Collegiate Claptrap

The suits are wildly spinning for ‘GBH in Boston, in wake of the takeover of the student station at Bryant University. Bean counters at Bryant — acting the good industrialist as ‘GBH honchos did in busting up their union — have now begun to put that most favorable light on this latest acquisition, to wit: “Bryant partnership with WGBH provides new tech platforms for student radio station.” This is akin to saying “layoffs create whole new world to experience in unemployment.” The word from Boston is equally giddy in its assessment of the move, which will consign student radio to the purgatory of HD radio and online:

“We are absolutely delighted to be returning to an area with so much vibrant cultural activity, and look forward to sharing it with the rest of the region,” said Benjamin Roe, WGBH managing director for classical services, in a press release.

In related news, doings at WDUQ hit the national radar in Tom Taylor’s newsletter, here:

The feared mass layoff at Pittsburgh’s WDUQ (90.5) is happening, as one poster on the Pittsburgh Board at Radio-Info.com said it would. The new Essential Public Media is buying WDUQ for $6 million and initiating an LMA on July 1. The Post-Gazette confirms that the current staff, more than 20 fulltimers and parttimers, got termination notices. Now the question is — will Essential Public Media re-hire any of them? It’s still going to be doing a limited amount of jazz, as it re-formats to mostly news and talk. The paper’s Adrian McCoy says the buyer is retaining director of development Fred Serino and business manager Vicky Rumpf for the LMA period.

DUQ has been absorbed into the NPR borg, thanks in large part to the machinations (double-dealing, some would say) of Public Radio Capital in its freshlly minted Public Media Co. — a move that slices the hours of jazz programming from 100 to 6, as noted in this blog:

If the online outcry is any indication, there will be a lengthy period of discord over the manner in which the removal of jazz from these free public airwaves is being accomplished. Those who have been most vocal have said that a healthy compromise somewhere between the 100 hours of jazz being aired on 90.5 now, and the 6 that is currently planned for, would be fine with them. Their plea does not appear to be intractable, even in spite of an effort to boycott membership in both stations. Why does WYEP’s silence in response seem that way?…

From the sound of the rhetoric, the management of WYEP has made up its mind, and is not inclined to listen to the pleas of jazz fans around the area to keep more of this music on analog FM. The deaf ear they appear to have turned to the complaints is not in keeping with a community media resource, and has fueled too much speculation along with the bad feelings.

Perhaps they just think that the spectrum is too valuable to continue to commit so much airtime to what they may perceive as a “niche” audience. If that’s the case, their approach is antithetical to their origins. Perhaps they have truly forgotten from whence they came. Too bad.

As this post in March on the Bloomberg Businessweek site, “Making Public Radio a Little More Private,”  notes, the pace for acquisition of the cherry student stations has accelerated in response to perceived threats to federal funding:

Some media executives in Pasadena, Calif., think they may be able to save public radio by making it less public. They’re using business tactics rarely employed in the tame world of local public radio to create a megastation they hope will one day beam its signal from Santa Barbara to San Diego. By building a mini-empire of local stations, they say they’ll be able to better distribute the fixed costs of radio broadcasting and draw on a much larger audience for the donations and corporate sponsorships that could keep them afloat if government funding dries up.

Those plans are taking shape in the $25 million, one-year-old studios of KPCC, the flagship station for Southern California Public Radio. SCPR already owns or operates three stations and is on the hunt for more.

The Southern Cal group, which snapped up beloved station KUSF in San Francisco in its quest to go more corporate, is not shy about its goals:

SCPR’s stations currently reach 14 million listeners, but the board hopes to nearly double that, to 25 million. “If we can buy a station, we will,” says Crawford. “Where we can’t, we’ll build translators to boost our signal. This is a new business model for public radio.”

Advertisements

The Boston Borg

The ‘GBH borg in Boston keeps gobbling up stations in the region. WGBH is taking over the Bryant University station WJMF in Smithfield, RI, and facilitating a power increase from 225 to 1200 watts for WJMF, which, as of August, will become a simulcast of WCRB “99.5 All Classical,” the classical music station acquired by WGBH in 2009. The ‘GBH website bills this as “a partnership between Boston public broadcaster WGBH and Bryant University,” though that partnership shunts the students off to HD purgatory. The post shills this as giving students a wonderful opportunity to join the Brave New World of radio:

The reciprocal arrangement will give Bryant students the opportunity to learn from WGBH digital and broadcast technology experts during the summer in preparation for an August transition. WGBH has been a pioneer in expanding classical music onto new platforms, with live streaming, dedicated online streams, an all-classical HD channel, podcasts and mobile applications.

“Bryant has just taken a strategic step in a new direction with a terrific partner,” said Bryant University President Ronald K. Machtley, “I am thrilled that this collaboration returns classical music broadcasts to Rhode Island while providing our students hands-on opportunities to master leading-edge technologies for delivery of WJMF music, sports programming, and talk shows not just in New England but throughout the country.”

The arrangement involves no capital commitment on behalf of WGBH, and Bryant University plans to maximize the 88.7 signal by increasing its power from 225 watts to 1200 watts by virtue of a recently awarded construction permit from the FCC.

Comments were not so bright and cheery:

WGBH taking over WCRB; Biggest disappointment of the past 10 years. Very little or no locally produced programming. Same old same old; announcers full of wind and blab and gab which gets in the way of any interesting programmes. Announcers so full of their own importance, that the main object seems to be the blowing of one’s own trumpet. And those bloody birds!!! Robert J. Lartzema spent the last 25 years of his life alienating thousands of WGBH listeners by waking everyone up to the dawn chorus, and now some chin-less wonder has decided to bring back the birds (hardly original!) C’mon, let’s hear some original programming!!!! Thank God for the “off” switch. —Wil Davis

As a Bryant alum, I have to say this is absolutely awful! My parents used to listen to my radio show on 88.7 every week. It was great knowing that the local community could potentially come across your show on their radio. I don’t understand what Bryant is getting out of this deal. No one has an HD radio. If Bryant students want to learn from GBH, they can apply for internships! —E

WCRB lost coverage of Rhode Island and areas south of Boston in 2006 when a previous ownership change resulted in a move from a powerful Boston frequency to a frequency well to the north of Boston in Lowell. Then, when WGBH acquired WCRB in 2009 and dropped all classical music from their 100,000-watt signal from Blue Hill for a Public Radio news/talk single format, classical music could no longer be heard in most of Rhode Island on analog radio. (The handful of people who happen to own HD radios can hear WCRB simulcast on WGBH’s HD2 signal.)

WGBH is expecting that the 1200-watt WJMF will bring the WCRB classical programming back onto analog radio in most of Rhode Island and also much of southeastern Massachusetts.

So, what happens to the Bryant University students who had been programming WJMF since 1972? They will soon be relegated to a new WJMF HD2 channel developed for them by the saints at WGBH (and will continue to stream on the internet). As Jennifer Waits notes on Radio Survivor, it’s par for the course that this change was announced after the end of the semester:

So far I’m only seeing official statements about this deal and haven’t caught wind of any protests from angry students, alumni or listeners. It’s notable that this was announced a few weeks after the end of the semester when I’m assuming not many students or faculty are present on campus. I can’t assume from the statement on the WJMF website that students, DJs, and listeners are necessarily in favor of these changes, as it will mean that their station will not be accessible to terrestrial listeners who do not own HD radios.

In the very least, the timing of ‘GBH’s latest venture is curious, as it recently beat down protests from union members and forced its “final solution” on the rank and file. That whole onerous episode didn’t in the least seem to dampen its vigorous pursuit of a media manifest destiny.

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.

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.

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.”

%d bloggers like this: