Friday, October 26, 2007

What's New?

Have You Heard?

Mobile Internet radio took two steps closer to becoming a household word this month. First, you have to select a station. Now it's easy! iHeard is a new search engine which allows access to thousands of radio stations from just one site. Other entities have experimented with this concept, but almost all of them simply refer you to the home page of the radio station. Wi-Fi listening was a laborious process.

Step one: Enter the world of iHeard. Pages and pages of stations are available with just one click! Name a type of music or talk show. iHeard has it. Who needs a shortwave radio? Pick a country, pick a station and you're there. If you like, you can also choose by musical genre, location, foreign language...the categories are endless. It is the perfect site to visit during those long, boring waits for appointments or at the airport. Your web surfing cell phone can now be a unique form of radio with a bottomless pit of programming possibilities. At home, connect your computer up to your stereo and you'll have the world on a string, literally! Check in today at:

Step two: Get in SYNC. Ford has announced the release of SYNC, an amazing in-car management system incorporating voice recognition. You can now control all your multi-media and communications devices with one computer application custom written for Ford by Microsoft. Providing you have continuous coverage of Wi-Fi, you can listen to Internet radio in your car without hassle. (Some communities have already installed public access city-wide Wi-Fi. Listening to "the stream" is closer than you think! Take a test drive at:

Let's Convert!

Rabbit ears users please note: February 2009 is growing nearer (only 15 months to go!) and the time to convert is right after Christmas 2007. {Convert from analog to digital TV, that is!} The federal government will begin issuing $40 credit vouchers on January 1, 2008 (up to two per household) to offset the expense of digital set-top-box converters for your analog TV. You may need a converter if you only view on good old analog television using an antenna. (Cable and satellite subscribers can relax. This change won't affect you!) In February 2009, all analog broadcast television will end. You'll have to watch digital TV or else! Details regarding ordering voucher coupons will soon be revealed at:

Manufacturers have already responded to this program. LG Electronics recently received official approval of their set-top-box converter to be released for sale just after the first of the year to meet the demands of the federal voucher program. The street price for the LG converter is said to be about $60. LG's converter (pictured above) will feature closed captioning, a variety of available aspect ratios, V-chip program rating filters, programming information screens and direct composite and RF inputs and outputs (no external video modulator needed!) Except for basic functions (channel change and power,) most of the LG's features require its remote control and on-screen display. Their unit is quite small and has no front panel display. It's simplistic, concise and attractive design should become a welcomed accessory. Put your analog television on channel 3 and use the converter box to view all the new (and expanded) digital television services now available. The big question: Will digital signals reach these converters as reliably as good old NTSC analog signals?

Another new product of interest: Best Buy's private label 'Insignia' is offering possibly the first hand-held portable DTV. The Insignia NS-7HTV offers a seven inch LCD screen and a built-in ATSC DTV tuner. It's been purchased on eBay for as little as $60. Friends from the WTFDA (Worldwide TV-FM DX Association) who have auditioned the Insignia have given it lukewarm reviews particularly regarding anemic reception. Even so, it's good to see the world of electronics adapting to the digital world that lies ahead.

Shock and Stop IBOC

Last month, I bemoaned the arrival of AM in-band on-carrier digital signals during nighttime hours. Lots of beehive-like noise rippled through the band often ending long-distance reception that had been relied upon for decades. Many AM radio DXers saw this move as the end of their hobby. The battle is not over yet. The first couple of weeks of operation were rocky. Listener complaints were being received from all over the country! What could be done?

One group, Citadel Broadcasting, went on record as retreating from the IBOC experiment (at least for the time being.) A dominant station owner, Citadel controls 66 radio stations nationwide. When Citadel decided to cease broadcasting IBOC signals, many listeners could again listen in peace! For local listeners, this would include Citadel's WABC 770 New York City, WJR 760 Detroit and WLS 890 Chicago. WABC and WJR certainly did strong battle with each other during their brief IBOC trial. WLS 890 is only one channel away from another IBOCer WCBS 880 in New York City. You can rest assured that their dueling IBOCs were not easy listening! WCBS, and sister station WFAN 660, have also been noted with their IBOC systems off many nights recently. The jury may still be out, but the verdict is clear: The AM Radio IBOC system needs substantial modification to co-exist during nighttime operations. The beehive noise must desist!

Another downside of IBOC 'HD Radio' is time delay. Here is an excerpt from the WCBS Radio website: "WCBS now broadcasts in high definition. It takes 8 seconds for HD to encode and then decode at a HD receiver. Consequently, the regular analog signal must be delayed 8 seconds in order for the broadcasts to synch. Also, it is not as simple as starting the time tone 8 seconds earlier to make it hit the airwave 'on time.' The issue is much more complex. However, WCBS is working to find a solution as HD radio becomes more main stream."

Editorial comment: Analog AM Radio technology dates back to before 1920. It remains an extraordinary means of delivering radio to a wide area of listeners using very inexpensive and low tech. receivers. Why reduce this amazing medium to a tentative local-only scenario that requires sophisticated expensive receivers to enjoy? It's time to scroll back to basics and allow AM Radio to do what it does so well. Put digital radio where it belongs: in a separate specially-allocated band where it can thrive on its own without the challenge of being compatible with older technologies.

Do I Rate?

What do people listen to on their satellite radios? Now we know! Recently, the Spring 2007 Arbitron ratings book was posted on the Internet revealing the winners and losers of both Sirius and XM Satellite Radio. Sirius is really Stern Satellite Radio! Howard's two channels on Sirius command a huge audience, around 1.7 million listeners a week. Compare this with Stern's alleged 20 million listeners in his heyday on terrestrial FM radio. Sirius pays dearly for Stern.

Beyond the land of Stern, the most popular channels are mainstream popular music. XM's 20 on 20 rules with over a million listeners a week, while Sirius Hits One registers about 650,000. XM's channels for 60s, 70s and 80s music have similar ratings just above 600,000. One thing for sure, XM listeners love to listen and listen at length. A telling comparison: popular Fox News has 485,000 listeners a week on XM while the exact same programming on Sirius only draws 133,000. My personal opinion: Sirius listeners prefer an expanded version of what traditional radio has to offer. It attracts younger men in droves. XM listeners seek a more eclectic and adventuresome stew and listen to their satellite radios as constant companionship. The entire report can be found at:

For some great listening fun, check out XM's 'Igor' Halloween micro-channel to be heard on XM 120 from Monday night, October 29th at 9pm through Thursday morning, November 1 at 6am Eastern time. Then, switch channels to XM 103 and begin the Christmas season early! A yuletide tradition, XM's Holly begins for a two-month run November 1 until the week after Christmas. Ho! Ho! Ho! Break out the mistletoe!

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Let's play fair. Large AM radio stations should be in parity with smaller stations that don't have big-station funds (or interest) in HD Radio. If a major-market 50 kilowatt station can participate in legalized IBOC jamming over 30 kilohertz of spectrum space or more, smaller stations should be allowed to remove their NRSC filters and compete with a high fidelity signal of their own.

Even better: If NRSC filter removal is not appealing to stations already participating in HD Radio, how about a deal with Ibiquity? Maybe Ibiquity would allow trade-ins of old equipment for new HD encoders! Let's the back room we must have a C-Quam stereo encoder we don't need. Do you think they'll accept a license for an expanded band allocation? How about that Sony SQ quad encoder or this great FMX box? I'm sure Ibiquity would love to corner the market on used NRSC filters!

Just leave AM radio alone! Please turn off HD Radio IBOC, pull out the NRSC filters and let a grand old medium serve its public well! No other technology can achieve direct nationwide distribution using a ten dollar hand-held receiver. And, no, I don't want to listen to all my radio via the Internet quite yet. Get back to basics and let AM radio shine again. Have you ever heard two or three IBOC beehives phase together? Oh, my poor ears! Here comes the train! Let's stop it before it's completely out of control!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Heading For The Door

Can a $15 million dollar a year anchor help? How about new sets, new lighting, new hair and makeup, new features and commentary? Let's try some new producers, fantastic graphics and endearing publicity campaigns. Warm and fuzzy road trips peppered with pretentious town meetings can't miss! Kate listens and listens across America, but the message is not received. How far do audiences have to shrink before someone gets it? Will anything cure ratings decay?

The desperate dance never ends: How can we improve the ratings? How can we entice that illusive extra point or two in the Nielsens? You'd be amazed the levels of exasperation reached during these pursuits. Dozens of production people can lose sleep about this week's meaningless trivial aspect of a broadcast. A slight change in lighting, a new color scheme in electronic graphics, how much a news desk reflects its surroundings, a heated behind-the-scenes debate regarding hairstyle or makeup. None of these things are important!

Another worthless cure-all attempt, seen time and again, is the new feature. (No one has tried this before, I swear!) 22 minutes of nightly broadcast time flies by. Let's kill our precious time with commentary from 'cutting edge' authorities on what-not. Let's take a trip across America attempting to make our news relevant. Broadcast from a hotel balcony situated overlooking a war zone. Nothing's working? 'Let's hire a new Executive Producer. You know... the one who put Charlie and Diane together on GMA. Can't miss!' Stop! Stop! Stop this nonsense!

Take a lesson from the classic movie 'The Year of Living Dangerously.' A cub reporter, played by Mel Gibson, exclaims all sorts of generic dribble back to his editor. The editor wisely replies: (paraphrasing) 'When you are ready to tell me what makes this event different and exciting - then call me back. Tell us what you experience, not what I can report from here!' The CBS Evening News led with a story, one day this week, proclaiming an unbridled increase in lost luggage at airports. Would you watch this stuff?

No one will admit it, but news distribution is a lazy process. In essence, there are only three major sources of national news: The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post. You can rest assured that if The Times features revelations regarding a 'stay slim' gene or banning drug distribution to the world's poor, every nightly newscast will feature it tomorrow. Novel independent reporting is increasingly rare!

(By the way, forget about learning anything about international news unless it has some sort of American hook. '345 people died in a plane crash today in Africa. 3 were Americans.' If no Americans were aboard, the other 342 victims would never be covered!) Watch Canada's CTV or the BBC TV news on-line for a glimpse of what's going on in the rest of the world - and - excellent views of America from outside our self-created bubble looking in.

The Associated Press, arguably, is the most powerful source in news today. They provide standardized and homogenized accounts of news events that are accepted, without challenge, by thousands of newspapers and broadcast outlets daily. To public relations firms, coverage by The AP is the holy grail of success. Rest assured: If The AP picks up on the waterskiing squirrels in Florida, the entire nation will witness this nonsense within 48 hours.

Why does this happen? The industry has lost its sense of public service and is now driven by finance. Today's goal is to fill a newscast without investing in any independent reporting (spending money.) An arrogant attitude exists: The audience will eat whatever we prepare for them because there are so few options on the menu. News directors often forget that viewers can opt to tune out entirely!

Is this threat totally without merit? I don't think so. America's callous news distribution system 'jumped the shark' the night Bush and Gore fought for votes in The State of Florida. I was in the belly of the beast that night, working in one of the election data centers of a major network. The panic I witnessed was a disturbing product of a serious disease. It was quite a moment. America's viewers indisputably had caught the news system with its pants down...way down! All anyone could say was: 'Oh my God! What do we do now?'

The election results consortium had called the state of Florida for Gore. Everyone ran with the news trying to upstage the competition. The result estimates proved wrong. The news broadcasters felt shame. After brief apology, it was back to business as usual. Unfortunately, this dry rot continues to weaken network news every day. Fact checking has become as obsolete as the typewriter. Without these necessary checks and balances the networks will never earn the public's trust.

So, what is the answer? It certainly isn't million dollar anchors and sets! It's CONTENT. News broadcasts need to be intriguing, essential and habit-forming with novel, aggressive and accurate independent reporting. Show me diversity in perspective. Tell me what I don't know. Tell me why this event counts. What is it like to be there? How will it affect me? What will make my life better? How can I help my kids? What should I know that I haven't heard of yet? It's primal and basic. The only reason these avenues are not pursued with zeal is money. No one wants to invest in building an audience by offering great reporting. All we get is fast food news: here today and gone tomorrow. You really want ratings? Broadcast what no one else is willing to work for - and - make it count!

Newscasts depend on building teams of loyal viewers. Have you ever recruited a team of workers? Each hire is another hard-earned step forward. It takes great effort and time to build long-term strength and reputation. News reporting is no different. Knowing the right people to contact can make your day! If your reporting is thin and superficial your audience will leave you in search of more satisfying meat. Word of mouth is powerful! Create it with your reporting!

And...the content needs to be relevant to the old and the young (read under 55 years old.) The three existing newscasts will need to change their demographic focus in the next ten years because most of their current audiences will die of old age! Don't the Senokot and Depends ads give you a clue? Your target audience has to broaden now!

My prescription: Use the 6:30 pm half hour as a loss leader to promote your Internet-delivered content. Become the pivotal source of information available on an immediate basis. Embrace new technologies like RSS to deliver your news. Appeal to a broad spectrum of age groups, young adults through seniors and sort the information appropriately. Make your service easy to use and search.

Right now, news junkies are on life-support barely surviving with the half-hearted attempts of CNN or Google News. Network news' Internet sites are cumbersome and clunky. I don't want to put clips into a playlist to discover what I should be able to access with one click. The three major networks all have about 180 affiliate stations each and deep resources (if they can discover how to manage them.) Spend your $15 million dollars to fund top reporters and crews who chase and discover revelatory news instead of lazily following up an AP news lead automatically placed in your lap! Doors will open and, who knows, ratings might follow!

It would be a national tragedy if our free press disintegrates any further. So little true investigative reporting creates a poorly informed public - and - a public who can be steered by a single source of news. The current alleged leaders in the network news business need to address their obligations to the public. Strong reporting has often served as an essential balance of power between government, business and the general populace. Without a strong press our freedoms are endangered (and so are the network's ratings!) Let's see some real reporting instead of processed white bread sludge. A reminder from the banner of The Old Grey Lady: Deliver 'all the news that's fit to print' and entice your audience to want more. Otherwise, we are all heading for the door!