AM Radio, Streaming Radio, FCC Spectrum Auction & the Future

6Every June, I set-off on a road trip back to New Jersey to speak at the annual New Jersey Broadcasters Convention and Gala in Atlantic City. The roundtrip spans 3-weeks and I drive over 3,000 miles.

This year on the drive up I listened to AM radio and on the drive back I listened to streaming radio. I’d like to share my thoughts with you about what I heard and observed, as well as ponder what the future of both might hold.

Small signal AM radio stations primarily identify themselves with their FM translator dial position (How’s that saving AM radio?). The “pups” are mostly syndicated, automated, religious, sports or Spanish. They aren’t very engaging, which is probably a good thing if you’re driving because you don’t care when you lose the signal. Oh, and just try to hear their translator FM signal; forgetaboutit.

The “big dawg” signals (Bill Bungeroth, former Cumulus Broadcasting president used the term “big dawgs” for those monster signal radio stations and “little pups” for everything else and that’s where I picked it up) on AM like WOWO in Ft Wayne, Indiana, WJR in Detroit, Michigan, WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio and KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are in another universe when it comes to radio programming.

While listening to WOWO, I heard a powerful morning show that was fun, engaging and tuned into the Ft Wayne area. WJR told me about Frankenmuth, Michigan while their midday show was broadcasting live from this unique resort town on the great lakes. WLW was talking about how the Cincinnati police were getting body cameras and how they were loaning them to the news folks in Cincinnati to wear and learn how they work. It was fascinating radio. And KDKA was a potpourri of information about all things Pittsburgh; thoroughly engaging and very enjoyable.

I rode each of these big dawg stations for hundreds of miles and enjoyed listening to them every minute. Each was different, unique, fun, engaging and LOCAL.

The observation I made was that maybe the AM band should be reserved for these high power AM signals that have the bench strength to do great radio.

My drive home started in Albany, New York. I drove back to my hometown in Western Massachusetts following the NJBA Convention and Gala to visit a close family member that had suffered a significant stroke. Thankfully, that situation is improving daily.

I decided my drive back to Kentucky would focus on the other kind of radio available these days; streaming radio. My streaming provider of choice is called Radio Tunes. I like this service because their music formats are curated by people who know and love their genres. Jimi King out of London, England curates the Smooth Jazz channels. Smooth Jazz is a format that has almost completely disappeared from America’s airwaves.

Side Note: WNUA in Chicago, Illinois was a top five radio station playing the Smooth Jazz format. That is until the PPM became the listener measurement currency in Chicago and the other top 48 American metros chasing this format off FM radio. Is Smooth Jazz a PPM unfriendly format for PPM encoding? Might a Voltaire have helped Smooth Jazz? Just asking.

My first day of my 15-hour drive back home allowed me to listen to this streaming radio station through my iPhone4S fed into my car’s audio system with no dropout, no buffering, no disruption of any kind. The audio fidelity beats anything coming out of AM or FM terrestrial radio or SiriusXM too.

On day two of my drive home, I again put on Radio Tunes’ Smooth Jazz channel knowing that Jimi King and Stephanie Sales would be hosting a LIVE 3-hour Smooth Jazz show (they do this every Sunday). This makes Radio Tunes into a real radio station, though I will admit that I love the channel mainly because of all the things it doesn’t do the other 165 hours a week. However, for three of the 7-hours of my second day’s drive, the companionship was really nice.

Again, I experienced no disruption to my listening as I proceeded from Maryland and through the state of West Virginia and into Kentucky. I carried Radio Tunes all the way into Lexington, Kentucky where I stopped to have some lunch.

While eating lunch it occurred to me how well my reception to streaming radio through my smartphone was. It’s scary good when you think about it. Excellent fidelity, no dropout, buffering or other disruptions.

Brian Solis recently spoke at the PromaxBDA Station Summit and told attendees:

“Disruption happens because someone innovated and innovation changes behavior. A good place to start is thinking about a mobile experience. 74% of businesses have no plans to optimize their sites for mobile viewing meaning they don’t have a plan to stay competitive in the increasingly mobile world. If most content experiences are starting here, then that experience needs to be reimagined.”

It wasn’t until I left Lexington that I found gaps in the cell service and finally gave up my experiment of listening to streaming radio through my smartphone in my car.

My observations were cell service is becoming ubiquitous. There are times when having the companionship of LIVE personalities are appreciated versus just streaming music without any talk. Your smartphone gets really hot when you stream on it continuously for a lot of hours. The data use for streaming audio is not huge, like streaming videos or downloading pictures and if all the cell companies make streaming audio free from a person’s data usage plan, it would provide a serious threat to over-the-air radio. Just as Netflix, HBO, Showtime and other OTT (over-the-top) TV services are proving a challenge to cable companies, OTT radio services could be just as challenging to the radio industry.

Then I read this article “Could LTE Broadcast Technology Supersede Over-The-Air Broadcasting?” Listen to what this technology can do:

“LTE Broadcast is based on the eMBMS (Evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service) point-to-multipoint interface specification developed for delivery of any content received by multiple viewers at the same time, including files and emergency alerts as well as broadcast video. The motive in all cases was to avoid consuming large amounts of bandwidth through transmission of the same data over multiple unicast sessions, which is particularly expensive in the case of HD video.”

Does that get your attention? Then read this second article “Further Consideration of LTE Broadcast”:

“LTE Broadcast is the most efficient mechanism to distribute the same content to many users, and is an important solution to address the 1000x data challenge. Initially focusing on venue-casting, LTE Broadcast can address many other media distribution such as software updates and breaking news. The evolution of LTE Broadcast makes it dynamic and more scalable, and in the long term, takes it even beyond mobile as a solution for next generation terrestrial TV.”

And anything done for TV is even simpler to do for radio.

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner has been reported saying:

“There is a widening skills gap where the existing workforce has been educated and trained to obtain jobs of yesterday and not the jobs of today and tomorrow.”

The broadcast game is rapidly moving to the cellular platform. If you’re wondering why Tim Cook is jazzed about Apple Music it’s because he understands broadcasting is entering a new era. The future belongs to those who can deliver superior content to the global village known as planet Earth.

Now which company do you think has a better chance of winning this race? Apple with $178 billion cash in the bank or, I don’t know, say iHeartMedia with $20.7 billion in debt?

The FCC’s spectrum auction is all about creating more spectrum for the mobile communication platform.

Now do you understand why spectrum is being reallocated?

3 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

3 responses to “AM Radio, Streaming Radio, FCC Spectrum Auction & the Future

  1. lp

    Another phenomenon should be mentioned: Brokered programming. Highest bidder is onair. Big Dawg 720 Vegas is 80% brokered asshats; sounds like crap. The Beasley station has not pulled in a full share in years.

    Like

  2. Five Thirty Eight dot com just published an very interesting blog post on PPM & Voltair worth your bandwidth.

    Here’s how the post starts:

    At the start of 2008, everything was going well at Chicago’s WNUA 95.5-FM. The smooth-jazz station ranked in the top five in the city in listeners age 25 to 54, and its research showed that the station had a passionate, loyal, engaged audience. “The arrows for WNUA were still pointing up,” said Rick O’Dell, a former host and program director at WNUA.

    But by July, arrows for WNUA and other smooth-jazz stations started pointing down, seemingly overnight in some cases. Ratings fell, sometimes sharply — down 20 percent for WNUA from the spring period. Advertisers fled. Station owners ditched the format, at WNUA and in just about every other major market.

    Read more here:

    http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/did-nielsen-kill-the-radio-star/

    Like

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