Norway will switch off its national FM networks in 2017, according to the Ministry of Culture announcement. In the place of analog FM will be DAB. The aim is to have the migration to DAB completed by December of 2017. According to the article, approximately 54 percent of households and 20 percent of automobiles have DAB radios. What is left unsaid is the 46 percent of households and 80 percent of automobiles that do not have DAB capable receivers.
I am sure that in the ensuing year and a half to two years, those numbers will change somewhat. It still seems to me that there will be many people who will likely not have a DAB radio in their car before the analog switch off.
Judging by the comments on the Slash dot story, many are not happy with this decision. Perhaps the most telling comment is this:
This is just Norway going off on its own crusade urged on by commercial interests of 10+ new channels, fuck whether it makes sense to throw out millions of radios… I expect this to lead to a massive interest in building out 3G/4G coverage as ex-FMers give DAB the middle finger.
Yup, that sounds about right.
I don’t know much about radio in Norway, but it if is anything like radio here, good programming trumps technical do-dads and and fancy gimmickry.
This saddens me a little bit. Apparently, the Village of Valatie, NY is seeking repayment of a $500K loan from Transmitter Manufacturer Energy Onix. Since the passing of Bernie Wise, the company has basically folded.
The village may foreclose on the building if necessary, said Mayor Diane Argyle.
Located at 1306 River St., Energy-Onix was founded in 1987 by broadcast pioneer Bernard Wise, who is known for bringing the “grounded grid” to radio broadcasting. The company designed, manufactured and sold radio transmitters and tubes.
Sadly, there goes support for many Energy Onix and CCA transmitter still in the field. I know of several of those old CCA transmitters that are still cranking away, 40 or more years after they rolled out of the factory in Gloucester, NJ. I have tried, several times, to call Energy Onix since Bernie passed last year and the phone goes unanswered. I wonder if we could pick up the the field support and service for these units. I wonder if there are any spare parts left at the old factory building?
WGHQ was donated by Pamal Broadcasting to Tri-State media over the New Years Holiday. Originally signed on in 1955 as WSKN in Saugerties, NY, WGHQ had been struggling to hang on over the last few years. The station had been on a syndicated satallator automation format with the only local show being Kingston Community Radio, airing weekday mornings from 6-9 am. In the end, it was either go dark or donate the station.
Tri-State Media is the owner/operator of WHDD AM/FM and WLHV, which are NPR affiliates. They also simulcast on WBSL-FM, owned by Berkshire High School, when the students and faculty are not on the air. A look at the program schedule shows a variety of music, local and national news and talk.
Over the last five years or so, several AM stations have been donated to community oriented groups and organizations, most notably the MMTC. Often, these stations are in rough to very rough technical condition and many are silent. It is noted that WDTW no longer has a transmitter site and KWHN was suffered severe damage due to flooding. Those stations donated to the MMTC often find themselves LMA’d to a local group to run for a while before ownership is transferred.
City of License
Pentecostal Temple dev
New Kensington, PA
Pentecostal Temple dev
North Augustsa, GA
Ft. Smith, AR
There may be other stations that were donated to various other groups, but this is all I could find using Google. I notice several of them are on the current list of silent stations. I wonder how many are currently on the air and successful. Are they being locally programmed? If so, how has the reception been in there respective communities? What remediation was required for the technical facilities and how much did it cost?
AM; it has a future or not? I cannot make up my mind sometimes. As some AM stations can and do make a profit, many others do not. Truth be told, the engineering effort that goes into an AM directional antenna is becoming a black science. And some people may say, “oh, but that gives you job security,” but that is not usually how it works. Instead of paying somebody more money (or any money) to maintain something, the business philosophy these days seems to be to chuck the baby out with the bath water. Because after all, if not AM then FM right? Yes, of course! Except, the very thing that happened to AM is happening to FM too. Increasing noise floors, jamming signals into every possible nook of the frequency spectrum, no thought toward technical facilities and infrastructure, and horrible, horrible programming will result has resulted in the decline of listening for FM too. Mark my words and the date; FM broadcasting will suffer the same fate as AM if current trends continue.
Guy wires in trees
How will it end? I would hazard with more of a whimper than a bang. I imagine something like this:
One day, in the not very distant future, at an AM station somewhere, the transmitter faults and goes off the air. Chip, the computer guy, goes in the back room, moves a bunch of cleaning supplies, cases toilet paper, a garbage can and the remote gear out of the way so he can reach the ON button on that box the old guy told him about. The big box makes some clunking noises and comes on for a second, but then the fault light called “VSWR” or something comes on and the transmitter shut off again.
Chip, the computer guy, remembering what the old guy said about that big tall thing behind the building, pushes the back door open. What used to be a field is now completely overgrown with weeds, brush, and trees. He follows the pipe from the back of the building, through the prickers until he comes to an old fence, which is falling down. He pushes on the locked gate and it falls off the hinges. Inside the fence, there is a rusty tower and a white box. Finding the box unlocked, he opens it and sees a baffling array of metal coils, copper tubes, and black round things. He sees that one of the black round things is cracked in half and black goop is coming out of it. The computer guy takes a picture with his cellphone and emails it to the market manager/vice president of sales.
A few minutes later, the the market manager calls back and Chip tries to explain what is going on, stating the the transmitter went off and the black thing in the box by the tower looks broken. The market manager/vice president of sales asks “Has anyone called and complained?” Chip says no, not that he is aware of. The market manager says, “Eh, fuck it leave it off.”
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.
A pessimist sees the glass as half empty. An optimist sees the glass as half full. The engineer sees the glass as twice the size it needs to be.
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.