saving money. That money from reduced expense is much better (far easier) than actually earning more money and it goes right to the bottom line.
This never ending drive to reduce expenses at the expense of everything else drives programming quality and thus entertainment value down. Who wants to listen to radio and be bored? Not I. This continuing trend is what will ultimately spell the end of terrestrial radio.
It they don’t care all that much about traditional phone service anymore. Through attrition, they have reduced their tech work force to about half what it was 15 years ago. All of the infrastructure; over head cables, buried cables, office frames, switching equipment, is getting old. Some of the cabling around here, both buried and overhead, is the original stuff, installed 100 years ago. Because it is expensive to replace, they don’t want to change it out, opting to simply limp along, swapping out pairs when a line or circuit goes dead.
I will be surprised if the traditional wired telephone network still exists in ten years. Think about it, ten years ago were were just heaving a collective sign of relief that Y2K turned out to be nothing, remember that?
For the local phone giant, offering 3 in one (telephone service, internet service and cable TV) is more appealing than servicing their existing accounts, including HICAP (high capacity) data circuits like T-1, BRI&PRI ISDN, etc. Much less so for a POTS line, which, good luck if you really need it fixed right away, we’ll be over when we get to it, just keep your paints on mister.
I’ve written about this before. A particular station for my former employer uses a T-1 circuit to relay the program from the studio to the transmitter site. This is fairly common in larger metropolitan areas where 950 Mhz STL frequencies are not available, nor is line of site between the studio and transmitter site obtainable.
Back in 2002, when the company was in the process of aquiring said station, I recommended a 950 Mhz STL. There was an existing STL license, fully coordinated, that came with the main station license. Only the equipment was needed. No, I was told by the CFO, we will do a T-1, thank you very much. I argued my point, saying that putting our radio station exclusively in the hands of the phone company was a bad idea. We would have problems with outages and service. No, said the CFO, this is New York, all the radio stations do that. Not exactly, New York is about 15 miles SOUTH of here, this is Westchester, the cables are old, a lot of them are overhead, which exposes them to lightning, vehicle damage, water, etc. There will be service issues if we rely solely on a T-1.
No, he said, “We are using a T-1 and that is final.” I hate to say I told you so, but… Let us examine the history between then and now:
Date of outage
Date of restoration
April 5, 2004
April 9, 2004
September 8, 2006
September 10, 2006
May 2, 2007
May 5, 2007
August 27, 2009
September 4, 2009
September 5, 2010
September 15, 2010
Fortunately, I wrote all this down in the transmitter site log. I was able to check it yesterday, when I went to restore the station to normal operation after the latest T-1 failure.
During those periods, we have used BRI-ISDN, which is okay but it was carried the same phone cable. It is likely to go down if there is a major cable interruption. We have installed a second T-1 circuit, which fails when the other T-1 circuit fails. We have used 3G wireless sprint card and streamed audio from the internet. That didn’t sound great, but we did clear inventory. We have moved one of the AudioVault servers to the transmitter site, and updated it once a day via shoe leather network, that sounded great, but it was difficult to do. We have borrowed an ethernet connection from another tower site tenant onsite and streamed internet audio via wired connection, which sounds pretty good.
Still, the best thing to do would be to establish our own STL path to the transmitter and get rid of the T-1 lines.
The Problem with the Phone Company is they are not all that interested in simple copper circuits anymore. Now, there is something called FiOS, which, it would appear is a much better profit center than ordinary copper circuits.
Inside radio seems to be hitting its stride, the latest story about a survey they took hits the nail squarely on the head. Of the survey takers, 74% say that radio is off the rails. According the Inside Radio, 854 surveys were completed.
Granted, most readers of Inside Radio likely work in the industry. The Recession (on which all bad things seem to be blamed) has cast a pall over the working environment in most radio stations, especially those owned by the big three. If anything, this survey is a good inside look at how radio station employees feel.
What is more telling are the thirteen pages of comments that survey takers left, many of which state precisely what I have said in the past:
It’s about live local connection to the community!
That cuts right to the heart of the matter. Radio has lost its connection with the local community and has marginalized itself. Now the major owners are riding the wave which is in decay. Radio is no longer about the listeners or even the advertisers, it is about maximizing profits and minimizing expenses until the day they throw the big switch and turn off the last transmitter.
I wonder if they’ll talk about that issue at the NAB, or will it be drowned out by happy talk of The Recession ending and a bright future ahead. More likely the latter, no one in high levels of radio management wants to admit there is a problem. A problem they created. Firing most of the local talent will be the undoing of radio. That being said, radio equipment manufactures and vendors will do pretty well this year. After all, equipment is an asset, employees are liabilities.
Radio stations, at least when I first started in this business, were always upbeat happy places. Even in the worst of times and conditions, there were enough characters around to keep things lite, even if it was sometimes gallows humor. Back then, radio was an entertainment business, and who better to practice on then each other. Working late at night on a crappy transmitter, there was usually plenty of company and pizza. Even though the pay was low, the perks normally made up for it; diner or a movie trade for overtime, etc. In short, it was a fun place.
That was then, this is now: There is no fun in radio anymore, anyone who attempts to have fun will be disciplined or fired. Here are fifteen ways to ruin your staff’s moral if you think they are having too much fun:
Give the general impression that you don’t care about them, or better yet, don’t care about them.
Slowly erode whatever benefits are left. Start with vacation time, reduce it by 1/3 or more. Force give backs on sick days and personal days.
Stop 401k matching contributions.
Make them pay a greater and greater share of health and dental “benefits.” Make sure the benefits have very high co-pays and yearly deductables.
Place the blame squarely on other shadowy exterior forces such as “The Banks.”
If the employees really have you up against the wall, fire the general manager then blame him/her for every bad thing that has happened in the last ten years.
Don’t give raises. Make an announcement at the Christmas Party that there will be no raises this year.
Micro-manage. Make sure that every decision to do anything, no matter how small or insignificant, is run by you first. No one is capable of independent thought or action. Delay everything for no purpose whatsoever, just to show them who is boss.
Fire all senior staff members because they are making too much money.
Don’t replace terminated employees, rather spread the work around to those left.
Continually ask the staff why it is taking so long to get their work done, hang around and offer meaningless suggestions on how to be more efficient.
To motivate sales people, attend sales meetings. Make each sales person stand up and state what their budget is, whether they are meeting it and what steps they plan to take if they are not. Have the spread sheet in front of you in case they lie.
Do not to any building maintenance: Roof leaks? Wear a rain coat. Furnace doesn’t work? Keep your coat on. Don’t have a coat? Here’s the address for the Salvation Army. Floor rotting out in the production room? Watch your step, else you may have to crawl through the spider webs under the building to get out.
Strongly “suggest” that all employees should work two Saturdays per month. If you think they are not meeting that “obligation” harass them every opportunity you get, e.g. the men’s room, staff meetings, the hall way, call them on Saturday at home and ask when they might be coming to work, etc.
If anyone complains, tell them the are lucky to have a job and if they don’t like it, they know where the door is.
Those are the best fifteen, there are many more. These are tried and true methods that have worked wonders for my former employer’s moral. Not so much, however, the staff. Those poor bastards.
You know, when your job interview seems a little off, perhaps it would be better to seek employment elsewhere:
So, the other day I was in the convenience store near my house. I had not picked up a copy of the local newspaper in quite some time, so I looked around for one. I couldn’t find it anywhere so I asked the checkout clerk, who looked at me rather dead pan and said “they went under about a year ago.”
What? I hadn’t even noticed my own local paper was gone, for a year?
A quick Google search and I found a notice on their website saying that the newspaper was no longer published and a blog entry from a former reporter summing up the end of the newspaper.
Sadly, the Millbrook Round Table was just one of scores of local newspapers forced to close down, because the holding company of many of them, Journal Register Co., defaulted on loans and was de-listed from the New York Stock Exchange. However, despite the sympathy I feel for all of those reporters, editors, photographers, graphic designers, proofreaders, ad salespeople and delivery people, no one can say we didn’t see this coming. The truth is, newspapers have been an antiquated technology, and try as they might, they haven’t been able to find a new business model that would enable them to be profitable in the post-paper world of instant, online publishing.
Sound even vaguely familiar? All of the small local newspapers bought up by a big consolidator, who then defaults and cuts costs. Caught behind the technology curve, unable to make up the lost ground, local institutions that have been in place for more than a century fold and disappear in the wink of an eye, sometimes completely un-noticed.
Sadly, I will say that the radio business seems to be on the same trajectory.
Lenders have until Tuesday to sign the deal, which would cut its $2 billion debt to $760 million. Shareholders would see their ownership stake wiped out.
So lets see, if you kept your Citadel Broadcasting stock (CTDB: trading at $0.041 per share) because you though it might go above a $1.00 per share again, you are screwed. Notice, 60% of the debt is just going away. Amazing! How do they do that? If I decided that I didn’t want to pay my mortage, would the bank entice me to start paying again by reducing it by 60%? No they would not. They would simply send me a foreclosure notice and eventually some guy would stand on the county courthouse steps and read my foreclosure warrant out loud to the passers by. If I am lucky, it will be lunch time and somebody might actually hear it.
No, what happens when a lender writes down $1.24 billion in debt is it gets passed on to all the other bank customers in higher interest rates, larger fees, etc. After all, the CEO needs to make his margins to earn that end of year bonus.
To recap, shareholders are loosing everything and we all are going to pay more because Citadel Broadcasting Corporation over paid for a group of radio stations, then ran them into the ground. Fuck us all.
Sign No. 1: Conspicuously posted vision or value statements are filled with vague but important-sounding words like “excellence” and “quality”
These words are seldom defined and the concepts they allude to are never measured.
Sign No. 2: Bringing up a problem is considered more as evidence of a personality defect rather than as an actual observation of reality
In a dysfunctional company, what it looks like is not only more important than what it is, it is what it is. If you don’t believe that, you are the problem. A surprising amount of information is classified. Dysfunctional companies have more state secrets than the CIA. Anything that might embarrass the boss turns out to be a national security issue.
Sign No. 3: If by chance there are problems, the usual solution is a motivational seminar
Attitude is everything, especially in places where facts are embarrassing or inconvenient. In a dysfunctional family, there’s an elephant — usually a drunken abusive parent — in the parlor, but no one ever mentions him. To appear sane, you have to pretend that the elephant is invisible, and that drives you crazy. Businesses are full of invisible elephants, too. Usually they are things that might cause difficulties for people with enough clout to prevent their discussion. The emperor may be naked, but if you have a good attitude, you won’t mention it.
Sign No. 4: Double messages are delivered with a straight face
Quality and quantity are both job one. You can do it both cheaper and better, just don’t ask how. If you’re motivated enough you should know already.
Sign No. 5: History is regularly edited to make executive decisions more correct, and correct decisions more executive than they actually were
Those huge salaries require some justification.
Sign No. 6: People are discouraged from putting things in writing
What is written, especially financial records, is purposely confusing. You can never tell when you might need a little deniability.
Sign No. 7: Directions are ambiguous and often vaguely threatening
Before you respond to a vague threat, remember this: Virtually every corporate scandal begins with someone saying, “Do it; I don’t care how.” That person is seldom the one who gets indicted.
Sign No. 8: Internal competition is encouraged and rewarded
The word “teamwork” may be batted around like a softball at a company picnic, but in a dysfunctional company the star players are the only ones who get recognition and big bucks.
Sign No. 9: Decisions are made at the highest level possible
Regardless of what it is, you have to check with your boss before doing it. She also has to check with her boss.
Sign No. 10: Delegating means telling somebody to do something, not giving them the power to do it
According to Webster’s Dictionary, you delegate authority, not tasks. In dysfunctional companies you may have responsibility, but the authority lives in the office upstairs.
Sign No. 11: Management approaches from the latest bestseller are regularly misunderstood to mean what we’re doing already is right on the mark
“Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” “Good to Great” and “Who Moved My Cheese?” all seem to boil down to, “quit griping and do more with less.”
Sign No. 12: Resources are tightly controlled
Your department may need upgraded software, but there’s been a spending freeze since 2006. Cost control is entry-level management, but in a dysfunctional company anything more sophisticated is considered too touchy-feely. Whatever you propose, the first question you will be asked is if it can be done cheaper.
Sign No. 13: You are expected to feel lucky to have a job and know you could lose it if you don’t toe the line
Dysfunctional companies maintain control using the threat of punishment. Most will maintain that they also use positive rewards … like your paycheck. A few people are actually fired, but most of those who go are driven to quit.
Sign No. 14: Rules are enforced based on who you are rather than what you do
In a dysfunctional company, there are clearly insiders and outsiders and everyone knows who belongs in each group. Accountability has different meanings depending on which group you’re in.
Sign No. 15: The company fails the Dilbert Test
Dysfunctional organizations have no sense of humor. People who post unflattering cartoons risk joining the ranks of the disappeared. When an organization loses the ability to laugh at itself, it is headed for big trouble. If you’d get in trouble for printing this article and posting it on the bulletin board at work, maybe it’s time to look for another job before this one drives you crazy.
Because of this post, I have received some e-mail asking why I am against community radio. I am not. In fact, I support community radio. I think that community radio done well is a wonderful tool in our democracy, giving a voice to those that are watching government. It also promotes other locals interests, events, music, etc. I would like to see more failing stations bought by community broadcasters and turned into something that is a public trust and responsive to the local population.
What I was trying to get at in the previous post was that over crowding the FM band with more and more small signals will degrade it. There is no ifs, ands or buts, removing third adjacent protections on the FM band will increase the noise floor. This will lead to more interference on the average FM radio, which will lead to more people getting fed up and tuning out.
Here is why: You cannot change the laws of physics. FM transmitters have output filters that attenuate side band energy, that is to say, energy transmitted on 1st, 2nd and 3rd adjacent channels. A 50,000 watt FM station on 100.3 MHz will have side band energy on 100.1, 99.9 and 99.7 MHz as well as 100.5, 100.7 and 100.9 MHz. Due to the limitations on the components used to construct those filters, they can only be designed with the accuracy of the components used. In other words, most electrical components have a tolerance given in percent, example +/- 10%. That means that the value of the component will change, usually because of heating. Therefore, output filters cannot be constructed to limit emissions to only the main channel and say one adjacent channel, they would drift off frequency.
Also, creating a brick wall filter that cuts everything off at the second adjacent channel will cause distortion of the RF signal on the main channel. With analog AM and FM transmitters it cannot be done. Digital transmissions are another story, but that is not what we are talking about here.
That is an engineer’s point of view.
One other thing about adding hundreds more LP FM signals. There should be something that stipulates most (say >50%) of the programming be locally originated. Recorded for later playback is fine. Having thousands of LP stations broadcasting the same syndicated shows or running voice tracked automation 24/7 would be a recreation of the AM band as it currently exists. If you want to listen to that, then it already exists, help your self. I, on the other hand, would like to avoid the AMization of the FM band.
I just finished reading Fighting for Air by Eric Klinenberg. It is a good book and a great discription of what has happened to radio since the major consolidations occured in 1999 and 2000. Depressing. Just damn depressing is what it is.
The book chronicles the evolution of the Prophet System and how that system was used to replace entire radio station air staffs. It discusses the various failures that radio has produced as a result of automated programming, the complete lack of originality, public safety issues and how major media companies have stripped the heart and soul out of radio.
Something that the book points out that I never really considered, every one of these unoriginal canned music stations diminishes all radio by some increment. For those that think the Clear Channels, Cumulus and Citadels are only harming themselves, think again. People who get fed up with radio and buy an I-pod are excluding all radio stations from then on. That is another degree of audience lost to a competing medium.
Having worked for one of the smaller group owners since 1999, one that rarely if ever appears on anyone’s radar, I can say I have seen some minor shades of what has happened with Clear Channel in the company I work for. I think everyone who works in radio has seen some of this in one form or another no matter who they work for.
Radio has never been the most stable of employers. Even in the early days, people moved in and out of radio stations, sometimes taking a job with the competitor across town and sometimes moving across country. It was understood that sometimes changes needed to be made, sometimes people had to be let go. It was a part of the landscape. The difference is in the post consolidation radio environment, people are leaving radio altogether, replaced by a mindless computer programmed from afar.
During my time as a radio engineer, I have installed a few of these computer automation systems. I think the first one was in 1993 on an AM station doing all news. We used it for the overnight hours, replacing some minimum wage board operators. The general manager was shocked and a little bit in awe of how well the system worked.
This trend continued in 1994, when I installed a BE Audiovault system at an AM/FM combo. There again, the system replaced an overnight board operator on the AM station. Later, the FM station did a sort of mini-mation where the overnight news guy checked on it every 45-50 minutes. Those stations are now completely voice tracked and or satellite syndicated.
Through the 90′s, I installed first generation computer based automation systems mostly on AM stations. Things like Digilink, DCS, ENCO, etc.
In other markets, an automation system was used to resurrect a couple of FM stations, starting out voice tracked, then adding live bodies to fill in day parts, usually having the 6 pm to 6 am time slot voice tracked. Having three day parts live is better than none I suppose.
The AM stations in my market cluster now are running some awful syndicated satellite news/talk programming. Why are these stations even on the air? They should be sold to someone who will operate them locally, or turn their licenses in.
For whatever roll I have played in ruining radio, I am sorry for it.
It is a good book, I recommend anybody that works in the radio business read it.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
~1st amendment to the United States Constitution
Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
~Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, Article 19
...radio was discovered, and not invented, and that these frequencies and principles were always in existence long before man was aware of them. Therefore, no one owns them. They are there as free as sunlight, which is a higher frequency form of the same energy.