The Public Radio

Few posts stir as much interest as those taking NPR itself to task for what public radio is becoming and what changes NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have wrought in the public’s name. Criticism generally falls within — but is not limited to — several general categories.

  • The homogenization of programming content — specifically, the headlong rush to find the music most appealing to the least common denominator in radio listener. Following the dictates of god Arbitron, a shaky system by its own estimation, stations in major markets such as Boston and Austin have abandoned any pretense of exploring the reaches of music to embrace the latest fancy, Triple A radio. This in concert with commercial radio’s similar frantic struggle to reverse heavy losses (and flat growth in public radio), as chronicled herein and elsewhere
  • The profligate squandering of $50 million in public funds dispensed to aid in the proliferation of the junk science HD radio (advanced by its monopoly overlord, iBiquity) — a cause in which NPR Labs played a complicit, and questionable, part (along with industry giants and investors) in gaining government imprimatur. The attendant weight on local budgets in licensing, programming, maintenance, and the like (aside from what had to be discarded to afford the change), with little or no discernible return on investment, redounded only to the ostensible benefit of NPR and its ilk in programs sold to populate the dead air. At the same time, many of our public stations refuse to divulge how they spend public moneys, whether taxpayer dollars or those hustled in semiannual pledge drives.
  • A perceived drift rightward in politics, accompanied by reliance on wisdom gleaned from corporate hegemony and the militarist bent in government — Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex.

Matthew Murrey’s blog NPR Check, here, and his many outside links are a good source for this final point. But also particularly trenchant is his recent post on education, where he states, “In its education coverage, NPR consistently ignores the negative effects of poverty on student outcomes — and instead opts for the corporatist focus on ‘effective teachers,'” as well as his attacks on the “new” methodologies reported as in vogue that similarly discount the socioeconomic effects on education (and that, he says, were in use in 1987 when he was working on a masters in education at the University of Iowa).

As one correspondent points out, these criticisms of public radio are not new, citing this 1992 article, “Why public radio isn’t — and what you can do,” written for Whole Earth Review by Rachel Anne Goodman, which begins with this prescient observation:

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME you felt like you were the “public” in public radio? Seldom, you say? Now there’s a new trend that may remove you for good. Once seen as immune to market speculation and rapid swings in format, public radio has gone commercial in its thinking. The programming will soon follow, and the biggest losers in this battle for dollars will be us, the listening audience.

Rachel’s observations 18 years ago have an all too familiar ring to them. How many of them apply to your station today?

It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to find signs of public radio’s current direction. Just take a look at the audience descriptions in this year’s Broadcasting Yearbook. For every one that says “ethnic/cultural” or “diverse,” there are three that read, “target audience: |upwardly mobile, educated youth,’ |upscale, affluent, societally conscious,’ |25-50 urban professionals,’ |educated adults.'”…

There is a new move toward single-format public radio stations. WHYY in Philadelphia used to have news, classical, folk, blues, jazz, and local public-affairs programming. One day the program director called in the on-air volunteers and told them their services would no longer be needed. The station went to an all-news format, relying heavily on satellite feeds from NPR and augmenting it with local news and talk. The trend caught on at KPBS in San Diego, which went all news/talk in winter 1990….

Most public radio stations will defend their narrow programming in terms of the current economy. True, budget crunches on the state level are affecting the university funding that is the life-blood of these public stations. While the economic arguments are real, they are also self-created. Stations have become increasingly autocratic in their staffing, and have enlarged their staffs to accommodate the increased paperwork. They have replaced volunteers with paid announcers, citing the need for “oversight” of air sound. The most popular programs tend to come from NPR or APR (American Public Radio), and are the most expensive….

A critical document came out of NPR in 1986 — the Audience-building Task Force Report. With the goal of doubling public radio’s audience by the year 1990, it advised “professionalizing” the sound by eliminating programs where “each person selects program material on the basis of personal taste.” Commercial audience research from Hagen Media Research in Washington is also being circulated around NPR stations. It reveals that “talent” (read: local-human-being announcer) just isn’t important to listeners….

One public station I worked for told me I couldn’t read a lost-dog announcement that was called in because it made us sound too “provincial.” Soon after, they dropped the bluegrass programming because the rural audience it attracted “wasn’t educated and upscale enough” and didn’t “fit our mission statement.” This station serves a largely rural audience. Public-radio program directors have misread their core audience in much the same way presidential candidates have alienated voters. As with election speeches, during fundraisers they claim to give listeners a voice in programming decisions which does not actually exist. As in our two-party system, listeners must choose from a tiny menu of programs when they vote with their pledge dollars. More “audience research” is being done these days to determine the needs of listeners. However, the Arbitron rating service used by many stations measures the average number of people who listen to existing programs, not audience needs.

All in all, a good read and ominous in its implications for what still lies ahead. There’s also information about how some citizen groups then organized to fight the trend.

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Robust Rubbish

We posted too soon on this Radio-info.com discussion, as it turned even more interesting after Tuesday’s post:

Savage: FM Stereo is “far from robust?” Are you kidding?? I can get the tiniest out-of-market signals to decode in stereo, even on the most pedestrian car radios. It might be noisy, and the pilot may be flickering with some partial blend going on — but the basic image is intact even if imperfect. Compare that with the all-or-nothing nature of HD. And I’d much rather listen to a little picket-fencing than mode-hopping — even if the analog delay is in sync, which is often not the case.

I respectfully disagree that having HD available on select big-market signals, and forget everyone else, is the path to “mainstream” adoption. If it’s not everywhere, it’s nowhere.

At the end of the day: there’s no demand for this thing. It’s been around for eons in terms of consumer electronics “innovations” and has generated precisely zero marketplace interest. If HD hasn’t “happened” by now, 7 years after rollout, it’s not gonna happen.

Further to the current discussion: I refer to The Stroob’s public declaration made in 2002 (and I’m paraphrasing). The iBiquity CEO claimed that “in five years time, you won’t have to ask for an HD Radio, because any radio sold by that time will simply have HD included.”

Yeah. Now THERE’S an object lesson about the hazards inherent in playing corporate soothsayer.

It’s SEVEN years later, and at retail, you’re hard pressed to find any HD products. And forget about finding a retail sales assistant who has even heard of HD Radio, let alone understand it.

Actually, HD radios are scarcer than they were three years ago. And almost no current HD products are AM-FM. So much for HD offering resuscitation to an ailing AM band. All IBOC has done is dramatically ratchet up the noise.

Chuck: Perhaps more notable than the lack of HD radios is the seeming slow but steady growth of stand-alone Internet radio offerings. I saw several new ones in stores this Christmas, including one from Sony which they bill as a “Personal Internet Viewer.” I think they called it the “Dash.” It did a lot more than just let you listen to Internet radio. You can watch videos, chat on Facebook, collect emails, play your own stored audio or video files and also listen to streaming audio. It may do even more. I really didn’t have time to check it out, but it might be a cool toy to own. It was about $150 at my local Best Buy Store which also had several other Internet radios on display to choose from.

Although there are probably some car radios with it built in, the only HD radios I saw were a couple of well hidden Insignia portables and an “Open Box Special” Insignia stand-alone tuner that looks suspiciously like the original Sangean version. That one has been on their shelves for a very long time, at least since last summer, probably a lot longer.

Play Freebird: The old saying “Live and Learn” comes to mind, doesn’t it?

For anyone who cares to research this subject, you’ll find much “corporate soothsaying” on web.archive.org by browsing the iBiquity web site as it appeared 7 or 8 years ago. For example, see this transcript of the official launch of IBOC at NAB in 2002:

http://web.archive.org/web/20030405102702/ibiquity.com/press/pr/040802.htm

Notable 2002 quotes from Mr. Struble:

“… in terms of robustness, what we define as performance against interference, the IBOC is much more durable than existing analog.”

“In terms of coverage, the answer is it replicates the existing analog coverage, and that is all it can do. Not technically, but because of a regulatory reason. We could easily boost the IBOC power, but guess what, then that steps on the station next door.”

In response to a question about nighttime AM IBOC operation: “What the NRSC did say though, and we think this was a great vote of confidence, is, rather than bog down the process and wait for those nighttime results, we know we love it in the daytime, we know it represents, I think their words, a revitalization of the AM band…. We believe we will have a nighttime system; we just need to do a little bit more testing. I would like to add though, even as we speak, this is the most thoroughly tested system in US broadcasting history.”

On the broadcaster licensee fee: “Yes, there is a software license, which is paid to us for the use of the system. It’s a small number, based essentially on the station’s FCC fee, so the stations which will benefit more and which are most able to pay, will pay a little bit more. The stations which are non-commercial, or smaller stations will pay a little bit less.”

Finally, Bob Stuble’s 2002 prediction for near-total conversion of stations to IBOC: “You know, you’ve got 13,000 stations out there if my numbers are correct, I think we sell, guys in the industry, about 1,000 transmitters a year, 800 to 1,000, something like that. So, we have always assumed something like an eight to ten year transition period. If that were to get done in four to five years, instead of eight to ten, I would hazard a guess that these guys would be able to meet that need.  Anything else?”

You can find more at:  http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://ibiquity.com

Savage: Sorry, but I’m going to reject the “red-herring” arguments blaming HD’s demise on (a) a bad economy, (b) a weak USD, (c) the rise of the internet, (d) high-pitched alien voices only Bob Struble can hear telling him to make bad decisions, (e) the NAB had a tummyache that day, (e) “I lost it in the lights.” Give me a giant juicy freakin’ break, already.

HD failed because: it was junk. Crap. Period. It was an attempt at a smash-and-grab by a cadre of greedy MBAs and dimbulb marginally-talented engineering executives at Big Group Radio who all saw HD as their ticket to confiscatory, unearned riches. They thought they could pull the wool over the eyes of similar deadwood at the NAB and FCC, and there — they succeeded.

But they forgot the critical factor they never really understood anyway: the audience. And the marketplace. Those of us possessed of a sense of reality checked out HD and said . . . what, are you kidding??

HD failed . . . because it had to. It’s amazing it got as far as it did. It really shouldn’t have. Never should have seen the light of day. The industry will take a long time to live down “HD Radio.”

Survivor: Radio Land

Radio Survivor’s Facebook page declared “Dang if this isn’t one of the best things we’ve ever published,” and we have to agree. In a piece entitled “Radio’s Fall—Part Two: NPR’s ‘Liberal’ Identity Crisis,” Gavin Dahl does an outstanding job of tying together the problems faced by the public radio giant. What follows are quotes liberally lifted from his fine piece, beginning with his commentary on the Juan Williams “episode” (note Gavin’s reference to the “former journalist”):

First Juan Williams, who is a black news analyst for NPR, makes racist statements to suck up to his other employer Bill O’Reilly on Fox News. Then the civil rights historian and former journalist gets a phone call from NPR informing him he’s been fired. Immediately Newt Gingrich and other conservatives demand an end to public funds for NPR. In the midst of pledge drive season, stations receive calls from “viewers” who promise to stop “watching.”…

Then there’s NPR honcho Vivian Schiller opening her mouth to change feet, followed by more outraged bellowing. But, as Gavin continues:

Civil libertarian Glenn Greenwald points out that NPR’s firing of Juan Williams “threatened to delegitimize” all ”fear-sustaining, anti-Muslim slander.” With so much of the emphasis of Endless War built up around a foundation of hate and racism, he concludes “there are too many interests served by anti-Muslim fear-mongering to allow that to change.”

Adam Serwer writes in Williams’ old paper the The Washington Post, “It’s clear from the context that Williams wasn’t merely confessing his own personal fears, he was reassuring O’Reilly that he was right to see all Muslims as potential terrorists.”…

But hey, at this point you’ve gotta feel sorry for Juan Williams. Sure, first he signed a new $2M contract with Fox News, and now he’s got a book deal. But his new book will “focus on free speech and the growing difficulty in America of speaking out on sensitive topics.” Wouldn’t you hate to try and explain how difficult speaking out can be while banking millions as a commentator?

Plus, the poor guy must have some conflicting voices inside his head, considering his earlier writings on the psychology of hate. “Common sense becomes racism when skin color becomes a formula for figuring out who is a danger to me,” wrote Williams in The New Republic back in 1986.

Touché, monsieur. Gavin is just warming to the task:

During four years of work for NPR, Kiss the Sky author Farai Chideya saw no evidence of particularly liberal leadership, insisting instead the network is “run by a Beltway cohort.”

Although her African-American issues program was canceled and she no longer works there, Chideya blogged on Huffington Post recently that “this country needs NPR, now more than ever.”

She says they fired Williams for acting as hype man for Bill O’Reilly, the same thing he has been doing for years: “Do I think NPR fired him because he is black? No. Do I think NPR kept Williams on for years, as the relationship degraded, because he is a black man? Absolutely. Williams’ presence on air was a fig-leaf for much broader and deeper diversity problems at the network. NPR needs to hire more black men in house on staff as part of adding diverse staff across many ethnicities and races.”

And here is something we’ve remarked on in regards to local public radio stations like KUT. In a city like Austin that’s nearly half non-white, the makeup of the station, its programs and personalities, doesn’t even hint at that demographic:

In 2009, minorities represented less than 9% of the radio work force despite making up at least 34% of the population. In 2008, the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) calculated that minority news employment was statistically almost zero at English language, non-minority owned radio stations.

MMTC co-founder David Honig credits the collapse of minority employment in radio journalism to “word of mouth recruitment from a homogenous workforce.”

Considering the FCC’s own report on the need for diverse broadcast ownership — that the “welfare of the public” requires “the widest dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources” possible — Honig wants stronger equal employment opportunity enforcement.

So would Republican presidential hopefuls agree with him, that a more diverse NPR would be a better use of public funds? Do the elephants care about the quality of news that’s accessible in the peanut gallery?

Or are they grandstanding and whipping up ill-informed Americans into a frenzy in the name of Muslim-bashing? Despite a desperate need to change course in the Middle East,  this fall the GOP laughed all the way into office as NPR war reporters joined up with the rest of the subservient national press to please the Pentagon with their favorable coverage.

Listen critically to NPR’s reporting of US foreign policy and you will hear selective storytelling shining favorable light on CIA activities, and so-called experts providing dodgy history lessons on Afghanistan. While popular anchors parrot unsubstantiated claims about Iraq, and others kiss up to conservative politicians, commentators smirk their way through reactionary antagonism of whistle-blowers.

We’re leaving in many of the references, worth a look-see in themselves, including the link to this hilarious monologue leading into a Vanity Fair excerpt:

Calling to mind Patton Oswalt’s over-the-top bit about NPR is author James Wolcott’s recent piece for Vanity Fair, called The Sound of Sanity:

“Today NPR is just about the last outfit that hasn’t retrenched and retreated from Marshall McLuhan’s global village but instead has extended its feelers to tap even the faintest faraway dot on the map with a moving story to tell, navigating near-impossible terrain if necessary.

“This can lead to borderline self-parody, too many dispatches from remote villages about the dying native craft of flute-making narrated by a correspondent who sounds as if s/he majored in empathy at Deepak Chopra Junior College, a mourning dove with a microphone.

“But the beauty of radio is that the ambience of other countries, other cultures, fills the sonic background with no camera eye imposing a single dominant message-image (a close-up of scorched belongings to signify the ravages of war), and no reporter standing in the foreground, colonizing the frame with a face full of concern.”

The Financial Times applauds NPR for being “the closest America comes to the BBC.” However, “it is also a bit smug and boring.”

74% of Spot.Us users surveyed in September think public media is higher quality than their commercial counterparts.

So, we get it, masses of college graduates love NPR, even if it is more Wonder Bread than organic kale roll-ups.

Gavin rightfully saves the big guns for the biggest problem of all in public radio, as we see it — the lack of financial transparency:

For the future of public radio, quite possibly the most important critique of the NPR brand is inaccessibility. Fans of small “d” democracy, libertarians and much of the community radio movement feel the bigger the member station, the more editorially closed off from real people.

Plenty of listeners dedicated to the low end of the FM dial are concerned so-called corporate “persons” have too much influence on the big pubcasters.

For example, one blogger writes, “KBYU should not use the public airwaves to solicit donations from listeners until it first makes complete and regular disclosures of its finances.”

Gavin later channels Jack Balkwill, who writes in the LUV News daily report:

Corporate sponsors include the taxpayer-bailed-out General Motors, Citibank, and Bank of America. Others include Citgo Oil, Mastercard, Visa, BP Oil, Dow Chemical, and Fox Broadcasting.

Throughout the day, NPR’s programs: Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Talk of the Nation, The Diane Rehm Show and others invite guests from the corporate funded think tanks to opine. These people are clearly paid to sell out the American public. Transnational corporations get sycophancy in return for their investments to the American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, Hoover Institution, Cato Institute and so forth, and what they expect is obedience to their philosophy of lower corporate taxes and higher corporate welfare, at any cost to the public interest.

There’s much more to this piece than what we’ve appropriated here (as much as that is, in our zeal), including a comment from Harry Shearer himself at the end. This — even for somebody who has followed NPR since the ’70s — is an exceptional research job and a fine bit of writing.

High Def Ho Ho Ho

The wags on the Radio-info.com discussion board are at it again, under the heading “So, who got or gave an HD Radio for Christmas?”

KB10KL: I’m waiting for April Fools day to give any IBOC radios away.

“hey! This thing doesn’t work!” April Fools!

tested: Boy, this really does hit the nail on the head. I looked in Best Buy the other day and had a hard time finding the radio section. What they had was nice, but certainly didn’t contain any HD radios. I did find the Insignia walk-man type FM only HD radio in another part of the store, but again.. there was only one and it was an open item.

HD radio is dead. Radio itself is in trouble. Wake up to that reality.

radiogooroo: Content is by far the biggest problem facing radio. Radio as an industry has taken its one biggest advantage — live, local talent — and killed it. For example, know it all consultants have told us again and again that people don’t want to hear kids on the radio, not even during the night shows on CHR stations. As a former jock, I guarantee the KIDS wanted to hear themselves on the radio.

Those few seconds of airtime during shout out or goodnight kiss segments tied countless youths to the medium. It gave them the opportunity to be a part of something big, and made them advocates for THEIR station. My hometown had two CHRs when I was a teen, and young people were passionate about them. I remember small fights in my junior high art class when the teacher was deciding which station to put the radio on.

The core technology behind radio may be old, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. The core technology behind my home’s central heat (which just came on) is way older than radio, but I’m not fretting its age. I’m a huge fan of what it provides, especially when it’s in the 20s outside.

If all the companies that make central heating units suddenly decided to start producing systems that didn’t provide heat, or provided half the heat they used to, or only provided heat when they felt like it, it might be time to consider some new technology.

Savage: Here we go again. Somebody points out how HD Radio, save for a few sharply-defined apps like public broadcasting, is slowly attaining room temperature (the AM flavor has been dead for two years but iBiquity and its developer-group operators just refuse to read the memo.) And the retort comes: “radio” is dead, not just HD. I don’t buy it. (I will add that this comment comes from the same posters who strenously assert “I really don’t care one way one way or the other about HD Radio” yet somehow invariably assail HD critics.)

FWIW, our local market of Rochester, NY is up this year after several consecutive years of declining radio revenues. We’re finishing up another record year, best in our history. And this performance is in an Upstate NY economy which is moribund at best.

Sure, radio has challenges. But I heartily agree with gooroo that any problems radio has are due to lack of content and a dearth of interesting, engaging programming, and not with technical limitations. Actually HD is contributing to technical problems found objectionable by typical listeners, by increasing interference and noise and limiting effective coverage. It is achieving precisely the opposite of its declared purposes. HD is claimed to provide a quieter, more high-fidelity end product, but in the end it delivers an artifact-laden, noisy, mode-hopping, limited coverage facsimile of the analog product found perfectly acceptable by the existing audience.

But the worst thing about HD is that it divides radio broadcasters and pits them against one another, as this board bears eloquent witness. If you are a believer in “radio” and think it has potentially life-threatening problems, you should also believe that HD needs to be spiked ASAP, so we can work productively together to address the future with a unified and confident voice instead of quarreling about something almost nobody in the real world cares about.

As a footnote I will observe that continuing to flog a dead issue like HD Radio makes the whole industry look clueless to those outside the industry. Just imagine the spectacle of Ford Motor Company continuing to hype the Edsel seven years after its disastrous debut instead of introducing the game-changing Mustang in 1964.

Nashville Catsfight

More coverage on the Vanderbilt student-run radio station WRVU, here, on the Consequence of Sound website. Caitlin Meyer, writing in the Where We Live section of the site, has this to say:

College radio, the age-old home of alternative and underground music especially, in these unstable economic times, has seen more than its fair share of the budget chopping block. Luckily, Nashville still has WRVU. You’ll find it nonchalantly tucked away in the corner of the basement Sarratt Student Center, with its soundboards and microphones. The robin’s egg blue walls, dim lights, and old show posters and newspaper clippings adorning the hallway walls feel like home. You’ll find it on the resumes and on the minds and tongues of the 50 years’ worth of student and community DJs, who claim their time with WRVU to be some of their favorite memories. Most importantly, though, you’ll find it preset on the FM dial at 91.1, broadcasting at 10,000 watts, sharing music from all walks of life with middle Tennessee….

Today, WRVU is still that breath of fresh air on Nashville airwaves – a break from the monotony of Top 40, country, and Christian stations that occupy literally almost every other strong frequency. The station’s executive staff are still students, and the DJs are still passionate members of both the Vanderbilt and greater Nashville community. Enthused listeners call in all day long to request songs and share WRVU stories, ranging from random people driving through town and accidentally landing on 91.1FM to detailed accounts of religious WRVU listening and attempts to better listening experiences in poor weather through aluminum foiled walls in the attic. One day of listening to WRVU takes you on a ride from the expected indie to the best of Motown, from nu-metal to old blues, from international tunes to Americana to punk. The variety is unparalleled, and a mere hour of WRVU is bound to play a song you’ve never heard, followed by one you haven’t heard in 15 years.

In September of this year, Vanderbilt Student Communications, Inc., the autonomous organization that owns WRVU and was established to avoid liability issues for the school, suddenly announced the potential sale of WRVU’s broadcasting license, moving it to a solely online entity. This would mean not only losing the terrestrial presence of the station, but the deeply-rooted connection and relationship with the community. Half a century of concerts, on-air performances, exposure to new music, DJ banter, and public service announcements would be traded for, essentially, podcasting.

Another Nashville institution, Hatch Show Prints, has donated ‘Save WRVU’ posters for local businesses to display, petitions have circulated, a resistance movement has gained momentum online, and letters from alumni, community members, and donors flooded the mailboxes of the Chancellor of the school as well as all of VSC’s board members, all outraged at the potential loss of something so infinitely valuable. Arbitron ratings and financial analyses cannot gauge the worth of WRVU; that shallow glance completely undermines a community now more tightly knit than ever. The huge public response resulted in VSC postponing the deliberating until January 12th, the first day of second semester classes.

Stay tuned. This battle is far from over.

Taken for Granted

We haven’t visited Grant Goddard’s Brit blog recently, here, and have missed his wry wit in describing the European version of the de-BOC-le (as one radio-board wag called our own IBOC). His writing always entertains and contains more than a kernel of truth relevant to the new-world whitewash that is HD radio. For instance, this tidbit from his latest post:

Northamptonshire is one of 13 local DAB multiplex licences that Ofcom awarded in 2007 and 2008 that have failed to materialise by their required launch dates. In 2007, Ofcom also awarded a national DAB multiplex licence to a consortium, led by Channel 4 television, that similarly failed to launch (all trace of which has been erased from the Ofcom web site)….

Despite three years of broken promises to the people of Northamptonshire by Ofcom, NOWdigital, GCap Media, Global Radio and Arqiva that a local DAB radio multiplex will be launched for their area, they were not excused from this year’s Christmas radio industry campaign to sell more DAB receivers. DAB marketing organisation Digital Radio UK was interviewed by BBC Radio Northampton last week, though it was unable to offer even a vague date when either the local DAB multiplex for Northamptonshire will be launched, or when the signal of the existing DAB national multiplexes will be improved.

Although Digital Radio UK is funded jointly by the BBC, commercial radio and Arqiva, these heavyweight stakeholders could offer nothing more concrete to the people of Northamptonshire than platitudes and more promises about DAB . . . always in the future tense.

In an earlier post, Grant commented on the effort to get Germany to sign on to “digital revolution.” Note the reference to the total lack of return on investment realized by these stations — so reminiscent of HD channels stateside:

One week earlier, British company Frontier Silicon, “market leading supplier of digital radio technology worldwide”, had announced that, in order to persuade four commercial radio broadcasters in Germany to persevere with DAB, it had promised them it would purchase an unspecified amount of their advertising airtime for the next four years.

Anthony Sethill, Frontier Silicon CEO, put a positive spin on an act that some might perceive as little more than legalised bribery in the face of desperation to sell DAB hardware in Germany: “We are delighted that our innovative approach to supporting the roll out will help everyone working on this new radio service to bring their efforts to fruition.”…

Those five German commercial broadcasters should understand that even Frontier Silcon’s subsidy might not prevent them losing money hand over fist for the entire ten years of their transmission contract with Media Broadcast. The evidence is already there from the UK market. Not one commercial digital-only radio station has yet made an annual operating profit from the DAB platform in the UK, even after eleven years, let alone come close to recouping its investment.

Grant adds this quote from German writer Cristoph Lemmer, writing in Radioszene magazine:

“With this decision, DAB will now actually be introduced by those who have succeeded, smelling a quick buck, in selling Germans a new sort of equipment, with millions to be sunk into to a new transmission network. Our old radios will be useless for DAB. Those who want to continue listening to the radio will need a new receiver.“

“It does not take a prophet to suspect that the private radio industry has shot itself in the foot by agreeing to sign the DAB contracts. A few shekels subsidy from a chip manufacturer who wants to install as many of its chips in DAB receivers – that is what has led to this. You, dear people, were not considered in the end. Do you really believe that devices with DAB will ever be as numerous as FM radios are today?”

“No one will understand what [DAB] is and why it is good. Because, with DAB, you have solved a problem that did not exist. The existing technological distribution of radio programmes is excellent and widely used. You did not have to change anything. The argument that DAB will create new radio channels with lower entry barriers is specious, as long as media regulators continue not to award licences for technically available [analogue] frequencies because they do not want additional competition in the market.”

Grant then concludes with this: “It is hard to recall a comparable technology whose proponents were still pushing for its launch three decades after its invention. DAB proponents argue that, simply because DAB is ‘digital’, it is inevitable that it will replace analogue radio. History indicates otherwise.”

Jim Radio

A season’s greetings to all, and to all a good night. This note from the Austin Chronicle with long-overdue kudos to Austin Airwaves’ Jim Radio (in particular for his work in underdeveloped countries such as Haiti setting up radio stations):

Naked City

Radio Radio Over the weekend, the U.S. House and Senate approved the Local Community Radio Act — mandating the Federal Communications Commission to license thousands of new low-power (100 watt, noncommercial) FM stations. The law, when signed by President Obama, will repeal legislation that limited most LPFM stations to rural areas as large broadcasters claimed signal interference. Austin community radio activist Jim Ellinger lobbied hard in support of the bill — helping to persuade Sen. John Cornyn’s office to eliminate a “hold” — and the nonprofit Prometheus Radio Project called it “the first major legislative success for the growing movement for a more democratic media system in the U.S.” — M.K.

To which Jim adds: “Thanks to the Austin Chronicle’s Michael King. I believe this is the first news coverage of the passage of the historic LPFM bill in Austin.

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