A Solution Without a Problem

Paul Thurst, writing in his Engineering Radio blog in a piece entitled “HD Radio: A solution without a problem,” took another chunk out of the bloated blather hyping HD radio in a recent column, saying at one point: “One of the station that I service had a Harris Deathstar go off line for four days. NOT ONE PHONE CALL, NOBODY CARES!” Paul is an honest-to-god engineer, as you can see quickly by perusing his blog. Much of the material is way over the head of the novice, and light years beyond what’s passing as “educated” talk about the great scam of IBOC (his alternate title: “A solution that causes more problems”). Says Paul:

Naturally, HD proponents will cry “But this is only temporary! Wait until the transition to all digital!”

Bunk.

If HD radios were indeed flying off the shelves as iBiquity claims, and if the public expressed interest, okay, maybe. Clearly, that is not the case. The only thing that HD radio is doing is creating more interference. Period. More interference to the parent station and more interference to the adjacent channels all for an audience that does not exist. Another way to put it: NOBODY IS LISTENING.

The conclusion of a bona fide engineer (as opposed to those make-believe engineers at NPR Labs and iBiquity with their false claims and fudged data):

Lets see where FM IBOC stands:

  • Rolled out with 1% digital power vs analog carrier, the system was found to lack building penetration and generally performed poorly in mobile listening environments (NPR labs study, Nov 24, 2009)
  • FCC allows up to 10% digital power vs analog carrier to overcome these problems, a few stations implement some type of power increase
  • The  shows that self interference is the largest problem IBOC needs to fix, one that is un-fixable due to the laws of physics
  • The public yawns, turns on their iPod

IBOC is a failure, both in AM and FM bands.

We are watching the self destruction of radio broadcasting in the US.

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Kathy G.

Hello Membership Director.

I’m writing because as pledge time approaches, I’m feeling very conflicted. I really love public radio. I really love what KUT has done for me over the years. But I really don’t like the direction you’ve taken in the last year or so. And I don’t feel that I can contribute in good conscience to the station this year.

For years, I timed my contribution to fall during Phil Music. Then I timed it to fall during Blue Monday. I guess this year I’ll give a small protest amount during Twine Time. But you can see where I’m leading.

I’m sure Susan Castle and Mike Reilly mean well. But the station has thrown out some of the best in Austin. When management chose to severely cut back the hours for Larry Monroe, and Paul Ray last year, I was heartbroken. Really heartbroken. I think that is what helped Larry to retire this year, the cutting back of his hours. And the night of his last Phil Music, and last Blue Monday, the notes of thanks and love and encouragement on facebook brought me to tears. I hope you got to see them on Larry Monroe’s facebook page.

I don’t like the corporatization of the station. I don’t like hearing so many times a day how to donate my unwanted car or truck (have you ever tried cutting back on those ads to see if it makes a difference in the response rate?). I don’t like the fact that it seems that board members’ businesses and those with in-kind donations (Elizabeth Christian and Assoc.) seem to get lots of on air mentions. And basically, I don’t like that through the sound of the new DJs and the new playlists you sound like KGSR. If I want to listen to KGSR, I will. What I want is to listen to KUT. I want a public radio station that isn’t as polished as yours is becoming. I’m actually tuning over to KOOP more than I ever did before. And I think this time around, they’ll get the bulk of my pledge money. I hope Larry Monroe finds a place to continue making shows, because I’m there the moment he does — I’m just sorry you didn’t value his service more.

You’re changing and I guess I’ll have to as well. But that doesn’t mean I’ll be changing along WITH you. And that makes me sad.

Sincerely,
Kathy Genet

Campus Battles

Tom Taylor’s newsletter carried the following entry about the battle for the soul of college radio:

Protests about college-owned stations break out in Houston and Gainesville.

The Houston situation is the $9.5 million sale of Rice University-owned KTRU (91.7) to the University of Houston. Rice students have long enjoyed the open-door-programming policy at variety-formatted KTRU, but that will change when the University of Houston takes over and re-makes 91.7 into a classical and fine-arts station. There’s a “Save KTRU” group and website (here) and yesterday it announced that it’s retained the Paul Hastings law firm to fight the sale. KTRU station manager Joey Yang says “it is shameful that the Rice University administration has not heeded the thousands of voices asking to stop the sale.” This is one case where the school (Rice) isn’t pleading poverty. It just got an offer it couldn’t refuse. The second college protest is in Gainesville, Florida. WRUF-FM (103.7) alumnus Alex James says “with the impending flip [of Rock 104 to country], a couple of station alumni and I have put together a Facebook page to show support for the long-time rock format, the artist and listener community it serves, and the unique educational opportunity it has provided UF students, like myself, through its 28-year existence.” Alex, a former PD in Sarasota (WYNF) and in New Hampshire (WHEB, WGIR, WMLL), says “in just over two days, ‘Keep Rock 104 A Rock Station’ has already passed 1,000 ‘likes.’” Alex says he’s no longer in radio, but he remains passionate about Rock 104. The reptilian flip to “Gator 103.7” is due on Monday.

The Facebook site for protesters at Rice (here) and Vanderbilt (here) are booming: The Rice site boasts more than 2,500 members and Vanderbilt’s kicking it at 4,700. In Gainesville, where the University of Florida’s student rock station, WRUF, a 100,000-watt monster, was flipped to cowboy-western — in a city where the top two stations already play chuckwagon fare — the initial Arbitron numbers (flaky though they may be) show a decline (here).

The WRUF Facebook site, here, is now past 3,000, and its postings include some vitriolic stuff about the switch. When one post noted that the “new” station had announced that “the students voted for the change in format . . . I wonder how true that is,” these remarks followed:

If they are saying the students voted for it, that is complete bullshit. The students were “informed” just 2 days before the change, and, even then, only because the story broke on RadioInsight.com and then in the Gainesville Sun.

I’m a UF Student and I was NEVER informed. We didn’t vote at all.

There is no “democracy on the dial” without The ROCK Station! An online stream will never launch because Democracy in this Dystopian Fiction of Randy Wrong’s Vision of what we want is as flawed as the research put into this whole mess. There are no plans to bring Rock back, only to pacify our desires for blood with smoke and mirrors.

Let me make this real clear. For those of you, who are hoping for Rock 104 to return online, it will not happen! There are no plans, whatsoever, to launch the online stream. The Telecommunications department at UF has slashed its budget, which caused the demise of Rock 104. The online stream is not cost effective and will not generate enough revenue to make it viable.

The manner in which this whole charade was foisted off on Gainesville and the UF students was all too familiar: the mealy-mouthed mumblings of bean counters justifying their actions with whatever excuse du jour occurred at the time. Or became necessary after the last bumble was busted.

College radio plays a large part in the greater struggle for free-form radio and the soul of public radio for at least one salient reason: 63% of public radios operate under the auspices of a college or university. Too many, such as KUT in Austin, operate under the cloak of state laws that allow them to hide any financial shenanigans. The bottom line is that any institutions — radio stations included — that receive public funding, through the CPB or otherwise, or are supported in part or whole by solicited pledges should be required by federal law to disclose all finances. Everything. Period.

FAIR Weather

Jack Hannold sent along this post from the FAIR website (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), entitled interestingly enough “Taking the Public Out of Public TV” (“PBS fare differs little from commercial TV”), and it bears mentioning because of its peripheral import to our subject. As Jack notes, this is part and parcel of a “larger issue — which is, of course, the subversion of the entire concept of public broadcasting as envisioned in the 1967 legislation that set up the CPB.” The FAIR website begins:

[P]ublic television is failing to live up to its mission to provide an alternative to commercial television, to give voice to those “who would otherwise go unheard” and help viewers to “see America whole, in all its diversity,” in the words of public TV’s founding document.

Which sounds a whole lot like the problem with public radio — just take out “television” and substitute in “radio” and it too is an accurate assessment. And the similarities run far deeper than just the homogenization of music heard on public radio:

In a special November issue of studies and analyses of PBS’s major public affairs shows, FAIR’s magazine Extra! shows that “public television” features guestlists strongly dominated by white, male and elite sources, who are far more likely to represent corporations and war makers than environmentalists or peace advocates. And both funding and ownership of these shows is increasingly corporate, further eroding the distinction between “public” and corporate television. There is precious little “public” left in “public television.”

Sound familiar, radio fans? FAIR analyzed the PBS NewsHour and came up with these figures:

  • The NewsHour’s guestlist was 80 percent male and 82 percent white, with a pronounced tilt toward elites who rarely “go unheard,” like current and former government and military officials, corporate representatives and journalists (74 percent). Since 2006, appearances by women of color actually decreased by a third, to only 4 percent of U.S. sources.
  • Women and people of color were far more likely to appear as “people on the street” providing brief, often reactive soundbites, than in more authoritative roles in live interviews.
  • Viewers were five times as likely to see guests representing corporations (10 percent v. 2 percent) than representatives of public interest groups who might counterweigh such moneyed interests—labor, consumer and environmental organizations.
  • While Democratic guests outnumbered Republican guests nearly 2-to-1 in overall sources, Republicans dominated by more than 3-to-2 in the program’s longer format, live segments. (FAIR’s 2006 NewsHour study, which examined a period when Republicans controlled the White House and Congress, showed Republican guests outnumbering Democrats in both categories: 2-to-1 among all sources, 3-to-2 in the longer live interviews.)
  • On segments about the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the most frequent story of the study period, viewers were four times as likely to see representatives hailing from the oil industry (13 percent of guests) as representatives of environmental concerns (3 percent).
  • On segments focusing on the Afghan War, though polls show consistent majorities of Americans have opposed the war for more than a year, not a single NewsHour guest represented an antiwar group or expressed antiwar views. Similarly, no representative of a human rights or humanitarian organization appeared on the NewsHour during the study period.

The last point, you may recall is a major criticism of NPR on Matthew Murrey’s blog NPR Check, here, and one wonders if the other points would hold true for public radio as well. Click on the “NPR” link on the FAIR site and a whole list of stories turn up, not the least of which was the treatment of the passing of Howard Zinn last January, here and here. We’ve added the link to FAIR on the right.

No Sun Up in the Sky

We reported on the changes in Florida radio here back in August. The University of South Florida planned on moving WUSF to talk-talk, with overnight jazz, while moving its classical lineup to a Sarasota non-com, WSMR, it bought up. WSMR would also go canned, plugging in American Public Media’s Classical 24 service. “For those folks north of Tampa and in other areas where they can’t receive Sarasota-based 89.1,” Tom Taylor’s report read, “the school can at least offer classical on the HD-2 channel of 89.7.”

The big switch was supposed to come September 15th, but something happened. Greg Smith sent along this link to a story out of Tampa, along with the line, “It appears that NPR’s bait-and-swtich to force listeners to purchase HD radios is just pissing them off.”

The transition Sept. 15 was supposed to be seamless. WUSF would switch to news and public affairs, with jazz at night, utter bliss for news junkies and those devoted to Fresh Air or the BBC. A new all-classical station — admittedly, one that broadcasts farther south than some WUSF listeners — would go on the air.

But what actually happened was like watching a sweet performance by a string quartet when somebody suddenly lobs a tomato….

The signal for the new classical station, WSMR-FM, turned out to interfere with a user of the same radio tower, one with emergency response services. What everyone hoped would be a delay of mere days has now stretched into a month.

And how’s this for fun: While dealing with this glitch, listener-supported WUSF is in the thick of a pledge drive…. Last year’s goal was $400,000. This year they aim for 4,000 pledges instead of a specific money amount. It’s too soon to say whether all-news enthusiasts will balance out longtime listeners who might cut ties over the classical gaffe.

The comments to the story were a mixed bag, but more than a few expressed outrage at the state of radio in Tampa, in a state that’s already seen upheaval in Gainesville over WUFT’s dumping classical music for all-talk and college rock station WRUF morphing into a country-western station. (WRUF, a 100,000-watt station, was “the fourth-highest rated in the Gainesville-Ocala market,” reads this story, and now “will compete with two established country stations in the market: K-Country 93.7 FM, the top-rated station in recent Arbitron ratings, and Thunder Country 102.3 FM, tied for seventh.” A Facebook site, here, has nearly 3,000 members after just a week.)

I am a sustaining member of WUSF and WMNF . . . If WUSF does not get this sister station online soon, I WILL depend on CDs for my Classical fix, and give ALL of my money to WMNF. Some of the new shows are really good, but I want a classical music station to listen to in the car . . . FIX IT!

I’m one who has stopped listening to WUSF. I don’t like “talk” radio regardless of what the talk is. I find WMNF to be very unprofessional, so that’s not an option to me. I’ve switched to an oldies station. I won’t be renewing my membership in WUSF.

I think that WUSF should postponed the change until they got WSMR up and running. I think they have the potential to lose and alienate a lot of their listeners from this bungling of the airwaves. I also dislike how WUSF’s program changes are affecting WMNF, 88.5. They had a very bad pledge drive last week, and a lot of it is due to WUSF going to all news/talk. If you listen to WMNF, please support it so that this excellent radio station can stay on the air.

Some of us are tired of seeing WUSF stab WMNF in the back. They brought in this “news” format when WMNF was the only one doing local news, but had also already had NPR. These are the same people that refused to let WUSF have a college radio station, like every other university has, so the USF students, who already pay a lot of tuition, had to go to WMNF. Great message to send to your Journalism majors USF. Frankly, while I do want WUSF to survive, I am glad they finally got a badly needed case of karma.

I ‘was’ a sustaining member. I have no interest in talking heads or having a HD radio installed in a brand new car. My monthly donation will now be spent on CD’s.

It seems that listeners in northern Florida will have to get used to talk-talk and cowboy-western music.

Radio Engineer Love Letters

The radio engineers weren’t too happy with the pronouncement, shown here, by the FCC’s Media Bureau Audio Division Chief Peter Doyle, who said he was “disappointed” by the slow response to the Media Bureau’s okay to a power increase for HD channels. The comments had a few choice words for the news:

I think the only people disappointed besides Doyle are the ibiquity workforce and especially that snake oil salesman Struble. We the people who listen to radio can only give a hurrah! May iBlock die a quick death.
RDY

Who’s disappointed? Certainly not virtually all listeners and everyone else that actually make a living in radio. This also goes against the iBiquity PR machine constantly advising anyone that can stand their distortion and deceptive rants that listeners and stations are “clamoring” for more digital radio. We all know iBiquity press releases are designed to give the illusion of success. Thank God the lawyers are standing in the gap attempting to force a little honesty out of iBiquity for once.
—JW

The discussion board at radio-info.com wasn’t nearly as kind to Mr. Doyle:

Scanman1: I’m disappointed more stations haven’t ditched IBOC yet. Make ’em shut it all down so all my existing radios can sound great again!

TVradioguru: One of my consulting engineer friends tells me that many of the original HD radio stations will have to essentially completely replace or rebuild everything already installed in the first version, to increase the HD radio power. Okay one can argue whether the investment has or will pay out, but I know of not one of the original pioneering groups willing to spend all that money again.

Nick: HD has shown zero return on investment since it started except for the few stations who got lucky enough to land an analog FM translator to translate their HD, or the few stations who suckered ethnic broadcasters to lease their HD2 to broadcast to 2 people. There’s an HD2 station with a 60,000 monthly cume — on its web stream.

Savage: Doyle’s disappointed? I’m disappointed. Tom Ray is disappointed. A LOT of people are disappointed. Disappointment is a frequent side-effect of fraud, manipulation, dumb greed and deceit — the frequently-appearing hallmarks of HD Radio. It’s as true today as it was 2000 years ago: “As ye sow, so also shall ye reap.” Looks like the harvest is coming in for IBOC and all its furry friends.

TSL2: What do you expect? Stations are still cutting talent to save money! Budgets? what budgets! Advertising revenues are slow, and not even close to the glory days of ad sales. So Doyle is sad that stations aren’t chomping at the bit to spend more money on a project that loses money! Welcome to reality guys. Maybe if someone called when HD clicks off, management might be encouraged, but nobody calls and advertisers don’t care, they’ve got their own problems.

Play Freebird: Don’t know about Mr. Doyle’s commercial radio background, but according to this bio sketch (page 2), he was awarded a BA in Philosophy by the University of Rochester before earning his law degree at Georgetown.

TheBigA: Degrees in Philosophy and Law, and HE’S running the FCC’s Audio Division?  Need we say more?

Local oscillator: Those credentials go a long way in explaining why the Commission feels that it can successfully defy the Laws of Physics!

The Sundering of the Social Contract

To those who feel compelled to pledge to Paul Ray and John Aielli because of the egregious wrong done them, we say, “But of course.” They’ve been ill-treated by the current regime and deserve far better, given what they’ve done for KUT and Austin. Larry Monroe is no longer with us in the main because of the way he was manhandled. Pledging to Paul and John now is a legitimate way to “vote” for a fair treatment in their reduced roles.

That said, a number of good reasons present to sit out this fund drive otherwise — chiefly, do you support what Stewart Vanderwilt and Hawk Mendenhall have done to KUT? Do you believe they have ably and fairly managed Larry Monroe, Paul Ray, and John Aielli — the three “legends” who have been the station’s rainmakers for decades?  Is it right that you pay fellow outsiders an arm and a leg more than you pay the stalwarts that have built KUT to come in and supplant the local experts, then claim economics for justification? (For a detailed look at the pleas of poverty, see “Fuzzy Math: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics,” here, and “How Much Is Enough?” here, at the saveKUTaustin website maintained by Gary Etie.)

This perhaps is the crux of the biscuit when examining the VanderHawk years — management by mendacity, a bald duplicity in their dealings with the public. First off, the party line through the public relations firm hired by KUT was, “It’s hard times. We feel bad too, but it’s all about the money.” This, despite a tripling of the budget in ten years. Then, when that position became untenable, it was: “No, it’s all about ratings. It’s what the ‘people’ want.” Throughout the crisis at KUT and into the botched media campaign on the Cactus Café, the public-relations bent morphed as needed into the next contrived pretense.

And just where has this management led KUT? Well, we now have two barely attended HD channels featuring canned content bought and paid for with your dollars (at the cost, the online résumé of former employee Richard Dean says, of a million dollars a year).  We have a burgeoning news department in line with what the powers that be upstream in National Public Radio have decreed (see “All Things Beggared,” here). We now have basically for music a Triple-A repeater station with managed playlists — despite management protestations to the contrary — that often sounds like every other pop station in town, sculpted to secure ratings to attract advertisers (errr . . . underwriters) via the Arbitron Purple People Meter. We additionally have paid rainmaking companies to entice more corporations with their big-money accounts to get on board, obviating the need for those pesky individual contributions, as well as PR people to convince any “public” that’s still donating that everything’s hunky-dory in Hawkland.

These are at best surmises about the finances at “your” public radio station because maybe worst of all, the question that never has been answered is a big one: Where does the money all go? Despite contributions from the public as well as taxpayer funding through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the like, KUT management has steadfastly refused to disclose completely how this money is spent. Oh, you can get a sketchy brief online for 2008 that says, basically, “We made this much, and we spent this much,” but the bean counters have shielded their blunders and outright profligacy behind a relationship with the University of Texas that doesn’t require disclosure. If they have nothing to hide, then . . . what are they hiding? It’s not whether they can refuse to disclose; it’s whether they should, given the “public” nature of the enterprise. KUT is not in any way being held accountable to the public they ostensibly serve. Full disclosure of finances should be required of any public institution supported by federal funds and public pledges — the spirit of the law if not the letter.

Do we advise abandoning public radio? No. We believe it’s worth fighting for. But realistically speaking, public radio in Austin is not going to go away if you don’t pledge this time. One fundraiser will not make or break public radio here.  But a fundraiser that has to be extended once again to meet goals sends a clear message. You can support public radio but not current management only by not contributing. Former mayors and politicians, a host of local musicians, local Austin businesses all joined in peaceful, organized protest last year and accomplished — what? The dean’s response after the fundraiser a year ago made its goal: “They’re toast.”

So what else can you do to register your disaffection?

Stewart’s hand-picked “advisory council” endorses his management style. That and his “Leadership Circle” represent the best in Austin’s limousine liberals — they of the anonymous $5,000 matching pledges — and they blithely pony up the big bucks to support the NPR flagships, “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.” They’re so enamored of the hard-charging hubris of VanderHawk, let them foot the bill this time. That describes what is most galling: the sense of entitlement radiated by these interlopers, the presumption they know better “what’s good for Austin” when what they’re really exhibiting is what’s good for business — their business, their résumés, their careers.

When push comes to shove, truth is, the only say you have in the direction your “public” radio station is taking — your only opportunity to register a vote of “no confidence” in the direction management is taking — is in your pledge, or, in this case, withholding your pledge. Send a message. As local jazz guitar god Michael Barnes stated over and again last year, “Don’t support bad management.”

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