Stay sharp, do not be fooled

I am wondering what is going on with the HD Radio roll out these days. Particularly the all digital AM conversion scheme being bantered about so often last spring. Not much is being discussed publicly about that or the AM revitalization.  I have found FCC Commissioner Clyburn’s remarks at this week’s NAB Confab interesting.  HD Radio is paid lip service here:

There are hurdles: if broadcasters do not broadly embrace the HD technology and the multicasting and other enhancements that it makes possible, listeners will have few incentives to buy digital receivers. Likewise, if no consumers own digital receivers, then there is no reason to broadcast in digital.
But I’m not worried. More than 15 million digital receivers have been sold so far, and that number will only rise. Thirty-three auto manufacturers include or plan to include digital receivers in their cars, and those receivers are standard equipment in over 80 models. This will dramatically increase the number of digital receivers in the coming years.

But in the solutions for AM broadcasters, HD Radio is not mentioned at all.  What is put forward as a six (actually five) step plan to revitalize AM radio turns out to be some rearranging of the deck chairs and little more. Cliff notes version for the FCC’s AM revitalization:

  1. Open a one time filing window for AM license holders to acquire an FM translator
  2. Relaxing community coverage rules for AM licensing allowing greater flexibility for transmitter siting
  3. Eliminating the “Ratchet Rule” used in night time allocation studies for new facilities
  4. Permitting more widespread use of MCDL technologies by eliminating STA requirements
  5. Reducing minimum field strength requirements by twenty five percent allowing the use of shorter towers

While those options may save an AM license holder some money, none of them do anything to improve the technical quality of AM broadcasting.  Several of them (#2, 4 and 5) will, in fact if widely implemented, reduce signal levels over cities of license, making electrical noise and interference problems more prevalent. This is a step in the wrong direction.

These points are basically a rehash of some to the MMTC’s (Minority Media Telecommunication Council) ideas for a radio rescue first bantered about in 2009.

This demonstrates that the NAB and the FCC are not at all serious about revitalizing the AM band but merely marking time and making it look good until the final transmitter is switched off.

AM licensees are on their own, but all is not lost.  I have noticed several successful stand alone AM station that are not only surviving but thriving.  The common thread in these station is good local programming.  On the technical side of things; a well maintained plant with good quality audio feeding a properly operating transmitter and antenna array will go a long way to providing good service to the city of license.

Et tu, Massachusetts?

The Massachusetts house is considering a bill to outlaw unauthorized transmission in the AM and FM broadcast band. The bill, H.1679 is included here for your reading pleasure:

SECTION 1: The General Laws, as appearing in the 2010 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting after chapter 93I, the following chapter:-

Chapter 93J. UNAUTHORIZED RADIO TELECOMMUNICATION

Section 1. As used in this chapter the following words shall, unless the context clearly requires otherwise, have the following meanings:—

“Emission”, radiation produced, or the production of radiation, by a radio transmitting station.

“License”, a radio frequency assigned by the Federal Communications Commission for use by amplitude modulation (AM) radio stations between the frequencies of five hundred thirty kilohertz (kHz) to seventeen hundred kilohertz (kHz), or frequency modulation (FM) radio stations between the frequencies of eighty-eight megahertz (MHz) to one hundred eight megahertz (MHz).

“Person”, a natural person, corporation, association, partnership or other legal entity.

“Radio telecommunication”, any transmission, emission or reception of signals and sounds or intelligence of any nature by wire, radio, optical or other electromagnetic systems

Section 2. Any unauthorized radio telecommunication or emission to, or interference with, a public or commercial radio station licensed by the Federal Communications Commission are prohibited.

No person shall (a) make, or cause to be made, a radio telecommunication in the Commonwealth unless the person obtains a license or an exemption from licensure from the Federal Communications Commission under 47 U.S.C. s. 301, 47 U.S.C., s. 605, or other applicable federal law or regulation; or (b) do any act, whether direct or indirect, to cause an unlicensed radio telecommunication to, or inference with, a public or commercial radio station licensed by the Federal Communications Commission or to enable the radio telecommunication or interference to occur.

Section 3. The attorney general may bring an action pursuant to section 4 of chapter 93A against a person or otherwise to remedy violations of this chapter and for other relief that may be appropriate.

Section 4. A person may assert a claim under this section in superior court, whether by way of original complaint, counterclaim, cross-claim or third-party action, for money damages, injunctive relief, and forfeiture of any property used in violation of this section. Said damages may include double or treble damages and attorneys’ fees and costs.

No forfeiture under this section shall extinguish a perfected security interest held by a creditor in a conveyance or in any real property or in any personal property at the time of the filing of the forfeiture action. Said forfeiture action shall be commenced in superior court.

This legislation is slightly different from the anti-pirate laws in NY and Florida as it appears the unauthorized operators would be liable for civil and not criminal penalties.  That is an interesting twist; potentially, a commercial broadcaster could sue an interfering pirate operator for loss of revenue, etc.  At least that is my interpretation of the above text and as I am not an attorney, I could be wrong.

It is also interesting to me that very few pirate operators in NY have actually faced a non-FCC law enforcement agency as of yet.  I have heard about only one, which was in NYC.  Is the criminalization of unauthorized broadcaster really affective in curbing pirates?  A quick tune around the NYC FM dial says no.  There are more pirates than ever and the NYPD seems to be too busy with other issues to go after them.

The FCC: Spectrum management in the public interest

Alternative title: Who will really benefit from all digital AM HD Radio™?

Remember when, at license renewal time, radio and TV stations played this announcement:

On (date of the last renewal grant), (station’s call letters) was granted a license by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee until (license expiration date)…

Emphasis mine.

There seems to be a disassociation between those words and the actions of certain broadcasters who view their licenses as a matter of fact and have little regard for the public interest.  The FCC exacerbates the situation with the attitude that everything, including the entire radio frequency spectrum, is for sale to the highest bidder.  John Anderson (DIY Media) has a great article on how big business interests game federal regulators into doing what they want.  This happens in all sectors; banking, agriculture, energy, health care, media, military and so on.   There are many examples of shoddy regulators and big business gone wild over the last ten years to fully prove this theory.  If you don’t believe me, do a little research.  There is no reason to think that the FCC is different from any other federal regulatory agency.

The vast majority of mass media outlets in the US are owned by just six major corporations (see below).  Radio remains the only piece of the mass media system that has not been completely rolled up in consolidation.  Currently, there is a small number corporate radio owners who own a combined ~2,300 stations and one public broadcasting network that accounts for another ~900 stations. I include public radio here because the majority of those station’s upgrades were footed by the taxpayer though grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. That leaves a majority of the approximately 8,500 radio stations that are still owned by a diversified collection of medium and small groups and individuals.

Forcing radio stations to adopt the proprietary, all digital HD Radio™ as the broadcasting standard would, in effect, drive many of those small owners and individuals out of business because of the exorbitant costs for equipment upgrades, antenna modifications, and licensing fees.  This would create a new wave of consolidation as smaller groups and single station owners sold out.  Any remaining small station owners will not have the legal wherewithal to fight against the coming waves of digital interference on both the AM (medium frequency) and FM (VHF) bands.

Therefore, the short answer to the question; who benefits from an all conversion to all digital HD Radio™ is iBquity and its investors, many of whom are found in the list of consolidated media corporations below.  Who looses? Just about everyone else; small and medium group owners, independent radio owners, listeners, communities of license, radio employees, advertisers etc. For those sitting on the fence, thinking “I’ll just do my job any everything will be just fine.”  Full implementation of HD Radio™ will destroy what is left of broadcasting in this country.  Radio is already on shaky ground as a result of product dilution, staff cuts, mediocre programing and competing media systems.  One more step backward, such as adopting a technically flawed digital system that works worse than its analog counterpart, and the remaining listeners may just say “screw this,” and abandon radio altogether.  When the last radio station is turned off, what do you think will happen to your job then?

At the big NAB Las Vegas confab, FCC commissioner Ajit Pai and to a lesser extent, Commissioner Rosenworcel, encouraged people to write or email them with their ideas on how to revitalize AM radio.  I suggest we take advantage of that invitation and tell them what HD Radio™ really is.  There is a shrinking window of opportunity to join the discourse and be heard, now is the time.

Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. ~John Stuart Mill

What is at stake?  The future of diversified media and radio broadcasting in the US.

Sidebar: Mass Media Consolidation

Can the public trust a mass media that is owned mostly by six mega corporations to honestly and without bias report news, current events, investigate corruption, and be a government watch dog?  History says no.

Who owns the media?

Time Warner

  • Home Box Office (HBO)
  • Time Inc.
  • Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.
  • Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
  • CW Network (partial ownership)
  • TMZ
  • New Line Cinema
  • Time Warner Cable (spun off in 2009)
  • Cinemax
  • Cartoon Network
  • TBS
  • TNT
  • CNN
  • HLN
  • MapQuest
  • Moviefone
  • Castle Rock
  • Sports Illustrated
  • Fortune
  • Marie Claire
  • People Magazine

Walt Disney

  • ABC Television Network (8 stations owned, 200 affiliates)
  • Disney Publishing
  • ESPN Inc.
  • Disney Channel
  • Radio Disney (31 stations, 2 affiliates)
  • SOAPnet
  • A&E
  • Lifetime
  • Buena Vista Home Entertainment
  • Buena Vista Theatrical Productions
  • Buena Vista Records
  • Disney Records
  • Hollywood Records
  • Miramax Films
  • Touchstone Pictures
  • Walt Disney Pictures
  • Pixar Animation Studios
  • Buena Vista Games
  • Hyperion Books

Viacom

  • Paramount Pictures
  • Paramount Home Entertainment
  • Black Entertainment Television (BET)
  • Comedy Central
  • Country Music Television (CMT)
  • Logo
  • MTV
  • MTV Canada
  • MTV2
  • Nick Magazine
  • Nick at Nite
  • Nick Jr.
  • Nickelodeon
  • Noggin
  • Spike TV
  • The Movie Channel
  • TV Land
  • VH1

News Corporation

  • Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
  • Fox Television Stations (25 stations)
  • The New York Post
  • Fox Searchlight Pictures
  • Beliefnet
  • Fox Business Network
  • Fox Kids Europe
  • Fox News Channel
  • Fox News Radio
  • Fox Sports Net
  • Fox Television Network (175 affiliates)
  • FX
  • My Network TV
  • MySpace
  • News Limited News
  • Phoenix InfoNews Channel
  • Phoenix Movies Channel
  • Sky PerfecTV
  • Speed Channel
  • STAR TV India
  • STAR TV Taiwan
  • STAR World
  • Times Higher Education Supplement Magazine
  • Times Literary Supplement Magazine
  • Times of London
  • 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
  • 20th Century Fox International
  • 20th Century Fox Studios
  • 20th Century Fox Television
  • BSkyB
  • DIRECTV
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • Fox Broadcasting Company
  • Fox Interactive Media
  • FOXTEL
  • HarperCollins Publishers
  • The National Geographic Channel
  • National Rugby League
  • News Interactive
  • News Outdoor
  • Radio Veronica
  • ReganBooks
  • Sky Italia
  • Sky Radio Denmark
  • Sky Radio Germany
  • Sky Radio Netherlands
  • STAR
  • Zondervan

CBS Corporation

  • CBS News
  • CBS Sports
  • CBS Television Network (16 stations owned, 200 affiliates)
  • CNET
  • Showtime
  • TV.com
  • CBS Radio Inc. (130 stations)
  • CBS Consumer Products
  • CBS Outdoor
  • CW Network (50% ownership)
  • Simon & Schuster (Pocket Books, Scribner)

NBC Universal

  • Bravo
  • CNBC
  • NBC News
  • MSNBC
  • NBC Sports
  • NBC Television Network (10 stations owned, 200 affiliates)
  • Oxygen
  • SciFi Magazine
  • Syfy (Sci Fi Channel)
  • Telemundo
  • USA Network
  • Weather Channel
  • Focus Features
  • NBC Universal Television Distribution
  • NBC Universal Television Studio
  • Paxson Communications (partial ownership)
  • Trio
  • Universal Parks & Resorts
  • Universal Pictures
  • Universal Studio Home Video

Large and medium group radio owners:

Bain Capital Partners, LLC Thomas H Lee Partners, LLC

  • Clear Channel Outdoor
  • Clear Channel Broadcasting (800 stations)
  • Premier Radio Networks
  • Radio Computer Services (RCS)

Cumulus Media (public)

  • Cumulus Broadcasting (550 stations)
  • Cumulus networks (formerly ABC Radio networks)
  • Broadcast Software International

Townsquare Media (220 stations)

Entercom (109 stations)

Salem Communications (97 stations)

Saga Communications (88 stations)

Univision (69 radio, 42 television stations)

Radio one (69 stations)

Family Broadcasting (63 stations)

Beasley Broadcast Group (47 stations)

Moody Radio (36 stations)