And Then There Were Three?

At the rate of consolidation of the big three — corporate radio, NPR, and religious radio — independent radio may go the way of the eight-track tape. Of what concern is that of ours? Well, do you want to listen to only what music the bean counters deem fit or that “counts” well? News filtered through an organization running scared from right-wing boogie men? Only radio content that’s divined to be “appropriate”? That’s where we’re headed, aided and abetted by our guardians in the FCC (who seem to be willing to go along with whatever the big guys want) and, shudder, what appears more and more to be some sort of agenda of the puppet masters.

The following is a letter posted on Facebook by the hard-working folks in the Save KUSF movement, touching on the loss oa college radio in San Francisco:

My name is Bobby Lee, I’m a graduate of USF, class of 2007. Although my major was Finance, I spent four years volunteering in the Production Department because the idea of radio, audio production and voice-over work absolutely fascinated me. KUSF is important to me not only because of the great experience and training I received, but also because of how it is indicative of the university’s continued effort to terminate programs on-campus that are not in line with Father Privett’s agenda.

KUSF has been one of Fr. Privett’s largest victims thus far and we’re just one organization in a long line of victims that have suffered at the hands of a tone-deaf and insensitive university administration.

Not in a million years could I have imagined that my own Alma Matter could bring upon itself an immense amount of negative publicity by selling KUSF and lead the local prime-time television newscast on three separate days within a one week period. As an alumnus, my role is to take an active interest in helping to develop the university into a world-class educational institution, and more importantly, to ensure that the decisions that are being made on a day-to-day basis by administrators positively influence and shape USF for years to come. I would have expected USF to perform proper due diligence for this sale. Someone in this administration said “there’s a need to sell KUSF, the deal on the table is fair, and it’s in the best interest of the university.”

Whoever that may have been, lied through their teeth. There was absolutely no reason to sell this radio station, contrary to what the administration has said. On top of that, they did not make the best deal financially either. Over the past 10 years, only a handful of radio stations have changed hands in the Bay Area. Every one of those stations fetched $10 million to $40 million. USF accepted a low-ball offer from the University of Southern California for a paltry $3.75 million. But Fr. Privett had the gall to stand up and say to the community that his hand was forced and that it was the best offer. Not only was this not the best offer, it was the only offer. USF wanted to slice-off KUSF from the university’s budget so fast, it didn’t even have time to clean up the blood. And frankly, as we’ve been shouting from the mountain tops for the past month or so, this sale was not in the best interest of USF.

Bottom line, we need to save KUSF not only because it serves as an essential link for the USF and local communities, but also because we need to send Fr. Privett a message that the buck stops here. Not one more organization, not one more group will be ousted because of his failed agenda. Because if we don’t, every single student organization and educational program on campus that’s not in favor with Fr. Privett, is at risk of being shut down.

Bobby Lee

Also posted on the Facebook page is a link to a New York discussion group’s view of the Moment of Silence protest in college radio:

Bill Scheffler: It didn’t get much attention elsewhere, but many college and other non-commercial community radio stations observed a minute of silence at 1-PM EDT today with the hope of increasing public awareness of the value of college radio stations to their local communities.

The demonstration was the result of the recent sale of Rice University’s KTRU, the pending sale of the University of San Francisco’s KUSF-FM and the potential sale of Vanderbilt University’s WRVU.

I just happened to catch the moment of silence on WFMU in East Orange, NJ, which used to belong to Upsala College and was purchased and rescued by its mostly volunteer staff when the well respected liberal arts college closed in the 1990s.

WFMU has continued as a community supported non-commercial station with a free form format since.

In leading into today’s intentional minute of dead air, both the program host and station GM mentioned how free form and traditional student run college format stations are being bought by wealthy religious broadcasters, or being added to NPR affiliate networks essentially as relay stations.

In the New York City area, college and other independent non-commercial stations provide lots of variety on the FM dial that otherwise wouldn’t be there.

WBGO with Jazz, WFUV with AAA, WSOU with Heavy Metal, WFDU, WKCR, WFMU with a variety of musical program types including Jazz, Country, New Age, Asian music and more.

Unfortunately, as you travel around the US you will find areas where the entire non-commercial end of the FM dial has the same one or two programs, either NPR or a local religious network on every available frequency. There is nothing live and local even run by volunteers or college students.

The “Crawdaddy Magazine” link below provides more details on what some college broadcasters are calling a crisis.

Teach Your Children Good

The battle continues to rage in Music City over student radio station WRVU, with this latest entry on the SaveWRVURadio website:

WRVU Continues to Attract Media Attention

The plight of WRVU continues to attract local and national press. College Music Journal (CMJ) has been following the plight of WRVU closely. They have submitted a follow-up to an article written back in February. The WRVU on-air license sale is proving to be a very compelling story.

This article brings up an important point that the VSC has continued to fail to address. The plan to reduce WRVU to online-only has additional costs (music license fees, bandwidth costs, etc) that WRVU will incur when it loses the FCC Community Radio protections that it currently enjoys with its terrestrial license. (FCC does not provide any such protections to online-only stations). Everyone agrees that online-only will be a significant downgrade, if not the death knell of WRVU, but this downgraded online only WRVU, could end up being even MORE expensive than its current robust form. Does the VSC realize this? It is anyone’s guess at this point.

As the CMJ article notes:

[M]musicians [including Chuck D] and famed alumni have come to the station’s defense. CNN anchor Richard Quest and Facebook’s Vice President of Technology Jeff Rothschild have recently voiced support; Quest was once WRVU’s news director, and Rothschild was once its general manager. 10,000 Maniacs and Jason and the Scorchers are among other well-known musicians standing in support of WRVU.

One of the largest college stations in the United States, WRVU averaged 28,500 listeners between July and October 2010. If a sale of its license is carried out, WRVU would be forced into an online-only format, disappearing from terrestrial radio. Online-only stations have additional costs to consider involving streaming royalties and bandwidth issues; Save WRVU suggests that this may raise annual operating costs even as their audience reach and influence is compromised.

In an earlier release WRVU stalwarts jumped in on a developing story out of Washington concerning University of Maryland student station WMUC, also faced with extinction but managing to survive to fight another year:

In this digital age, it is easy to take the simplistic view that terrestrial radio is an antiquated vestige of our recent past. A small upside to the recent struggles of college radio is these stations are doing some soul-searching and articulating, what, those involved in and enjoy college radio, have taken for granted – that college and community radio is still relevant and absolutely worth defending despite, (and maybe because of) the myriad digital alternatives flooding the media landscape.

Like several others, fellow college radio station WMUC are finding themselves in a position of having to assert their worth to their student body and community in this era of tightening educational budgets. In contrast to WRVU‘s case, in WMUC‘s situation, budgetary concerns seem to be the primary issue.

[You might recall: In the VSC proposed WRVU license sale announcement, the VSC has indicated that their decision is not motivated by financial issues of running WRVU and that is a good thing too, since WRVU operating costs take up a small percentage of the very hefty $900k annual VSC operating budget. Can any organization with that much bloat, help but not salivate at the opportunity to poach WRVU, VSC’s founding and largest member, for a quick buck? Time will tell.]

This recent article in the Washington City Paper about the still developing story about WMUC does shed some interesting insight on the return to value of regionalism that college radio uniquely provides and why it is worth preserving.

Lindsay Zoladz, writing on the D.C. site, says the following of the struggle to keep WMUC operating — to the extent of the staff paying some of the bills out of their own pockets:

Plenty of people have nostalgia for college radio, but is it still a viable format in the digital age?

I fielded questions like that all the time when I was the general manager at WVAU, American University’s student-run radio station. Our frequency had been sold a few years earlier, and with each semester that passed it became increasingly more difficult to convince people to listen to our Internet-only stream, as opposed to downloading the iTunes library of everyone connected to their dorm’s network and putting it on shuffle. When people questioned college radio’s continuing relevance, I would defend its role in fostering local, independent scenes and creating communities for music lovers. But sometimes I doubted my own argument. Occasionally, when people would ask about my work-study job, I would tell them I was the head custodian aboard a sinking ship.

In the years since, though, and in light of WMUC’s recent troubles, I’ve come to believe that there’s a need for college radio now more than ever.

These days, we experience music in a way that’s increasingly isolated and individual. You know that this is true because some iPod zombie probably already bumped into you in the supermarket today. It’s great to have your entire library at your fingertips, in the way we listen to music today, but serendipity is now all but extinct. We drill deep into our own niches, meaning that we don’t give the time of day to things we don’t already anticipate that we’ll like. Half the fun of college radio is being exposed to things outside your perspective, or even your comfort zone.

Anyone who’s worked in college radio in the past decade will probably tell you that while being able to send your friend a mix via email or arguing about music with people on message boards is awesome, there’s no substitute for arguing with somebody about music in person.

Ironically, college radio’s best strategy for remaining vital in the digital age might be to look backward, and to focus once again on its terrestrial stations. Not all student-run stations can compete in a landscape flooded with an infinite pool of podcasts and blogs, but maybe this will make them once again embrace that unfortunate casualty of the Internet age: regionalism. College stations’ limited reach has always forced them to spotlight what’s going on in their own communities. Beyond just music programming, this is also true of college talk and sports programming, also an important part of WMUC’s lineup.

WMUC can’t exactly rejoice: It’s still about $12,000 shy of its original proposed budget, and the station’s business director told the university’s newspaper, The Diamondback, that students working at the station will have to pay for some equipment out of their own pockets. Plus, who knows what this means for the station in the long term: Is it only a matter of time before student-run stations vanish from universities altogether? At least for now WMUC showed it’s not going anywhere without a fight.

A comment from “goldfish” on the site summarizes it best:

The on-air music in this town in the commercial channels has been dead for some time now. I wonder if anyone remembers it? Certainly not any producer working for a radio station with any self-respect.

Since the days of payola, the issue has always been money. It changes the basic reason for running a station. In college station, the DJs are volunteers, and play what they think is GOOD. In commercial stations, the DJ are professional, and play what they think will increase their audience size, or improve the audience demographic, they deliver to their advertisers.

College stations are the only hope for cutting edge broadcast. It is still alive in a few places, thankfully.

We the People

Jeff Boudreau sent along this link to a scathing piece on the bostonmagazine.com site entitled “Dead Air: Why should taxpayers be asked to fund a union-busting, freeloading corporate behemoth . . . like WGBH?” In it, writer Eileen McNamara leads off swinging:

REMIND ME AGAIN why eliminating taxpayer subsidies for public broadcasting is a right-wing idea?

Liberals are incensed that Congressional Republicans want to strip PBS and NPR of federal funds, but when is the last time they took a hard look at how things are going with our biggest local public broadcasting affiliate? While Tea Party guerillas distract the gullible with theatrical sting operations and spurious debates about liberal bias, the increasingly corporate culture of public broadcasting goes unchallenged — especially in Boston.

WGBH is trying to bust its union. It has paid nothing to the city of Boston in lieu of taxes in four years. Even as it cut wages and staffers in 2009, it spent millions to acquire a second radio station in Boston and then did little more with it than duplicate programming already available from a competing station across town.

This is the crown jewel of the Public Broadcasting System that deserves uncritical allegiance?

On down the line, Eileen deals with some specifics, linking ‘GBH bean-counter machinations to what’s happening country-wide — a class war the public is losing:

Free-spending WGBH, in particular, has forfeited any claim to a public subsidy.

The behemoth in Brighton — its new 309,000-square-foot headquarters covers two city blocks — relies on the same municipal services as the small neighboring businesses along Market Street. But unlike them, as the Boston Herald has noted, WGBH has not paid the city a cent for fire and police protection or snow removal since 2007. Yes, it is tax exempt. But the station is supposed to pay Boston through the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program. The check WGBH cut in 2007 for $10,517, according to the Herald, was a tad less than the $245,000 the program calculated it should receive from the station…

Moreover, WGBH charges as much as $5,000 to host events in its 208-seat theater and atrium, and twice that much to rent its state-of-the-art television-production facilities. It boasts that it needed no public funding to build its new headquarters or to buy its new radio station. It relied instead on its loyal donor base to raise the $85 million required to construct its fancy building and the $14 million needed to purchase WCRB, the city’s beloved classical music station. If WGBH can privately fund those discretionary investments, it can forgo government handouts and scramble like the rest of journalism.

EVEN AS THE STATION refuses to negotiate with Local 1300 of the Communications Workers of America — the union representing 280 producers, writers, editors, and marketing employees — WGBH continues to pay handsome salaries to its top managers, more than a dozen of whom make north of $200,000 in total annual compensation.

Are only the poor, the middle class, and union members expected to adopt the currently popular mantra of doing more with less? Why should this purported liberal bastion get a pass from liberals when it refuses to negotiate in good faith with the people who produce the programs on which its considerable reputation rests? Why no outrage when the station unilaterally imposes a “last, best offer” that gives WGBH the right to outsource jobs and fire employees without cause?

Why should WGBH be rewarded for emulating the dubious labor practices of corporate media giants? The New York Times Company, for instance, broke the back of the unions at the Boston Globe in 2009 by threatening to shut down the newspaper if workers did not submit to draconian wage cuts, mandatory furloughs, reduced pension benefits, and reductions in retirement and health insurance benefits. The Times Company did that even as it paid CEO Janet L. Robinson $4.9 million, 26 percent more than the year before, and chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. $4.8 million. Not a bad payday for two managers who — shades of WGBH — had just built a gleaming new Times Square headquarters that their company and its suffering stockholders (many of them union employees) could ill afford.

Why should we endorse those same twisted priorities with our tax dollars? For all the talk of its inestimable communal value, it is not as if WGBH bought WCRB to expand the listening options available to its Boston audience. It bought the station so it could dump its own existing musical programming there (99.5 FM) and convert WGBH radio (89.7 FM) to a canned, all-news format. Most of that news is provided by National Public Radio and was already available in Boston on WBUR (90.9 FM).

A nice touch for Eileen’s ending:

It is worth noting that we are nearing the 100-year anniversary of the Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence. Next year there are sure to be centennial commemorations of the gutsy textile workers who protested the decision of greedy mill owners to lower wages in response to a government-mandated shorter workweek — just the sort of event WGBH likes to highlight. Maybe Ken Burns will produce a documentary.

WBGH’s own union, meanwhile, gets no such respect.

In this economy, no union expects an easy time at the negotiating table. But when the transparent aim is not compromise but the abandonment of the collective bargaining process, what distinguishes Jon Abbott, the president and CEO of WGBH, from Scott Walker, the union-busting governor of Wisconsin? The answer? Not much. Let’s let taxpayers decide for themselves whether they want to support either one of them.

This is a pretty good synopsis of some — but not all — of the problems we have with what’s become of “public” broadcasting. It doesn’t delve into the rightward drift of what passes for news nowadays, a kowtowing to the corporate powers that be (and fund). As well as knuckling under to the incessant clamor of ideologues braying about a fabulous “left-wing bias.”

As good as this piece is, it only touches on the local stations that hitch their star to the demigod Arbitron, blindly seeking financial acceptance at the public trough — while hypocritically proclaiming an avowed allegiance to the “under-served,” all the while in a headlong rush to the least common denominator.

And it doesn’t address the profligate squandering of $50 million in public funds dispensed to aid in the proliferation of the junk science HD radio, as mentioned here, and the attendant beggaring by bean counters of local budgets in blind obeisance. Then there’s the rank complicity of NPR Labs in this scam, as chronicled here in a post entitled “How NPR Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” — fudging the data to ensure FCC approval for the attempted monopolization of radio, perverting the airwaves with static and more corporate sensibility.

There is little difference between the limousine liberals, assuming they know best what’s good for “public radio,” and the false prophets — the money-changers in the Tea Party temple — leading the truth-seekers down the primrose path to a monolithic corporate hegemony. In short, we believe in spirituality but have little faith in religion, of whatever denomination. Particularly when that denomination comes ultimately at the expense of the people (however unwittingly) footing the bill.

Lost in Translation

Greg Smith found a post on the Broadcast Law blog, mentioned Sunday, that defines the rules the FCC has promulgated for the use of translators to rebroadcast HD channels over analog — opening up the chance for some return on investment (ROI) of IBOC — as what was once termed a “regulatory agency” plays slut for the industry it once monitored:

In a recent decision, the FCC made clear that analog FM translators can rebroadcast the signal of a HD digital multicast channel from a commonly owned FM station.  For months, broadcasters have been introducing “new” FM stations to their communities via translators rebroadcasting HD-2 signals which are broadcast digitally on a primary FM station, and available only to those who have purchased HD radio receivers.  In the decision that was just released, the Commission’s staff rejected an objection to the use of an FM translator taking a signal that can only be heard on a digital HD Radio and turning it into an analog signal capable of being received on any FM receiver.  In this case, the broadcaster rebroadcast his AM station on the FM HD station so that it could then be rebroadcast on the FM translator.  But, even if the HD multicast channel was a totally independent station that could otherwise only be heard on an HD digital radio, it could be rebroadcast on the FM translator and received by anyone with an FM radio in the limited area served by the translator station.

The Commission did make clear, however, that a broadcaster cannot use another station owner’s HD multicast channel and rebroadcast that on a translator if the broadcaster already owned the maximum number of stations allowed by the multiple ownership rules.  In other words, if a broadcaster is allowed by the multiple ownership rules to own 4 FM stations in a market, it could put a fifth (low power) FM signal in that market through the use of an FM translator rebroadcasting one of its own HD multicast signals.  However, if it had not itself converted its FM stations to digital so that it had its own multicast abilities, it could not do a time brokerage agreement and program the multicast signal of another broadcaster in town who had installed the digital equipment needed to do such multicasts.

As “Savage” points out in the Radio-Info.com discussion board mentioned earlier:

The problem is that the HD-2 analog translators are permitting large groups to evade ownership caps; the issue isn’t maximization of spectrum use…. The translators are being used as competitive flankers in many instances to freeze out smaller broadcasters and import automated corporate-developed formats. That’s contrary to the intent behind the rules. You will note that the big HD-2 translator stories these days involve major radio groups in major markets.

The ownership caps were put in place through arduous jockeying involving the Commission, the Justice Department, broadcast and community groups to preserve diversity of radio ownership and voices. The translator trick is an end-run around the rules. And it bestows special advantages on HD operators which have nothing to do with HD operation.

IOW: dishonesty from the HD contingent. More of the usual.

So the FCC, in a move essentially covering its own arse (having sold the farm to IBOC, with embarrassing results), has little to say to the public weal — aside from, maybe, “Hey, sailor.”

The USC Borg

Jennifer Waits posted on Radio Survivor about the latest move by CPRN to absorb more of California into the borg, a ploy that has the folks at KZSU plenty worried:

On Tuesday, April 12 the FCC approved University of San Francisco’s revised request to move the transmitter for KUSF out of San Francisco to Sausalito and issued a Construction Permit (PDF).

This “minor change in licensed facilities” request, made on behalf of Classical Public Radio Network (which is awaiting FCC approval on its application to purchase KUSF 90.3 FM), is part of CPRN’s attempt to increase coverage for their classical music broadcast of KDFC.

The Stanford University station has mobilized forces (Facebook link on right) and is trying to fight the move:

As we reported last week, Stanford University’s college radio station KZSU is worried that moving KUSF’s transmitter will have a negative impact on their broadcasts over 90.1 FM. Despite the recent FCC approval of this move, KZSU is still working hard to prevent it from happening. KZSU Business Manager Abra Jeffers told me  that KZSU is still consulting with engineers and analyzing the application in order to ensure that their signal won’t face interference from KUSF. She added that beyond the issue of potential interference, she is also troubled by the potential sale of KUSF as it represents a  “loss of educational community programming.”

KZSU encouraged its listeners to write letters to both KZSU and the FCC expressing concern about the KUSF transmitter move. KZSU was expected to submit a letter to the FCC on Monday. They also are working on a Petition for Reconsideration that they will send to the FCC in the days to come regarding the transmitter move.

On Saturday, Abra hit the streets for Record Store Day and along the way she collected letters from KZSU listeners. She told me, “People were literally thanking me for giving them the opportunity to do something. I was just surprised at how easy and positive the response was.”

Although KZSU stopped collecting letters over the weekend, they are still encouraging listeners to write directly to the FCC and to members of Congress.

This post on the Stanford Daily website adds this:

Radio signals may be fuzzy for the Cardinal in the North Bay, where new ownership of the University of San Francisco radio station, KUSF, will move the transmitter to a high altitude location in the North Bay and significantly limit Stanford’s range of radio listeners.

“Essentially what’s going to happen is that a lot of our coverage in the East Bay and what we get in San Francisco is going to be cut off,” said J.D. Haddon ‘13, KZSU’s sports director. “We are losing a community.”

According to KZSU (Stanford) publicity director Adam Pearson ‘11, the concession of the KUSF radio signal to the Classical Public Radio Network (CPRN) in January for $3.75 million occurred behind closed doors between board members at USF and CPRN. The deal was also made without the knowledge of those in charge of the radio station’s day-to-day operations, Pearson said.

“This is an outrage not only to students who can no longer have the access to a radio station on campus and learn about broadcasting or music, but it’s more importantly an assault on the San Francisco community, which has come to appreciate and depend on the public radio services that KUSF provides,” Pearson said, adding that the price paid for KUSF is a nominal amount for the benefits it provides to the San Francisco community on a year-to-year basis.

CPRN, a corporation owned by the University of Southern California (USC) and Colorado Public Radio, purchased KUSF’s radio signal in order to spread access to classical music. But KZSU business manager Abra Jeffers, a graduate student in management science and engineering, believes there is more to the story.

“USC recently bought up stations, from Mexico to Canada, all along the coast under the guise of saving classical music,” Jeffers said. “They have publicly said that they are going to use [their radio stations] for fundraising and publicity for USC recruitment.”

An interesting development from the Save KUSF movement:

Jeffers revealed that CPRN is no longer classified as a non-profit due to Save KUSF efforts, and is instead considered to be a limited liability corporation. As a result of this recent change in classification, CPRN can no longer be placed on the left side of the radio dial, which is intended to be for non-commercial, educational non-profit radio stations.

Although KZSU’s present concern is with the CPRN’s recent decision to move the transmitter, USF’s decision to sell KUSF to CPRN highlights another concern among the KZSU staff: the possibility that the Stanford radio station may also be sold some time in the future. In fact, Jeffers said USC has publicly stated its desire to acquire a South Bay station.

The non-disclosure agreement between USF and USC is of particular concern for KZSU. Members of KZSU are currently discussing this matter with an intermediary board between KZSU and Stanford’s Board of Trustees. Pearson revealed, however, that communication between the intermediary board and the radio station is limited.

“Right now we’re independent, but because of our independence we wouldn’t know if we were sold,” said Pearson.

KZSU is currently in contact with the chairman of the intermediary board and plans to meet with Stanford Legal in order to discuss how to best approach this growing concern. Suggestions have been made to simply shift KZSU’s focus to online broadcasting. In spite of this suggestion, Haddon stated that this method would not reach nearly as many listeners.

“This is a huge growing problem for college radio stations,” Haddon said. “This recent situation makes it a lot more real than most people realize and really breaks the Stanford bubble.”

Comments there ran hot and cold, but with one perhaps prescient exception:

What happened last year to KTRU’s 40,000 watts at Rice will happen to you. It is only a matter of months now. It will be all of the same bs lies spun as justifications (particularly the notion that you should go Internet only), and the underlying motive ($$$ and more control over what should been protected as its own separate non-university entity like the Daily a long time ago) will be the same. The reaction and resulting “outrage” and “protest” and lawsuit will be the same. The result will be the same.

The sycophants for your demise are already out on this board. Saying things like “It does disappoint me that KZSU sounds so exactly like all the college radio stations airing from the various community and tech schools in my area.” Yeah, maybe that’s because it’s a college radio station, and the people who have by and large VOLUNTEERED to run it want it to sound that way. Maybe it’s the part that the radio station is a student activity that requires PARTICIPATION by STUDENTS that is hard to grasp. Or that each PARTICIPANT brings their own ideas as to what they want to contribute, rather than having them spoon fed by some purported authority. Or that collectively those ideas can even CHANGE given enough like minded individuals who get together and take some form of action like PARTICIPATING or something other than posting junior high level “KZSU is the mean girls, they don’t like me, they don’t want to be my friend, I’m not going to listen to them anymore” whiny little b!tch comments on the Internet.

And then there’s “you guys need to do some serious branding to get your name out.” Go home and do exactly what Bill Hicks commanded of people in marketing: Kill yourself. It’s a student activity, not a cost center. Learn the difference.

FCC: The Good Dog

If ever you doubted that the FCC has become a complaisant lapdog — without a tooth to the muzzle — you have only to look at the latest doings of radio conglomerates in the wacky world of translators. The big guns (i.e., the Cheap Channels et al.) are limited by law from owning more than a certain number of stations in a market to prevent too much media consolidation, perish the thought.

Enter the translator, which does double duty for the radio pork that feels constrained by the rules: Not only does it allow them to broadcast an entirely new channel over an overloaded market; it also holds hope for them of somehow monetizing HD radio, the much-sought-after Return on Investment. And you thought that maybe now the FCC was concerning itself with low-power FM stations and what is best for the community.

HD, all but moribund on the AM side, has struggled mightily to gain any kind of listen on the FM side, witness this posting from the heartland on the Kansas City Star website:

And then there were those clever utilizations of HD Radio and FM translators to circumvent the federal limit on full-power stations in a market. (HD Radio — which I sometimes wonder if anyone besides me listens to — is a brand name that refers to a technology broadcasters use to air higher-fidelity sound and subchannels on an adjacent signal that can only be picked up by HD Radio equipped radios.

Of note in this post is the characterizing of translator use as “clever” (and the recognition in the hinterlands of the ploy), as well as the inane echo of the bogus claim that HD is somehow “higher-fidelity sound.” Now however did the writer get that idea?
None of this is lost, of course, on the radio heads on the Radio-Info.com discussion board, where this topic, “A Trend Which May Help HD Radio Become Profitable,” shows that none of this is lost on them:

Savage: It’s important to note that any quantifiable “success” has nothing whatsoever to do with “HD Radio” as a digital transmission standard. The measurable audience and resultant revenue comes from people listening on good old FM radios to good old proven, reliable, non-proprietary ANALOG FM radio.

The FM HD subs exist solely as a pretense to justify the launch of new analog translator channels. And then there’s the additional convenience of allowing big groups to evade their market ownership caps.

It’s a win-win-win for the big radio groups who own the FCC and the NAB and tell them what to do.

And when one poses the obvious question — why have the expensive HD main channel at all then? — comes the answer:

KeithE4: Because translators aren’t allowed originate programming, but they can legally rebroadcast AM stations and HD subchannels.

spunker88: It’s a loophole that broadcasters are taking advantage of. If they were allowed to keep the HD subchannels going only on analog translators, I’m sure many would shut off the HD radio signal all together. The fact that they would rather broadcast to a flea powered FM translator than an HD subchannel on a full powered station shows that this technology is not working.

This loophole is being used by some companies so they can have more stations than allowed in a market, since translators don’t count as a unique station. It’s also how some AM stations are getting an analog FM translator.

It’s in Ibiquity’s best interest to allow this to happen, as many stations would probably drop HD if they weren’t allowed to use it as a gateway for analog translators.

mmnassour: So, after all the money….and all the time…and all the promotion…and all the interference….

….we’re saying all HD is good for is a loophole?   Shocked

That kind of ends the debate.

Chuck: Kind of ironic, isn’t it? And a translator can be constructed for pocket change. Unless you have to build a tower, the equipment cost is usually under $10,000. Sometimes way under $10,000. If the FCC allowed translators to rebroadcast FMeXtra [a cheaper, less-encumbered form of digital abandoned in the headlong run to IBOC], you could save even more….

Savage: I don’t know how “wasteful” this is, but it certainly makes a mockery of the FM translator rules, to say nothing of providing legal cover for evasion of ownership caps. A “translator” is supposed to rebroadcast a primary STATION for the purpose of correcting coverage deficits. I think it’s more than a stretch to treat an FM-HD subchannel as if it’s a standalone station.

But, as previously observed — they’re the FCC. They can do whatever they want. As long as they check with CBS and Clear Channel first.

Zach: Yes but… is it cheaper for a station to install and license HD for the sole purpose of using a translator, or just acquiring a dying 1 kW AM to relay?  I think the AM might be cheaper. Wink

Savage: An excellent point, Zach…. plus notwithstanding the fact that the good-as-dead AM likely has few listeners, it still probably has more than would listen to an HD-FM “primary” subchannel. And: no ongoing annual licensing fees!

Now here’s a question I haven’t seen discussed anywhere. iBiquity demands that its licensees pay annual fees based upon revenue generated on the FM-HD subs. If the revenue comes solely from operation of the analog FM translator, does that qualify under iBiquity’s license as “HD revenue”?

Might we smell some potential litigation brewing over this translator-related matter?

KB10KL: I wonder if the FCC is going to continue to play dead and ignore these flagrant rule violations of the ownership cap?

That answer would seem to be self-evident, as every week more examples of this rule-bending appear in Tom Taylor’s newsletter, as in Friday’s edition.

Late to the Dance

College Broadcasters Inc. has announced on its website a minute of silence for those stations that have fallen to the non-com consolidators:

On April 28, 2011 at 6:00a, Rice University’s KTRU’s signal will transfer to the University of Houston. KTRU has a long history of providing alternative programming to the Houston metro. The new owner intends to program classical music and arts information on KTRU’s frequency.

United States college radio stations have been sold as fundraisers for their parent colleges and universities. Examples of stations include KTXT at Texas Tech, KAUR at Augustana College in South Dakota, and pending sales of KUSF at the University of San Francisco and WRVU at Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt students would beg to differ, since the sale of WRVU is not yet a fait accompli, and they continue to rally the troops to oppose the move. Jennifer Waits, writing on Radio Survivor, notes that the organization is perhaps a tad late to the prom:

 I’d been wondering why CBI, Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (IBS), and Broadcast Education Association (BEA) hadn’t officially voiced their organizations’ displeasure about stations getting sold off.

Well, today was a very good Friday (couldn’t resist), as Candace Walton, the President of the Board of Directors of CBI sent word that CBI is organizing a national Minute of Silence in order to bring attention to the impact of college radio station sales. The Minute of Silence will take place this Thursday, April 28th at 12noon Central (10am Pacific/1pm Eastern) at college radio stations all over the United States.

April 28th was chosen for this protest, as it is the day that the license for Rice University’s college radio station KTRU is expected to transfer to University of Houston for use as a public radio station. According to Candace,

“The goal of the moment of silence is to bring awareness of the deep impact that the sale of a student radio station has on a college and its community. While it is too late to save KTRU (Rice), KTXT (Texas Tech), and KAUR (Augustana in Sioux Falls, SD), people who have benefited from college radio must step up and call on the Federal Communications Commission to reassess what it means by localism in content.”

As mentioned the battle in Music City at Vanderbilt continues, with WRVU stalwarts amassing an impressive amount of support from all quarters — including, as noted here, from the vice president of technology at Facebook. A better look at the wave of support can be found here, with the following note describing:

Below is a small sampling of the letters that students, community members, and alumni have sent on behalf of WRVU. These are letters that have been directed to the Vanderbilt Chancellor and to the VSC. It is staggering how many points of view can converge on one goal — SAVE WRVU! Everyone — and we mean everybody — understands the the immense value WRVU provides to the university, its student body, and to the larger Middle Tennessee community, except, alas, the super geniuses at the VSC — the self anointed arbiters of WRVU’s fate. Keep it up kind spirits!

As noted, this is just a small sampling, with more to come !

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