Radio, the Same on Every Device, It’s Time

Once upon a time, cars were steered by a stick. The throttle was located on the steering wheel. The high beams switch was located on the floor. And it was different in every car. Computers started off all being different just like the software programs they operated. Today, the only real learning curve is switching between Microsoft and Apple for computers or Apple and Android for smartphones and even they aren’t all that different anymore.

It’s time for radio to standardize.

AM, FM, DAB, DAB+, HD Radio, HD2, HD3, HD4, Streaming….it’s insane. It’s confusing.

Norway, a country about the size of New Mexico has decided to standardize radio around the digital broadcast format. No more AM or FM, just digital. This caused uproar around the globe, but aren’t the Viking folks really doing radio in their country a favor? Standardizing around a single format?

Just imagine if the world operated on a standardized radio platform? All car manufacturers could build a universal radio platform into their vehicle dashboards worldwide and smartphones could all be designed to be used as radios anywhere in the world. Computers, tablets and even radios could all be on the same platform. Less variation in the method of transmission would be more impact.

Likewise, radio programming from any single source should be the same on all devices, not one way over-the-air and another way if you pick up the same broadcast on a stream. If you want to listen to a radio station in Los Angeles and you’re in Boston, you should hear everything being broadcast by that LA radio station. For the incremental dollars, broadcast radio stations degrade their streams with bumpy transitions, high repetition of nonsense filler material and just plain too long breaks; especially compared to commercial breaks on the pureplays.

The pureplays are paying 100% attention to their streams because it’s all they have. Broadcast radio stations handle their streams as an afterthought; if they even give them that much attention.

Hindsight is 20/20. Without changing, historians of broadcasting might one day say “What were they thinking?”

Radio owners and operators need to employ a technique called “premortem.”  What you do is imagine yourself in the future after your project has crashed and burned. In radio’s case, that would be to imagine that AM/FM broadcast radio has ended. The drill is to assume the patient died. You’re screwed. Everything that could go wrong did. You start there and ask “Why?”

Attacking the problem in this manner allows people to freely speak to the reasons things failed without retribution. You can’t kill a patient that’s already dead. See the magic in this exercise?

How could radio be improved on all platforms with this kind of thinking today?

I talk with lots of radio folks every week and in a hushed whisper they will freely share what they know to be wrong with radio today. But they in essence are “winking in the dark” and no one is stepping forward to say “the emperor has no clothes.”

Well here’s a way to do get everyone playing “devil’s advocate” and brainstorming ideas to improve radio programming, delivery and standardization.

If not now, when?

35 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio

35 responses to “Radio, the Same on Every Device, It’s Time

  1. The problem is less about adopting a standard format, although the idea has merit, and more about business models, corporate silos and managers protecting their turf.

    Like

  2. In this blog, Dick mentions Norway and them going to all Digital radio, which is fine… in theory…

    The problem(or at least one of them, at least to me) with going to all digital or something similar in the U.S. is that the price of a cheapie pocket radio or walkman is much cheaper then a digital or HD portable radio.

    For example: at Rite Aid, Walgreens, Bartell Drugs(a regional drug store chain in the Seattle area) you can find a pocket AM/FM radio or a Walkman or something similar costs in the neighborhood of 15-20 bucks, which is a decent price for most people who listen to radio.

    However, if you want a portable HD radio for example, the cheapest one you can purchase is 50 dollars, at least its 50 dollars on Best Buy’s website. If the radio industry wants to start considering going to all digital radio in the U.S., they need to decrease the prices of portable HD radios or all digital radios, maybe to around 30 or 40 dollars.

    It sounds weird I know, but I still see a lot of people with portable radios out there and unless you decrease the prices on digital radios or HD radios, you’re not going to get a lot of people going to a store or going online to get an HD radio or a digital radio.

    Like

  3. sarexpert

    There are now single chip receiver solutions that will decode ALL systems, and do it on battery power. They can play, DAB, DAB+ DRM-30, DRM+, HD, FMeXtra, AM, AM stereo!, FM and SCA as long as the right firmware is loaded in the flash memory. It is even possible (although not with the chips on the street) to upload the firmware over the air to take advantage of better codecs, better ideas for presentation and side channels, etc. The addition of a WIFI receiver would be only a small additional cost.
    So what is the problem? I see two –
    The chipsets cost far too much – in current production volume the chip cost remains at tens of dollars. Based upon the amount of silicon, they should cost less than $2, but the high cost of development is now spread out over tens of thousands of units, not hundreds of millions of units. All India Radio will be building millions of radios to receive their DRM30 national service along with their metropolitan FM service. Chip costs will plummet.
    The second problem is also one of cost. Here in the USA, every radio that includes HD Radio includes a substantial license fee to Ibiquity.
    In Europe DAB has had acceptance problems partly because its obsolete MP2 codec sounds crappier than FM. DAB+ sounds better than FM because it uses the HE-AAC v2 codec. DAB+ is not getting traction because although many receiver manufacturers build radios using DAB+ capable chips, they disable them to avoid the HE-AAC v2 license fees. This example bodes poorly for any closed system that collects substantial royalties that load the cost of receivers.
    So what is the solution?
    All radios manufactured or imported into the USA with a retail price over $10 should be required to receive or be able to be field upgradable to receive any systems that are legal to transmit in the USA: AM, FM, DRM30, DRM+, HD Radio, and FMeXtra. DAB and DAB+ is already built into the multi-system chips, so if the front end includes the DAB frequencies it can work in Europe too. The field upgrade feature can also make the radios able to upgrade to use newer, more efficient codecs and broadcast systems to accommodate interactive features, such as micro-payment purchase systems, graphics to augment programs, surveys and contests, automatic mobile program format finding, etc.
    If WIFI is included too, (and I consider this essential for other reasons) it would also be possible to buy the DAB+ HE-AAC v2 fee and iBiquity HD licenses over the air, so the consumer would have the power to add the features they want a la carte.
    All system, field configurable radios are one critical path for long term success of broadcast radio. There are business model changes that are needed, but without the receiver infrastructure all will be lost, and radio will go the way of the steam engine, clipper ship and cassette tape.

    Ted Schober, PE

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Re: “…no one is stepping forward to say “the emperor has no clothes.”

    Dick:

    We have a huge disagreement on this statement; plenty of people have called out the emperor. When they do they are shunned – treated as the Amish do with members who don’t follow the group.

    Larry Rosin – President, Edison Research commented in 2013: “It’s not that long ago, when there was a Code of Omerta in the radio industry, where if you point out a problem, you are the problem.” Nothing has changed since then. There is still much denying denial.

    More than adequate warnings for change have been posted for 15 years. Ironically, in an industry that depends on listening its leaders don’t.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ken, you make good points. I should have probably said “no one believes the folks saying ‘the emperor has no clothes.’ ”

      Thank you for weighing in on the discussion.

      Like

    • spotmagicsolis

      I learned never to disagree with Ken. He has magical powers I want to someday use. Oh and yes there has been bitching but nothing has happened because no one has a good solution.

      Like

      • Ken is an incredible radio guy who also saw the future of the Internet before most everyone else in radio.

        Had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Ken & wife in in June as I was driving through the Cleveland area and we had the best time debating and challenging one another on all things radio & Internet.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. The big problem is the lack of management talent

    Many market managers focus on meeting the quarterly sales goal, not doing great radio.

    Many of the great radio minds where right-sized out of jobs by the bean counters

    Now, who is left to take radio where it needs to go?

    Kinda pathetic, actually.

    ΔV

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dimitri great observation. Some managers were hired because they excelled at sales in another industry but didn’t know beans about radio.

      Radio looks easy, because there were season pros who knew how to do it right.

      Ironically, it’s NOT an easy business and the skill-set needed is HUGE.

      Like

    • spotmagicsolis

      managers all report to a higher authority.

      Like

  6. John E Ellis

    Lack of attention to the product has been radio’s biggest problem for a long time. Great radio is easy, hire talented people and let them do their thing. This requires human beings something radio has failed to invest in since consolidation occurred. Also raise rates and cut spot loads. This isn’t rocket science.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Attention to detail is critical however. In this 50th anniversary year of 93 KHJ, I wrote about that very subject here: https://dicktaylorblog.com/2015/04/05/attention-to-detail/

      Ron Jacobs has become a FB friend of mine and I had the opportunity to chat with him via phone too. He’s a genius. He knows the “rocket science” of GREAT radio.

      Buy his book on Amazon and read it.

      He’s forgotten more than most of us will ever know.

      Like

    • spotmagicsolis

      You are correct of course, John, and this has been repeated by everyone for years. Radio got soft and lazy after so many years and creativity was lost. Plus, now things are evolving and radio will have to adapt and be creative too.

      Like

  7. Dick – sorry to disagree, but I think you’re wrong.

    Norway isn’t standardizing on broadcast platforms. They’re just turning one off. And they’ve done this before – they essentially turned AM off a long time ago. In 2017 it’ll be the time to turn off FM for most listeners. But radio will still be available on DAB+, through the TV, and online. And some smaller stations (about 5% of TSL) will continue on FM. There’s no standardization there!

    “sarexpert” is correct that multi-standard chipsets can already cope with global broadcast standards: and right that patent costs make this difficult to achieve everywhere. But that doesn’t fix the issue: because the way most radio manufacturers do this is to have a set of buttons on the unit: AM, FM, XM, DAB+, etc. So to listen to a radio station you need to know what it broadcasts on, a fiddly channel number or frequency, and even an HD subchannel. THIS is what’s wrong. And THIS is what we need to fix.

    I shouldn’t care whether I can get WPLJ on FM, on an HD subchannel, or on the internet. My radio should know, and my radio should give me a simple way of tuning in to WPLJ – by selecting “WPLJ” on the screen. And then my radio should keep tuned in – which might mean occasionally using my mobile phone as the FM signal disappears in tunnels, or discovering an HD2 translator somewhere that happens to have a better signal.

    The good news is that this is already happening. Samsung mobile phones in Europe switch between FM and IP, automatically, using RadioDNS – a hybrid technology that I co-founded. And the UK Radioplayer project is currently working on a car receiver that switches between FM, DAB+ and IP – seamlessly. It’s on field tests at the moment.

    The job we have to do, as radio, is to make the radio experience better – both what’s on the radio, of course, but also how to tune in. Your local cable company isn’t leaving their user interface up to others. Nor’s DirecTV. Nor does Apple. But radio? We don’t seem to care what kind of user experience manufacturers offer our listeners. Some of the Korean implementations of DAB make me scream with frustration. And some of the British implementations, too.

    It’s time to step up to the plate and make radio a better experience. THAT’s what’s needed. Not a standardization of broadcasting platforms.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank You James for that detailed reply.

      I see most of the folks responding focused on the technical aspects of my thoughts. I like the way you phrased it better than the way I did, in terms of our radio should not care about where the signal is coming from, it should just pick it up and stay with the programming we want to hear.

      The bigger point is that radio stations need to send the identical programming – commercials included – everywhere they are.

      Here in the USA, streams of over-the-air radio stations break away from their AM or FM broadcasts to feed separate commercial programming over the Internet.

      I’m well aware of the issues surrounding the broadcasting of commercials and I’m not going to elaborate on that here, but suffice it to say, fixing this problem would make for a better online experience of over-the-air radio stations streams.

      Likewise over-the-air broadcasters need to listen to the competition – the pureplays – and know that the commercial loads they compete against online IS being notice by the radio consumer.

      Thank You James for reading and contributing to the discussion.

      Like

      • >The bigger point is that radio stations need to send the identical programming – commercials included – everywhere they are.

        Again, respectfully, I disagree. If stations know, because I’m logged in, that my auto insurance isn’t due for 10 months, then PLEASE spare me the damn GEICO ads. Why not tell me whether any local dealer has a special on the refrigerator I have just been searching for? (And if this sounds too good to be true – there are already stations doing this).

        >Here in the USA, streams of over-the-air radio stations break away from their AM or FM broadcasts to feed separate commercial programming over the Internet … fixing this problem would make for a better online experience of over-the-air radio stations streams

        The fix isn’t making the ads the same. The fix is a better experience: not ‘replacing’ the ads, but simply playing different ads whether you’re listening on-air or on-line – and taking the same amount of care in scheduling each.

        In the UK, listen to Capital in London, in Glasgow or in Yorkshire, and the station carried identical programming, but local ads. It’s flawless. It works perfectly. And occasionally, the (networked) presenter will even do a different link in Yorkshire. That, again, works flawlessly too.

        This is both a playout issue and an issue of stations not taking online as seriously as onair. There shouldn’t be any “breaking away”, in short – that’s the problem to be fixed.

        Thanks for the debate – I think this is an AllAccess column idea! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • James we agree and we disagree.

        Where I respectfully disagree is your GEICO example. I’m a disciple (and graduate of the Wizard Academy) of Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads.

        Selling insurance is a lot like selling jewelry, only with jewelry, unlike insurance, it’s not something you really have to have. So what’s the best way to sell these kinds of products?

        Before Roy started working with jewelers, everyone knew that the time to advertiser was mid-November thru December because that’s when the lion’s share of jewelry is sold. Roy pioneered jewelry store advertising everyday of the year, with some bulking up on the ads around critical times of the year. His jewelry stores became leaders in their marketplaces.

        You have to win the consumer’s heart and their mind/pocketbook will follow. And do do that – just like Pavlov taught dogs to salivate when they heard a bell ring – is done over time. You have to cultivate that desire.

        Where we agree is insuring the listener has a smooth, enjoyable experience.

        My only exposure to ad insertion has been that which is practice here in the States and that IS NOT a pleasant experience!

        What you describe in this part of your comments strikes me right and I’d be all for that.

        Yes, sounds like a great idea for an ALLAccess column for you to write and get American broadcasters thinking differently; thinking better listener experience.

        Thank you for making this a stimulating discussion.

        Liked by 1 person

    • spotmagicsolis

      James, you shouldn’t crush someone with an opening like that. To have the great James Cridland comment on your blog is pretty cool though but be nice to Dick. Plus, I think you may be surprised one day to find out none of this format stuff matters when everything is delivered one way. It’s simply audio over IP.

      Liked by 1 person

    • spotmagicsolis

      I don’t understand why I can’t reply to the posts below. There’s no reply button on your two reply comments and that sucks. First off, James is talking about 2 things. The second thing with the local insertions is a piece of cake with better technology. There is a lot of crappy software out there still-don’t ask me why– but I’m happy to fix that problem. AND the first thing you mention is quite different from anything going on in radio at the moment which still has a few good years left of dumb delivery. To do what you are proposing has been around for many years (remember the milk carton telling you when it’s time to buy more?) and look how slow it is becoming a reality. It will, of course but let’s solve the radio problem of getting it to a place where it can utilize these technologies first. But back to your star trek world: The marketers have their own problems to work out (did I mention crappy software?) with privacy issues and reliable reportage back to the sponsors…so again, it’s going to be awhile even for the online side. And thankfully, radio has some time for some of these problems to get addressed.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. spotmagicsolis

    Reblogged this on Synchronicity is taking terrestrial radio into a *better* digital future. and commented:
    An excellent way to think about the problem for #radio’s future. Kudo’s for suggesting this idea, Dick Taylor!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. spotmagicsolis

    Great idea. I reblogged it (not that anyone reads mine, lol.) But That’s just another reason why you are such a helpful friend, Dick! Of course there have been several brain trusts attempted in the recent past. Eric Rhoads tried one. And Smulyan came up with his play. But mostly we still don’t hear about collective ideas or any collaborative progress made. Whatever people develop, I hope it’s an all inclusive solution. The goal is to make the pie bigger, not smaller. Have you read Disuption by Design by Paul Peatz, yet? He talks about the pie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Robin. I put that book on my Amazon Wish List. Once I get through my current Kindle books already downloaded, then I will tackle that one.

      Thank You for the reminder.

      And I agree with you about expanding the pie for broadcasters. That should be everyone’s goal.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s