Down and Dirty in Austin

This story, entitled “HD radio offerings gain strength in Austin market,” ran in the Austin American-Statesman this week, relying on information from Bob Struble and iBiquity as well as the associate general manager of KUT, Austin’s “public” radio station. The following email was sent to the Statesman letters to the editor:

Mighty puffy piece (“HD radio offerings gain strength in Austin market”), relying on the fox’s quotes about the situation in the henhouse… HD radio is a scam, foisted off on the public by the monopoly licensee, iBiquity, and championed by the great consolidators in the industry: Clear Channel, Emmis, and — yes — NPR. All investors. The public’s airwaves controlled by a monopoly? Never before. And your tax dollars — through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — have bankrolled 40 percent of these channels, all “public” radio stations. Now we see NPR giving bargain-basement prices on shows to push this flimflam. What is the ROI at KUT — the return on investment, holy grail of bean counters? Who would advertise on a channel no one listens to, as it’s cut-rate canned content far inferior to what’s on analog. The price to listeners? So long, Larry, Paul, and John [longtime KUT deejays]. After 20 years in development, iBiquity has sold, maybe, 3 million units — as opposed to more than 700 million analog radios. This is “gaining strength”? For a different perspective, take a look at the HD radio discussion board on for radio engineers’ perspectives on how “HD” jams low-power and community radio stations. See to see how your public radio stations are being assimilated into the borg…

The interesting bit of information that did come out of the article was a quote from the aforementioned general manager:

News and information programs on KUT2 would cost $750,000 a year — or more — if they aired on the main signal, according to Hawk Mendenhall, KUT’s associate general manager. Instead, the station pays around $6,500 annually to suppliers that include the BBC and NPR. Classic jazz that airs on KUT3 costs even less.

“It’s extremely inexpensive to offer these programs,” Mendenhall says, “but I don’t know how long that will last.”

So, NPR is also busily flogging this dead horse, HD radio, in hopes of extending its hegemony (see “Desperate Times,” here). For now… The price of poker must some day go up. Our problem with this is the associated cost to local radio, now and most certainly more so in the future. There’s an interesting exchange from May 6th on the Facebook site with Bob Collins of Minnesota Public Radio where many of these issues are discussed, including “HD radio and its nonexistent revenue stream, its degradation of surrounding signal strength, the proprietary ownership of the technology by iBiquity (and partner Clear Channel, for one) and its relationship to NPR and the FCC, the cost to stations to bring up and run HD channels and what that means to the budgets of local stations. (If KUT spends $1 million on its “digital initiative” and $1 million on its local-news budget, at the behest of NPR and its Argo Project, where do the cuts come from in a $6 million budget? It’s not from the $500,000 paid the suits, or the $13 million being raised for a new building.)”

As mentioned in an earlier post, here, NPR’s integral role in the ramrodding of IBOC through the FCC may be the most distressing part of the flagship’s role in all this — not exactly covering itself in glory with its shady dealings. And who’s to profit from all this double-dealing? Why, iBiquity, of course. And for years to come, as itemized in its licensing agreements, detailed here. NPR would like to think it can salvage its sagging fortunes with a new network of subservient public radio stations subscribing to its canned products. But what if a tree falls and nobody’s listening?

What may be more disturbing on a local level in Austin is the media — mainstream and otherwise — blindly accepting the blithe assertions of a suspect public radio station management. This is a management that has, since 2007, refused to release financial data — i.e., will not say where the money goes, money from taxpayer dollars (the CPB) and listener pledges. And this is a management led by a man who left his previous place of employment, an Indiana public radio station, on the brink of bankruptcy — and, again, its finances shrouded in secrecy. These are the people deserving the public trust — the wheeler-dealers in public radio and the media weasels beholden to the ad dollar? It’s a sad state of affairs in a city that prides itself on its its progressive tradition as well as its music.


3 Responses

  1. A lack of journalistic professionalism by the Austin American Statesman is so par for the course that I doubt it will even merit notice here in Austin. They are notorious for slip-shod reporting and for jumping on all the wrong bandwagons for all the wrong reasons. Personally I quit reading the Statesman years ago & would never have heard of this puff piece if not for this site. The actual paper of record here in Austin is a free weekly publication, The Austin Chronicle. And I can’t imagine the editors there giving Hawk Mendenhall free rein to peddle his blather without giving space to the other side. Which I would hope would be the administrators of this site.

  2. The most disturbing part of this to me is the Austin American-Statesman’s lack of journalistic professionalism, in that it blindly accepts “facts” from iBiquity and KUT without also seeking out counterpoint information from those with differing opinions. That information needs to be supplied to it via a letter to the editor.

    By that time the general public has read the original puff piece and, by its size alone, will probably miss a letter to the editor.

    It is time to meet with the newspaper’s ombudsman and editorial board.

  3. Not only have the iBiquity investors been willing to throw analog under the bus, but Mike Starling’s own NPR Labs fudged the numbers for the FM-HD power increase — initially, they recommended only a few stations could increase power to -14db, but later indicated that all stations could go -14db, and others to -10db with approval. NPR Labs has been totally discredited for the sake of IBOC.

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