Tag Archives: Downton Abbey

Hope You Enjoy Your Stinkin’ Phones

Express FinalThat headline graced the cover of the final edition of Express, the free commuter paper published by The Washington Post. It was created only 16-years ago, as a free paper for commuters in the DC area to read on their daily metro commute into Washington. It all came to an end on Thursday, September 12, 2019.

“I’ve always known this day would come.”

-Dan Caccavaro, Executive Editor

The 130,000 daily circulation Express launched in 2003. At that point in time, iPhones weren’t even on anyone’s radar and Facebook was something only students at Harvard were using to communicate with their fellow classmates. The world had yet to be invaded by Tweets, SnapChats or Instagrams.

Those of us in business were getting our first Blackberry smartphones that allowed us to read our emails while away from our offices.

Flip Video

When it debuted in 2007, the Flip Ultra became the best-selling camcorder on Flip_VideoAmazon.com. It was so popular the line was taken over by Cisco in 2009. Fifteen improvements were made to the Flip video camcorders, until in 2011 when Cisco shut down the entire Flip Video division.

From its introduction as the “Pure Digital Point & Shoot” video camcorder on May 1, 2006, till it vanished only four short years later, the reasons for its demise can be traced to the same root disruption that took down the Express.

The introduction of the iPhone on January 9, 2007.

Downton Abbey Movie (No Spoiler Alert Needed)

This past Friday, Sue & I went to see the Downton Abbey movie. The theater was packed. Many of the movie’s patrons had not been in a movie theater in years, but due to this series airing on PBS and now all six seasons being available on Amazon Prime, legions of fans were heading off to their local movie houses.

“Studios ignore the maturing audience at their peril.”

-Hugh Bonneville, Lord Grantham in Downton Abbey

It’s not just the movie studios who are ignoring mature audiences, other forms of media would be well advised to sit-up and take notice.

The movie continues asking the central question raised by the television series; how does a place like Downton Abbey fit into the modern era? I’m sure It’s the same question every form of traditional media is asking themselves.

The Radio Corporation of America (RCA)

IMG_3994Following World War I, America saw a future in long-distance wireless telegraphy using high-power radio stations. In the United States, British owned Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America ruled the airwaves, but in order to stay competitive, it needed the new equipment for broadcast, manufactured by General Electric Company.

President Woodrow Wilson and the U.S. Navy decided that America needed to become the leader in global communications, convincing GE not to sell its equipment to Marconi, unless he agreed to give up his American based division to an all-American company.

That new company, RCA, would begin business on December 1, 1919. Its Chatham Radio, WCC (Wireless Cape Cod), became the largest U.S. maritime radio station. RCA succeeded in making America the leader in global radio communications.IMG_3974

2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Radio Corporation of America. RCA was reacquired by GE in 1985 who proceeded to breakup its assets. The RCA brand today is now owned by a French multinational corporation.IMG_3981

At one time, WCC was fully staffed with 30-people, most of them radio operators. Working around the clock, they would handle 1,000-messages a day. During the busy periods, as many as 10-operators would be on duty at the same time. The messages were all sent in Morse Code.

The radio station closed in 1997. The 100-acre site was sold to the town of Chatham, Massachusetts. The Chatham Marconi Maritime Center was founded in 2002 and operates the center as a museum and promotes the advancement of youth STEM education in the communications science.

Morse Code served as the international standard for maritime distress until 1999, and was replaced by the Global Maritime Distress Safety System. The French Navy ended its use of Morse Code in January 1997 with the final transmission “Calling all. This is our last cry before our eternal silence”. The final Morse code transmission in America was on July 12, 1999. The United States signed off its use with Samuel Morse’s original 1844 message, “What hath God wrought and the prosign “SK”. (The SK prosign was Morse code short-hand for “End of Contact” or “End of Work”.)

Commercial Radio Turns 100 in 2020

Next year, on November 2, 2020, commercial radio in America will celebrate its 100th birthday. That was the day that KDKA became the first commercially licensed radio station to begin broadcasting.kdka

Which brings me back to the Downton Abbey movie, which asks the question of great estates that I feel also applies to commercial radio stations, “Are we right to keep it all going, when the world it was built for is fading with every day that passes?”

“Hope is a tease designed to prevent us accepting reality.”

-Dowager Countess of Grantham

One has to wonder how long the style of radio that many of us grew up with will still be around. In many ways, it’s already disappeared, such as people being replaced by computerized automation. It’s much the same path that the radio station WCC experienced before it was closed down and turned into a museum.

To paraphrase the words of the Dowager Countess in dealing with the world’s only constant, change, and putting it in perspective; today’s broadcasters are the future of radio. The broadcasters who came before us lived different radio lives, and our descendants will live differently again. They will take over and build upon a communications world where we left off. Soon, today’s broadcasters will be the old curmudgeons keeping everyone up to the mark. I’m sure the future of communications will be an exciting time. “I think I shall prefer to rest in peace.”

“At my age, one must ration one’s excitement.”

-Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham

 

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The Competition for Attention

County_Cricket_BoardsA recent news item caught my attention. The English Cricket Board says “There are 200 million players of Fortnite…that is who we are competing against.” Welcome to the 21st Century and the attention economy, where everyone – yes, EVERYONE – is competing against everyone else. This blog competes for attention against not just other blogs, but everything else in our over mediated, world. It is our technology that has caused us to be over-saturated.

Blame Gutenberg

Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg was a German blacksmith, goldsmith and inventor. It was Gutenberg’s introduction of movable type and oil based ink printing that ushered in the communications revolution via his printing press. This was the beginning of mass communication.

Wireless Communication

The next big development would come in the form of wireless communication. First Marconi, turning wired Morse code into wireless transmission. Then the advent of voice communication followed by voice and picture communication via radio and television.

The series Downton Abbey perfectly captured how was received in the home during season five.

Smartphones

The introduction of the smartphone bumped the radio off its perch as the #1 invention of the 20th Century. The smartphone, along with the internet, changed the way we communicate with one another. They would destroy the original communications concept that professionals would communicate to amateurs. Those days are gone. Social Media Theorist, Clay Shirky, says “in a world where media is global, social, ubiquitous and cheap” and where audience is now a full participant in the communication process, it’s no longer about “creating a single message to be consumed by an individual but about creating an environment for convening and supporting groups.”

Gaming

The advent of online video gaming, such as Fortnite, is not just creating that environment for convening and supporting groups of like-minded video game players, but is competing for our time and attention. “There’s 200 million players of Fortnite,” says Sanjay Patel, managing director of The Hundred, part of the England and Wales Cricket Board. “That is who we are competing against. So, if you don’t interrupt young people in a different way, if you don’t engage them in a different way and you don’t talk to them in a different way, they’re not just going to automatically come into your sport.”

And it’s not just Cricket or something happening overseas, America’s national pastime, Major League Baseball, has seen an attendance drop of 233,000 at their ballparks from the same time period in 2018. And the 2019 NFL preseason opener, the Hall of Fame Game from Canton, Ohio broadcast on August 1st, looks to be at an all-time low in TV ratings, for the second year in a row. Down about 15% from last year’s game. Crikey, what does this mean?

Too Many Choices

We live in a world with too many choices and as broadcasters, we need to face that reality. Again, to quote Clay Shirky, “the decision we have to make is not whether this is the media environment we want to operate in, it’s the one we’ve got. The question we all face now is how can we make best use of this media?”

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They Bought a Wireless

Downton Abbey setting up wirelessI know that Downton Abbey premiered on PBS back in 2011, but at that time I was doing my own “Mr. Molesley career transition” (more on that in a moment) – from radio management to broadcast professor – in addition to moving from New Jersey to Kentucky, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to watch the series. Amazon Prime changed that for me in 2019 when I noticed it had made available the entire six seasons (52-episodes).

Downton Abbey will be coming out as a movie, advancing the story of the Crawley family in September of this year (and Sue & I can’t wait). The cast, the script and the characters are truly addicting on so many levels.

Technology Comes to Downton Abbey

The show is set in England from the period of 1912 through 1926. 1912 was the year that the Titanic sank and its sinking plays a role in the future of Downton Abbey. The sinking Titanicof the Titanic also set in motion more intense regulation of wireless communication for ships at sea. The Wireless Ship Act of 1910 only required ocean-going ships to carry radio equipment when visiting the United States and only required a single radio operator. That was amended after the Titanic sank in 1912 to include vessels traveling on the Great Lakes in addition to those on the oceans, plus requiring two radio operators with the wireless being manned around the clock.

Downton Abbey’s first toe-dip into the 20th Century would be electricity. In addition to electric lights, the kitchen at Downton would see its first electric toaster and mixer.

Then came the telephone, a sewing machine and refrigerator.

Watching the impact these new technological devices made on the people of Downton and how each accepted the change is one of the endearing elements of the program. Most times we only hear about how technology changed without considering the emotional impact it is having on people’s lives and futures.

Downton’s Wireless

It was in Season 5, the year 1924, that Lady Rose convinces the Earl of Grantham to buy a wireless (aka radio) for Downton Abbey. Lady Rose wants it for music and entertainment but convinces her uncle the house needs one because the King of England will be addressing the nation over the airwaves. The Earl decides to at least buy one of these devices so the family and staff could hear the King’s speech, but other than that see little need for a radio.

Downton-Abbey-5x2-listening-to-the-radioThe scene could not be more amazing, seeing everyone gathered around the awkward looking device in the great hall, much as many Americans do for a Super Bowl, waiting to hear the King. When he comes on, the family all stands at attention, in much the same way they would if they were in his presence to hear him speak.

When the address is over, the Earl of Grantham has the radio moved to another location in the castle that is out of the way.

Once again, the various members of the family and staff are shown emotionally reacting to this new form of media technology.

Technology’s Impact on the People of Downton Abbey

Contemporary problems with technology that affects people today, can be seen in a whole new way by witnessing its first impacts back in the days of Downton Abbey.

New technology, like the car, were replacing the need for horses. Stable caretakers and carriage men were yesterday, car mechanics and chauffers were the future.

These new labor saving devices now meant that it would take less staff to accomplish the work needed to be done. (I’m sure you can come up with many of your own examples of similar disruption at the places you’ve worked.)

Rising Costs

The burden of having to pay back the huge debts for England’s part in the First World War fell more upon the shoulders and bank accounts of the rich. Lack of able bodied men created demand and so their pay rose dramatically as competition for their labor increased.

The higher taxes being levied by Parliament combined with those higher labor costs caused the grand estates to downsize their staff while trying to survive and servants were encouraged to seek other employment.

We see through the people at Downton Abbey how acquiring new skills assured new employment opportunities.

MoseleyGetting back to Mr. Moseley, he’s a fine example of what I mean and how we are similar. The downsizing he encountered saw him go from a trained butler to a second footman to a laborer in the streets. He saw his working life as a series of steps down and not one that was advancing in stature and pay. But Mr. Moseley loved learning and once dreamed of being a teacher. An encounter with the local headmaster of the town’s school led Moseley to taking a series of exams which proved him to be an exceptional scholar and he was then awarded a teaching position with the school. Moseley’s life was now moving in a direction he only previously dreamed about.

Adapting to Change

The Downton Abbey series is something every person working in radio should watch. It has so many parallels to the disruptions that are going on in the broadcasting industry today, how they impact people emotionally, and how to deal with change.

We all like to wax romantically about a simpler time in history, when life moved at a slower more relaxed pace. Downton Abbey is an eye-opener to tell us that there never was such a time. Every moment has its challenges. Those who can rise to the challenge, succeed. Those who can’t or won’t, are put out to pasture.

Dowager

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