Tag Archives: climate change

What Do Radio Broadcasters & Almond Farmers Have In Common?

Last week, an article in The Atlantic titled “The Well Fixer’s Warning: The lesson that California never learns,” was a terrifying read about the water supply used to irrigate the almond orchards on the farms of Madera County. So many of the farm’s wells were coming up dry and the farmers were puzzled as to why water flowing out of their wells had been reduced to a trickle and were mostly producing sand.

Matt Angell is not only an almond farmer himself, but owns Madera Pumps, a company that drills wells and repairs well pumps. He knows that droughts, like the California sunshine go hand-in-hand, and as John Steinbeck wrote: “no one (forgets) the last drought faster than the farmer.”

Since the middle 1970s, almond farmers have persevered through at least five droughts and their solution to the problem was always the same – BUILD MORE DAMS.

BUILD MORE DAMS

Those three words stopped me cold. Who else thinks like this? Radio people, that’s who.

Today in America, there are now 26,076 radio stations on the air, 2,500 of these stations are broadcasting in HD which adds another 2,100 multicast radio channels to the mix. That’s about a 93% increase in the number of radio signals from when I started in high school.

The radio industry and almond farmers, have both felt that the way to grow is by adding more and more and more. Almond farmers added more acreage of almond trees and radio owners added more signals.

Aquifers

The dam reality was the San Joaquin River already had a half-a-dozen dams diverting its water, so the next solution to obtaining more water for almond irrigation was to drill down to the aquifers beneath the farmlands. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the farmers of Madera County to pump out the easily available ground water and see their wells coming up dry. As they were drilling deeper and deeper into the earth, a hidden lake beneath the farmlands was discovered in 2014. It was shocking to see it pumped dry in only seven years.

Angell noted that the snow on the mountain had melted two months earlier than “normal,” and the water level of the San Joaquin river was so low, it was now nothing more than a series of unconnected ponds as well as the wells – residential, business and farming – all over the community were running dry.

The reality is, the Madera County underground water table is one of the most over-tapped aquifers in the West, and all those wells had depleted the underground water source, causing the aquifer to collapse.

The Advertising Pie

It was before the COVID19 pandemic gripped our world, Gordon Borrell hosted a webinar back in early 2019 and told of how the media pie (the radio industry’s aquifer, if you will) is over-tapped.

To put things in perspective, Gordon shared how an over-populated media landscape is impacting local advertisers.

  • 1,300 daily newspapers, 6,500 weeklies
  • 4,700 printed directory books
  • 4,665 AM radio stations, 6,757 commercial FM radio stations
  • 1,760 Class A TV stations
  • More than 1,000 cable systems with local sales staffs
  • 660,000 podcasts were actively produced in 2018
  • 495 NEW TV shows were introduced last year in addition to what’s already on
  • PLUS, local ad sales are taking place on Facebook, Google and Amazon

Same Old Answer

Despite the fact that the water from the aquifer and river was being depleted by droughts, climate change and being over-tapped, the almond farmers’ answer was always the same, said Mark Angell, “Plant more almonds and pistachios. Plant more housing tracts on farmland. But the river isn’t the same. The aquifer isn’t the same.”

Listen to radio owners, and they will tell you they too need more and more radio signals in order to stay viable, despite the fact that the advertising pie is finite and media supported by advertising continues to expand exponentially.

“I used to use the word unprecedented to describe what we’re doing to the land,” said Angell, but “now I use the word biblical.” Is it any different for radio broadcasters?

The Solution

For the nut farmers of Madera County, the solution is a hard pill to swallow, it’s “to figure out a way to retire one million acres of the six million farmed, “otherwise, we’re looking at a race to the bottom,” said Angell.

For radio broadcasters, Gordon Borrell said the solution to the future of media expenditures would be a process of “thinning the herd.”

The way advertising buyers are responding to a world of media abundance, Borrell says, is by:

  • Decreasing the number of companies from which they buy advertising from 5 to 3.5, and
  • 90% of their media buys are being made with companies who can bundle traditional and digital advertising.

Killing the Golden Goose

Do you remember the Aesop fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs? Let me refresh your memory of this tale. It’s about a farmer that was poor. One day he makes a startling discovery when he finds a golden egg in the nest of his pet goose. Skeptical at first, he has the egg tested and finds that it is indeed made of pure gold. Even more amazing, each day this farmer awakes to find that his goose has laid another golden egg. In very short order, this poor farmer becomes fabulously wealthy. But then his wealth brings greed and impatience. No longer satisfied with just one golden egg per day, the farmer cuts open his goose to harvest all of its golden eggs at once only to find the goose is empty inside. With a now dead goose, there will be no more golden eggs laid.

In remembering this fable, it sounded so familiar to the world of radio broadcasting and almond farmers. Both possessed a wonderful “goose” that laid daily “golden eggs.”

Unfortunately for almond farmers, in wanting more, they are killing their water supply, and for broadcasters not wishing to wait for each day’s golden egg, cut open their goose beginning with the Telcom Act of 1996, that allowed them to own as many radio stations as they basically wished.

The moral of Aesop’s fable is if you focus only on the golden eggs and neglect the goose that lays them, you will soon be without the very asset that produces the golden eggs.

The radio industry’s quest for short-term returns, or results, took their free FCC licenses and ruined them by not maintaining the balance between the production of desired results and the production capacity of the asset.

Aesop’s fable is the very principle of effectiveness. It’s a natural law. Like gravity, you don’t have to believe in it or understand its principles, but you can never escape its effects.

Radio broadcasters probably saw the moral of the fable being the more geese you own, the more spots you add to the hour, the more effective your R.O.I. (Return On Investment) will be.

Almond farmers saw the moral of the fable as planting more trees, install more powerful pumps to withdraw more water and watch your R.O.I. grow.

But ironically, it is the principle of “Less Is More” that in the end rules the day.

To be truly effective, you need to maintain the balance of what is produced (golden eggs/revenue) and the producing asset (your goose/radio station/almond trees).

Everything in excess

is opposed to nature.

-Hippocrates

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The Butterfly Effect

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the butterfly effect “as a property of chaotic systems (such as the atmosphere) by which small changes in initial conditions can lead to large-scale and unpredictable variation in the future state of the system.”

Mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz found that a very small change in initial conditions could create a significantly different outcome as he studied how data, that had been rounded in a seemingly inconsequential manner, greatly impacted the outcome. In other words, a very small change in the initial conditions created significantly different outcomes.

The concept, that small causes may have large impacts to weather patterns was also studied by French mathematician and engineer Henri Poincaré and American mathematician and philosopher Norbert Wiener.

The butterfly effect concept is now often applied to any situation where a small change is supposed to be the cause of larger consequences.

Speed Limits

Last week, Sue & I traveled to North Jersey for another granddaughter’s birthday. What we noticed as we drove the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway was that traveling the speed limit made us a “road hazard.” Even traveling 5 or 10 miles over the posted speed limit saw our car being passed as if we were standing still.

It made us wonder, how fast does one need to exceed the speed limit to be pulled over by a New Jersey State Trooper? Does everyone breaking the law, make it alright? Does speeding in one’s car have implications for other aspect of our lives?

Bicycling on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City

Growing up, my family enjoyed vacationing in Atlantic City. I remember rising early in the morning and heading to one of the many bicycle rental shops to ride the boards as the sun came up. In the 60s, bike riding was only permitted between the hours of 6 and 10am, and anyone caught riding a bike after 10am was immediately escorted off the boardwalk.

In July, 2016, the hours for riding bikes on the boardwalk were extended from 6am to 12 Noon.

But Sue & I, along with other pedestrians would find ourselves constantly dodging bicycles at all hours of the day and night as we strolled the boards and no one seemed to be enforcing the rules.

But it wasn’t just bicycles, people were also playing loud music, drinking alcoholic beverages, riding skateboards and walking their dogs along this world famous boardwalk.

Simple rules for the good of all, and no one enforcing them. Did these people think that because they can exceed the speed limit when driving, they can ignore other regulations too?

Wearing Face Masks

The places we stayed at, all had signs stating that face masks must be worn by everyone while inside the building, yet most people didn’t wear a mask. Some that did wear them, wore them below their nose or under their chin, which amounts to the same thing as not wearing one at all.

Is the reason we can’t get people to do this simple preventative measure, stem from the fact that we are okay with people doing their own thing, regardless of the consequences?

Climate Change

When we were out on the west coast for our oldest granddaughter’s high school graduation in Oak Harbor, Washington, we experienced the heat dome that impacted the northwest back in June.

It was dangerously hot, but it didn’t just happen by itself. It happened because like the disregard we show for speed limits posted on our roadways, the lack of respect we give to rules about when we can ride a bicycle on a crowded boardwalk, whether our discomfort in wearing a face mask outweighs infecting another person with the Delta virus, we continue to ignore the impact we’re having on the climate of the only planet humans have to inhabit.

To change the world, we must all first start with changing ourselves.

Speaking of change…

Radio on the Beach & Boardwalk

Walking the boardwalk, back in the 80s and 90s when I managed radio stations in Atlantic City, you heard radios playing all over the beach and every boardwalk store you entered, but that was then. Today what you hear are advertisements for casino shows, restaurants, and other coming attractions coming from digital signs with speakers placed every couple of feet along the boardwalk or music coming from the speakers placed in front of the various boardwalk casinos that broadcast messages to come inside.

Again, it’s worth noting that in each place we stayed, our rooms came equipped with high-speed internet and flat screen high definition television sets, but not a radio in sight.

Where Have All the DJs Gone?

Spinning the radio dial in my car, I was sad to hear nothing but songs, commercials, promos and jingles. The radio personality has vanished from most radio stations.

Pipe Organs and Radio Stations

At 12Noon every weekday, Boardwalk Hall offers a free 30-minute organ concert featuring the World’s Largest Pipe Organ. Sue and I have walked through the inside of this mammoth instrument and enjoyed hearing it stir our souls.

It occurred to me that maybe the reason I so love giant pipe organs is because sitting at the console of one these beasts, is like being surrounded by turntables, cart machines, reel-to-reel recorders and the master control board at a radio station.

Nothing happens from either, until a talented performer takes command and makes the magic happen.

I’m happy to report that we were entertained by a 19-year old organist last week who made the Midmer-Losh Boardwalk Hall pipe organ with 33,112 pipes and 449 voices that are all controlled from a seven-keyboard console on the arena’s main stage come alive.

I only wish I could say the same for radio stations we listened to, which today all are running without a new generation of broadcasters plying their trade. Most are simply running on auto-pilot.

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