June 2017
M T W T F S S
« May    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  

Archives

Categories

I wonder

Update:  Apparently the pictures in this post have upset some people. Even though there is no identifying information; no call letters, no company name, no location given certain folks have been putting a lot of pressure on the guy I work for. I do not want to make any problems for him, so I removed the pictures.  After all, the last thing we would want to do is acknowledge there is a problem.  The commentary stays.

Well, we have returned from our semi-vacation. Sumat to do with the other side of the family;  a road trip to Canton, Oklahoma, a brief study on mineral rights,  then a family reunion.  On the return home, several side trips to interesting things like the Abraham Lincoln museum in Springfield, Illinois and the Gateway Arch in Saint Louis.  We also stopped in Springfield to see Santa Anna’s leg, which seems to be generating some controversy of late.  I do not like to announce such things ahead of time because it seems like an invitation for a house break in.

But, all good things come to an end, so back to work it is.

And then there is this:

transmitter site

transmitter site

A transmitter site for a group of stations not too far from here.

transmitter site

transmitter site

Class B FM station (50,000 watt equivalent) running 100 watts.

transmitter site

transmitter site

And filth, lots of filth.

transmitter site

transmitter site

As more full time broadcast engineers drop off line, we seem to be picking up more and more work.  That is good for business, but some of these sites are downright depressing.

It is very sad to see such disrepair and makes me think that we are in the last days of terrestrial radio.  Truth be told, the end may be many years off, but the decline gets steadily steeper every year.  In the end; Television, Video, Satellite, the internet and took small bites of radio, but radio owners are the true culprits when it comes to who killed radio.

It is hard to make predictions; so many have failed in the past, but ten years maybe.  Perhaps a few more.  It will depend on whether or not business still find value in radio advertising.  Right now that looks pretty far fetched, but who knows…

My appologies for the lack of posts

Two reasons for this; first, I am deep into the IP networking curriculum and time is at a premium.  That being said, I am rather enjoying myself in school, which is always good.  Secondly, and related to the first part, I have not been spending too much time these days doing Broadcast Engineering work.  Thus, the subject matter and various topics have not been jumping out at me as they normally do.

My busy schedule not withstanding, there are some interesting things going on in the realm of Radio Engineering:

  1. On the LPFM front, the FCC has dismissed over 3,000 translator applications from the great translator invasion of 2003.  This is great news and now potential LPFM applicants can use the FCC LPFM search tool to get a good idea of what is available in their neck of the woods.  Other search tools include Recnet and Prometheus Radio project.  Filing window is October 15, 2013, apply now or forever hold  your peace.
  2. Chris Imlay has some good ideas on AM revitalization. His suggestion is to have the FCC enforce and strengthen its existing rules regarding electrical interference. I notice two letters are missing from his list, those would be “h” and “d.” While the ideas are technically sound, it seems unlikely that the FCC can or would be able to enforce stricter Part 18 rules.
  3. Lots of EAS shenanigans going on with zombie alerts and hijacked EAS systems.  Really people, default passwords?  Secure your equipment and networks or pay the price for complacency.  Nearly all new equipment has some sort of web interface, which can be a great time saver.  They can also be easily exploited if left vulnerable.  Fortunately, this was not as bad as it could have been.
  4. Something happened in NYC that hasn’t happened in quite a while.  Country music filled the air on a station that is generally receivable in the five boroughs.  This may not seem like big news to the rest of the country, but in market number one, it is big news.  Further, Cumulus has registered “NashFMxxxx.com” for every FM dial position.  National country channel in the works?  I’d bet yes.  A look at recent trends shows that Cumulus is standardizing formats on many of its AM and FM stations, making them, effectively, part of a nation network of over the air repeaters.
  5. Clear Channel has put more effort into iHeartradio, for seemly many of the same reasons as Cumulus’s standardized formats.

Where is this all going?  There are several trends evident including; AM will eventually be declared DOA and switched off, transition to national based music formats, an emphasis on IP (internet) based delivery systems, an eventual phase out of local programming, smaller staffs concentrated on local sales and little else.

The single bright spot could be LPFM.  Only time will tell if this new crop of LPFM licensees will keep the faith and tradition of local radio.  If one looks at the natural course of evolution, under times of extreme stress, species tend to get physically smaller in response.  The larger species cannot sustain themselves with the necessary energy intake and die off.  See also: Dinosaurs.  I certainly would call this prolonged, nearly dead economy stressful on the broadcasting business.  Perhaps, when all is said and done, it will be the small, volunteer LPFM still on the air and serving the community.

Old Year SWR

This time of year is when we all sit back and asess things that we did in the past 365 or so days. It is called reflection, which is just a civilian term for SWR (Standing Wave Ratio).

Thus, I though I would take a little time and make a few observations about the business, my part in it, and this blog.

1.  The business of Radio:

Let us be honest, Radio is not what is used to be.  Many times, what it used to be was somewhat of a free for all, wheeler dealer radio station owners cutting corners and making do with less than optimum equipment and staff.  And trade, lots and lots of trade. Only in large metropolitan areas did radio stations make enough money to throw it around, but sometimes not even then.  Radio was by no means a huge money making operation and therefore, those that worked in mostly it did it as a labor of love.  That may or may not have come across on the air.  By far, the funnest station I ever listened to was run from a closet, with a sound reinforcement board and the program directors CD collection.  What made it so much fun was they had nothing to loose, there were no restraints placed on the staff.  Once that on air enthusiasm translated to ratings, then to revenue, the magic was gone and they were just another radio station filling a spot on the dial.

The radio business has fully transitioned from a fun, seat of the pants entertainment operation to a mega money making corporate mentality under the control of mostly non-entertainment types.  Even those stations owned by smaller group owners are forced to rely on the tactics developed by the big two in order to stay in business.

Group owners will continue to extract money in whatever way they can until the money train runs off the rails.  Then, radio will be replaced by something less.

2.  Radio Engineering:

Engineering will continue to grow smaller, with more emphasis on computers, networking, and IT infrastructure.  The future distribution of music and program material will take the form of streaming (live events), pod casts (specialty shows) and subscription services.  Over the air free radio will become less and less relevant as younger “listeners” trend toward new media.  The idea of listeners may be archaic in lieu of “subscribers” or “users.”  Thus, in order to remain relevant, broadcast engineers are going to have to keep their skill sets current.  I would recommend to anyone getting into the business to get current with routers, routing tables, Cisco equipment and whatnot.  The cloud is coming and will rain on all those not adjusted to the new “broadcasting” reality.

3.  My part in the business:

A somewhat superannuated broadcast engineer who’s skill set lies mostly within the RF and heavy duty electrical areas, I am going back to college in January.  Cicso Network Administrator is the degree I am shooting for, for that is where the local jobs, both in and out of broadcasting will be.  Network Administrators are going to be the backbone of cloud computing, those that can configure routing tables will be desired.

That being said, I continue to be involved with larger RF projects and transmitter work.  It is fun for me, most of the time.  Having to drive two hours,one way on Christmas Eve to fix a backup transmitter, not so much, but those situations tend to be the exception, rather than the rule.

All in all, it is great fun to press the high voltage on button, not knowing if the transmitter will cycle on normally, or put on some type of display.

4.  The blog:

This little thing we have here has been fun.  I get good response to most articles.  I welcome all the comments and the off line e-mails that come my way.  My original intent, which is to provoke thought and dialog, remains unchanged.  This year, I have delved into areas not covered by the trade magazines, but do have at least some bearing on radio or radio related arts.  To that end, there have been several negative responses, which is fine.  I don’t pretend to know everything, if you know more, then by all means, speak up.  By and large, however, the majority of responses continue to be positive.

I continue to grow the overseas audience, with roughly 36% of the page views coming from non US IP addresses.  Persons from The UK, followed by Canada, Netherlands, Australia and Germany are the top five non-US readers of this blog.

So, I will continue to post about things in the coming year.  If any of you have any suggestions or requests, shoot me an email of leave a comment.

In the mean time, have a Happy New Year!

Trends in Terrestrial Broadcasting

I thought I’d take a few moment to explore the current trends and development in Terrestrial Broadcasting, AKA AM, FM, TV and Shortwave.

Clear Channel Communications RIFs employees

We are all aware of the “reduction in force” or RIF (a term used by the US armed forces in the mid 1990’s), as it is called by Clear Channel Broadcasting.  One could also call it the iUnheartEmployees program.  Small and medium market stations bore the brunt of these reductions, although major markets were not immune either.  According to Clear Channel, this will  “deliver a much better product to listeners than we have in the past.”  Also, they plan to “generate higher ratings for our advertisers and marketing partners and give our best people bigger roles.”  Of course, the definition of “much better product,” is subjective and depends on one’s point of view.

In addition to that, the Brand Management Teams indicate the inception of nationwide network radio or at least nationwide radio format standardization, which is almost the same thing.  This trend will further eliminate the need for local program directors, local news, local anything.  With greater commitments to the iHeartRadio and the hiring of Bob Pittman as CEO, expect more in the way of new media, internet distribution and so on, possibly at the expense of terrestrial radio transmission.

Clear Channel owns approximately 850 of the nation’s 11,293 commercial AM and FM radio stations.

Cumulus-Citadel merger

We are also aware of the Cumulus-Citadel deal, which leaves one less large company on the field and greatly improves Cumulus’s major market presence.  In addition to several radio stations, Cumulus also acquires what used to be ABC radio networks and satellite distribution system.  Prior to the merger, Citadel had several satellite radio formats ranging from Top 40/CHR to 24/7 Comedy.  There is no word on how the merger will change those formats and what Cumulus plans to do with them.  I would speculate that similar to Clear Channel, national type formats are in the works for Cumulus as well.

Cumulus Media owns approximately 570 of the nation’s commercial AM and FM radio stations.

National Public Radio NPR

The third large group of radio stations is more like a collective than commonly owned group.  Stations or groups of stations are owned by regional group owners and form mini-networks, for example, Northeast Public Radio.  The flagship station for Northeast Public Radio is WAMC, however, they own 11 radio stations and 12 translators.  This is fairly typical of NPR affiliates.

NPR stations act in concert with the CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting) and NPR to form a powerful media presence.  Most stations carry some local programming, however, NPR staples such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition are almost universally heard on every NPR affiliate.

Technically speaking, NPR stations make up the single biggest block of HD Radio users, almost all of which where licensed and installed under by grants from the CPB.  NPR labs has done extensive work testing and attempting to improve HD Radio, taking over for iBquity’s own in house engineers.  NPR is also exploring ways to use new media distribution networks, moving towards a more IP based distribution model over terrestrial radio.

NPR is funded by member stations, the CPB and by corporate sponsorships.  The largest ever was from the estate of Joan Krock (McDonalds Corporation), which lead to the Steve Inskeep/Morning Edition story about how great it was to work at McDonalds.  There is/have been several efforts to defund the CPB in recent years.  With the economy going the way it is and all, the congressional moves to defund may win, which would be a crippling blow to NPR.

NPR affiliates number approximately 850 of the 3,572 non-commercial FM radio stations and about 50 AM stations in the US.

Other broadcast groups such as CBS, Entercom, Emmis, etc

Those companies will likely follow whatever Clear Channel and Cumulus are doing, as those companies are driving marketplace trends and competition, or lack thereof.

Voice of America, US government

In a somewhat surprising development, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, who oversees the operations of the Voice of America would like to repeal some parts (.pdf) of the 1948 Smith-Mundt act, which prohibits them from broadcasting domestically.  Does this mean that the VOA will become a government broadcaster like the BBC and CBC?  I don’t rightly know.  The BBG is also proposing to greatly curtail HF (AKA Shortwave) transmissions, favoring a combination of Satellite to FM and IP network delivery methods.  The BBG is also proposing defederalizing the VOA (AKA privatization).  Perhaps one of the current large broadcasters, e.g. Clear Channel or Cumulus will be interested in purchasing the VOA brand name.

With the repeal of the Smith-Mundt act, does this open the door for some form of domestic shortwave service?  I have commented several times on the ability of HF radio to cover large distances with moderate power levels.  The 1,000 watt non-directional CFRX on 6070 KHz is good example of this.  Most hours of the day, it is listenable at my location, some 300 miles distant from the transmitter.  I enjoy listening to Toronto news and talk as much as any other.  Lower frequencies and moderate power levels would be an interesting experiment.

What does the future hold for broadcast technical people?

RF vs IP distribution

RF vs IP distribution

All of this points to more consolidation of engineering staffs, centralized NOCs (Network Operations Centers) and more emphasis on computer/IT skill sets verses the legacy AM/FM transmitter and analog audio skill sets most broadcast engineers have.  The old days of the RF guru are coming to a close.

Most new transmitters have some sort of web interface, which allows complete remote monitoring and supervision.  If a transmitter does not have that, remote control units can be web enabled.  These transmitters are modular, with the modules being removed and returned to the factory for repair.  That innovation greatly reduces the amount of training and experience required to maintain transmitters, almost anyone can remove a module and ship it somewhere.  That, in turn, leads to a more consolidated technical staff with field engineers being dispatched to specific sites to take care of outages as needed, which is the model that the cellphone companies and wireless service providers use.

Further, as evidenced in this discussion on the radio-info board, many of the older engineers are becoming tired of underfunded, neglected physical plants.  The idea that a contract engineer is someone you call only when you go off the air has been around for quite some time.  As time goes on, fewer and fewer are willing to accept that type of work.

The future looks like radio station technical staffs will be mostly computer related technicians and engineers that take care of problems remotely from a NOC.  If a physical presence is needed, a field technician can be dispatched.  These people will most likely be contractors.

Smaller groups and the mom and pops that are left will have to get on board with the reality that fewer and fewer contractors will be willing or able to trouble shoot a tube amplifier and replace there transmitters with newer solid state units.  Manufacturers, if they are on the ball, will want to offer some type of monitoring service for those type customers, again, dispatching a field technician as needed to effect repairs.

Either way, computer and networking skills are a good thing to have and are transportable to other sectors, should one find oneself an unemployed broadcast engineer.

The Relentless Drive to Consolidation

In this blog post about the NAB radio show, Paul McLane (Radio World editor) discusses the reduction of technical people in attendance at the conference.  Consolidation has brought about many changes in the broadcasting industry, engineering has not been immune to these changes.

Because of consolidation, engineering staffs have been reduced or completely replaced by contract engineering firms.  Since the Great Recession of 2008-09 this trend has picked up speed.  Expect it to continue to the point where large broadcasting companies employ one engineering staff administrator at the top, several regional engineering supervisors in the middle and the bulk of the work performed will be done by regional contract engineering firms.

There is no reason to expect the media consolidation process to stop any time soon.  It will continue in fits and starts depending on the congressional mood and the awareness or lack thereof of the general public.  The NAB itself seems bent on removing all ownership regulations and eventually, with enough money spent lobbying congress, they will get their way.   Thus, the majority of radio stations will be owned by one company, the majority of TV stations will be owned by another company and the majority of newspapers will be owned by a third.

There will be some exceptions to that scenario; public radio and TV, privately owned religious broadcasters and single station consolidation holdouts.  If funding for public radio and TV gets cut, which is very likely if the economy collapses further, they will be up for grabs too.

Cloud based network diagram

Cloud based network diagram

For the future of radio and radio engineering, I see the following trends developing:

  1. National formats will be introduced.  Clear Channel already does this somewhat with it’s talk radio formats.  Look for more standardization and national music formats for CHR, Country, Rock, Oldies, Nostalgia, etc.  These were previously called “Satellite Radio” formats but I am sure that somebody will dust of and repackage the idea as something else.  They will be somewhat like BBC Radio 1, where a single studio location is used with local markets having the ability to insert local commercials if needed.  Some “local” niche formats will still exist and major markets where the majority of the money is, will continue to have localized radio.
  2. Audio distribution will move further into the Audio Over IP realm using private WANs for larger facilities, public networks with VPN for smaller facilities.  AOIP consoles like the Wheatstone Vorsis and the Telos Axia will become the installation standard.  These consoles are remote controllable and interface directly with existing IP networks for audio distribution and control.  Satellite terminals will become backup distribution or become two way IP networked.
  3. Cloud based automation systems will evolve.  File and data storage will be moved to cloud base servers using a Content Distribution Network topology.  Peers and Nodes will be distributed around the country to facilitate backup and faster file serving.
  4. Continued movement of the technical operations into a corporate hierarchy.  Technical NOC (Network Operations Center) will include all facets of facility monitoring including transmitters, STL’s, automation systems, office file servers, and satellite receivers via IP networks.  The NOC operators will dispatch parts and technicians to the sites of equipment failures as needed.
  5. Regional contract engineering and maintenance firms will replace most staff engineers in all but the largest markets.  Existing regional engineering firms will continue to grow or consolidate as demands for services rise.  Those firms will employ one or two RF engineers, several computer/IT engineers and many low level technicians.
The most important skill set for broadcast engineers in the coming five to ten year period will be IP networking.  Everything is moving in that direction and those that want to keep up will either learn or be left behind.

More news talk migrates to the FM band

Once a bastion of the AM dial, News and or News/Talk format radio stations seem to be springing up on the FM band more and more often.  The original premise for creating talk radio on the AM band was the lower bandwidth and reduced (or perception of reduced) fidelity when compared to the FM band lent itself to non-music programming.  The reality is that receiver manufactures never carried through on the NRSC-2 technical improvements, and AM receivers reproduced thin, low quality audio.  I digress, the story goes, the FM band was great for music and the AM band did well with information and talk.

Of course, there were always a few exceptions to those general rules, but for the most part, that pattern held true until about 2009 or 10.  That is when AM station’s programming began to be simulcast again (everything old is new again) on FM stations and HD-2 subchannels.   It would be interesting to examine why this is so and what it means to the radio business as a whole.

The general trend in the music industry has also been down.  This is important because record labels and the radio business used to go hand in hand.  Record labels had the job of separating the wheat from the chaff.  Those groups or artist that had the talent would be given recording contracts and airplay.  With exposure, they would become more known, sell more recordings, record more songs, etc until they peaked and began to decline.  Radio stations prospered under this arrangement because they took on none of the risk while getting huge vast quantities of program material to playback, and charge advertising fees for spaces within that programming.

So far so good.

Then, two things happened:

  1. The communications act of 1996
  2. The internet

The communications act of 1996 forever changed the way the radio business was run in this country.  No longer were there several thousand individual stations, the most influential of which resided in markets #1 and #2.  Instead there were conglomerations of stations run out of Atlanta, Fort Worth and a dozen or so other medium sized cities.  No longer were stations competing head to head and trying to be the best and serve their respective audiences; rather, station A was positioned against station B to erode some of it’s audience so that station C could get better national buys from big ad agencies.  No longer would possible controversial artists like the Indigo Girls get airplay on some groups.  Songs were sanitized against possible FCC indecency sanctions, morning shows became bland and safe, and radio on the whole became a lot less edgy as big corporate attorneys put the clamps on anything that would invite unwanted exposure.

The last great musical genre was the Grunge/Seattle Sound of the early 1990’s.  Those bands somehow mixed heavy metal, obscure mumbled lyrics, flannel shirts and ripped jeans into something that the dissatisfied Gen Xers could understand and appreciate.  By 1996, this had morphed into “Modern Rock,” and carried on for several years after that, to fade out in the early 00’s.  Since that time, there has been no great musical innovations, at least on the creative side, other than the ubiquitous Apple computer and Pro Sound Tools software.

The internet greatly changed the way recording labels did business, mainly by eating into their bottom line.  This had the effect of circling the wagons and throwing up a protective barrier against almost all innovation.  The net result was fewer and fewer talented artists being able to record, which pushed those people into smaller, sometimes home based recording studios.  While those studios can put out good or sometimes even excellent material, often the recordings lack the professional touches that a highly trained recording engineer can add.  Add to this the mass input of the internet and no longer are bands or artists pre-screened.  Some may point to that as a good development with more variety available for the average person.  Perhaps, but the average person does not have time to go through and find good music to download from the iTunes store.  Thus, a break developed in the method of getting good, talented artists needed exposure.  Youtube has become one of the places to find new music, but it is still a chore to wade through all the selections.

Thus, when FM HD-2 channels came into being, there was little new programming to be put into play.  HD radio was left to broadcast existing material with reduced coverage and quality than that of analog FM.  That trend continues today where now analog FM channels are being used to broadcast the news/talk programming that used to reign on AM.

What will happen next?  If Tim Westergren has any say, the internet (namely Pandora) will take over and terrestrial radio will cease to exist.  Current trends point solidly in that direction, although I think Tim is a little ahead himself in his prediction.

News/Talk on the FM dial point not to an attempt to shift the wheezing, white, (C)onservative/(R)epublican programming to a younger demographic, who will, if I am any judge of history, remain unimpressed.  No, rather, they are running out of other source material, simulcasting syndicated talk radio is cheap, lean and a good way to make money without having to pay actual salaries.

Downgrading AM stations

One of the AM station around here that I am familiar with is considering a downgrade, which is to say reduce power and get rid of a directional antenna system in favor of a non-DA antenna.  In this particular case, it makes sense, as the station can co-locate with another AM that is closer to the COL by a good distance.  The coverage from the new site at reduced power looks to be a good fit.  If this can be arraigned, the AM station in question would loose a multi tower AM antenna system that is 50 years old and all the attendant headaches, expenses and labor that goes with it.

five tower directional AM tower array in a tidal swamp

Many AM stations that are DA-2 or even DA should consider downgrading to a lower power level and getting rid of their DA system.  Directional antenna systems on AM stations are maintenance nightmares.  Unfortunately, in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, it was often thought that adding power, extra towers to an AM station would give them great swaths of extra coverage.  Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it did not.  Often what happened was some area was added, but in areas that where nulls toward protected stations, signal strengths went down.  What the station ended up with was more towers, more maintenance, monitor points, a sample system, and more expense.

Taking an AM station in the other direction might actually make more sense.  Go back to one tower non-directional 1 KW or whatever power can be used in the daytime.  Time was when the FCC would only allow certain power levels; .5, 1, 5, 10 and 50 KW.  Those were what a new station had to work with.  No longer is that the case, any power level can be used so long as it meets interference contours and the city of license contour coverage requirements.

Presunrise authority is normally 500 watts and is available at 6 am, post sunset authority varies but often a PSA extends the on air time to 9 pm in the winter time.  For a local radio station, which is what all but the class A AM stations are destined to become, this will be adequate.   For a loosing station, it may be that, or turn in the license and sell the land to a developer.

Diplexing on another AM stations tower closer to town is also a good way to get out of maintaining an expensive antenna array with diminishing income.

Something to think about.

Communications infrastructure vulnerability

I was speaking with a friend of mine recently about some interference issues he was having at an FM transmitter site.  There were several cellular and PCS tenants at this site and something from the FM transmitter was interfering with the GPS receivers.  This one very small glitch was causing multiple carriers to go off line, basically shutting down the entire wireless infrastructure at this particular site.

GPS signals are used for syncing carrier frequencies and modulation timing for CDMA and TDMA that all cellular, PSC and 3G, 4G (or whatever G) wireless systems use to seamlessly hand off users from one site to another.  Without it, the entire system will shut down.

What would happen to communications in this country if all GPS were interrupted?  When I was in the military, we spoke often about high altitude nuclear detonations and the possible effects it would have on our communications circuits.  In fact, we drilled for such things.  Often.  What, if anything, are wireless carriers doing to keep their sites on line if, heaven forbid, somebody does something to disrupt GPS?  If terrestrial radio and television broadcasting is going to be replaced by 3G and 4G wireless networks, how redundant are they?  I know, for example, many cell sites do not have long term backup power.  They have battery banks, which in a power outage, may last 6-10 hours, but after that, the site is down.

Further, how about vulnerabilities getting the data to and from these sites?  Most cell sites rely on some type of TELCO circuit, usually a T-1 (DS-1) or multiple T-1’s to interface with the wired network.  This includes voice, text and data services.  If those circuits are down, then anything connected to them will be off line.

What about redundant transmitters, antennas, receivers, etc.  How much of the current wireless infrastructure is backed up with spares?  It causes me worry to think that someday traditional broadcasters will be going out of business due to poor financial planning, leaving us all to subscription based data services that may or may not be there in an emergency.  At least with many radio and TV stations, there are generators, backup transmitters, microwave systems and so forth.  Most good broadcasters have emergency plans for restoration of service during a disaster.  EAS may not be the greatest thing ever, but right now, it is the only emergency communications plan we have. Radio is still the best and most robust way to communicate vital information during emergencies.  Cell sites go off line along with whatever G wireless service, cable TV systems go off line due to power outages or damaged distribution networks, land line phones can be taken out due to power interruptions at the company office or damaged networks.

Why do I care? Why should you care?  Because, as I have eluded in previous posts, with the demise of local newspapers, the demise of local radio, the erosion of local TV news coverage and the general trivialization of our political apparatus on the local and national level, we are loosing our voice.  We will loose our democracy.  Right now, the US is on the verge of becoming an oligarchy or a corporatocracy.

What road are we traveling down when unrestricted free access to information is gone?  The internet is a great resource, but it is not free.  What will happen to the price of internet access when competing information and entertainment technologies such as radio, TV, and newspapers disappear?  Look to our transportation sector for an example.  Gone are the vast majority of passenger rail roads that criss crossed the country for nearly 100 years.  In many places, public transportation is laughable.  How do you get to work?  How do you get to the store?  How much will $5.00 per gallon gas effect your life?  More importantly, what can you do about it when the cost of fuel gets expensive? Nothing.  Most people are stuck in there suburban homes with not even a convenience store within walking distance.

What will happen when terrestrial radio goes away?  I shutter to think.

A little story about my local newspaper

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.

Radio is dead/Radio is not dead

I have been reading with interest the whole debate about radio being dead or dying vs. radio being a vibrant thriving business.

FM-analog-tuning-indicator

Radio is not dead by any measure, however it is declining for a number of obvious reasons.  There are more competing entertainment and information options, that is true.  Ipods, netcasters, satellite radio have taken some of radio’s listeners away.  However, the main culprit in radio’s decline are the investment bankers that are squeezing every drop of blood nickle out of the industry before moving on to their next victim investment opportunity.

The net result of this has made much, not all, of radio predicable and boring.  No longer is radio the source for new music, news, information and entertainment as it used to be.  I don’t think that anyone will argue that point.  The money men have fired most of the creative and talented individuals who used to bring in the listeners and replaced them with computers.  They have also cut news staffs, support staffs and anything else that lives and breaths except sales people.  More sales people are always required.

HD RadioTM radio is a joke at best.  Setting aside all of the technical problems with coverage and building penetration, the programming sucks too.  The same purveyors of crap on the main analog channels are now branching out on the HD2 and HD3 channels.  I can’t believe that the secondary channels will somehow be better than the main analog channels,  or even marginally good enough to buy an HD Radio radio.  Some groups are putting their AM programming on an FM HD2 channel, which is great if one cares to hear drug addled corpulent talk show hosts wheezing into the microphone in full fidelity.   At least on the AM analog broadcasts, everything above 4.5 KHz is cut off, wheezing included.

The good news is, there are still some radio stations that are programmed well.  Radio sets are almost universal, every car has one, every house has at least one or two, most offices, stores, etc. Radio reception is still free.  Radio is still popular among many people.  Radio owner’s could very easily become involved with their communities of license, make better programing decisions, hire staffs, and add valuable informative local programs again.  This decline would soon be forgotten.

The bad news is that is unlikely to happen.  Less than a snowball’s chance in hell unless someone wakes up and smells the coffee.

I am half an optimist.

Axiom


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.
~Benjamin Franklin

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.
~Rudyard Kipling

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.
~Alan Weiner

Free counters!