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Preview: N4KC Technology, Media and Ham Radio Blog

Don Keith N4KC's Technology, Media and Ham Radio Blog

An open discussion of the effects of rapid technological change on media and society in general--and the hobby of amateur radio in particular by Don Keith N4KC.

Updated: 2018-04-19T17:22:17.850-05:00


Broadcast radio's cume audience boogaloo


by Don KeithAs traditional over-the-air broadcast radio strives to prove its relevance, I see they continue to cling to any bit of good news there is to stave off people like me who think the medium has chopped its own way to irrelevance.  "Good news" whether it is true or not.Don't get me wrong.  I love broadcast radio.  Free, over-the-air radio.  I think it is by far the most intimate medium, the one that can be most successful at getting into the heads of listeners, of entertaining, challenging, inspiring, and selling stuff to people who listen.  Especially people who are busy doing something else, like driving a car or working.  People stuck in a traffic jam.  People who are most likely to be approaching an advertiser's establishment.  People who simply want to be able to hit a button and turn up the volume to experience something created by another actual human being.But thanks to the monster companies that own most stations in America and their myopic attitude that they can somehow cut their way to prosperity, radio is going down the drain in one big hurry.  AM is dead as a hammer.  FM, with its boring streaming-music formats, its band cluttered with low-power non-commercial stations and thousands of supposedly-AM-saving translators, and its impersonal, soulless "personalities," will almost certainly follow.But radio will continue to grab hold of any seemingly positive news.  Here's some.  It is an article in The Washington Times that quotes a study from the good folks at Nielsen about how old-fashioned, left-for-dead broadcast radio still reaches more people than any other medium.  (Nielsen, the TV ratings giant, bought Arbitron, the company that previously led the way in radio audience estimates--what most of us call ratings.  And in the spirit of full disclosure, I once worked for the Arbitron Company.)  In a day of Facebook, Netflix, Pandora, Instagram, Amazon, XM/Sirius Satellite and so many other choices, this is truly startling but encouraging news for us fans of the medium.Right?Dig deeper, my friend.  Remember, as Mark Twain so eloquently quoted British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli:  "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."The Washington Times quotes the study from Nielsen (which, I admit, I have not actually seen) as saying, "Each week, more Americans tune to AM/FM radio than any other platform. What’s more, according to Nielsen’s second-quarter 2017 Comparable Metrics Report, 93 percent of U.S. adults 18 and older listen to radio every week — more than those watching television or using a smartphone, TV connected device, tablet or PC.” In all, Nielsen breathlessly reports, over-the-air radio reaches 243 million people each month compared to television's paltry 229 million.  The article does not mention if that TV number includes all variations of video programming.  I doubt it since not even the powerful Nielsen folks have yet managed to measure all such viewing.  Nor could it possibly have included, for example, Netflix, who now boasts over 100 million people paying about $10 a month to enjoy their programming.  Netflix does not publish any numbers for how many people are watching at any given time.(I will also avoid making a big deal of the fact that this fine study is based on data that is now on the verge of being ONE FULL YEAR OLD.  Do you think there have been any changes in media since the second quarter of 2017?  Then you have not been paying attention to this blog!)It does appear, though, that the rosy AM/FM story is based on what is called "cume audience."  Anyone who takes part in Nielsen's measurement exercise--either having everyone in a household keep a diary of listening for one week or carrying a small meter device that theoretically senses the stations that the participant is capable of hearing--who listens for at least five minutes during a week gets counted as a "cume listener."Therefore, five minutes in a week gets consider[...]

Okay, time to 'fess up!


  by Don KeithN4KC(While watching the Congressional testimony by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the inane questions from our elected representatives, I could not help myself. Now it appears likely that there will be some kind of legislation proposed for restricting social media in a new effort to protect us from ourselves. But can government legislate and keep people from doing dumb stuff?  Can they stop people from believing everything they read on Facebook, see on CNN or Fox News, or read in the National Enquirer while waiting to check out at Publix? Maybe the better question is, "Should they?"  Legislate, I mean. At any rate, all this pertains to rapid technological change and how it affects media and society.  Thus my post below.)Okay, time to 'fess up. Raise your hand if:- You had no idea that if you put on #Facebook your address, the names of your kids, the place where you are at this very second, or your opinions on the presidential race, your favorite football team, or whether or not you preferred cilantro in your salsa any of the 120 million Facebook users worldwide could see it instantly upon your hitting the POST button.- You thought all this stuff was free, no strings attached and not only didn't know but didn't care how Facebook, #Instagram, #YouTube, #LinkedIn and all the others made money to pay for all this web design, expensive computer servers, bandwidth and all that technical stuff.- You thought it was just a happy coincidence that if you went shopping for a mattress and box springs online that for the next two months, no matter the website you visited, you kept seeing ads for mattresses and box springs.- You are unable to figure out why, if you printed out a map of and directions to Albuquerque, you suddenly started getting spam email and even actual paper junk mail from every hotel, auto rental agency and pizza parlor in Albuquerque.- You never considered that if you post on #Facebook a cute picture of your 2-year-old child peeing off the deck onto the azaleas, it will one day show up when he is running for Congress or applying for a job at NASA.- You always...ALWAYS...check the box declaring you have read and understood the 30,000-word privacy and data-use policy of every web site you have ever joined, every bank home page where you have an account, and every on-line vendor from which you have purchased something, all to facilitate whatever it is that you are trying to get done, and you simply have never had the time to even scroll down so much as a millimeter or read a single word of that legalese novella.- You click on every link on every piece of email you get--apparently from your bank, your email provider, the IRS, a friend traveling in Ecuador who has been robbed, and even companies with which you have no account at all (just in case there really is something wrong because they wouldn't be emailing you if there wasn't) and happily give your user name, password, checking account and charge card number, Social Security number and blood type, just to make sure your checking won't be closed, your email blocked, your taxes audited, your friend incarcerated, or your vacation to the Bahamas cancelled...even though you have never had an account with those companies, only know the "friend" through Facebook, or never booked a vacation to the Bahamas in your life.- You thought #Google was a philanthropic organization, providing all that search engine power out of the goodness of their hearts, and even put the very best results at the top and down the side of the listing on the page so you didn't even have to look any farther.- You see no chance that that picture of you chug-a-lugging that bottle of Jagermeister or forwarding that hilarious ethnic joke will ever become an uncomfortable topic in a job interview.- You are truly ticked off that this #MarkZuckerberg guy sold information about YOU to companies, surely without asking you first...and surprised that the guy even owns a tie and a dress shir[...]

Commercials. Are they going the way of the (fill in your own favorite now-defunct technical thing-a-ma-jig)


by Don KeithI do still try to listen to over-the-air radio sometimes. And there are times when I am forced to watch a TV show or newscast in real time without benefit of commercial-clipping. And it hurts. It is painful. It is discouraging.And you know what it isn't? It isn't effective for the advertiser. I doubt many listeners or viewers pay attention to the incessant wall of commercial content that gets spewed out between precious bits of music, information or entertainment. I got in my truck the other day and tuned in a local news/talk station's PM drivetime show. From the time I started listening until I arrived at my first more than twelve minutes, I promise...I heard nothing but commercials and station promotional announcements (commercials for the station).One of the more astute observers of trends in media is Mark Ramsey, who has been quoted in this blog often in the past.  Because he IS an astute observer of media trends.  In a recent blog of his, he talked about news that at least one major media outfit was considering cutting back to TWO MINUTES of commercials PER HOUR.  Not twenty minutes. Two!  And the discussion is interesting.Is it possible?  Can others even think seriously of such a dramatic cut in commercial load when the common wisdom is sell everything you can?I don't believe it is a question of "can they?"  It is a question of "will they?"  Or will radio and TV wither away as consumers become more and more viewers and listeners to content that has NO commercials? And go away because advertisers finally realize that being the middle spot in a ten-minute commercial break does them absolutely no good?  Or that "BROADcasting" is yesterday's ad medium and they can now target right down to the eyeballs and eardrums they actually want and need to reach, not pay for everybody with a radio or TV set?I would talk more about this but now, here's a word from our sponsors...[...]

Oh, the irony!


  By Don KeithInteresting news stories--with a common theme--in the October 2017 issue of the amateur radio magazine CQ. They are:A report that the U.S. military has, after much experimentation and testing, decided that the high-frequency radio spectrum (HF, often referred to as "shortwaves") offer excellent communication capability and could be of great value. The story includes a quote from a Navy spokesperson that, "We tested our ability to talk, and we were able to send text to one of our other units that is across the Pacific Ocean." The military release goes on to say, "HF has become a viable alternative for military forces when more common forms of communication, such as satellites, are unavailable." Such technology offers legitimate and valuable backup to whiz-bang satellites and digital yakking.Well, "Duh #1!" Even now, when solar propagation is approaching a minimum, the shortwaves do offer propagation to all parts of the world. Talk across the Pacific?  Heck, I did that just this past weekend...from my basement!  Guam and Japan, to be exact, all the way from Alabama. And I also made a contact with a ham radio operator in Western Australia via what we call the "long path," not the usual 11,000-mile route to my west and to the Land Down Under.  No, we communicated with my signal leaving my basic little wire beam, running about 500 watts, and headed eastward, across the Atlantic Ocean, over Africa, across the Indian Ocean, about 13,500 miles to the other amateur's station. If the U.S. military is still not convinced of the capabilities of HF, I invite them to take a look at my logbook.Then there is another report that the Navy is revisiting more ancient technology, the LORAN earth-based radio navigation system that has been mostly replaced by GPS satellites. Someone realized that those satellites can be hacked and most ships at sea would instantly be lost...unless they could locate their sextant and wait for a night sky. (Last I heard, most Navy vessels, and especially submarines, still carried that truly ancient device, the sextant, just in case. They can only hope somebody aboard knows how to use them.)"Duh! #2."  LORAN worked pretty well, I understand. The fact it was based on radio and required some rather bulky antennas spelled its doom years ago. Appears, though, that somebody realized that sparkly, spangly new technology may have its flaws.  Just as with our trusty and reliable computers, a backup is always a good idea!And finally, it probably would not surprise you to know that most people under 25 years old would have no idea about what a 33-and-a-third RPM record was. Or an 8-track tape. Or even a cassette tape. Not even, in many cases, a music CD. But did you know that many younger folks today don't realize that your television set can pull in programming from, in most cities, more than a dozen 24-hour-a-day content generators?  A source not associated with a satellite or cable? And that such stellar programming is absolutely free?  It's called over-the-air television broadcasting! Yes, a tower on the hill, pumping out hundreds of thousands of watts of high-definition TV programs. These stations DO still exist! All you need to get this programming is an antenna.  Your TV set is already equipped to pull in the signals. And once you pay for the antenna, the rest is free. Gratis. No cost whatsoever, other than having to watch commercials.The CQ article quotes a story in The Wall Street Journal reporting that the National Association of Broadcasters--the industry group that represents, in part, those over-the-air telecasters--says one in three Americans are completely unaware of such technology. They also quote a merchant that sells antennas saying that many of his customers question the legality of intercepting this programming for no charge. "They don't believe me when I tell them that these channels are not only free but legal, too," the merchant says.The final "Duh!" Technologi[...]

So, is the Internet going to be the death of amateur radio?


by Don KeithLazy man's post today as I continue to work far more than a "retired" guy should.  (Massaging two potential movie/TV scripts and writing a novel.) But a good ham radio blogger, Bob K0NR, has posed this fascinating--and probably unanswerable--question: is the Internet killing amateur radio?Read it in its entirety HERE.I tend to agree with Bob's final opinions. As with any other aspect of rapid technological change and its effect on ham radio, it all comes down to what you enjoy. I happen to take advantage of many of the new developments in our hobby and am convinced it is a healthy trend and will attract more folks to ham radio.For example, I check in regularly with a net devoted to 1960s music and TV trivia. That net is centered with most of its members in Central Arizona and uses a 220-mhz repeater on Mt. Lemmon north of Tucson. I use EchoLink and my desktop computer to check in but the net control hears me via the repeater station, over the air. We have guys checking in from all over the country including one ham who travels extensively. He uses his smartphone from various hotel rooms, restaurants, city streets (he often walks for exercise while answering those trivia questions) and airport terminals.I also use computer logging, Logbook of the World to go for various on-air operating awards, Internet uploads of radiosport logs, and more. I have no issue with remote operation of an amateur radio station either. The station "location" is wherever the transmitter, receiver and antenna(s) are located. If the operator happens to be 10,000 miles away using VOIP or other modern gizmo to control the station then so be it.Whenever old-line hams say all this computer and Internet stuff is not real amateur radio, I point out that other generations of ham operators said the same thing of every innovation that came after spark gap. I even remember vividly when there were actual fistfights and on-air screaming matches between those who believed single-sideband was the death of the hobby and those who saw this "modern technology" as just another aspect of technological change that could make ham radio more fun and communication more effective.And guess who was right?  (This from a guy who still has a weekly chat on "ancient modulation" AM on 75 meters.  That's because I just happen to like the way a good AM signal sounds. Oh, and the fact that it is just plain fun to fool with!)73 de N4KC[...]

That ugly term "for-profit" rears its ugly head...again


By Don Keith(Pardon me while I step away once again from the primary purpose of this blog, keeping track of rapid technological change and its effect on media, society, and my hobby of choice, amateur radio. I've become riled again about a subject that seems so utterly simple and understandable, yet one so many get so wrong. Help me understand why other seemingly sane and intelligent people can't see it my way!)All the breathless hyperbole was inevitable after yet another president and Congress declared yet again their intention to radically alter how we tax revenue earned by citizens of this country. Too many oxen get gored, too much political patronage becomes threatened, and too many people who have careers and earning schemes and entire industries predicated on the inner workings of this mess. Also, the sheer complexity of the tax code and the fact that we have come to depend on the "temporary" income tax to fund every worthy cause or complete boondoggle assures that changing anything meaningful in regard to taxation is going to be problematic. Maybe impossible.Even now, as Congress wrangles, we see clear-eyed predictions that what they will eventually propose will either make taxation beautifully balanced and perfect or it will create the death of the middle class as we know it while the filthy rich become even filthier and richer. Never mind that nothing is final yet, or the fact that these predictions fall perfectly along a line of demarcation depending on whether the predictor is a Democrat or a Republican. Partisanship will be the death of this democracy. Mark my words.Well, today I received from a friend a link to a Washington Post op/ed piece that pretty much says anything that ends up in a new tax plan is in there not because it is a good idea.  It is becoming the law of the land because certain key legislators already have cushy jobs lined up after leaving Congress and will put anything in the plan that it takes to close the deal on those employment contracts they are busily negotiating.Bull feces!  I'm as cynical as the next guy. But I also am certain as I can be that we need to change the way we do taxation in this country. Perfect or not, any plan that lowers taxes for a good thing.  And especially if it forces us to also finally consider how we spend taxpayer money. Hard-earned and begrudgingly surrendered taxpayer money that is rightfully ours, not the government's.By the way, if you are one of those who think it is a legitimate goal of a central federal government to assure every citizen gets FREE medical care for life or FREE college, regardless whether or not you take care of your health and use that medical help wisely or whether or not you should even go to college, you may as well stop reading now.  You and I will never agree.Now, my real problem with this op/ed piece: the continuation of the trend to treat terms like "CEO" and "profit" as sleazy, dirty, despicable words. Anyone who leaves Congress to go to work for a consortium of business people has to be a crook, a plant to get those evil, greedy businessmen less taxes and more slimy profits while crushing the struggling middle class so the crooks and thieves in business can line their own bulging pockets with more and more ill-gotten gains.First of all, "CEO," "profit," and "business" are not dirty words. "Taxation" often is. Especially "taxation" when it is applied to punish those who dare to work, risk, innovate and create in the name of making a profit for themselves, their employees, and their stockholders. And to make better stuff for their customers, too.  I am convinced it is time for us to get over this insane jealousy and distrust of everybody who tries to make a profit, assuming that if they do make money they accomplished success by illegally and immorally squashing competition, creating dangerous products or services, and by bribing every public[...]

I don't know why I expected anything better


by Don Keith  If you are a friend on Facebook or frequent some of the more popular amateur radio hobbyist groups  there, or if you follow me on Twitter, I owe you an apology. Yesterday I received a tweet from ARRL letting us know that the very popular CBS Network TV show "NCIS" would have a strong plot line featuring ham radio. Since I'm always excited when people are exposed to a hobby I have enjoyed and benefited from for better than half a century, I posted the news everywhere I could.I wish I had not. I don't need any help from Mark Harmon to get my blood pressure up.I should have known from past experience that most portrayals of our hobby are bogus and ill-informed, from Herman Munster to the space alien Alf, though they were light years better than the pitiful mess on "NCIS" last night. There have been a few decent ones: "Last Man Standing" on ABC (Tim Allen even got his ham license in real life because of his character's interest in the hobby) and the movie "Frequency," even though the characters transmitted on an old Heathkit RECEIVER throughout the film. But at least the characters were not depicted as socially challenged dweebs who "perfectly fit the stereotype," an actual line from "NCIS."Okay, I confess I have not watched a full episode of any of the flavors of "NCIS" because I found the situations totally unrealistic and what few I have spent more than a few minutes with were just downright silly. Therefore I should not be surprised that this attempt to include ham radio was just downright wrong at best and mean-spirited in actuality.For the life of me I can't understand why, if they are going to make amateur radio a key element of the story line, they don't get a little input and get it right. A quick visit to the ARRL web site could have helped immensely.  Asking the local ham club to give input would have kept them from being absolutely insulting.  Maybe.Hams don't use "handles." That's CB. Common mistake but why do it? Oh, that did fit into the plot somewhat since they had to use direction-finding to locate one ham they wanted to talk with about a murder. And they couldn't have just looked up a call sign on or the FCC database. That would have made the geniuses at NCIS unnecessary.There are plenty of real but unused call signs they could have used instead of that silly mishmash they came up with. The two ham "shacks" they showed must have had a dozen transceivers in each. That was just an effort to further demonstrate how crazy these hams were.The log book they showed would have had call signs in it, not "handles," and it would have been a snap to look them up on many web sites or in the FCC database. "His antennas have a range of 80 square miles." Ridiculous! The conglomeration of radios the murdered guy had and the big beam antenna and ham gear at his buddy's house can reach the other side of the planet. But they had to keep the dead guy's coverage down in order to determine that there were 630 licensed amateur radio operators that could possibly be able to talk to the poor fellow. And a quick look at their names instantly gave them the likely "handle" of the person they wanted to speak with. Wow!But the worst parts were the constant references and portrayals of the amateur radio guys in the story as socially repressed loners, holed up in their shacks, grown men living with their mothers, unable to function except for jabbering for hours on their radios. Such a stereotype is absolutely untrue and, frankly, insulting. I have no data but I'd bet the number of socially non-functioning personalities in our hobby is actually less than in the general population. See, we communicate all the time, not just via radios but in many other ways, too. What they said about amateur radio often being the only means of communications during disasters is absolutely true. We've seen plenty of that in th[...]

What is it? A radio? No, I don't know how to work it.


by Don Keith

Yes, rapid technological change has led to quite a few things that were once commonplace becoming extinct.  Things like newspapers, telephone booths, and vinyl records.  When I taught communications, I often brought in a 45 or 33 RPM record and asked my classes of mostly 18-to-30-year-olds to tell me what it was.  Few could. 

Then it really hit me one day when I brought in a music CD and no one in the class knew what it was either, or had ever used one.  I felt as if I had been trampled by a dinosaur sprinting away from an Ice Age glacier.

So I am not surprised by this little demonstration from Great Britain's BBC. They gave a portable radio to random young people on the street and asked them to dial in "Radio One."  That is the government-owned broadcaster's primary channel.  I was not surprised that most of them were at least aware of the station itself, since there are still precious few choices on the radio broadcasting band in the UK.

What floored me was how long it took to find someone who actually knew how to use the frequency dial on the radio to find and tune in the station.  See for yourself.

But if you doubt the revelation, just ask the next person under 30 who climbs into your car what the "AM" means on your auto radio.

Now excuse me while I go put a stack of 45s on the Victrola, type up a few pages on the Selectric, and then arrange my VHS movie collection in chronological order.

(Thanks to Phil Sasnett KB4XX for the BBC link.)

Two spleen-venting posts in one


  By Don Keith  N4KCPlease allow me to get two things off my chest in one convenient rant, both about a couple of my favorite whipping boys, both media that have been very much affected by rapid technological change.Spleen-vent #1:Our old friends at the broadcast-radio news outlet INSIDE RADIO are at it again! A current email and website post crows loudly about Pandora, the free music-streaming service, increasing their commercial load from 3.3 commercials per hour to a whopping 5.3 commercials per hour on their free service. Two more commercials per hour!How dare Pandora?!?  Don't they know that listeners will tune out in droves if they have their free streamed music interrupted by such a tremendous number of crass commercial messages each hour?Thank goodness, good, old, free over-the-air radio broadcasters are not mistreating their listeners in such a vicious way. They somehow manage to only run between twelve and fifteen minutes of commercials each hour.  And to cram them into only two or three commercial breaks, so you can get them over with in one fell swoop. Well, in two fell swoops in most cases. And I'm sure that sixth or seventh commercial gets just as much attention for the advertiser as the first or second one.And certainly more attention than the third or fourth one in an hour on Pandora.  Yes, broadcasters and INSIDE RADIO can absolutely chide Pandora for upping their commercial load by a stupendous 60%...from 3.3 to 5.3 commercials...because traditional broadcasters would have to fill up almost half of every hour to raise their own spot load by 60%.  Oooops. Maybe I should not have made that observation.  Some of them will do just that!Now, I remove my tongue from my cheek to attack dying-medium #2, my local newspaper:So I get an alert from my credit card company that there has been a charge initiated by The Birmingham News for $39.68.  Hmmmm.  I do charge my paper-newspaper subscription on that credit card, but that seemed a tad high for the quarterly renewal. Sure enough, for the past year, the thrice-weekly paper has cost me $28.34 per quarter. It has suddenly--and without any note or warning--ratcheted up 34%!  By more than one-third!So I call the customer service number, the only one I can find for The News, and get some clearly bored person in some distant city, likely working for a company that fields such calls as mine as an outsourced vendor. I doubt she could find Birmingham on the map, much less my Wednesday paper in the privet hedge adjacent to my driveway. It is also obvious I am not her first call on this particular subject as she immediately informs me, directly from the script in front of her, "This is an increase due to increased paper and distribution costs.""Odd," I respond, "Since the newspaper you now toss into my driveway is easily a third as many sheets of newsprint as it was only a few years ago.  And you only toss it three days a week, and not the former seven.  I would think the cost of newsprint and distribution would have had to go up at least 12 times (a third as much paper delivered three-sevenths as often) its former cost for there to be an increase of any kind warranted."She had no scripted comeback so immediately said, "I can offer you two free weeks."I did the math quickly.  $39.68 divided by 13 weeks is $3.05.  Two free weeks would net me $6.10, about the cost of a Big Mac combo.  I would still pay $33.58 for the eleven non-free weeks."Not good enough. You folks are lucky I still subscribe at all because...""I can give you a month free," she interrupted. As I say, she has heard all this before out there in Denver (where their call center is if you have an issue with not getting a paper thrown) or over in Atlanta (where the newspaper is printed each of those three days of the week[...]

What is Nielsen thinking?


By Don Keith
For those who do not know, Nielsen is the company that dominates ratings measurement for television and radio. (They bought Arbitron several years ago, assuring both traditional media would be owned, lock, stock and barrel, by a single entity.)  And also know that accurate viewer and listener data is crucial, not only for stations, cable and satellite companies, advertisers, and program providers, but for consumers as well.  The shows you watch, the formats you hear, are determined by viewer and listener data. Heads roll based on minor swings in "the numbers." Careers are upended if a show drops in ratings or a personality on the radio does not beat the competition. But the products you are able to buy and how you hear about them is also determined by how successfully advertisers can reach their target audience.

All that explanation is to set up what I think is a major glitch in how Nielsen is trying to make their data more reliable. For TV, most rating info comes from a set-top box in each home, attached to TVs, that automatically measure what people watch. A bunch more viewing is measured by volunteers who keep a paper diary and write down what they see and when.  Something similar happens with radio. In bigger cities, a group of people volunteer to carry a small, beeper-like device that keeps track of what the person is hearing from radios. But a sizable number of towns still rely on the outmoded paper diary.  How "Twentieth Century!"

The problem is that these methodologies are expensive and it is becoming more and more difficult to recruit people willing to install the box on their TVs, carry the little meter, or, worse, write down all they see and listen to in a one-week diary. That is especially true of younger people, a valuable target audience to many marketers.

Data is more important than ever, and especially to under-siege media like over-the-air radio and TV, yet it is becoming more and more difficult for Nielsen to provide accurate information.  So what does Nielsen do?

They go out and spend over half a billion dollars to buy a company that has technology to gather data about radio listening in cars, unbeknownst to the car's owner and/or operator. I won't even go into the concerns I have about the privacy violations of such a scheme. I'm just amazed that the company is spending so much on something that will only duplicate the capabilities of the existing technology they already own, the little beeper-like device they picked up when they bought Arbitron.

I don't know all the ramifications, or the impetus for them to do the deal, but seems to me that Nielsen could have spent that half billion bucks on recruiting more folks to carry their beeper--which, by the way, measures radio and TV--and on increasing economy of scale in manufacturing the devices while improving that technology. And moving more markets away from the diary methodology.

But what is another half billion? Heads roll, careers end, products are not able to be properly marketed. But nobody can go to the other ratings provider.

There isn't one.

AM broadcasting continues to fade away...literally and figuratively


   By Don Keith

I've blogged here often about how AM broadcast radio is dead, dead, dead, and weak efforts by the Federal Communications Commission to save it are futile at best and laughable when you get right down to it.

Further proof? See this post on Facebook, decrying the fact that a legendary, high-powered AM station in Chattanooga, Tennessee, WFLI, is going dark...the broadcasting term for pulling the big switch, signing off and not signing back on.

How is the FCC trying to overcome the obvious, the fact that rapid technological change and its inherent flotsam and jetsam has left AM broadcasting in its wake?  By offering AM station owners weak, ineffective FM stations on which they can re-broadcast their AM programming and allowing them to make minor, subtle changes to their on-air signals.

Neither will work, of course. FM translators are just cluttering up an already crowded FM band and those that do manage to find an audience are only further diluting ratings and listener-ship, making it more difficult for anyone to make a living. The AM band is also rife with man-made electrical noise, making stations almost unlistenable in urban areas. In many cases, the real estate on which the AM stations' towers rest is worth far more than the station as a whole.

But the main issue is one the FCC cannot possibly solve. BROADcasting as an advertising medium is rapidly becoming obsolete. Most advertisers want to NARROW-cast. We now live in an age in which a merchant selling widgets to 22-to-27-year-old Hispanic males can direct a message right to them. They don't have to pay the freight to "purchase" the ears of 18-to-34-year-old males just to reach their very narrow target...and one that is actively searching specifically for the product offered by the merchant, not just potentially being lost among the mass of listeners to a radio station.

Sad to see an icon, and once a member of the same group of stations for whom I worked, throw up their hands and pull the plug. But you will see more and more examples of stations with which we grew up go off the air. Many have already changed to niche formats or ride satellite programming that is of little interest to listeners (but it's cheap!) Some are mere excuses to have one of those low-power FM translator stations and that is not economically viable.

I stand by my prediction: the current AM broadcasting band will be a ham radio band within ten years. N4KC says that, but I am not happy about it.

Another "wizard" is gone


By Don Keith     We lost one brilliant human being the other day.I first met Courtney Haden when we were both students at Alabama. I knew right away he was smarter than the average Broadcast and Film Communication student, most of whom would have been happy to just graduate and then pull the midnight-to-six deejay shift on an AM in Clanton.We sort of kept up with each other but I'll never forget the day he and Greg contacted me and asked if they could provide me a short comedy sketch bit on my morning show on WRKK K-99FM. Their demo of "4th Avenue Car Wash" was so brilliantly observational, bitingly on-point and goofily funny on so many levels it was an easy answer. Plus they were offering it free. It went on the air right away and ran for I-don't-remember-how-long. (I'm tearing the place apart hoping to find some cassettes of the show. Greg Bass? Help!)I wondered but don't remember asking why they weren't doing a radio show somewhere. The medium desperately needed them. Soon they were, on Kix106. And it was good. No, it was TOO good. And I was glad I had moved on to Nashville and did not have to try to compete. He and Greg are among those "wizards" to whom I dedicated my novel, WIZARDS OF THE WIND, radio personalities who could work magic with a couple of microphones, a pair of turntables, and some tape cart machines.Last time I saw Courtney, I was voicing a book at Boutwell Studios, a dry and verbose training manual for employees at some factory somewhere. He made it a fun experience. That was no small task, engineering efficiently while trying to stay awake and not giggle at my solemn, serious tone. We promised to get together soon and catch up on everything that has happened since 1968, know how that goes.Then, in this day of instant communication, I did not hear about Courtney's crossing the bar until this morning. I know one thing. If there is any way possible, he will pen a droll, astute, accurate, heart-breaking, hilarious article about the whole experience. And I'd read it and, as usual, wish I was half the writer he was.I'll be checking upcoming issues of Weld and other local publications, just in case he finds a way.      [...]

How rapid technological change cost me almost $200


  By Don Keith  Rapid technological change often brings us convenience and benefit we could not have even dreamed of a few years ago. Take booking a rental for our annual family beach trip. Once upon a time, such a transaction was conducted blindly, typically by mail, or on a long-distance telephone circuit.Now, we are able to not only see and easily compare potential places, with rates, amenities, available dates, and more, but we can book them quickly and securely. It is especially helpful to be able to see photos of rooms to determine how beds will work for our brood, the size of the kitchen and living area, and to confirm the pool is not a plastic tub on stilts. Good stuff!But I just learned a costly lesson. All that convenience and info may well mask the fact that you may encounter unexpected costs.I'll try to make this quick, and hope it saves some of you some money. We were pretty sure of the property we wanted to rent. I Googled it and quickly found that it was actually rented by two different outfits, a local real estate company and  The local outfit's website was lacking a bit in design convenience so I switched to VRBO to better peruse the pictures, rates, availability calendar, and other info. Both sites clearly showed identical rates and open dates so I went ahead and began the booking process on the VRBO site.All was fine until I got to step two and noticed that the total price--including a $250 cleaning fee, a $100 administrative fee, and a whopping 11% lodging tax, all of which showed as additional charges on both websites--was still more than $200 higher than what it should have been.  It appeared to me that they may have charged me the "pet fee" though I clearly indicated in step 1 that we would have no pets with us.So I reverted to the old-fashioned way and called the VRBO customer service number. A nice lady who spoke very difficult-to-understand English assured me my total rental would be exactly what I first expected and insisted that she stay on the line while I completed the online form, just in case I encountered other anomalies.  I tried but in only a moment or so, their nice form refused to accept the expiration date on my credit card, even though it is valid and I had entered it precisely as they told me to.Again the hard-to-understand lady offered to enter the info on her end and get the reservation completed "before someone else takes the open week you want." I allowed her to do so."Have you read and agreed to our terms?" she asked at one point."No," I told her. "Your web site will not allow me to see them until sometime later in the process."She assured me there was no commitment until I had accessed and read the terms, which I soon learned consisted of about six pages of tiny print.  While she waited, I skimmed it as well as I could and actually saw no issues. It was identical to other terms I had seen from other rentals in the past.  It did include the really scary info that unless you purchase their renter's insurance, you cannot cancel the agreement and get any of your money back, not even if there is a zombie apocalypse or the planet is destroyed by meteors. I did not want to pay over $300 for such protection, nor have I in the past, so I agreed to the terms.Then, when she told me the grand total, it was the higher amount that had sent me to the toll free number in the first place. First, the cleaning fee was actually $275, not the $250 listed on both websites. "The owner probably raised the fee and we just have not updated the site," she told me.OK. The clock was ticking. Vultures were probably swooping in and grabbing my week, the only one the entire family had decided would work for everyone.  But what about the[...]

Latest suggestion for the AM broadcast band? Zap it!


by Don Keith N4KC

As noted in many previous posts, I am convinced that no amount of fiddling with arcane rules or tweaking technical regs will ever save the AM broadcast band.  Despite the fact that most of us baby-boomers grew up on AM radio, that whole side of over-the-air commercial broadcasting has been soundly whipped by FM.  And new challengers for aural attention--satellite, digital, in-car broadband, and more rapidly developing technology--have only hastened the service's inevitable demise.  It is beyond being on life support.

Now, an influential group has a rather dire but eminently practical suggestion for the new administration on what to do with AM: kill it.  Euthanize it. Put it out of its misery. But do so in a humane and fair way.

Read the article in INSIDE RADIO and you'll see what the group's thoughts are. I wholeheartedly agree.

Oh, and though I'm not sure which other radio-frequency services might have desires for 540 khz to 1700 khz, but we Amateur Radio operators sure would like to have some more room for our experimentation, public service activities and just plain fun.

One thing is for sure. With us on those frequencies, there would be more listeners than the current users have in most cities.

More bad news for traditional media...but no surprise


 by Don KeithIt's no surprise...and especially to regular followers of this blog...that the revenue news from traditional media continues to decline in the face of rapid technological change. That change, of course, has radically affected how people consume media and how advertisers attempt to get their messages in front of those consumers.Here's a recent blurb from MediaPost, which follows buying and selling of advertising, concerning yet another dip in the New York Times Company's revenue for the most recent quarter:It’s worth noting that [circulation] revenues now make up 59.7% of NYTCO’s total, up from 41.3% in the third quarter of 2010. The proportion derived from advertising has fallen from 51.8% to 34.3% over the same period.Share of print media income from circulation has not been so high in, I'd guess, decades. Advertising was the primary generator of revenue by far. And classified ads were a huge portion of that. Have you who still read newspapers noticed the size of your classified section? Were it not for legal ads, mandated by governmental entities, most newspapers' "want ads" would be a page or two on a good day. And note that this change in percentage of revenue does NOT mean people are paying more to subscribe. It means advertising revenue is dropping like an anvil.But let's not just pick on the doomed newspaper biz. An interesting observation from research guru and blogger Mark Ramsey:In TV, meanwhile, it’s well established that everything you see on your cable box (assuming you use a cable box) is being paid carriage fees by the cable operator. In other words, that’s not ad revenue, it’s subscription revenue, and you are paying for it directly through the middleman of Time Warner or DirecTV or U-Verse or Cox.In 2015, for example, Disney’s media networks derived 51% of their overall revenue from affiliate fees (a.k.a., you and me) and only 37% from advertising.And that begs the question: How do traditional radio and TV charge customers for content as their revenue from ads goes down, down, down?Yes, TV gets some money from cable systems and satellite companies in return for their signals being re-broadcast. But it will soon not be enough to off-set ad revenue declines. That and the time will come when cable and sats will be more than willing to drop local signals--where legal--when TV stations ask too much for carriage fees. You see the threats all the time now.Radio? Assuming there was a way to charge listeners for the pleasure of getting "Rock 107, the Best of the '80s, '90s, Double Zeroes and Today!" how much would you be willing to cough up?  None, you say?  "I can get music streamed to me anytime anywhere, usually without commercials...even in my car and for free!"That means traditional media will have to come up with other ways to make money off their brands besides ads in newspapers in driveways or commercials interrupting "We begin 13 Action Team News at 7 with breaking news, but first this word from the legal firm of..."Web sites? It's been a struggle so far. But radio's and TV's survival depends on creative thinking and content worth seeking out. Content that is even worth paying for.Sorry but I'm not optimistic.      [...]

Your car, your Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, your dashboard future


by Don KeithAnyone even mildly interested in new automobiles is certainly aware that one of the things that is changing most rapidly is the media and communications technology in the dashboard, and certainly when it comes to that big video screen in the middle. Thanks to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto--the current leaders by far for the in-vehicle entertainment system--our automobiles are quickly gaining almost unlimited information and entertainment possibilities.A recent article in USA TODAY says:The auto industry is racing to keep up with the growing demand. Less than a year ago, fewer than 50 vehicles were offering one or both, or were scheduled to. For the 2017 model year, the list has grown to more than 100, and more announcements are expected in the coming months. General Motors now offers both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay on 30 models. Ford wasn’t even on the list a year ago, but for the 2017 model year it becomes the first full-line vehicle manufacturer to offer Android Auto and CarPlay on every vehicle line it sells.For those unfamiliar with this sea-change, such technology simply makes the dashboard in your car an easy extension for the capabilities of your smart phone. From your car you can surf the web, watch video, listen to music, talk shows, and podcasts, get directions, check traffic, listen to music, listen to news, check your email, post on Facebook, write your blog post...hey, you get the idea! (Hopefully most of that not while driving.) You can even make telephone calls, as radical as that sounds.I just bought a new Honda truck and was impressed that my lower end model allowed me to synch a Bluetooth phone or other device and easily make calls and such. That is only scratching the surface of what higher end models of my Ridgeline and many other cars now offer.What does this mean to the constituencies of this blog? Amateur radio?  Broadcasting and other media?Lots. Hams can now worry about new ways our mobile radios can interfere with the stuff that all the other occupants of our vehicles really want to watch, see and listen to. We will have to be even more conscious of RF interference in these systems, just as we were when electronic gas injection and the ubiquitous computer first appeared in motor cars. Remember keying the mic to talk and having the car stop dead in the middle of the freeway?Broadcasters? Even though the traditional AM/FM radios are not going away (though some manufacturers no longer supply an AM receiver as a standard offering), the fact that people in cars--who once had few other choices besides broadcast radio--have a literal worldwide web of potential media offerings they can consume. You can only imagine what that effect will be on Rock 107 with its stream of a couple hundred high-testing classic rock songs played over and over and 15 minutes of commercials each hour...and few other reasons to listen.Amateur Radio operators and car manufacturers will figure out ways to minimize potential interference. That is what we do.Broadcasters, on the other hand, either don't have a clue or are not willing to do what they must to try to keep people from turning down (or off) their radios so they can use all that other exciting technology that sits there less than an arm's length away as they zoom down the highway.If they are not listening to radio, ratings go down. If ratings go down, revenue decreases. If revenue decreases, today's over-the-air broadcasters will do more of what they have been doing. Fire all non-essential personnel. Chop sales training. Pay lower commissions to sales reps. Order them to make more cold calls rather than develop true marketing plans for pot[...]

It only took eighteen years


by Don KeithIn a previous life, your blogger worked with a company called Arbitron.  They were the guys that measured and syndicated radio listening estimates and pretty much had the market to themselves.  While I was there--and a member of the executive team--I had the opportunity to observe and discuss progress on a radical new way to determine radio listening.  They were developing a system in which every radio station would include a digital signature in their over-the-air audio which could not be heard by listeners but could be detected by a small device they were to call the Portable People Meter, or PPM.  The PPM would be worn or carried in a purse by "panel members" and would, without any input by the person carrying it, record what stations were actually being heard...or if there was any listening at all.  The person would drop the device into a charger sometime during the day and it would not only recharge the battery but would also dial up a telephone number and dump all the day's data into the Arbitron computers.Considering that all of Arbitron's measurement of radio listening audience was then being done by providing volunteers with little paper diaries that they were to complete and mail back in to show what stations they listened to, I felt this new technology would result in much more accurate and complete data.  See, as a former radio station personality, manager, programmer and owner, I knew the archaic diary methodology was rife with what statisticians like to call "artifacts," quirks that made the data less accurate.  Plus, it was just downright expensive and it was also getting more and more difficult to recruit volunteers--especially in certain age and ethnic groups--willing to keep a written diary of their actual listening for a whole week.Yes, there would be problems with the PPM, too.  We knew that.  Major among them was the cost of developing the devices, the framework necessary to upload data to our computers, and replacing lost or broken devices...once we found out they were no longer working.  And, of course, the considerable cost of perfecting the technology in the first place.  To help pay for it, we anticipated the assistance of other potential partners, chief among them being Nielsen, our equivalent on the TV viewing audience measurement side.We saw the PPM as a superior way of gathering passive, single-source, multimedia data.  The digital signal could be employed on any medium that made a noise.  That included both radio and TV and in all their variations -- internet streaming, out-of-home, satellite (like XM), and much more -- and would give invaluable data on media usage habits since the same person would measure all media at the same time, not just through a paper diary, a set-top TV box, or by answering a random telephone call during dinner.  We would not only know where they went when they dialed off their favorite station, but if they went to TV or to satellite.  Of if they simply consumed no media at all, which is also valuable to know.Nielsen was agreeable.  They realized the potential to their business, too.Sometime later, though, and after I had left Arbitron (believe me, there is no connection), Nielsen apparently cooled on the PPM and stopped financial support.  I have no idea why.Then, a few years ago, Nielsen bought Arbitron.  Few speculated it had anything to do with PPM.  Most felt that they just saw a new potential market they could capture in one fell swoop...or by writing one big check, anyway.Now, almost eighteen years after we came up with the [...]

An open letter to my local newspaper -- part deux


By Don KeithThis is a follow-up to my previous post, a diatribe against what is left of my market's "daily" newspaper, THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS.  It is yet another example of a mass medium attempting to survive in the face of rapid technological change and the almost overwhelming shift in how people consume media in the 21st century. And, like other media I follow (especially broadcast radio and over-the-air and network TV), and despite their attempts to remain viable, all they can seem to do is ignore their customers--current and potential--while theoretically trying to find a way to continue to exist.I gave an example of how the NEWS attempted to do this by suddenly offering four "enhanced feature editions" a year as well as a Thursday special edition on Thanksgiving Day with all those Black Friday ads...whether subscribers wanted these editions or not.  They would simply and happily cut subscriptions short by enough to cover the costs of these wonderful but not-necessarily-desired specials and bill the renewal earlier than they were supposed to.  Earlier than we poor subscribers had agreed to allow them to do.UPDATE:  I received an email a few days after my rant to the so-called customer service department that they had opted me out of the first "special edition." I assume that means I won't pay for it.  No mention of the other three coming up.  Or the Turkey Day extravaganza. I must not have been the only one with a beef.  There is now a special mailbox on their confusing and routinely ignored automated telephone answering system devoted to questions about those very "special editions."  How do I know about that dedicated voicemail box?  Let me tell you...Our "daily" paper only publishes on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.  However, one thing I could usually count on was that the paper would show up in my driveway on those days, usually well before 6 AM.  While about everything else is wrong with the paper...lack of line editing, huge pictures taking up editorial space, outdated stories, no follow up on continuing stories, same story appearing in multiple sections of the same edition...I felt I could at least get the beast delivered.Not today.  No paper.  I waited until after 9 AM to report it.  That operation requires going through a gamut of "Push 1 to turn off delivery for vacation, push 2 to cancel your subscription, etc." before finally getting to "Push 7 to report a missing, damaged or wet paper."  It may not have been 7 but it was on down the list.)Ding!  "7" led to another lengthy list of possibilities before I finally got a recording asking if I was calling from the number associated with my account.  It didn't tell me what to do if it was so I said, "Yes."  "We apologize for any inconvenience.  We will redeliver your newspaper within 90 minutes."  Click.  Call disconnected. Three hours later, still no paper.  I go through the whole routine again, including choosing the number...9...that is supposed to allow me to speak to an Alabama Media Group operator. A live person.  Precisely what I need in order to explain my frustration and maybe get some satisfaction.It rings and rings and rings and, after about five minutes, disconnects me.  I dutifully dial back, but this time I let the out-of-work former female disk jockey go through all the options on both menus before she says something about speaking to a customer service representative.  Ding.  But I do not get a human at all.  I should mention that at several junctures, I was in[...]

An open letter to my local newspaper


  by Don Keith  It is no revelation to even the most casual observer that rapid technological change has had a devastating effect on some traditional media.  Among the hardest hit is the local daily newspaper.  Many large cities no longer have a daily paper with many only publishing a few days a week.  Some towns have no traditional print newspaper at all.This is clearly because consumers no longer want to get their news and opinion in a printed paper. Or at least not enough people so the publishers can charge advertisers enough for ads so they can make money at it. Still, as with my other favorite media whipping-boy, broadcast radio, it amazes me that those outlets seem hell-bent on hastening their own demise through dumb actions, poor customer service, or attempting to cut their way to prosperity. My local paper, The Birmingham News, is a prime example.I received in the mail a prime example of this very thing this week.  It came from my town's former-daily-now-three-times-a-week newspaper, to which I still reluctantly subscribe for my own personal reasons, some of which are mentioned below.  The letter happily told me that on September 18 I would receive with my paper "a 100-page investment and Retirement Guide (sic)."  Well, whoop de doo!  It went on to promise, "This is the first of up four (4) 'premium editions,' in addition to the premium Thanksgiving Day edition, that will be delivered with your Sunday newspaper throughout the year and applied to your subscription account."  Yep, they were sending the thing to me whether I wanted it or not and they were damn well going to charge me extra for it!After touting in the letter what a fine book the investment guide would be, they get around to the dirty details of what it will cost me:  "$2.99 will be applied to your subscription account for the Investment and Retirement Guide and for each of the other premium editions; and $4.00 will be applied to your subscription account for the Thanksgiving Day edition.  Applicable sales tax will be added.  There will not be an additional charge to your credit/debit card or checking account for these premium edition charges.  However, since the charge is applied to your subscription account balance, it will shorten your paid-through date so the next charge comes about sooner."Thank you very much sir!  May I have another kick in the teeth?I had no choice.  I had to dash off a sarcastic missive to the paper's customer service department, which is almost certainly farmed out to some overseas entity.  Still, in an effort to let others know how goofy I think such a heavy-handed thing is--even if the money is not that much--I am presenting my open letter below, primarily for your entertainment.I do this blog to discuss rapid technological change and its effect on media, society and my hobby of choice, amateur radio.  But I didn't say I was thrilled by every single one of those changes.I'll let you know if I hear from anyone who speaks English and what they tell me.---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Dear Customer Service at The Birmingham News:I received a form letter from you in yesterday’s mail. It informed me about upcoming so-called “premium editions” of The Birmingham News that will be wafting my way and how those publications will ultimately affect my current subscription term for the printed newspaper.So let me get this straight.  You will be throwing onto my driveway [...]

Here goes Pollyanna again!


  by Don Keith  Look back at previous posts on this blog and you will see several in which I get all hot and bothered by trade media that cater to broadcast radio's ridiculous attempt to paint any research that comes down the pike as a positive sign of life for what is actually a dying industry.  No, I'm not exaggerating about that dying thing.  Traditional broadcasting is losing listeners in droves to other forms of entertainment and news. And losing them as well to other distractions such as the cell phone.  (As I have noted before, a potential radio listener who is yapping away to her friend on the phone while commuting ain't hearing radio or the ads on the air that sponsors are paying for.) Yet any research that shows at least a few people still listen to AM or FM sends these guys into shouts of Hosanna. Find some study that shows them to still be #1 for reach and they are absolutely beside themselves.Most recent example: in today's email update, INSIDE RADIO linked to an article on their web site with the Pollyanna-ish screaming headline:IN CROWDED LISTENERSHIP TALLY, RADIO TROUNCES RIVALS  Trounces!  Wow!  So I bite at their click bait.  The linked article quotes a study by an outfit called Cowen and Company who say that 74% of their respondents report that they listen to "terrestrial radio."  That term, by the way, typically means over-the-air traditional radio but let's assume that none of the supposed 2,500 respondents bragged that yes, they listen to "terrestrial radio."As usual with these breathless pronouncements about research studies bearing good news, there is no detail about methodology, about what age or ethnic groups make up the study, how the questions were worded or the respondents chosen, over what time span this supposed listening would have occurred, or anything that would give any sort of validity to this "trouncing" declaration.  2,500 respondents who also happen to be "consumers."  That is all we know about the study, at least based on this article that uses the data to prove radio is king of reach and frequency, long live the king!Okay, so 74% say they listen to AM/FM radio, "making it the number one listening platform." How many of us remember when such a number would have been near 100%?  With the ubiquity of the radio, especially in cars, how many of us don't listen to at least a snippet sometime during a typical week?  How many respondents figured they must have listened sometime so they said they did when asked the question? Even if they had not.Then, let's look at the other "rivals" who got "trounced."  YouTube came in second at 59%.  That is a not-so-distant 15% back.  Hardly a "trounce" in my definition of the word. Not bad, actually, for a service that is sort of difficult for most of us to even get in our cars.  And one that is not necessarily considered to be a "music" source anyway.Then you have to look all the way back to Pandora at a distant third with 37%...about half as many "listeners" as radio.  Pandora, which is also difficult for most of us to get, certainly in our cars but also in many of our homes. I assume most Pandora listening is done on phones (which might cost us through data charges) and computers. It is hardly an arm's-length away in your dashboard, at least for most people. And the other "rivals" listed also cost money--some significant money--unlike free AM and FM over-the-air radio.But the real deal breaker here, the one fatal flaw that makes Pol[...]

Why your FM radio dial will soon be a cacophony


  by Don KeithA couple of items have my blood pressure elevated today, both related to the continued surrender of broadcast radio station operators who seem clueless in how to take rapid technological change and make their medium even more relevant and powerful.  Instead, they appear to be more interested in sucking it dry and leaving its desiccated carcass to rot in the summer sun.First is a leaked memo from the brilliant minds who run SBS Broadcasting, a large group of mostly Spanish-language stations and primarily located in large markets.  They have declared that they will no longer pay a talent fee to their employees who do remote broadcasts or for on-air endorsement commercials or recorded spots.  I have three words for these dim bulbs:  Ustedes estan loco.  I will admit, though, that I didn’t even know anyone still paid talent fees for remotes or recorded spots.  Or that most stations still had local talent hanging around to compensate even if they did such tasks. (You do know that the nice, pleasant voices you hear on your radio, saying all those clever things between songs, are most likely in some faraway city and they pre-recorded their patter a day or so ago, right?) Last radio "remote broadcast" I actually witnessed, a scruffy dude pulled up in a station van--which was badly in need of washing and could have used new tires--turned on the yellow lights, and sat inside the van for two hours talking on his cell phone.  As far as I could tell, he never even went inside the business.  The “talent” had pre-recorded the "live" breaks and they were just slotted in during the voice-tracked show on the air.  (And by the way, when I used to get talent fees for remotes, live endorsements, or spots I recorded, it was because it was a line item on the invoice to the advertiser.  I wonder if SBS will continue to charge advertisers a talent fee and just keep it for the greater good of the corporation and its shareholders.)I’m telling you, the only way some of these guys can cut expenses any deeper is to sign off at midnight to save on the power bill - unless they can convince their electric company to trade juice for commercials.  Why will this affect your access to the FM band or broadcast radio?  Because talent is the lowest rung on the ladder yet it is what makes radio entertaining and informative and gives listeners the one thing they most seek...companionship.  When radio is only streamed music or syndicated talk show hosts, the stations will be even less worth listening to, advertisers will dessert the medium in even greater numbers, and it will go away.Another harbinger of the mess that your FM dial is becoming:  I was out in a small town over Memorial Day, a little burgh that is about fifty miles from my own much bigger city.  While there, I drove past the little local radio station, an AM on the high end of the dial, one I used to admire for its dedication to the community.  I was aware of some of their recent troubled history, similar to most other AMs and especially small market ones. They got smart and leased an FM translator a few years ago from some church that was licensed to go on a hill near the middle of the town and was designed to cover only the local area.  Allegedly without bothering to check with anybody, they put the transmitter instead on a tower on the tallest mountain in the county. with the intent of putting a good signal over the entire county, making it[...]

Some thoughts on Memorial Day


    By Don Keith  It's Memorial Day weekend again, a time for family, barbecue, mattress sales, and, maybe, paying homage to those who have given their lives for their countries. As I was reflecting on all that, it occurred to me that some of those we honor may have died for what we might consider the wrong causes.  A friend of mine, Michael Stamps, got me thinking when he recently sent out an interesting missive on the subject.  Michael writes: "We must honor our fallen, never forgetting their sacrifice. This is what we must do; this is what is required of the living. We oftentimes remember when they died and at times we are reminded of how. But more often than not, we minimize the reason why they died, simply accepting the words, "to keep us free," without thinking about what words such as these really mean. The concept of freedom means different things to different persons."How true that is!  I recently wrote the biography (“Mattie C.’s Boy”) of a truly remarkable man who overcame unimaginable cruelty—from family as well as strangers, from black as well as white, though he is African-American—to become a much honored and very successful communicator and businessman. Shelley Stewart hates the term “civil rights.” He straightened me out quickly when I idly used it as most of us do.“Legally, we all have civil rights and have for a long time. Everybody does. What we have to fight for is human rights. If we recognize and accept everyone as human, it’s hard for even the biggest bigot to argue that all humans don’t deserve the same rights.” I know wars are fought and men die for wrong or misunderstood causes. That is especially true, I’m afraid, in a time of uninformed people who base their understanding on Twitter posts and Internet postings. Smart marketers disguised as statesmen can convince followers to jump off a cliff in the name of what may or may not be a just fight.  It’s sometimes discouraging to me that we live in a time when information is more easily available than ever before in history yet so many people accept the first point of view they see or are so easily mislead by slick promises and manufactured “truth.”Are we just overwhelmed by the volume of information and opinion?  Or are we too lazy to seek out truths so we make the right decisions on everything from which potato chip to buy for our Memorial Day cookout to which presidential candidate to vote for to which country we bomb into oblivion?I just hope as we honor those who have died on our behalf--for our freedom to learn and choose--that we also take a vow to honor them in a new and far more practical way.  Become better educated, truly listen to all sides of an issue before making up our minds, and to make decisions that may cost people their lives based on more than a snap decision or the well-crafted words of a seductive tyrant.  Or even something a friend posted on Facebook.         [...]

Better hang onto your horse and buggy


  by Don Keith N4KCThere continues to be a rabid land rush among AM broadcasters to file for the newly available FM translator channels (very low-power transmitters on relatively low towers designed to re-broadcast the signal of an AM station on the current FM commercial broadcast band).  This get-'em-while-you-can free-for-all is a ploy by the FCC (the government agency that regulates over-the-air broadcasting) to try to save the quickly dying AM broadcast band.Read a few of my other posts below to see what I think of allowing AM station owners to "move" to FM in order to "save" AM.In today's online broadcast trade journal INSIDE RADIO there appears an interesting--and uncharacteristically candid--article about some of the negative aspects of such a shift.  Read it HERE.I understand the thought process behind allowing this mass creation of interference, poor signals, marginal formats and stations that will likely not be promoted or supported by either advertising or technical maintenance. How many of us really believe AM-only operators are going to spend money on promotions, research, personalities, a sales staff and more for a hundred-watt dim-bulb station getting clobbered from all sides by much more powerful signals?  I don't.  Not when their chances of gaining any sizeable audience with such a marginal signal is so very, very low. I also understand that the FCC has little else they can do to help struggling AM outlets. About the only other thing they are doing or considering involves relaxation of some arcane technical rules that will not make a bit of difference in the real world.  A real world in which even those 100,000-watt well-researched FM stations are losing audience to all the other audio choices available to today's listeners.The one result of this whole thing so far?  It will make AM stations have at least some value.  So if you are an AM station owner, you may want to hold onto it so you have an excuse to lease out your low-power FMs to the big operators to put on the air to help further clutter up the band.To me, it's like the government telling you that you can only put a car on the highway if you have a horse and buggy locked away in a barn somewhere.  And the regulators don't have the money or personnel to make sure you feed the horse and grease the wheels on the buggy.[...]

This man sure asks a lot of questions!


    By Don Keith N4KC  Regular readers of this bloviation are aware that I often refer to blog posts by media consultant/researcher Mark Ramsey.  His latest post features a whole bunch of really, really hard questions.  Questions such as:So what does it mean when the radio industry headlines lead with debt-burdened iHeartMedia and this: iHeartMedia Battles Angry Creditors as Bankruptcy Looms.What does it mean when the next headline is about Cumulus, and this quotation: “Q4 and 2015 results dismal as radio’s decline shows no signs of stabilization.”What does it mean when CBS announces their plan to spin all of their radio assets while at the same time vowing to boost revenue $3.75 Billion by 2020 based on everything except radio: Retransmission fees, OTT, international projects, and more?What does it mean when Pandora, with more than 80 million users, grows revenue by 25% year-over-year but, thanks to onerous royalties, still can’t cover its expenses amid swirling rumors that the company is for sale?What does it mean when Rhapsody is losing $3 Million a month and Soundcloud has hemorrhaged $70 Million over the past two years?What does it mean when Spotify tops 30 million subscribers, but while revenue grows, so do losses.Number three above--the one about the announcement yesterday (March 16, 2016)--really has the radio broadcasters ducking for cover.  CBS practically invented over-the-air radio broadcasting.  Theirs has long been the model for how to properly run radio stations, both for maximum public service and for huge audiences and profits.  Now they're dumping them.  Do they see something that others don't?  Or that others refuse to see?Or is this the best opportunity for some truly far-sighted bunch of folks to get a foot in the door, put into practice some really unique and daring processes--in programming, sales, and multi-media distribution--that can set the path for other like-minded visionaries to save "radio?"Okay, so I felt like it was my turn to ask a truly difficult question!Read the full post by Mark Ramsey HERE.  And note that Mark's opinion is that the "radio" business will soon cease to exist.  And even if it ever existed, the "audio" business is just as dead.  Rapid technological change has assured that.It's all about giving customers what they want when and where they want it.  But isn't that always the answer to a successful business?And that last one is not a hard question at all.      [...]



  by Don KeithA couple of items to pass along today:1 - The Federal Communications Commission was inundated by applications for FM translator licenses on the first day of the filing window for AM operators to grab them.  More than 400 applications were accepted with still more coming in on days two and three.  This is all part of the FCC's initiative to "save" AM radio.  This particular move allows AM licensees to get relief by grabbing FM translators, ostensibly to help stations with weak AM signals, restrictive directional patterns, and especially daytime-only stations.As noted in previous posts, this seems to me to be an odd way to "save" AM allowing them to duplicate their programming on FM.  That, I believe, only gives the AM signal an excuse to stay on the air while most listeners will hear the programming over on FM.  That is already the case with many AM broadcast stations.  Groups have been either buying or leasing dog AMs just to be able to get an FM signal...weak as it might be since translators are very low-power and typically have their antennas much lower on towers.  (Never mind how all these new signals are ruining reception on an already-crowded slice of broadcast spectrum.  Or how many of those "excuse" AM stations often manage to be off the air or operating at far below authorized power while their associated FM translators are pumping out the classic rock or the hits of yesterday and today.)Next, the FCC will likely relax some technical rules that won't amount to a hill of beans, all in the name of saving a broadcast band that is already, for all intents and purposes, d - e - a - d.  And it is a damn shame!2 - Lots of talk these days about "cord-cutters" and their more radical brethren "never-cords."  These are folks who cancel cable or satellite TV and get their video entertainment and information via the Internet. Or those who start their adult lives without ever subscribing to Dish or cable. Traditional cable and broadcasters are at a loss to figure out how to stop such a trend. I may be totally off base, but seems to me the answer is to put programming on their channels that people want to watch and charge what the market will bear to access it.  I'm stuck because I primarily watch live sports on TV.  Until I can get all I want to see via web sites, I'll have to write a check every month to DirecTV.  But networks and cable channels are greedy.  They cut deals to send their precious programming right on over to Hulu, Apple TV, Netflix and the like in order to make more money than they'll ever get from commercials.I subscribed to HBO for one thing: "The Sopranos."  I'm not into "Game of Thrones" so when Tony and the boys went away, so did my HBO subscription.  I picked up Netflix to watch "House of Cards."  Now I keep it for that show as well as for shows like "Making of a Murderer."I suspect there are plenty like me who will either cut the cord or keep a limited version of it, depending on what they simply must watch.  So get ready for another term: "a la carte."  Cable/satellite providers will one day be forced to allow you to pick and choose channels or content providers at a reasonable price rather than those so-called "tiers."If they don't, somebody else will.  And content makers will go with whoever pays them the most attracti[...]