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.

More failure, please…

Sounds kind of silly, but in some cases, failure is good.  Companies that are inefficient, poorly run, poorly conceived, have substandard products, do not serve their clients, and so on should be able to fail.  This allows good companies, that do thing right, to thrive.

Too big to fail is too big and those companies should be broken up.  This holds true in the radio business as well as the banking industry, the auto industry and so on.  What is truly unfortunate is that the people most responsible for the failure, the upper management and CEOs, often get away with millions while the people who had their back into it get to go to the unemployment office.

That being said, radio is in for some drastic changes soon.

NO BAILOUTS FOR RADIO

Enough already with the bailouts.  Radio is not some precious national resource, it does not funtion for the betterment of society, nor does it provide vital information in the time of emergency.  It stopped doing those things years ago when deregulation kicked in, deregulation which was lobbied for extensively by the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) at the behest of radio and tv stations owners, by the way.

Once deregulation took effect, station management went on a hunt for pennies, often tripping over dollars to get them.  By staff reductions and cost cutting, the product was deluded and the medium was marginalized and that is where we are today.

Not everyone followed the above narative, there are some operators who stuck to the frame work of public/customer service and kept good programming on the air.  Those stations are few and far between but they are out there.  Why should they not reap the benefits of there forward thinking?

The Society of Broadcast Engineers

The Society of Broadcast Engineers or SBE is an organization that is supposed to further the art of broadcast engineering.  Once upon a time I was a member, I attended meetings, got my Certified Senior Radio Engineer badge, I kept track of my professional development, and so on.  As the decay advanced, I realized that the SBE looks and sounds good, but actually does little.

What are the issues facing Broadcast Engineers these days:

  1. Too much work.  As consolidation changed the radio business, the engineering department was not immune to staff cuts.  Add to this the increasing dependence on automation and computers to program and run entire radio stations from studio to transmitter as additional responsibilities.
  2. Lack of maintenance budgets.  Particularly in this recession, money that should be spent on preventative maintenance is gone.  The result, more reactive maintenance, off air incidents and the like.
  3. Lack of pay for increased hours.  Goes with the above, more stations, more responsibilities, same or less pay and benefits.
  4. Lack of new talent in the radio engineering field.  There is money to be made if  you are a technical person, just don’t go into broadcasting.
  5. Lack of personal life.  Being on call 24/7 for 20 years has taken it’s toll.

So what has the SBE done to alleviate these problems?  Granted, most of them are management issues with the radio station staff, but has the SBE even tried to educate station owners and management.  How about helping engineers learn how to negotiate pay raises?  A better support network?  Perhaps, (gasp!) some type of organized labor?

I know the more work for same or less pay is almost universal and is a contentious issue among fellow engineers, so much so that many have left to pursue other careers.

Then again, perhaps the radio engineer is a dying breed.  Eventually, everything in a broadcast studio will be run by computers and distributed over the internet, so some type of computer guy could do the job.  Broadcast engineers will have to re-invent themselves to stay in the field because I think terrestrial radio’s days are numbered.  Eventually RF guys like myself could go work for the cellphone company, or go do something else.