Tag Archives: FM

The Birth of Radio in America

Early Radio ListeningWhen World War I ended, it didn’t go unnoticed what a powerful role radio communication had played in the outcome. Led by the General Electric Company, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was formed in October of 1919. With guidance from the federal government, RCA brought together GE, Westinghouse, and AT&T to develop the radio broadcasting industry in the United States.

In the early 1920s, no one knew what radio might become. RCA would be the entity to coordinate the manufacturing and sales of all radio receivers. They held all the patents from GE, Westinghouse and AT&T and it was RCA that would authorize others to use these patents to produce radio receivers, as well as collect and distribute the royalties to the patent owners. GE, Westinghouse and AT&T could manufacture equipment for their own use, as well as build and operate their own radio stations.

The Interstate Commerce Commission

Initially, the regulation of radio broadcasting fell under the jurisdiction of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). In 1920, interest in broadcasting ranged from amateurs to experimenters and businesses. Some talked, some played music, and some began broadcasting news of local interest and weather reports. In an effort to bring some order to what had become a chaotic broadcasting environment, the ICC decided to place amateur broadcasters into the less desirable air space, below 200-meters, as well as restrict the type of broadcasting they could air. Amateur broadcasters had to agree that their radio stations could no longer air weather or market reports, music concerts, entertainment, speeches, news or other similar information. The ICC would begin to issue a new broadcast license on the 360-meter band for radio broadcasters that would be licensed to provide such services. All the members of RCA, including RCA itself, would begin to build radio stations. Westinghouse would be the first to establish one of these new radio stations, with their own inhouse amateur radio enthusiast Dr. Frank Conrad, and what became KDKA in Pittsburgh on November 2, 1920. Westinghouse followed this station with WBZ in Springfield, Massachusetts and WJZ in Newark, New Jersey.

However, Westinghouse management quickly realized that merely providing a superior broadcast service, which would create demand by the public to buy the new radio receivers they manufactured, would be futile if their broadcasts were harassed and interrupted by uncontrolled amateurs disrupting their ability to be heard.

Quality vs. Quantity

The ICC now had a new problem on its hands. Broadcasters interfering with other broadcasters, and what kind of culture should America’s new, growing middle class, be hearing through their radio sets? Since the decision had been made to not have radio be government controlled in the United States, broadcasters said they needed the government to regulate radio in order to help establish order and control.

Westinghouse proposed a solution to the ICC, to create two classes of commercial radio service.

Broadcasters on the current 360-meter band would become Class A broadcasters and a new service on the 400-meter band would be reserved for Class B broadcasters.

In order to qualify as a Class B broadcaster and receive higher power authority (500 to 1,000 watts), the licensee would need to never play phonograph records on the air, or any other kind of recorded material. Class B broadcasters would only air live talent and performances. Such a requirement would insure the public was receiving radio entertainment that was unique and original and not available on any other radio station.

The new license would also mean that only wealthier and more established organizations would be able to afford to operate radio stations under these new conditions.

Westinghouse’s concept, having government and business working together, was a way to “improve” radio broadcasting through restricting it to “responsible” parties without stepping on anyone’s First Amendment rights as to what a radio broadcast should consist of.

The Radio Act of 1927

This act laid the foundation for what radio broadcasting in America would be for the next several decades. The first being that radio broadcasting would not be open to everyone, but restricted based on quality. The feeling being that Americans would be better served by a few quality broadcast radio stations, rather than a plethora of mediocre ones. The new act also introduced the hard to define concept of “operating in the public interest.”

Radio, unlike newspapers or the movies, was to become a government regulated medium, with decisions about quality and public interest being made through an alliance of government and private interests.

And it was with the Radio Act of 1927, that America decided that radio broadcasting would be a commercial medium operated in private hands. Radio would support itself through the selling of advertising.

Today’s Radio Marketplace

From June 1927, when 705 commercial radio stations were on-the-air in America (all on the AM band and most with transmitter power of under 1,000-watts) to June 2019, we now have 25,819 radio stations (21,209 FM / 4,610 AM) with transmitter power up to 100,000-watts on the FM band and 50,000-watts on the AM band.

The concept of quality over quantity is certainly no longer the guiding principle.

The Ad Pie

As I read about how radio revenues are doing, I’m struck that both public and private radio broadcasting companies are reporting that local advertising revenue is dismal for Q2. However, major radio stations that enjoy eating from the national trough, saw this category of advertising as their only bright spot for radio ad revenue.

While digital revenue is hoped to be a new area to grow advertising revenues for radio broadcasters, the reality is that Facebook, Google and Amazon are already gobbling up about 90% of those dollars, so how fertile is this area for broadcast radio?

Reading comments being made about radio advertising conditions, I was struck by what Beth Neuhoff, CEO of Neuhoff Communications had to say when Radio Ink asked her, “what are local advertisers saying about the economy?” She responded by saying: “Local advertisers seem less focused on the economy and more concerned about over-saturation of the competitive landscape.”

It’s something that I believe the radio industry should be just as concerned about when it comes to OTA (over the air) broadcasting.

Gone are the days when putting another broadcast station on-the-air is a license to print money. People who aren’t use to quality, always will chase quantity.

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The Voice Interface

Siri Voice InterfaceThis week I sat in on the Fred Jacobs webinar “Mobile Strategy for Radio: What we learned from Techsurvey 2019” and the #1 take away was “voice (not just smart speakers) is the next important user interface at home and in the car.”

I wasn’t surprised.

The Lowest Common Denominator

Here’s where we can expect technology to be headed to accommodate the next billion users that will be joining the digital media party. The next internet addicted people are those living in the developing world, the ones that will be shaping the internet over the next five years or less. They will be impacting ALL internet and mobile users.

What are the characteristics of these folks?

  • Literacy: lower levels of literacy will require different interfaces.
  • Language: a greater variety of language needs will inspire new content formats.
  • Technology: varying devices & connections will impact content format.
  • Motivations: new wants, needs, and desires will inspire new products & services.

Most of today’s internet is text based, but as populations of lower literacy levels sign-on, that will change this. Voice commands, image search and video content will become more dominant in the near future.

Economies of Scale

Technology companies are already working to have all devices and interfaces operate the same way on a global basis. Everything will be designed to cater to the lowest common denominator because it makes fiscal sense. It’s already happening on Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon.

Why Apple won’t ever put FM receivers into their iPhones.

FM, HD Radio, DAB and DAB+ are all different standards for broadcasting OTA radio signals and do not meet the test of a global standard.

The Next Internet Revolution is Coming

Look for the next billion to drive the next internet revolution in the areas of:

  • Search: SEO will look very different for voice-centric search.
  • Social: People’s social media interactions will be more video than text.
  • Shopping: E-commerce orders will depend on spoken word.
  • Addressing: URLs & Hyperlinks will move from text to image.

Convergence

Something I researched back when I was an undergrad, convergence, is coming to fruition in my lifetime. Every form of media will be delivered over the same pathway and received on the same type of device plus it will be on-demand and on our schedule, not the creator’s schedule.

Fred’s latest webinar shows that were deep into this transition.

If you’d like to take a Deep Dive into this subject, watch this Hootsuite webinar from 2018 HERE

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Colleges That Give-up Their FCC License

fcc-logoI recently wrote an article for Radio World about the impact of colleges that sold their student radio station’s FCC license had on the pedagogical program at those institutions. You can read that article in Radio World here.

 

 

Today, I’d like to share with you something else I learned in talking with educators from around the country while researching this article. The FM license in every case connected the student station to the community. It was the heart and soul of the operation. When the license was sold and the station would become an online Internet only radio station it lost that connection.

 

Now the irony is that all of these student radio stations didn’t stop broadcasting over the FM band and then become Internet radio stations. No, they already had been streaming on the Internet and had listeners from all over the world in many cases. So why didn’t that continue to sustain these radio stations?

 

Let me make a comparison to help you understand this a little better. When you buy a magazine, do you read only one article and then toss it away or do you turn all the pages and look at other things in addition to that cover story that first attracted your attention and caused you to purchase the magazine? You read, if only skimming, the entire magazine. You spent time with that publication and became a little more invested in it. If you subscribe to the magazine this would be akin to being a P1 listener to a radio station.

 

When you see an article from a magazine online do you read the whole magazine or just the article that captured your attention and then leave? You do what we all do. It’s one and done. No investment in the magazine, just the article.

 

Well, what I learned is that it apparently isn’t all that much different when it comes to student streaming radio stations. It’s more of a hit and run.

 

There’s also a problem with student online radio stations in that they have limited connection capacity in most cases. That means only a limited number of people can listen to the stream, unless the college makes a big investment in expanding the capacity in the number of listeners can be connected at the same time. This is somewhat solved if a student station goes with a large online aggregator like TuneIn or Live365.

 

But let’s be real, when you enter a store and everything in the place is priced the same – FREE – which would you chose? The best you could find. Good Luck student stations.

 

Contrast that with student radio stations that broadcast over FM radio. What you find is that they are now only competing within the local community of service and in that playing field, have a chance to break through and be heard.

 

Over 92% of Americans 12-years of age and older still have the radio habit and listen every week. When it comes to listening to streaming stations on the Internet the percentage of penetration doesn’t come close. And those that do listen to streaming Internet music are very likely tuned to Pandora, if the current data available about such things is to be believed.

 

Another thing I heard was how more and more of these student radio stations were working to get a LPFM license so they could return to the air on the FM radios in their community.

 

When Zane Lowe was getting ready to launch Apple’s Beats1, he told the trades that a big part of the three months leading up to the launch was spent trying to come up with a better name for the new service than radio. They couldn’t do it.

 

Radio is the brand, because it works.

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What if…

I had the opportunity to sit in on a webinar on “The Creative Economy” that is considered to be the direction the future of business is headed in compared to the traditional business methods of the past. What is meant by the term “The Creative Economy?” It’s one where business revolves around the customer versus the past where the customer revolved around the business.

The Creative Economy also breaks from tradition in the sense that it means the goal of a company is no longer about making money for the stakeholders but about delighting customers. But, you ask, isn’t “maximizing shareholder value” the mantra of Wall Street? Good question. Listen to what these CEOs have to say about that mantra:

            Jack Welch former CEO of GE: “the dumbest idea in the world”

            Vinci Group Chairman/CEO Xavier Hulliard: “totally idiotic”

            Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever: (has denounced) “the cult of shareholder value”

            Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce declared this still-pervasive business theory “wrong”

I guess it’s quickly losing favor with those who should know.

The Internet and “The Cloud” are enabling “The Creative Economy.”

Which brings me back to my initial question, “What if…”. What if radio stations were supposed to be small operations? What if the radio industry wasn’t meant to scale?

When I entered the radio business, companies were limited in the total number of radio stations they could own; in the entire USA. It was known as the 7-7-7 rule. A single company could own not more than 7 AM, 7 FM and 7 TV stations in all of America.

What this created was competition between owners of radio stations in a market. Each station was a team of people working as hard as they could to win the audience in that market. The focus was all about the listener or the viewer. Win the most listeners/viewers and advertisers would soon follow to showcase their wares on that radio or TV station’s airwaves.

Hearing “The Creative Economy” described on this webinar was like radio déjà vu.

In 1996, President William Jefferson Clinton signed the Telcom Act of 1996 into law. That was the moment that the “land rush” for broadcast properties began and Wall Street became heavily invested in the radio industry. Wall Street would bring its “maximize shareholder value” mantra to broadcasting.

This point was really brought home to me in 1999 when my stations were sold to a large radio consolidator. The head of this “big box” radio operator told us that we needed to “sell, sell, sell” that it was all about making money for the company and “maximizing shareholder value.”

This “pump up the troops” speech left me cold. I was brought up in a radio world that was about operating “in the public interest, convenience and/or necessity.” I was brought up in a world where if we treated the members of our team well, our team focused on delighting the listener, the advertisers would flock to our station and the owners would be rewarded for doing everything right. That view of life served me well my entire radio career.

Needless to say, I opted not to remain with this new company.

However, I would find myself playing “musical chairs” going forward as it was getting impossible to not be working for a company that hadn’t adopted this modus operandi.

Steve Denning, who writes for Forbes, lead this webinar and pointed out that economics was driving the change for companies worldwide. He told us that no company is doing it all right. Companies like Apple, Amazon, Google and Salesforce are moving in the right direction. In fact, Tim Cook is better at navigating the change to this style of management than Steve Jobs ever was and it no doubt is contributing to Apple being the most valuable company in the world. To give you an example of what it means to focus on the customer first, consider Tim Cook telling an investor in Apple this:

“If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.”

That was kind of radio world I grew up in. We always tried to do the right thing for our employees, our listeners, our advertisers and the money would follow.

I’m encouraged that radio people who sold out when Wall Street was buying, are now getting back into the radio business with that same ethic, spirit and sense of innovation that seduced me into a four decade long radio career. They understand the concept of “The Creative Economy” because that’s how they built their radio companies the first time around. They also understand that today, radio is more of a concept of operation than a method of delivery.

I’m excited to be working with the next generation of radio broadcasters at my university knowing that radio’s future has never been brighter.

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