About community radio

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.

That is all.

If it ain’t broke, break it

One thing that I find a little annoying is the continuing need to reboot everything at some interval.  Computers in the studio, audio vault servers and work stations, e-mail servers, files servers, network routers, and so on.  Got a problem, first thing to do is cycle the power off and on…

One of the most irritating pieces of equipment is the audio processors on one of our FM stations.  A few years ago, we purchased the whiz bang Omnia 6 processor.  Every 6 or 8 months the thing losses its mind and sounds terrible.  The station gets all bassy and the high end sounds distorted.  I have tried everything I can think of to prevent this, including installing an UPS, extra grounding, extra shielding, software updates, etc.  In the end, it just has to be rebooted, which of course, means several seconds of dead air.  Naturally, this processor is at the FM transmitter site, where it is difficult to get to.

Truth be told, when it is working, it does sound pretty good on the air, but is it $10,000 dollars better than the older Optimod 8100A?  No, it is not.

The old Orban Optimods sound pretty good as long as they are re-capped and aligned every so often.  If fact, our number one billing station has an AC format and uses an Optimod 8100A and nothing else.  Our other station in the same market uses an Optimod 8100A and a pair of Texar Audio Prisms. In the ten years I have been working for this group of radio stations, I have never had to reboot the Optimod or the Audio Prisms, they just seem to work continuously without problems. Imagine that.

I have seen this called a “retro audio chain” by some.  Nothing retro about it, a little care and feeding and I’d stack this equipment up against an Omnia 6 any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

This is a grainy video of an 8100A  in action:

That was taken in our rack room using off air audio on the rack room speakers and a cheap video camera. You get the idea.

So here is to Frank Foti and his marketing gurus that have sold all of the program directors in America on the need to “update” there air chain processors, because, you know, the Optimod, that is old skool.

Local Community Radio Act (HR 1147/S 592)

I sent off a letter to my Senators and Congressman this morning regarding HR 1147/S 592 AKA Local Community Radio Act.  Basically I am against this.  Not that I don’t appreciate what it is trying to accomplish.  I believe the technical degradation of the FM band is a higher concern.  After all, if we turn the FM band into what the AM band has become, nobody will listen to radio.

Radio is too important to ruin.  Here is what I wrote:

I strongly urge you NOT to support the bipartisan Local Community Radio Act (HR 1147/ S. 592) sponsored by Reps. Mike Doyle and Lee Terry and Sens. Maria Cantwell and John McCain.

In spite of what many have said, Low Power FM (LPFM) contributes to the technical degradation of the FM service.  By adding more and more signals covering every possible spot in the FM spectrum, the noise floor is raised causing many FM receivers to “picket fence” which is annoying to most listeners.

Radio has suffered enough degradation over the last few decades.  AM radio is now so fraught with interference, especially at night, most people do not even consider listening to it.  Packing the FM dial with thousands of low power operators will create the same problems and cause most people to abandon radio altogether.

I am a strong proponent of 1st amendment rights.  I believe the sponsors of this bill are well intentioned, however misinformed. I believe that the deregulation of commercial radio allowing one company to own 1,200 radio licenses has created most of the problems we see today.

Clear Channel, in particular, has removed almost all localism from radio, creating bland canned music channels.  Their modus operandi was to buy a group of radio stations in a market, combine the stations under one roof, get rid of most of the staff, and drop the advertising rates so other local stations could not compete.  Non-Clear Channel stations were then forced to make cuts in there advertising rates and or expenses to stay in business.

The answer is not to create a bigger mess.  Instead:

1.  Push the FCC to tighten ownership rules.  In some ways the horse is already out of the barn, but it would prevent another Clear Channel from forming in the future.
2.  If major radio groups go bankrupt and are broken up, allow it to happen, do not intervene.  This will allow real radio broadcasters to pick up the pieces and put something together.  Perhaps investigate supporting small radio owners by waiving FCC fees and limited tax breaks for a period of time.
3.  Push the FCC to continue with the localism hearings they were conducting.
4.  Push the FCC to update the EAS and make a workable Emergency Alert System in the US.

Radio is too important a resource to have it ruined.  Of all the media outlets, radio is the most robust.  During an emergency often times the utility grid is down.  Many radio stations have backup power generators and can provide vital information when the internet, phone system, cable TV network, cellphone system, e-mail, etc are down.

Radio can provide local government important mass access to their constituents during elections and at other important times.  Radio is free, there are no subscription fees, no service providers, etc.  Almost everyone owns a radio, most people own several.

Small savvy radio owners can make a go of it, provided the deck is not stacked against them.

Please DO NOT support the Local Community Radio Act. Thank you.

If you want to get involved, you can go the the Free Press website, there you will find a link to a “Take Action” page (not sure that link will work).  Again, I am not opposed to Free Press, or even Free Radio.  Packing the FM spectrum with LPFM, translators and the like will only create reception problems.  This is just become another reason for people not to listen to radio.

Stuff that program directors like

If you work at a radio station that still has a local program director instead of one at the corporate programming lair (I know, sooooo old school), then you might be interested in this.  I compiled a list of things that radio station program directors like:

  1. Good ratings.  A good rating book means that they are great program directors and they really know their stuff.  Bad ratings means that engineering dropped the ball (again) when the station went off the air for 30 seconds during afternoon drive.
  2. Taking credit for anything good.  Sort of goes with the good ratings above, but this extends out to all other aspects of a radio station, promotions, sales, news, and even engineering.
  3. New Processing.  Any new gizmo or gadget that changes the sound of the microphone or entire station, for better or worse, is good.  The more flashing lights the better.  The more knobs to adjust the better.  Things that can be plugged into computers and remotely controlled are the ultimate.
  4. More.  More of anything is better, more compression, more expansion, more highs, more mid-range, more lows, more gain, more de-essing, more loudness, more power, more punch, more reverb, more crack, more more more.  If they could just have a little more, the station would be number one.
  5. Any other new piece of equipment.  Watching a program director look at a new studio is like watching a two year old open presents on Christmas morning.  I know, I have a two year old.  Unfortunately, the studios don’t stay new looking for long.
  6. Taping notes up in the studio.  I have one studio where every stationary piece of equipment has a note taped to it.  Mind you, the notes have nothing to do with the equipment they are covering up, they are more like general directions, phone numbers, and other miscellaneous pieces of information.
  7. Free stuff.  Used to be called payola  or plugola, now it is a free lap top, or a trip to Disney paid for by the record rep.  I’ve even seen some mysterious mike processors show up (see number 3).
  8. Rigging up lights to alert operators.  This is a great one, the studio operator does not know if the Marti (or Matrix or ISDN) is active, so they want a light to indicate there is someone there.  Or a light on the phone hotline, or a light for the EAS machine, the back door, the coffee machine, the silence sensor (never mind they are in the studio, they still need a silence sensor light)
  9. Blaming other people when things go wrong.  The program director is infallible.  If something goes wrong, it is somebody else’s fault.  Always. And forever.  Amen.

Some one suggested that I put up the video “More, more, more” by Andrea True Connection to go along #4.  Well, okay, I guess.  It is not a terrible song but the video kinda suxor.  From what I can tell, Andrea True is a former p0r n star that turned signer for just this one hit. Looks like it was filmed on a p0r n set too.

Feel free to add anything else that I may have forgotten.  Of course, this is all in good fun.  I’ll to a “stuff radio engineers like” post as soon as I figure out what that is.