Tag Archives: HD Radio

Is Radio Biting Off More Than It Can Chew?

caravelle radio broadcast stationThere are lots of items in the news these days about what the radio industry should be doing. Streaming, podcasting, smart speaker accessible etc. The one thing I hear little talk about is, improving the core product and focusing on what the listener is seeking.

The Radio Ecosystem

If you think about it, the radio ecosystem, AM/FM radios, have not seen any real changes in decades. Oh, there was the introduction of HD Radio – introduced around the same time as Apple introduced the iPod (R.I.P. 2001-2014), but listeners never really understood the need for it. HD Radio was embraced by commercial broadcasters when they learned they could feed analog FM translators from HD Radio signals and have more FM radio stations in a single marketplace. This was hardly listener focused and actually chained the radio ecosystem to old analog technology.

What IS Radio?

In the beginning, radio was a way to wirelessly communicate with other people using Morse Code on spark gap transmissions. Guglielmo Marconi built a radio empire on this technology.

David Sarnoff, a skilled Morse Code operator and a Marconi employee envisioned a “radio music box” and wrote a memo about developing a commercially marketed radio receiver for use in the home. It wasn’t until after World War I, when Sarnoff proposed the concept again, this time in his new position as general manager of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), that it would see the light of day.

Sarnoff would demonstrate the power of radio by broadcasting a boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier. In just three years, RCA sold over $80 million worth of AM radios, and not soon after created the National Broadcasting Company (NBC).

Federal Radio Commission

America’s first attempt at regulating radio transmission was the Radio Act of 1912, that was enacted after the sinking of the Titanic. This law didn’t mention or envision radio broadcasting.

As radio broadcasting began to grow in the 1920s, then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover would begin the process of trying to regulate the limited spectrum that everyone now wanted a piece of.

The Radio Act of 1927 was America’s first real attempt at regulating radio broadcasting. The Federal Radio Commission (FRC) was then formed by this act.

It should be noted that the FRC operated under the philosophy that fewer radio stations, that were well funded and provided live original programs, were better for America than a plethora of radio stations providing mediocre programming. It was an idea that the major radio receiver companies championed.

Federal Communications Commission

In 1934, the Congress took another attempt at regulating broadcasting (radio & TV) as well as all the other forms of communication that now existed. The Communications Act of 1934 created a new regulatory body called the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). By 1934, radio broadcasting had evolved into a highly profitable business. Broadcast educator, Fritz Messere, writes: “Many of the most powerful broadcasting stations, designated as ‘clear channels’ were licensed to the large broadcasting or radio manufacturing companies, and the Federal Radio Commission’s adoption of a rigid allotment scheme, under General Order 40, solidified the interests of the large Broadcasters.”

The biggest and most well-funded broadcasters have been favored since the very beginning. What kept things in check until 1996 was the limit on the number of AM, FM and TV stations a single company could own.

Telcom Act of 1996

Those limits would evaporate with President Clinton’s signing of the Telcom Act of 1996. Radio, as America had known it, would be over.

Now, for the most part, a single owner could own as many radio stations as their pocketbook could afford. Lowry Mays and Red McCombs, founders of Clear Channel Communications, would grow their portfolio of radio stations to over 1200 from the 43 radio stations they owned before the act was signed.

In 2003, Mays testified before the United States Senate that the deregulation of the telecommunications industry had not hurt the public. However, in an interview that same year with Fortune Magazine, he remarked, “We’re not in the business of providing news and information. We’re not in the business of providing well-researched music. We’re simply in the business of selling our customers products.” (Mckibben, Bill (2007). Deep Economy. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. p. 132.)

Radio Zoning The FCC is now considering whether to further loosen up the ownership limits of radio and TV stations in America. FCC Attorney John Garziglia recently wrote:

“If radio stations could be erected like fast-food establishments and grocery stores, with no numerical limits imposed other than a businessperson’s risk tolerance, it would be difficult to argue for FCC-imposed ownership limits on radio. Indeed, a regulatory agency enacting numerical limitations on restaurants and grocery stores would likely not pass legal muster.

But there are widely-enacted municipal limitations on just about every type of local business. The limitations are called “zoning” – the permitting or prohibiting of certain uses in certain areas to protect the character of the community.

The FCC’s radio ownership rules can be thought of as a kind of radio zoning. In the same way as land-use zoning protects a community’s character, the FCC’s ownership rules permit or prohibit certain radio station combinations protecting the amorphous concept of the public interest.

With land-use zoning, communities maintain a distinct character, livability, aesthetic, and economic success by not bowing exclusively to the profit motive of land developers. Allowing several or fewer owners to own virtually all of the radio stations in the country would doom the specialness of our radio industry.”

 

I think John makes some excellent points and I would encourage you to read his complete article HERE.

Biting Off More…

Radio operators today can’t properly staff and program the stations they already own. What makes them think that will change if they own even more of them? Most radio stations are nothing more than a “radio music box” run off a computer hard drive, an OTA (over-the-air) Pandora or Spotify.

Former Clear Channel CEO, John Hogan, introduced the “Less Is More” concept when I worked for the company. While it actually introduced more on-air clutter, not less, the idea was neither new or wrong.

If owning more radio stations was the answer in 1996, then why in 2018 are we worse off than we were then?

Why was Jerry Lee able to own a single station in Philadelphia and dominate that radio market?

Why are many locally owned and operated radio stations some of the healthiest and most revered in America today?

Radio not only needs zoning on the number of radio stations a single owner can control in a market, but the total number of radio station on-the-air in a market. And it needs radio stations that are neglected to be condemned like property owners who let their land go to seed.

The FRC wasn’t perfect, but the concept of “less is more” served America well for many decades. Fewer radio stations that provided high quality, live programming, operating in the ‘public interest, convenience and necessity’ and by virtue of that diversity of ownership, provided diversity of voice and opinions, as well as healthy competition.

 

19 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

First Impressions

113You’ve probably heard the old saying “you can’t make a second first impression.”

It’s true.

In sales, in those first few seconds when you meet a new client, you are either going to continue forward progress or it will be full-stop.

Same goes for job interviews or first dates. This is what makes making a good first impression so stressful.

Attitude

Good first impressions start with projecting a positive image. Projecting a positive image comes from your attitude.

I won’t go all Norman Vincent Peale on you, but your attitude is formed by what you do every waking moment. You can’t just turn it on when you need to. That will project a faux image easily discerned by any human being that can fog a mirror.

Derry’s Dad

In my broadcast sales class on talent assessments, guest lecturer and professional sales trainer Chris Derry, shared with my students that his dad was a stickler for having a positive attitude by what you wore on your face.

Come down to breakfast without a smile and you were immediately sent back upstairs. His dad didn’t care if you were late for school, you were not going to start the day at breakfast with a frowny face or a grumpy attitude. Chris said his sister went back up stairs many a day, but he quickly learned how to play the game.

But it wasn’t a game. It was building a positive character trait that would lead to a life of success in every endeavor that Derry would take on. He quickly learned even on days when he didn’t feel like smiling that forcing a smile for breakfast with his dad very quickly had him feeling more exuberant.

Fake It Till You Make It

Zig Zigler tells the story of faking a smile on his face and voice when he wasn’t exactly feeling it. He said that by faking it, it quickly became genuine and his mood would reflect his face.

Therapists will tell you that logic cannot change an emotion but action will. That by doing something that gives you a feeling of accomplishment, you will enrich your spirit and improve your attitude.

HD Radio’s 1st Impression

HD Radio is 15 years old. It answered a question no listener was asking (and still isn’t).

But why was HD Radio such a bust?

First, it was introduced with very low power that made reception of HD Radio nearly impossible in the home, office or car.

It tried to fix the poor quality of AM radio and improve the quality of FM radio. It would destroy AM radio with increasing co-channel noise interference and really make a mess of the band’s sky wave at night. With FM its improvement was almost unnoticeable to the average listener.

Worse, the promotion of HD Radio on FM radio stations often drew the comment to a listener with an FM not an HD Radio set that the sound of the station did sound better in HD. The listener didn’t understand from the radio ads they needed to buy a new radio set to pick up the HD Radio signal and so they didn’t. And even if they did figure out they needed an HD Radio set, trying to find one to buy at Walmart, Target or even Radio Shack was an exercise in futility.

Media Life magazine reported that media buyers say things like “HD Radio doesn’t feel like a thing” or “there’s almost zero consumer interest” or “it’s the least-promising technology of the new ones introduced in radio in recent years” or “most people won’t be able to hear the difference between HD Radio and regular radio and that’s a problem.”

First Impressions are a Bitch

There are 19,778 FM radio signals on the air as of the end of 2016 according to the FCC. Of those, around 2,000 of them are broadcasting in HD, about ten percent.

The number one reason those 2,000 FM radio stations are broadcasting in HD is to feed an FM translator that is not broadcasting in HD.

Media Life magazine compared how New Coke was introduced after the Pepsi Challenge was promoting it was beating Coca Cola in taste tests. I remember those days well. I was in radio sales and the local Pepsi bottler was my account. (I was a Coke drinker.)

I took that Pepsi Challenge one time with the owner of the Pepsi bottling plant and yes, I said I liked the taste of Pepsi better. He beamed.

I could tell the super sugary taste of Pepsi easily and I preferred the less sugary, belching kick of Coke. But I wasn’t about to pick the wrong one. I was in sales after all. I knew which side my bread was buttered.

Coca Cola totally bummed out about the Pepsi Challenge introduced a high sugary version of its drink and called it New Coke. It was a disaster. In months Coke brought back the original formula as Coke Classic. Today all remnants of New Coke are gone.

The lesson Media Life tells us is that “you can introduce something new and improved, but you can’t make the public want it.

Which brings me back to HD Radio.

Classic Radio

Maybe it’s time to bring back the elements that make great radio, great.

A product that is focused on a defined listener 100% of the time.

A product that is curated from music to jingles to personalities to commercials.

Nothing is put on the air that is out-of-place.

I think FM radio sounds great sonically.

Listeners do too! It’s why radio still reaches over 93% of Americans every week. It’s the #1 reach and frequency medium in America. It beats everything else. Period.

FM radio doesn’t need to make a first impression. It already is embraced by its listeners.

Bring back the classic formula that made radio great and cement radio’s future with the next generations.

Being Human Never Changes with Technology

No matter how much the technology changes, the reason one human being is attracted to another human being will never change.

Radio has their ear.

What will you say to them?

 

16 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

Radios Go High-Definition

37That was the headline that appeared in the Baltimore Sun on January 7, 2004. Unfortunately, unlike HDTV (High Definition Television) HDRadio never stood for “High Definition” radio. And maybe that was the first mistake. HDRadio was simply a name they chose for the digital radio technology.

The iPod was introduced in October 2001. Steve Jobs introduced this music delivery changing device this way. Only a month earlier, XM began broadcasting the first satellite radio programming to be followed four months later by Sirius satellite radio. So by 2004, digital radio was already late to the party.

KZIA-FM Z102.9 saw Kenwood USA sell its first digital receiver in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to take advantage of KZIA-FM’s HDRadio broadcasts. “This is a significant move,” Michelle Abraham, senior analyst at In-Sat/MDR, a market research firm in Arizona, said of the roll-out of digital radio equipment. “It may not seem duly significant in the beginning, but in a few years from now, it will be a huge leap.” The hope was it would prove to be competitive to the newly launched satellite radio offerings from XM and Sirius (now merged into a single satellite company). HDRadio was also seen as improving FM to have CD quality sound and making AM sound like FM. It was heralded to help struggling AM radio stations.

Solving a Problem That Didn’t Exist

What HDRadio did for FM radio stations was solve a problem that listeners to FM didn’t feel existed. No one who listened to FM radio was complaining about the quality of the sound of the transmission. (They were complaining about other things, like too many commercials.) And for AM radio stations, it meant people buying radios for a service that didn’t offer anything they really wanted to hear or couldn’t get from someplace else. AM radio was now the service of senior citizens who already owned AM radios, who grew up with AM radio’s characteristics and whose hearing was not the best now anyway. So HDRadio for AM wasn’t something they were asking for either. Worse, AM radio stations that put on the new digital signal found it lacked the benefits of skywave and often interfered with other company AM radio stations as the industry quickly consolidated radio ownership.

Industries Most Disrupted By Digital

In March 2016, an article published by Rhys Grossman in the Harvard Business Review listed “Media” as the most disrupted by the growing digital economy. Turns out if you’re a business to consumer business, you’re the first being most disrupted by digital. The barriers to be a media company used to be huge, but in a digital world they are not. The business model that media companies depend on has not adapted well to the digital economy.

Education – Disruption Ahead

Having moved from media to education I only got ahead of digital’s disruption for a while. But even those industries that had perceived high barriers of entry are finding those walls crumbling quickly. Grossman says fifty percent of executives see education being impacted in a big way in the next twelve months.

Where Are The Radios?

Edison Research did their latest “Infinite Dial” webinar and the slide that most impacted me was the one about radio ownership. From 2008 to 2016 the percentage of people in America that don’t own a single radio in their home has gone from 4% to 21%. When Edison narrowed this down to household between the ages of 18-34, non-radio ownership rose to 32%. Mark Ramsey’s Hivio 2016 Conference had one Millennial describe a radio set as being “ancient technology.” Ouch!

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Jerry Lee’s WEAZ in Philadelphia was giving away high quality FM radios to increase listenership to not just his radio station but to FM radio. And KZIA in Cedar Rapids gave away HDRadios to allow people to hear their new signal. It now appears time for the radio industry to begin giving away AM/FM radios every time they are doing station remotes, contests or appearing at venues that will attract lots of people.

Elephant in the Room

But the elephant in the room remains the broken media business model. Newspapers, magazines, radio, and television – any media that is ad supported – will be challenged to find a way to capture revenue to continue.

As Walt Disney famously said “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make movies.”

To anyone in ad supported media, we would agree we do it for the same reasons.

The $64,000 question is how.

16 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales, Uncategorized

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

The Problem with Digital Radio

The problem with digital radio is FM radio. FM radio is loved by the consumer. They don’t find anything wrong with FM radio (other than too many commercials). With no perceived need to change, the FM radio listener doesn’t. That’s not just a problem for radio station owners in America, but all around the world.

I often like to compare the start of HD Radio with the introduction of the iPod by Apple. Both happened about the same time. One has sold hundreds of millions of units and now is no longer made, and the other is HD Radio.

Interestingly enough, the introduction of digital audio broadcasting was born around the same time as the World Wide Web. It was born before MP3s and iPods. Born long before the advent of Smartphones and Tablets and yet, digital in the world of over-the-air radio transmission is still waiting to get traction with the consumer.

FM radio commanded 75% of all radio listening in America back in the 1980s when the number of AM and FM radio stations in America numbered about the same. So it’s no surprise that over three decades later that FM dominates when the number of FM radio stations, translators (FM stations) and LPFM (FM stations) far outnumber AM radio stations that are on-the-air today in the USA.

Across the pond, the British government was planning to switch that country’s radio listening from FM analog to digital when the penetration of digital radio listening reached 50%. They thought that would happen by 2015. Currently digital radio listening in England stands at only 36% and the government has now wisely put off setting a new date for this transition.

The problem in England goes beyond just radio sets in homes and cars. British folks also can listen to FM radio on their Smartphones. Unlike here in America, the FM chip that comes inside Smartphones has been turned on. These chips remain in the off position in America with no way for a Smartphone owner to turn it on without “jailbreaking” their phone which is illegal. The members of parliament aren’t about to turn off a system that serves around 25 million listeners, if they want to get re-elected.

I own one HD Radio. My local NPR FM radio station broadcasts with 100,000 watts on their analog FM signal. It’s crystal clear and comes in everywhere I go. They simulcast their NPR and other talk programming on their HD Radio signal too. That is plagued with dropout and a short range in terms of where I can pick it up. The same HD Radio that picks up the digital broadcast of my local NPR radio station also has an FM tuner (but no AM tuner). I can switch between the analog FM and digital FM, and to my ears they sound about the same. And therein lies the problem. No perceived difference other than one goes great distances with no drop out and the other is HD Radio.

At this point in time, what seems clear is that is FM radio isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. AM radio station operators would benefit by having a similar FM signal that delivers the same coverage area as their AM license provides sans the sky wave effect. Giving them a low power translator is an insult in my opinion. All Smartphones should have their FM chips turned on. NextRadio should be embraced by FM broadcasters. All broadcasters need to focus on their content and make sure that whether it’s over-the-air or over-the-Internet, it’s of the same high quality and offers all of the same content on both.

I’ve never heard an FM radio listener complain about the quality of their signal and what they do complain about, isn’t being focused on by broadcasters. We have no time to lose.

FM radio has the delivery system in place. Take advantage of it to serve, entertain and inform.

7 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio