Nashville Cats

The people powered meter (PPM) has come to Nashville, which has also suffered a change of format to its NPR affiliate. According to this post on the site tennessean.com:

Big changes may be coming to a radio station near you soon.

Nashville is the latest city to take part in a real-time radio audience survey system that has led to dust-ups on morning talk shows, surprising ratings changes and shifts in music formats at stations across the country over the past three years.

It’s all because of a cell-phone-size listening device based on submarine warfare technology retooled to pick up inaudible signals from your favorite — and not so favorite — radio broadcasts.

The portable people meter, or PPM, clips onto a belt like a pager and tracks every snippet of radio broadcast that a handpicked sample of paid wearers hears. Nashville is the 44th market to get the high-tech system that has been praised by many for the accuracy of its data and damned by others for the same reason.

As the story notes, the PPM system gives an entirely different picture of who listens to which stations in a market.

Some popular programs have taken a plunge in other cities once data from the people meters entered the ratings. The Sean Hannity Show, for example, endured a 20 percent drop in listeners in some markets in which the PPM was introduced, according to Alton Adams, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Arbitron until recently. Adams came to town earlier this month to meet advertisers and executives from Nashville’s 30 radio stations.

“For high loyalty stations, there are more overstatements,” Adams said. And the fallout hasn’t always been pretty.

In Detroit, Breakfast Club morning show hosts Kevin O’Neill and Lisa Barry found themselves without a job in April when the Clear Channel-owned WNIC-FM switched to a music intensive format after PPM ratings showed the formerly No. 1 morning show was coming in at No. 11 among 35- to 64-year-olds. In Chicago, “smooth jazz” station WNUA abandoned its format seven months after the PPM was introduced, as the latest ratings showed it had slipped from No. 6 to No. 14.

The story touches on some of the controversy that has plagued Arbitron, including suits against them for a lack of diversity in their samples and a suit settled disputing ownership of the technology going into the PPMs.

In Nashville, the company says it has recruited a representative sample to reflect the entire market of potential listeners — balanced by age, race and income criteria. “With any market, if the percentage of men is 48 and women 52, we build the panel to be 48 percent men and 52 percent women. If the market is 15 percent black, 7 percent Hispanic, 15 percent 12- to 17-year-olds; the panel is built to reflect each demographic,” Arbitron spokeswoman Jessica Benbow said.

But one astute commenter pointed out the main criticism of Arbitron’s PPM:

The far more important question surrounds the number of “people meters.” 754.

Used to be (and I assume it still is) that the “Nashville Metro Survey Area” was Davidson County AND the seven counties that surround it. Anyone want to take a guess how many people that is? It’s more than 754.

They will project the data they have (all 754, I assume) and issue a report that concludes this sample is representative of the entire populace in the eight counties. This is the system by which radio lives and dies. What amazes me is that radio continues to be led around by the nose. The industry has the power to say “we want better than this.”

The lure of the money must be too strong. Isn’t that “addiction”?

Recommended listening for every Arbitron-addicted bean counter at every station: Frank Zappa on why the music sucks.

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Hail Britannia

The UK’s Grant Goddard sent along a pdf of a presentation he made to Parliament about the future (or lack thereof) of DAB radio in England. His conclusion: “I believe that complete digital switchover is unlikely to ever happen to UK radio.” You can read this report and substitute “HD radio” for “DAB” (though the Brit counterpart is in fact the superior system). HD radio in this country is a massive con game perpetrated by iBiquity and its cronies — including Clear Channel and NPR — against the American consumer. The logic in this document can be applied nearly argument for argument against the hysterical hooplah that characterizes the push to sell this scam.

GGoddard

English Muffing

Grant Goddard, who covers the English airwaves in a highly literate site, is sounding the death knell for DAB, the European version of HD radio that’s actually far superior to HD in that, for one, it does not interfere with adjacent channels. Some of the material in this post should be required reading for radio poobahs here, as it makes far more sense than they’ve been making of late. One particular quote, considering the lack of a revenue stream from HD, is this: “No digital radio station has yet made a profit.” But there’s much more:

The latest additions to the lengthening list of stations that have failed to make the national DAB platform work for them are NME Radio and Panjab Radio, both of which quit Digital One in June 2010. The reason? Almost no one was listening. Add together the digital-only stations broadcasting on the platform last quarter (and that are measured by RAJAR) and, in total, they accounted for less than 1% of total radio listening.

Yet the radio industry, the receiver manufacturers and their lobby groups are still spending money on campaigns to convince the public that DAB radio is a raging success. Digital One says its radio platform reaches “more than 90%” of the [UK] population,” equivalent to 46m adults. RAJAR tells us that 35% of those adults have a DAB radio. Yet only 226,000 adults per week listened to NME Radio, after nearly two years on-air. If you were in any way persuaded to believe the hype surrounding DAB, your business plan to start a digital radio station might look dangerously over-optimistic.

Sounds like iBiquity and their screaming “NOW’S THE TIME TO UPGRADE” campaign. Grant also includes some charts showing the forecast listener base for DAB versus the actual listeners. These are the kind of charts that need wide distribution in the states.
In its forecasts, NME Radio had projected that DAB would be “53%” by 2010. Maybe this referred to Ofcom’s forecast that, by year-end 2010, digital platforms (not DAB alone) would account for 50% of all radio listening. In fact, in Q1 2010, only 15% of listening to all radio was via DAB, and 24% was via all digital platforms (worse for commercial radio at 12% and 23% respectively). Ofcom’s forecast of how digital radio usage would grow was disastrously inaccurate. NME Radio did not stand a chance of commercial success using DAB.
Grant makes special note later of the difference for non-commercial stations. (In the states, of course, HD radio has been bankrolled on public radio by tens of millions of dollars in grants from the CPB to set up transmission, though that just represents the initial investment.)
As the table above demonstrates, the national DAB platform’s history is littered with commercial digital radio stations that failed to make it work for them. Most of the stations currently on the national DAB platform are non-commercial and so do not need to meet their costs from advertising revenues.

Grant then finishes them off with a blistering rejoindre to the industry line “we believe DAB still offers the best solution for the future growth of radio in the UK.”

This nonsense was written in an Ofcom report less than a year ago, when the writing on the wall could not have been larger that the national DAB platform’s future for commercial radio was doomed. Surely, a regulator that refuses to deal with the reality of the here and now could be a regulator that will eventually find it has no future. For years, Ofcom (and its predecessor) have led the commercial radio sector a merry dance down a DAB blind alley that has proven almost fatal to the industry’s economic health.

If Ofcom publishes one more policy document proclaiming (as if it were still 1998) that ‘the future of radio’ is DAB, rather than it working to bang industry heads together to find a practical route out of the present mess, all it will succeed in doing is writing its own epitaph.

Play for Pay

You know, of course, that NPR and Clear Channel are buddies — partners in cahoots with iBiquity in the HD radio con game. And chances are, if your public radio station has gone Triple-A radio, you’ve heard all about the playlists that govern what’s played. Well then, you should watch this YouTube video on Clear Channel and its use of focus groups to determine what’s on its playlists. Then tell us how this differs from a Triple-A playlist and who determines what’s on it…

Home to Roost

Who Is That Guy?

Some folks involved in the various protest groups incensed at the co-option of their “public” radio stations sought immediate gratification from their actions. They reasoned that one march down to the studio with torches and pitchforks would elicit immediate changes from station management. Surely the bean counters would be reasonable in the face of organized opposition. Think again.

In Austin, it went far beyond that, with a public “town hall” meeting, numerous investigative pieces in the media, a “Twang Dang Doodle” event with an amazing lineup of musicians, and a committee comprised of local luminaries including two former mayors meeting with university and station poobahs — not to mention a website and Facebook page sporting the names of a host of Austin legends (including, for instance, a letter of support from ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons). All that proved insufficient to move the bean counters from their agenda. Many of those seeking that immediate gratification became disheartened and faded into the woodwork. (Indeed, after a successful station fundraiser, the head of the UT school of communications reportedly said smugly of the protesters, “They’re toast.”)

But given the entrenchment of the business types in charge — and their hubris in believing that they knew the truth and the whole truth so help them Arbitron — that was a shortsighted response to station stonewalling. This was not a war to be won with one battle. And the war drags on. There’s plenty to be done (see “What Can I Do?” on the left).

One veteran protester likens his efforts to the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” when the outlaws had worn out their welcome in the states and decided to hightail it to South America, pursued by the lawman in the white hat and his posse. They’d ride all day and all night, trying to shake the posse, then pull up at the top of a rise and look back. And over and again, there in the distance was the guy in the white hat, and Paul Newman would say, “Who is that guy?!”

He was in it for the long haul — just like a veteran protester in this movement. He or she realizes that teaching a bean counter culture is like turning a massive ocean liner. It doesn’t make sharp turns. It has to be gradually moved off course. And perhaps there are signs of a change in course.

In Austin, the last fundraiser had to be extended to meet its goal — an unheard-of event — despite a plethora of “anonymous” matching pledges (the largesse, no doubt, of the so-called “Leadership Circle” of big donors and a hand-picked board). And now, more evidence. The Austin Chronicle, the hip weekly, carried a half-page ad (civic>media>KUT) that screamed “Help Create a New KUT,” with the followup: “Hey, Austin, we’re listening too. KUT.org is reinventing itself to become a more innovative resource for news and music. But we can’t create a site for you if we don’t know what you think.” And the website carries a survey to get your opinions on a number of questions. As if the troika running the show ever cared for what listeners thought when they sliced and diced the freeform DJs who’d made KUT a force to begin with.

See, now they’re listening . . . they want you to believe. Not like in Charlottesville, VA (see previous post), where university cheeses have immediately gone into listen mode in the face of protest. In Boston, the latest Arbitron numbers, worshiped by the money changers, show ‘GBH mired in 23rd place in the market. At KUT, they still haven’t deigned to disclose finances, show what they’re doing with the taxpayer- and donor-supplied funds they received. So now we should believe them that they want to make nice?

Fear and Loathing in Charlottesville

The latest furor in non-comm stations involves the University of Virginia’s WTJU. Jeff Boudreau passed along this post on dailyprogress.com, website from Charlottesville, VA, where appears the following:

Major programming changes coming to WTJU, the University of Virginia’s eclectic non-commercial radio station, are prompting outrage and several high profile resignations by longtime volunteer disc jockeys. “WTJU as we know it is being killed,” said Emmett Boaz, who says he plans to quit the ‘Leftover Biscuits’ folk show he has hosted for the past dozen years. . . . WTJU, 91.1 FM, has long been known as Charlottesville’s freewheeling and unpredictable radio option, featuring rock, classical, jazz, blues, world music and public affairs programming. It first went on the air in 1957. The changes, Boaz and other DJs say, threaten to undo much of the station’s personality and make it less unique. “What they’re trying to do is turn us into all the other stations across the country,” Boaz said. “There are maybe three or four stations across the country that are anything like WTJU.”

There were many more than that at one time, though that has changed drastically in the last decade. Moves at WTJU mirror those that have gone down in cities nationwide:

According to internal e-mails circulating among staff members and volunteer DJs, the changes are expected to include a reorganized schedule and the introduction of songs that DJs will be required to play in rotation. . . .

Some DJs, however, argue that WTJU’s unpredictability is what makes the station special. “We’ve always been a freeform station,” said Tyler Magill, a DJ at WTJU for nearly two decades. “Being a freeform station is what makes us unique. The basic philosophy of the station will be changed and lost.” Magill, who launched a blog about the coming changes at savewtju.blogspot.com, said the upcoming schedule changes will likely mean he’ll have to resign from the rock show he hosts. Rock programming, he said, appears to be moving into the nighttime hours. Magill is the father of a 2-year-old and holds three jobs. Hosting his show at night, he said, is just not viable. Magill also objects to the concept of requiring DJs to play certain songs. WTJU’s DJs, he said, take pride in picking out the music they play during their shows. If DJs are told what to play, he said, they lose the “personal investment” in their shows. “I cannot, in good faith, play songs from a playlist,” he said. “Everything that I play is a song that I love.”

Sound familiar? So do the arguments from the new GM, down to the use of Arbitron to justify the actions:

The changes to WTJU come two months after the university hired a new general manager for the station, Burr Beard. Beard was hired, Anderfuren and Wood wrote, to “freshen the WTJU format, give it a stronger identification with the university, build listenership, engage more students and, as a result, improve its financial condition.”

Beard — whose Web site says he is “one of the most experienced broadcasters and hammer dulcimer players anywhere to be found” — declined to comment on the changes coming to WTJU. Details, he said, will be available at the meeting Thursday. “Best to wait for the comprehensive package of info if you want facts,” he said Monday. Many of Beard’s e-mails and other documents outlining the changes, however, have been posted online at Magill’s blog. In one, Beard cites WTJU’s declining listenership and fundraising as part of the reasons for the changes he says will result in an “all new consistent and reliable WTJU.”

“Arbitron show a downward trend in listening to WTJU,” Beard wrote. “Currently on average only 7,500 people listen each week. That’s the smallest audience of any non-comm station serving Charlottesville. Fundraising has been on a downward swing at the same rate as the listener drop.”

In Tyler’s blog (the link has been added on the right), Burr Beard gives the same lame rap about the wonders of AAA radio, saying in fact that “he had helped to create the AAA format, and wishes to use a similar template at WTJU, in all departments.” Oh, lucky you, Virginia. Yes, there is no Santa Claus.

Yet the battle still rages on alternate sites, such as this one (called “The Hook”) where the comments war is heating up. The story itself sheds a bit of light:

In a call to the Hook, another WTJU staffer complained that Beard wasn’t going to “let DJs play their own songs” and that there was a “mutiny” going on.

Beard has sent messages to WTJU’s staff explaining the proposed changes, a kind of cheerleading effort to get WTJU staff excited about strategies to increase listenership and fundraising. As Beard pointed out, “on average only 7,500 people listen each week. That’s the smallest audience of any non-comm station serving Charlottesville.” Beard has proposed introducing commercial radio-style play lists or rotations.

“Radio’s strong point is repetition,” wrote Beard. “That’s why commercials are repeated so often. It also works when we repeat songs a number of times per week. How can we make spin count and repetition work for us while still remaining fresh and non-commercial?”

The story already appears to have become news without the media. A DJ named Pete Marshall, concerned that his Friday-night roots music showcase, “Sunset Road,” was on the chopping block, decided to resign after nearly 20 years with WTJU.

“The master plan might work but honestly, Burr,” wrote Marshall, “your communication skills suck.”

Visit these sites and lend a hand. Let the folks know they’re not alone. The same tired arguments are being repurposed here. At the risk of sounding like a broken record: What’s the difference between bean counters and yogurt? Yogurt has a live culture.

The Buzz on iBUZZ

The engineers on the info-radio.com discussion boards are tracking the demise of HD radio on the AM band. Bob Savage reports:

UPDATE! AM-HD continues its slo-mo Croak-O-Rama. June pop-count drops a few more stations, to 248:

http://topazdesigns.com/iboc/station-list.html

That’s about 50 stations off the high-water mark. Can’t we just call it a (hiss-free) day already?

Earlier, the tech discussion went something like this:

Yes, HD-AM Version 17.2 in the continuing parade of IBOC software tweaks (all presumably requiring new exciter purchases or upgrades) providing 10.2 kHz analog bandpass without IBOC noise has generated about as much consumer-listener excitement as the FM digital power increase. Which is to say: zero. How many freakin’ improvements, upgrades, and patches are the HD nuts going to trot out to try to convince people HD Radio actually works?  Attention, all you HD-types who labour mightily to draw a historical parallel between FM radio’s slow adoption and HD: please point out for the class, ONE example of how the whole FM mode had to be revised to correct poor and/or unacceptable performance as experienced in the field after its deployment. Back to HD-AM.  So . . . the “improved” codec provides us with bandpass . . . equivalent to non-HD stations! Wow! That’s dramatic!   Roll Eyes We’ve gone through three years of 78 rpm sound, and now . . . research, development and “improvement” have restored the 2005 status quo for analog listeners! Talk about progress . . . NOT.

Bottom line, It’s still real bad for the folks “who live next door,” in the worst possible way, with interference that would have, anytime before the ’80s, been subject to FCC actions, and if continued, that would have put the station off the air until effective repairs to the transmission facilities were effected. In the old days this was overmod splatter, usually transitory. Today it is pure 100% duty-cycle roaring on the 1st adjacent. As someone who spent 3 years in years in radio engineering school and was taught the whole time how much of our responsibility was to maintain a station’s signal and respect the spectrum of others, AND HELP other stations’ engineers do the same, I am still  baffled that this mess could even happen.

One more observation: the AM band is still a mess due to IBOC hiss here in SW Michigan at night. Most of the dial is awash in noise. Less than 150 miles from Chicago, all of the major 50 kW stations are unlistenable due to IBOC hash from the adjacent channel stations out east. The NY signals on 660, 710, 770, and 880 pound in at night here, and their IBOC sidebands just kill the Chicago stations. Think you’re gonna listen to the Cubs on ‘GN? Not unless it’s a day game. The only consistently usable signals here at night are 650 and 740.

If they wanted to just go out and kill the AM band entirely, it would be hard to imagine a more effective vehicle than IBOC. Especially when you layer in the cynical legal manipulations which deprive victim stations of any effective petition for relief. The willingness of these HD-pushers to self- and mutually-annihilate is just mind-boggling. At least to those of us with operational minds.

iBiquity’s own web site pretty much answered my question: WLS is no longer on their official list of HD Radio stations. Neither is WABC. It seems like Citadel is dropping AM IBOC like a hot potato . . . or in this case, a rotten one!

If HD doesn’t completely go away, a nighttime ban would do — for now!

It would take a major upheaval for the FCC to rescind their rule allowing nighttime use of AM IBOC. They will likely just let it die out on its own. Indeed, AM stations which are abandoning IBOC are doing so full-time, not just at night. The one thing we might have a chance of seeing is an improvement in the way the FCC deals with interference complaints, because as the WYSL vs. WBZ case proves, the existing procedure is pretty much worthless. Under Kevin Martin, the FCC made up its mind that skywaves have been rendered obsolete, and therefore nighttime AM IBOC interference is not possible.

As to the tally of stations dropping HD, “JohnnyElectron” adds, “There’s a couple more off on a ‘temporary basis’ while they repair their inoperable iBiquity hardware, like WSPD.” In succession, the following posts were added:

The list still shows KCBS 740 as on with HD. I seem to recall they shut off the AM HD as their “sounds like FM” was mocked by 106.9, which is really FM quality. That being the case the count is 247 and falling.

I’d take a “Buzz Free Day” any day. Just tell me how to nuke a few dozen Plasma TV sets, a hundred or so switched-mode power supplies, and a few thousand feet of neon-installed-by-the-lowest-bidder-and-maintained-by-nobody.

Yeah, but there are a couple of other errors the other way — for example WHTK 1280 has the buzzsaw back up and running, so I would guesstimate that net-net we’re still talking 248 or so. The overall trend, though, is decidedly down. Especially when you consider that 32 of the piddling alleged 85 or so 24-7 HD-AM signals are on the 6 graveyard channels. That means that only approximately 1% of licensed AMs are operating with HD 24-7. Considering that factor, it’s amazing that the remaining 53 unlimited-hours operating HD-AMs are causing the awful adjacent-channel racket. Can you imagine the mess if HD actually saw widespread adoption in the MW band? AM radio would be totally useless. At night, in the east, between 1000 kHz and 1220 kHz and 660 kHz and 880 kHz, it already is on some nights.

At night in VA the adjacent channel racket makes those 2 portions of the AM band a mess. On the lower portion of the 1000 to 1220, it is awful with WBZ’s buzzsaw being very loud, loud enough to bury most of WHO’s and KDKA’s signals. WPHT’s IBOC is also loud.

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