On the Wrong Track

In this Inside Music Media post, Jerry Del Colliano quotes radio consultant Alan Burns, who concludes “radio is in danger of losing its future adult audience”:

Note Burns said “future adult audience” not young audience which radio has arguably already lost. This notion is not new to those of you who meet here at this space every day. We’ve been warning of these dire consequences for years as radio companies ignored their product for foolish cutbacks.

What Jerry says about commercial radio and its cost-cutting pink slips also pertains to public radio, flushing their budgets with HD channels and canned content from on high while cutting loose local shows and talent and replacing them with playlists:

Radio is not a main attraction on a cell phone which is why Steve Jobs has been stingy with putting the FM chip in his devices.

For some reason we in radio have a hard time seeing that consumers have changed. We are still trying to offer them what we’re comfortable offering them — 24/7 broadcast radio.

I agree with Burns when he says, “the more like a jukebox we become, the more we’ll lose audience to digital alternatives.”

Absolutely.

Yet those of us who believe this are already speaking to the converted. Even as we speak, more morning talent is being cut loose to make way for voice tracking.

The real story?

1. Personalities like the ones being fired by radio stations are the antidote to iTunes. Especially if these personalities are music trendsetters. The very thing that differentiates an iPod from a radio is the thing radio executives apparently do not value enough to keep them employed — on-air, live and local personalities.
2. Radio as it is now configured is not a major influence on musical tastes as it once was when it had no digital competition and before filesharing. Come on — playing the same tunes over and over again ad nauseam does not directly address the more potent competition — music discovery by peer group and online websites. Pandora and peer-to-peer filesharing is today’s music discovery not top 40 radio.
3. On-demand listeners will continually opt for short form “radio” whatever that turns out to be. In other words, entertainment that has a beginning, middle and end and that can be carried around on mobile devices or eventually available from the cloud anywhere. It can be consumed on-demand. This is anti-radio 101. Keep fighting this and in a few years some consultant will tell you what we just said right here.
4. Local is what is missing from radio. An iPod is impersonal. When iTunes updates its music offerings, it’s the big Apple out there for everyone to see and hear…. iTunes is good for what it is, radio doesn’t need to aspire to a poor imitation.

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A Tree Falls…

Hilarious post on Jerry Del Colliano’s Inside Music Media today:

Okay, it wasn’t a promotion in Hartford but it really happened.

Here’s a reader account:

“It’s not just CC that is downgrading engineering.

“I bought a new HD clock radio for my wife because the CBS 50K AM in Hartford doesn’t come in well where I am due to poor ground conductivity and interference. They stream the AM signal on their FM HD2. Last week, my wife said the radio didn’t go on. I checked it and no audio. I checked everything, then tuned up to HD3 and it worked fine. HD1 also worked fine. Then I realized that there was simply no audio on HD2.

“Yesterday, about a week later, I checked again and still no audio. I called the station, was connected with someone in engineering, who first said he wasn’t the engineer for that station, but asked why I was calling. I told him, and he walked over and checked, and said “Oh Yeah, there isn’t any audio.” Last night when I checked, the signal was back on HD2.”

It’s one thing if listeners don’t notice HD radio. They never really took to it anyway but it’s amazing — no feed for a week and no one at the station noticed.

Two Mississippi

Fresh Air is back on in Mississippi, according to this post from Tom Taylor’s blog on radio-info.com:

NPR’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” is reinstated by Mississippi Public Broadcasting, though the award-winning interview show will now air at 9pm instead of 3pm. Public radio monitor-pub Current says the Mississippi outfit “took a drubbing from angry listeners and snarky bloggers” before it ‘fessed up and conceded that the cancellation of the widely-distributed daytime talk show was triggered by Terry’s interview with comedian Louis C. K. — the one where he talked about why he keeps his shirt on when he has sex. Now, Mississippi Public Broadcasting executive director Judith Lewis has had “constructive conversations with ‘Fresh Air’ [produced at member station WHYY, Philadelphia] and we will now include notices saying that the program may include adult content.” That will put Mississippi Public Broadcasting on Terry’s list of famous furores, including Kiss frontman Gene Simmons getting famously rude and Bill O’Reilly walking off the show.

Meanwhile, on Current.org, Judith Lewis, executive director of the state-operated Mississippi Public Broadcasting TV and radio networks, is quoted in the post:

In her first year as MPB director, Lewis has received more complaints about Fresh Air than any other program, she said. “Most of the comments I’ve received have to do with the salaciousness of Ms. Gross. She talks a lot about sexual issues and the language she uses — a lot of people of Mississippi are not accustomed to hearing. They’re not accustomed to hearing word ‘orgasm’ on the air, and three o’clock in the afternoon is not the best time to air this.”

Lewis didn’t deny that MPB dropped the show in reaction to a complaint from someone who heard the broadcast through a state university telephone system while waiting on hold, as reported by a blogger for lefty MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, but she wouldn’t confirm the tale.

The show has been moved to 9 pm at night because of its “inappropriate content.” Reportedly, the offending remark was a quip by comedian Louis C. K. explaining that he wears a t-shirt when he has sex — to cover his middle-aged body. The station canceled the show within 24 hours of the interview.

End Run

Jack Hannold passes along word on what he calls the “consolidators” — companies like Clear Channel and Cumulus, who aim to make their money by buying up stations and selling them for a profit (not by actually offering a good product) — are doing now with what’s called translators. Translators can be used to extend the reach of a radio station — ostensibly within their allowed range. But, Jack says:

It should be clear by now that the consolidators’ real reason for clinging to Iniquity’s technologically impractical and commercially failed “HD” system is that the FCC has formally countenanced that fanciful notion that HD-2 and -3 signals can be considered primary stations for feeding translators. No matter what the FCC said in the Saga case, the consolidators are indeed “using the [HD-2] Station as ‘main signal’ to circumvent the local radio ownership rules” (paraphrased from a response to a written protest filed with the FCC, courtesy J. J. McVeigh).

But we shouldn’t be surprised. If the FCC can so cavalierly disregard the laws of physics in approving the use of IBOC, why shouldn’t they take a similar approach to their own regs?

Jack references the following stories appearing on the site insideradio.com:

From http://www.insideradio.com//Article.asp?id=1891151&spid=32061:

Cumulus buys 99X new signal.

For the past two years the alternative rock station branded as “99X” has mainly been heard by Atlanta listeners tuning to a translator at 97.9 FM.  That could change now that Cumulus has found it another translator home — this one at 99.5.
The company has struck a $150,000 deal to buy the Tallapoosa, GA-licensed signal from Edgewater Broadcasting. The second translator will help fill in parts of the sprawling Atlanta metro that aren’t covered by the first translator.   The revived heritage brand is technically the HD2 format to CHR “Q-100” WWWQ (99.7). In the June Arbitron PPM ratings, 99X managed only a 0.7 share (6+) and cumed 201,200 people.

And from http://www.radio-info.com/newsletter/html/tri-07272010.html this morning:

Did Cumulus just buy the new “99X” translator?

It’s been playing Sudoku-like translator games in its home market of Atlanta, adding up the right number of signals to maximize its outreach. Recently it’s scored in the Arbitron ratings with alternative rock “99X at 97.7”, using an HD-2 signal to feed an FM translator at 97.9 that’s often pulling a 1-share in the PPMs. But now Cumulus has just filed to pay $150,000 for a translator that’s actually at 99.1 – a real “99.” It may have less power than 97.9, just 99 watts, so perhaps Cumulus will leave the current arrangement alone. But what else will they do with 99.1? For sure, this translator’s going through enough changes to spin its little head around.  It’s currently a far-western signal at 88.9 licensed to Tallapoosa, GA, just a short drive from Alabama. But owner Edgewater Broadcasting’s already filed to relicense it at the current site to 99.5, making it suitable for a commercial broadcaster. But reading further into the Cumulus sale agreement, Cumulus proposes a “second modification” from 99.5 to 99.1. And it would now be diplexed to W250BC – which is the translator that carries the “99X at 97.9” flag. Cumulus says the new 99.1 would simulcast its “Q100” CHR WWWQ (99.7), and it will share its tower. But you can always change the originating station, and you wonder if Cumulus will use 99.1 for something else — like giving all-sports WCNN *680” an FM presence.

And in a later email, Jack wrote the following, referring to this Inside Radio post:

Everything’s update to date in Kansas City, including translator chicanery.  In this case, the analog translator repeating an HD-2 has nearly halved a targeted competitor’s share of Men 18-34.

If using a translator for an IBOC side channel can yield results like this, you know the consolidators aren’t going to give up the practice without a fight — regardless of what IBOC does to the host primary station’s electric bill, or for that matter to its fringe-area analog signal quality (IBOC, when added to adjacents’ signals, can seriously degrade analog reception on cheap receivers with poor adjacent rejection).

Situation Normal: All FUD Up

Arbitron took another hit on the internet with this post on allaccess.com, which has Harker Research saying the PPM is inferior to Nielsen, in so many words. The story quotes Harker, saying: “Seven billion more dollars. That’s what we estimate radio stations in the top-50 markets could add to their billing if radio used Nielsen numbers rather than Arbitron PPM numbers.” The report notes that the diary method reports 50% more TSL (“time spent listening”) than does the “new, improved” PPM — and that Nielsen’s ratings were twice as high. And in the vaunted AQH (“average quarter hour”) results oft quoted by bean counters, “PPM estimate is nearly 30% lower than its own diary estimates, and 45% lower than Nielsen’s.”

As the first commenter noted:

This is a huge radio story. Why should there be such a difference between PPM and diary? Is the PPM technology so wrong? Was the diary system that off? The fate of an industry may be in the answers.

According to Harker, also reported elsewhere, this could have cost radio “$7 billion.” Not so, says this post on The Infinite Dial. Nonsense, it says here, adding that this is what’s known as the FUD option — Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. As in, when you can’t compete on price or quality, FUD is your only option.

Well, hell, that seems to be part and parcel of this whole system — lock, stock, and barrel. TIME TO UPGRADE (or you’ll be left out). Your station needs HD channels (or you’ll go broke in analog). Etc., etc., ad nauseam. But the question remains: Why are the numbers from the diary and PPM so different, and are both of them bogus or maybe just one?

Huge Debacle, Redux

Funny exchange in the Google group, under the heading “The most harebrained ‘HD’ promotion yet?”:

Jack Hannold: Clear Channel-owned Inside Radio plans to give away five different model “HD” receivers over the next five weeks to its readers — almost all of whom presumably work in radio. Is this preaching to the choir? Or is it an attempt to get the stragglers (meaning the ones who have too smart to buy into this farce so far) in tune with Iniquity’s out-of-tune piano?

Bob Savage: Or maybe it’s time to clean out the CC prize closet. Giving away admittedly worthless HD radios beats hauling them out to the dumpster.

“Ad” vs. “Underwriting”

The trend over the past decade in Austin at public station KUT has been fewer donors, larger donations. Response from the bean counters: hiring rainmakers, companies that specialize in attracting corporate donations. The effect has been, as so aptly put by saveKUTaustin member Jody Lazo, to build an overpass to the “landed gentry,” the “underwriters” purveying items such as luxury cars, and jettisoning the “public” whose support has been declining. So when does “underwriting” become “advertising”?

As this has come into question more often in the age of corporate underwriting, what follows is an explanation from radio-info.com discussion board on what the basic rules are for underwriting, from “aaronread”:

Crafting legal underwriting scripts is as much an art as it is a science. If you want to get into it, I suggest you read up extensively at the FCC’s site on the issue and also listen a lot to your local NPR affiliate to get a feel for what the national spots (mostly voiced in Frank Tavares’ distinctively neutral voice) say in their scripts.

For reference, here are the key tenets:

  • The biggest and most vague is that underwriting cannot be promotional, merely informative.  Exactly what this means is roundly up for debate, but a good place to start is to avoid superlatives at all costs. Also remember that saying something factual is still considered promotional if it’s to distinguish the sponsor from other sponsors in the same field and imply that the sponsor is better.  For example, a grocery store that says its been in business for 30 years is to imply that its longevity makes it better than other grocery stores. Thus, it is considered promotional.
  • If no consideration is involved, it’s not underwriting and thus exempt from these rules. However, consideration can take many, many forms other than money. This is why it’s virtually impossible for a non-comm station to broadcast live from a for-profit venue like a restaurant, nightclub or music hall.
  • If the organization involved is a non-profit, then the underwriting rules do not apply. However, as a station is it unwise to have different rules for non-profits and for-profits . . . it’s confusing to your listeners and to your sponsors.
  • The FCC has stated, in a roundabout way, that they don’t see how an underwriting spot that’s longer than 30 seconds could not be promotional. So your spots must be less than 30 seconds.
  • In underwriting, there can never be a call to action. This is the biggie, and leads to the most “verbal gymnastics.” This rule is why you hear the phrase “more info at” instead of “call this number” or “visit us online at.”
  • In underwriting, there cannot be any inducement to buy, sell or lease. This means no information about sales/discounts, special offers, free giveaways, etc.
  • In underwriting, there can never be any mention of prices. This includes interest rates, savings, value or related info to price.

One big issue with underwriting is slogans. The prime example is “Get Met, It Pays.”  That’s clearly a call to action, but it’s also a long-time identifying slogan for Met Life insurance. The FCC has been somewhat unclear on this — they’ve nailed people for violating the rules in situations like this, but a lot of stations have also done it for years and not been hassled. YMMV.

Oh, and this should be obvious, but IANAL. Use any info I provide at your own risk!

Again from “amfmxm”:

More huge potential non-profit categories . . . where the underwriting restrictions don’t apply.

State/regional/local convention & visitors bureaus, symphony orchestras, opera organizations, community theatre, festivals, concerts presented by civic organizations, state/county/municipal governments, school districts, (most) hospitals, clinics, chambers of commerce, (many) nursing homes… public TV stations (for radio underwriting)… public radio stations (for TV underwriting)…

No restrictions. Just get a dub from the commercial station. It’s legal.

And one note from “techie2” in regards to a topic current in Austin, where the public radio station is taking over the running of the Cactus Café, a local folk institution on the University of Texas campus:

[T]he way I read the rules there is no way to do any sort of remotes at a business location, period.

And finally this word from “amfmxm,” an old hand in public radio:

Over-reliance on CPB funding first opened up this Pandora’s box. Over-reliance on membership funding kept public radio programming frozen in time (and still does in isolated cases) out of fear that the Big Spenders will stop writing checks if “Performance Today” (as an example) is moved from 9 AM to 10 AM, or — God forbid — cancelled.

From the inside I saw NPR’s corporate support (underwriting) revenues shoot through the roof during the “internet bubble” only to crash back to earth when the boom went bust. While things were booming I watched the organization spend every dime as quickly as it came in (or before it came in) and kept thinking “I sure wish they would treat this revenue as ‘gravy’ and operate more frugally” — but, of course, they didn’t. And it came crashing in on them.

Just as in commercial media, or any other business or organization for that matter, some common sense must be factored into any financial operating plan.

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