The First Cut Is the Deepest

Writing here on Radio Survivor, Jennifer Waits warns of another college radio station in imminent danger of being absorbed into the borg — this time station WXLV, owned by Lehigh Carbon Community College in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania:

According to an article in the South Whitehall Patch, the administration recently had the station appraised as part of their process of evaluating ways to cut costs on campus. Although the university has not made a final decision about selling the station, they have already learned that a public radio station and Christian radio broadcasters are interested in buying the FM frequency. The article states:

“The college is in a mode of belt-tightening, given a 10 percent cut in the state budget for community colleges currently on the table. That would translate to a $1.3 million reduction in LCCC’s annual budget, [LCCC’s Associate dean for institutional advancement Heather L.]  Kuhns said. And that would come after three years during which the state’s allocation to community colleges had been frozen in place.

The decision whether to sell or keep the radio station will have to come from the trustees, Kuhns said. If they do make that decision, the process of determining the buyer and sale price would be a public one, Kuhns said.”

The group has formed a Facebook page (link on right), “Save Your Radio, 90.3 WXLV Up for Sale,” and rallied to gain support then put up a site with a petition to oppose any sale (here) — with more than 1,000 names already. As Jennifer notes, the petition site intro says as follows:

WXLV is the biggest community force within LCCC and fosters a large community of over a hundred volunteers and thousands of supporters. These people are donating innumerable hours of time to kindle this fire. It would be a great loss to the community and reputation of LCCC to put out this passionate blaze.

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All That Jazz

Tom Taylor’s newsletter carried the latest bad news for college radio: WDUQ in Pittsburgh, sold by the bean counters at Duquesne to a public radio group “enhanced” by dollars from a PRC offshoot, Public Media Company, and absorbed into the NPR borg, will shove the beloved jazz programming off into HD purgatory. PRC was brought in by the original management team to help them buy the station, but ended up selling them down the river(s) and forming its own acquisition team:

Pittsburgh jazz fans were anxious about losing their music on WDUQ – and they were right.

The hipsters have been talking about what percentage of jazz might remain after Essential Public Media closed on its $6 million purchase of the non-com from Duquesne University – and the answer is “almost zero.” Except for a Saturday night block, it’s all being shunted to a fulltime HD multicast channel and to a dedicated online all-jazz service. Essential Public Media quotes NPR to the effect that “Pittsburgh is one of only two U.S. cities in the top 35 radio markets without a full-service NPR news and information station.” That will change on July 1 – and give Essential Public Media credit for disclosing their plans, five weeks ahead of the change. The buyer is a first-time partnership between another Pittsburgh non-com, adult alternative WYEP (91.3), and a new unit of Public Radio Capital named Public Media Company. Former Minnesota Public Radio executive Dennis Hamilton, currently Director of Consulting for PRC, will serve as WDUQ’s interim President/GM. We also gain some insight into the financials of the buyer. The Richard King Mellon Foundation and Heinz Endowments have each committed $1.5 million toward the purchase and operating costs. Essential Public Media is getting $250,000 from the strategic reserve fund of WYEP and another $250,000 from a fund managed by The Pittsburgh Foundation.” It’s still talking with TPG and other local charitable foundations.

WDUQ remains a center of jazz programming.

The Pittsburgh operation will continue producing “Jazzworks” for national syndication. It uses some slick digital technology to deliver “a single, significant programming channel”, which can actually be fed in a customized fashion. Jazzworks LLC is currently owned and operated by Duquesne University’s WDUQ, and is part of the package going over to buyer Essential Public Media. Also to keep jazz fans happy – there’s a continuing six-hour Saturday evening jazz show on the main WDUQ signal (90.5), plus “jazz reports and features” elsewhere in the broadcast week. Essential Public Media pledges to record live jazz events around Pittsburgh for broadcast on HD Multicast and online. And here’s something that should make iBiquity happy – “a voucher program for member listeners to help them purchase HD Radio receivers.”

A story on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s website, “Switch from jazz at WDUQ falls flat for enthusiasts,” aired some of the local complaints:

“It’s draconian,” said Evan Pattak, chair of Jazz Lives in Pittsburgh, of EPM’s decision. “From 100 hours [a week] to six — it’s a blow to this city’s cultural and artistic diversity. I can’t imagine any jazz fan who would find it acceptable.”

Mr. Pattak and a group of community leaders and jazz supporters launched Jazz Lives in Pittsburgh earlier this year. They submitted a proposal to EPM, asking for six hours of jazz a day — less than what WDUQ currently airs, arguing that limited jazz is better than none.

Followers of the Save Our WDUQ Facebook site (link on right) are not happy:

Jim Amato Another sad case of a broadcasting company not listening to its listeners. There’s already 3 news/talk stations in this city. What are we going to do without our jazz? This city produced legends in jazz that are world renowned. It’s a slap in the face to jazz and its supporters in this region.

Larry Belli If I want to hear car talk, I go hang with Goober!

Peter King I will certainly stop contributing to WDUQ. And then there’s WYEP, the station that helped buy DUQ and kill the jazz. I won’t ever be contributing to YEP again.Also, for anyone who is considering withdrawing membership dollars but might feel guilty for not “helping” the community, I can name a dozen other arts and/or broadcast/Web nonprofits in Pittsburgh and elsewhere deserving of our support. And one more thing — not just the outcome but the process of this whole thing has smelled bad since Day 1. Without going into the whole long, sad story (which has yet to be fully reported), jazz fans and the DUQ staff have been ignored, treated as fools and generally disrespected. When the “new” DUQ calls me or writes me and subtly suggests I have a duty to support public radio, I’ll answer: “What public radio?”

Do It Yourself Monopoly

John Anderson posted the following piece on his blog DIYmedia.net about the slipshod fashion in which the FCC is going about its business, allowing the corporate giants in radioland to do an end run around its regulations governing the number of radio stations any one company can own in a given area. The big surprise is that the governmental watchdog managed to stir from its stupor to act on a complaint — after three years of allowing the practice without as much as a sniff in that direction.

FM Translator Abuse Creates Ownership Loophole
Nearly a year ago it came to light that radio broadcasters were using FM translator stations as a sort of “back door” to provide more exposure for their HD Radio signals.

Ironically, these translators do not broadcast in digital; rather, many HD-capable radio stations are rebroadcasting their digital-only (“multicast”) programming via analog translator as a way to recoup their investment in a technology which has no meaningful audience.

Some radio conglomerates have purchased or signed lease agreements with FM translator owners to create ostensibly “new” stations in markets around the country in this manner. The practice has caused difficulty for independent broadcasters.

Recently, Clear Channel signed a lease agreement with a translator-owner in New York City to rebroadcast a country music format Clear Channel was running as an HD-2 adjunct to another of its NYC stations. The translator caused major interference to “Thunder 106,” a country-format full-power FM station owned by Press Communications. Thunder 106 is located in New Jersey but covers a goodly portion of the NYC metropolitan area.

You can see how Clear Channel would think this a bright idea: there is no country music station based directly in Market #1, and by plopping a flea-power FM translator in downtown Manhattan the company could dominate an underserved format while recycling unprofitable HD-only content on the cheap.

Press Communications did not take this move lying down. It contacted the FCC which directed the translator to leave the air while the interference claims are investigated.

These shenanigans are only the tip of the iceberg. Cumulus Media has parlayed several FM translators into “new” stand-alone stations in several radio markets around the country. Considering that Cumulus is now attempting to buy Citadel Broadcasting — a deal that rivals Clear Channel in the ownership-consolidation dimension — this behavior deserves further scrutiny.

It’s bad enough that major broadcasters are wasting spectrum through the implementation of HD Radio. But purchasing or leasing the use of translators to expand a conglomerate’s holdings in a market where they already own the maximum number of full-power stations allows them to effectively flout the FCC’s local radio station ownership caps.

Neither translators nor HD Radio were intended for such chicanery, and it speaks volumes about the FCC’s engagement with radio broadcasting more generally that such behavior is taking place.

As radioskeptic posted on the Radio-Info.com discussion board, the FCC participation in this scam to entrench monopoly radio (as well as allow them to make something off the HD radio gambit they blundered into) has been going on for years:

Re: Cumulus/KC takes advantage of the only redeeming quality of HD
« Reply #3 on: February 17, 2011, 01:50:26 PM »

Thanks, local oscillator, for telling us just how powerful that translator is. If the “HD” signal were dependable, there’d be absolutely no excuse for any translator, much less one that’s more powerful than many marginal, less-than-maximum-powered Class A’s.

I had no idea that this was such an egregious example when I sent out an email blast on Tuesday (2/15) saying:

The proliferation of these things, I think, confirms my suspicion that the only reason some commercial broadcasters cling to “HD” when the market penetration of “HD” receivers is minuscule is that the FCC is now allowing them to simulcast the HD-2’s on analog translators. It’s just a clever way to circumvent per-market ownership caps.

Obviously, syndicators like it, too, since it gets them into markets they otherwise couldn’t penetrate, if only in a small way.

In this case, the syndicator is Bill Bungeroth’s 24/7 Comedy service

I might have added that NPR and other pubradio program vendors like “HD” for exactly the same reason.

But this ruse is nothing new. See “Neat trick: Cumulus is using an HD-2 channel to feed an FM translator.” Go to http://www.radio-info.com/newsletter/pdf/TRI08272008.pdf (bottom of page 2 of the PDF).

Yes, that was Tom Taylor’s TRI for August 27, 2008!

Talk Talk

San Diego radio station KPBS has dropped its classical music, joining the NPR borg with all talk all the time, according to this post on Current.org. Those fans of the homogenized classical to be dumped will have to listen online — or throw the dice and buy an HD radio if they want to follow it. Six of one, half-dozen of the other — canned talk or canned music:

KPBS’s classical music service, which is essentially a feed of American Public Media’s Classical 24, has moved online and to an HD Radio channel. Programmers plan to feature local music performances on weekends.

This post on the Voice of San Diego site notes that it’s tough beans for classic-music buffs now:

Until now, KPBS has been trying to embrace two missions: fill the hole in local radio news programming left by cutbacks at commercial stations and offer nighttime classical music to listeners who don’t have many other options on the dial. The only full-time classical music station serving San Diego is based in Tijuana, and it doesn’t have regular on-air hosts.

KPBS will only offer classical music programming through a 24-hour website stream and two subchannels on HD Radio, which is just available to listeners with specially equipped radios. The station will offer local classical music programs on some weekend evenings.

John Decker, KPBS’s programming director, said the station doesn’t expect to lose the wealthy listeners who like the classical programming and contribute donations. “They have money, they’re older, they’re upscale, yeah, but they also listen to news programming,” he said, predicting that they’ll continue to do so.

Discretionary Reporting

The LUV Newsletter today, never a fan of the rightward shift of NPR, included the following:

NPR CONTINUES SPREADING MISINFORMATION

Yesterday on NPR’s All Things Considered, Robert Siegel began the program with the shocking headline “The nation’s two-most important programs for seniors, Social Security and Medicare, will exhaust their trust funds earlier than projected.”

Always happy to report whatever official government sources and corporate interests give them, NPR works tirelessly to sell out the interests of average citizens, such as this frightening misinformation obtained from the right wing zanies on the government panel who’ve been appointed for the purpose of undermining Social Security and Medicare on behalf of the ruling Forces of Greed (FOG) who see a time coming when the T-bills owned by the Trust Fund (IOUs from financing corporate welfare for decades) will have to be cashed, meaning there will be less tax dollars available at that time for corporate welfare such as unnecessary weapons systems for the Nuclear Mafia, subsidies for the polluting Big Oil, Big Coal and Big Nuclear, and other largess going against the public interest [emphasis added].

If the ruling FOG can cut Social Security benefits, the T-bills will not be cashed in as quickly, allowing the FOG to keep the corporate welfare going to transnational corporations that don’t give a damn about this country or its people.

Earlier in the day we got an email from Max Richtman, Executive Vice President of the National Committee to Save Social Security, who gives a very different message, based on the same data:

“It’s important that Americans understand the [just-released] 2011 Trustees Report confirms that Social Security and Medicare continue to fulfill their mission, providing retirement and health security to millions still suffering during the worst economic crisis of a generation. Beyond the doom-and-gloom news headlines and calls to cut these programs in order to ‘save’ them, the fiscal facts in this annual report show that Social Security has a $2.6 trillion surplus which continues to grow. While healthcare reform has extended the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund, the economic recession and high healthcare costs continue to take their toll. The bottom line is Social Security is not in crisis and further reforms to our healthcare system are necessary to bring down costs nationwide, not just in Medicare.”

There is little chance NPR will allow the facts to get to the masses, any more than other corporate media, because their corporate sponsors, including FOX, would cut off their funding for informing the masses.

If you’d like to subscribe to the LUV Newsletter — and in the process see some of the best in political cartoons, email libertyuv@hotmail.com with “join” in the subject line.

Seniors for a Democratic Society

Well, it’s about up and running now, a spin-off blog for you raving populists who find yourself aghast at all the nefarious doings of the oligarchy and their pet sharks, the politicians. It’s an acronym designed to irritate, yes, but above all to stimulate, for better or worse.

In our experience, the original SDS was pretty much a joke, a meeting place for disenchanted would-be firebrands to gather and argue semantics. There was the obligatory rant from the one we dismissed as an anarchist — though he was more likely an underground member of the government’s CointelPro program designed to foment illegal action. At Syracuse U., that action fomented was an occupation of McDonald’s — which, as stupid as it may sound given the student employees there, was even more stupid in practice. Freedom of milkshake won the day and the action quickly unraveled.

There’s gotta be a better way, and maybe the Egyptians can teach us a thing or two. Even an old dog could learn a new trick…

“They would not find me changed from him they knew. /
Only more sure of all I thought was true.”

—Robert Frost

Or, as dearly departed Molly Ivins said, “What you need is sustained outrage… There’s far too much unthinking respect given to authority.”

Dirty Money

  • Jenn Ettinger of Freepress.net sent out an email yesterday that provides a blatant example of the revolving door in politics — whereby a government regulator slides greasily into a high-paid position with a regulatee (in this case, before her term even expired):

Free Press Blasts Comcast-FCC Merger
WASHINGTON — Federal Communications Commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker [a Republican appointee] reportedly will be departing the agency in June to take a job with Comcast-NBC — a company whose multi-billion mega-merger she approved just four months ago.

Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaronmade the following statement:

“Less than four months after Commissioner Baker voted to approve Comcast’s takeover of NBC Universal, she’s reportedly departing the FCC to lobby for Comcast-NBC. This is just the latest — though perhaps most blatant — example of a so-called public servant cashing in at a company she is supposed to be regulating.

“As recently as March, Commissioner Baker gave a speech lamenting that review of the Comcast-NBC deal ‘took too long.’ What we didn’t know then was that she was in such a rush to start picking out the drapes in her new corner office.

“No wonder the public is so nauseated by business as usual in Washington — where the complete capture of government by industry barely raises any eyebrows. The continuously revolving door at the FCC continues to erode any prospects for good public policy. We hope — but won’t hold our breath — that her replacement will be someone who is not just greasing the way for their next industry job.”

Small wonder we call our government watchdogs toothless old mutts… You get as much protection from a stuffed animal as you do from most “regulators.”

  • Radio professionals are watching closely what results from a recent complaint to the FCC, as noted in Tom Taylor’s newsletter:

From http://www.radio-info.com/newsletter/html/tri-05102011.html:

The Jersey Shore “Thunder Country” hears static from Clear Channel’s new translator in New York.
Press-owned WKMK, Eatontown shares the 106.3 frequency with the moved-in translator that Clear Channel’s using for its new signal in midtown Manhattan. Clear Channel doesn’t actually own the 100-watt signal that used to be just 1-watt at 106.5. But they’ve got a deal to simulcast an HD-2 channel on it and have been rotating through various formats from iHeartRadio since last week. (TRI still thinks they’ll eventually choose smooth jazz, but we’ll see very soon.) Here’s what “Thunder Country” is saying about the supposed interloper — “We are aware that many of our listeners in the counties of Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon, Morris, Passaic, Union, Bergen, Essex, Hudson as well as Staten Island, Brooklyn, Long Island and Lower Manhattan are experiencing interference with our Thunder 106.3 signal…We have become aware that a New York radio station is sending out a signal that is on the same frequency. We have already contacted the FCC about the interference and are making every attempt to have the interference stopped immediately. In the meantime, we could use your help” — and it provides a form on the webpage here to report problems picking up “Thunder.” Now, the 60 dBu contour of Class A WKMK doesn’t get much outside of its home Monmouth County, but it’s probably enjoyed some bonus coverage with nobody else in the neighborhood. That just changed with the Clear Channel deal.

To date, the FCC hasn’t given a tinker’s dam that the major consolidators in radio are using translators to slide around the cap on the number of radio stations a conglomerate can have in a given market — since there’s an outside chance that this might somehow validate the major blunder — by the FCC as well as Big Radio and NPR — of HD radio by monetizing it in some fairy-tale future.

  • Current.org is the latest to check in on the absorption of college radio into the borg, notes Austin Airwaves’ Jim Radio. This piece by Steve Behrens gives a fair synopsis of what has transpired lately:

Houston: Rice University students’ KTRU-FM couldn’t wait until noon for the Minute of Silence; it left the air at 6 that morning and Rice is selling it to pubradio station KUHF at the University of Houston. KTRU Station Manager Kevin Bush stayed up until 6 to join in the goodbyes. The station will continue to operate online at KTRU.org and on an HD Radio channel of Pacifica’s KPFT, but Bush expects the audience will be dramatically smaller. The students’ last-minute agitation had no hope of stopping the sale of 90.7, he says, but it could help win school funds for a website upgrade.

Nashville: At Vanderbilt University, it’s not the administration but Vanderbilt Student Communications that owns and proposes to sell student-run WRVU-FM, 90.1 MHz, hoping to get $3.5 million to $5 million to invest in an endowment for student media. WRVU would continue to operate online. The nonprofit owner of WRVU, the student newspaper and other campus media, is run by a nine-member board that includes six students. The group’s FAQ says that shrinking numbers of students listen to broadcast radio.

Also in Nashville: On Feb. 18, Trevecca Nazarene University’s contemporary Christian music station WNAZ, 89.1 MHz, gave way to WECV, a Christian talk station operated by the buyer, Community Radio Inc., the nonprofit branch of Bott Radio Network of Kansas City. A repeater in Dickson, Tenn., and two translators also were sold.

Mobile, Ala.: On March 21, the University of Alabama approved purchase of WHIL-FM in Mobile, expanding the university’s Alabama Public Radio net. Spring Hill College sold the station for $1.1 million after operating it for 30 years. The buyer will provide a classical/news schedule similar to WHIL’s. [WHIL posted this notice to listeners.]

San Francisco: Student station KUSF-FM went online-only in January when the University of San Francisco sold its frequency, 90.3 MHz, to the city’s classical radio station KDFC in a complex multistation deal. Los Angeles pubradio powerhouse KUSC bought two Bay Area frequencies when it acquired KDFC from Entercom Communications. Entercom exited the classical format, making off with KDFC’s former channel.

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