Tag Archives: KDKA

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 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.

quote-quality-is-more-important-than-quantity-one-home-run-is-much-better-than-two-doubles-steve-jobs-51-96-69

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Seems Like We’ve Been Here Before

I teach a course called the “History of Broadcasting in America” at the School of Journalism & Broadcasting at Western Kentucky University. It’s from this background I’m writing this week’s blog.

Broadcasting began with the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Navigation issuing KDKA the first commercial broadcast license on October 27, 1920. Let’s be clear, there was lots of broadcasting going on in America before this date, but this license marks the beginning of radio broadcasting that would be ad-supported.

Think about it. This period in American history was called the “Roaring 20s.” It would be a time the first tabloid newspaper would appear along with publications like Reader’s Digest, New Yorker magazine, and TIME magazine. This would be the world that commercial radio would be born in.

It was a time in America of unprecedented economic prosperity and social change. It was also a time of a strong backlash of racism, fear of immigration and morality.

Radio would be the new kid on the block in the 1920s. Broadband wireless Internet is the new kid today as we live in a period of time giving birth to the “Internet of Things (IoT).”

Déjà vu

Let’s compare the issues of then and now. In the 1920s, immigration was feared. America got tough on immigration with a stringent set of restrictions embodied in the Immigration Act of 1924 designed to limit the flow of immigrants from Europe primarily. Today we hear all about how we need to build a great wall between the American and Mexican border.

In the 1920s, the focus was segregation and discrimination of African-Americans. These same sticky issues are still with us today. Think Charter Schools. Gay Marriage. Muslims.

While women had earned the right to vote by the Roaring 20s, they still couldn’t go to college, most professions excluded women, they couldn’t own property, couldn’t establish credit or get loan to start a business. Women? How’s it going today besides your fight for equal pay, equal rights and women’s health?

The 1920s had the 18th Amendment, which brought about Prohibition. Today we have the “War on Drugs.” It’s been about as successful as Prohibition was, but it appears America learned nothing from its past.

The 1920s saw a technology revolution. American-made films not only captivated Americans, but the world. Every American city would have a movie theater by the end of the 20s. Today, virtually every American home is connected to the Internet, most with Broadband service.

Radio would grow up to be an ad-supported medium. It still is today. The Internet pursued the same ad-support path.

The 1920s were the best of times and the worst of times. Society was made up of the haves and the have-nots. The wealth-gap was huge. Today, that gap is bigger than it was a century ago.

The 1920s saw modern corporations and the federal government in a close alliance. And everyone thought that was a good thing, until October 29, 1929. A day known as Black Tuesday, the day stock market crashed, which would mark the beginning of the Great Depression. After that happened, Americans weren’t so sure about the big corporations’ influence over their government.

The equivalent (and hopefully the extent of it) comparison in our time would be “The Great Recession of 2007 – 2009.”

America 1920, commercial radio was born in America. It was the start of a mass communications revolution. It would kill Vaudeville.

Déjà vu All Over Again – Yogi Berra

Today, we are living in a period of world history that is undergoing a new communications revolution brought about by the creation of the Internet and the smartphone. And what the Internet of Things is doing is challenging the business model of just about every business.

When TV came along in the 1950s, it took the entertainment that radio had stolen from Vaudeville and stole it from radio. But radio, unlike Vaudeville back in the 20s, didn’t die. It re-invented itself into a new form of mass communication.

The challenge for radio today, unlike back in the beginning, is that broadcasters and the government understood they had to make a choice. Have lots of broadcasters and poor quality of broadcasts – OR – have fewer broadcasters but ones that could support the economics of high quality broadcasts.

Broadcasting in those early days was all live programs. Live music, live drama, live comedy, live variety, live everything. This requirement to do only live programming is what separated the big boys from the amateurs and that’s how those corporations got the best signals and the most power to broadcast on.

Operating in the Public Interest

 The requirement for gaining access to the public airwaves for these big broadcasters was that they operate in the “public interest, convenience and/or necessity.” The Radio Act of 1927 would embody these principles:

  • Access to the public airwaves would be restricted to a few quality broadcasters vs. lots of mediocre ones

  • They would operate in the public interest

  • They would be regulated by the government

  • They would be a commercial medium operated by private entities

Today, the government is licensing Lower Power FM stations and Translator FM stations like Johnny Appleseed planted apple trees. Today there are 22,970 radio stations broadcasting in America as of June 2015. Add to this the infinite number of streaming radio stations on the Internet and you can see how this challenges today’s radio owner to fulfill operating in the “public interest, convenience and/or necessity” and make a profit.

While some may make the case that radio is not living up to the original covenant, you also need to realize that neither is the government. Less radio stations enabled broadcasters to provide more services to their communities of license.

Nielsen Audio says radio still reaches over 92% of all Americans 12-years of age and older on a weekly basis. It’s the #1 reach medium today. It has always been the #1 frequency medium. That powerful combination of reach & frequency is the one-two punch of effective advertising. American’s still love their radio.

But today, places to advertise on radio are infinite. The advertising budgets, however, are finite. The advertising pie has never been cut thinner.

And that’s the problem.

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AM Radio, Streaming Radio, FCC Spectrum Auction & the Future

6Every June, I set-off on a road trip back to New Jersey to speak at the annual New Jersey Broadcasters Convention and Gala in Atlantic City. The roundtrip spans 3-weeks and I drive over 3,000 miles.

This year on the drive up I listened to AM radio and on the drive back I listened to streaming radio. I’d like to share my thoughts with you about what I heard and observed, as well as ponder what the future of both might hold.

Small signal AM radio stations primarily identify themselves with their FM translator dial position (How’s that saving AM radio?). The “pups” are mostly syndicated, automated, religious, sports or Spanish. They aren’t very engaging, which is probably a good thing if you’re driving because you don’t care when you lose the signal. Oh, and just try to hear their translator FM signal; forgetaboutit.

The “big dawg” signals (Bill Bungeroth, former Cumulus Broadcasting president used the term “big dawgs” for those monster signal radio stations and “little pups” for everything else and that’s where I picked it up) on AM like WOWO in Ft Wayne, Indiana, WJR in Detroit, Michigan, WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio and KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are in another universe when it comes to radio programming.

While listening to WOWO, I heard a powerful morning show that was fun, engaging and tuned into the Ft Wayne area. WJR told me about Frankenmuth, Michigan while their midday show was broadcasting live from this unique resort town on the great lakes. WLW was talking about how the Cincinnati police were getting body cameras and how they were loaning them to the news folks in Cincinnati to wear and learn how they work. It was fascinating radio. And KDKA was a potpourri of information about all things Pittsburgh; thoroughly engaging and very enjoyable.

I rode each of these big dawg stations for hundreds of miles and enjoyed listening to them every minute. Each was different, unique, fun, engaging and LOCAL.

The observation I made was that maybe the AM band should be reserved for these high power AM signals that have the bench strength to do great radio.

My drive home started in Albany, New York. I drove back to my hometown in Western Massachusetts following the NJBA Convention and Gala to visit a close family member that had suffered a significant stroke. Thankfully, that situation is improving daily.

I decided my drive back to Kentucky would focus on the other kind of radio available these days; streaming radio. My streaming provider of choice is called Radio Tunes. I like this service because their music formats are curated by people who know and love their genres. Jimi King out of London, England curates the Smooth Jazz channels. Smooth Jazz is a format that has almost completely disappeared from America’s airwaves.

Side Note: WNUA in Chicago, Illinois was a top five radio station playing the Smooth Jazz format. That is until the PPM became the listener measurement currency in Chicago and the other top 48 American metros chasing this format off FM radio. Is Smooth Jazz a PPM unfriendly format for PPM encoding? Might a Voltaire have helped Smooth Jazz? Just asking.

My first day of my 15-hour drive back home allowed me to listen to this streaming radio station through my iPhone4S fed into my car’s audio system with no dropout, no buffering, no disruption of any kind. The audio fidelity beats anything coming out of AM or FM terrestrial radio or SiriusXM too.

On day two of my drive home, I again put on Radio Tunes’ Smooth Jazz channel knowing that Jimi King and Stephanie Sales would be hosting a LIVE 3-hour Smooth Jazz show (they do this every Sunday). This makes Radio Tunes into a real radio station, though I will admit that I love the channel mainly because of all the things it doesn’t do the other 165 hours a week. However, for three of the 7-hours of my second day’s drive, the companionship was really nice.

Again, I experienced no disruption to my listening as I proceeded from Maryland and through the state of West Virginia and into Kentucky. I carried Radio Tunes all the way into Lexington, Kentucky where I stopped to have some lunch.

While eating lunch it occurred to me how well my reception to streaming radio through my smartphone was. It’s scary good when you think about it. Excellent fidelity, no dropout, buffering or other disruptions.

Brian Solis recently spoke at the PromaxBDA Station Summit and told attendees:

“Disruption happens because someone innovated and innovation changes behavior. A good place to start is thinking about a mobile experience. 74% of businesses have no plans to optimize their sites for mobile viewing meaning they don’t have a plan to stay competitive in the increasingly mobile world. If most content experiences are starting here, then that experience needs to be reimagined.”

It wasn’t until I left Lexington that I found gaps in the cell service and finally gave up my experiment of listening to streaming radio through my smartphone in my car.

My observations were cell service is becoming ubiquitous. There are times when having the companionship of LIVE personalities are appreciated versus just streaming music without any talk. Your smartphone gets really hot when you stream on it continuously for a lot of hours. The data use for streaming audio is not huge, like streaming videos or downloading pictures and if all the cell companies make streaming audio free from a person’s data usage plan, it would provide a serious threat to over-the-air radio. Just as Netflix, HBO, Showtime and other OTT (over-the-top) TV services are proving a challenge to cable companies, OTT radio services could be just as challenging to the radio industry.

Then I read this article “Could LTE Broadcast Technology Supersede Over-The-Air Broadcasting?” Listen to what this technology can do:

“LTE Broadcast is based on the eMBMS (Evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service) point-to-multipoint interface specification developed for delivery of any content received by multiple viewers at the same time, including files and emergency alerts as well as broadcast video. The motive in all cases was to avoid consuming large amounts of bandwidth through transmission of the same data over multiple unicast sessions, which is particularly expensive in the case of HD video.”

Does that get your attention? Then read this second article “Further Consideration of LTE Broadcast”:

“LTE Broadcast is the most efficient mechanism to distribute the same content to many users, and is an important solution to address the 1000x data challenge. Initially focusing on venue-casting, LTE Broadcast can address many other media distribution such as software updates and breaking news. The evolution of LTE Broadcast makes it dynamic and more scalable, and in the long term, takes it even beyond mobile as a solution for next generation terrestrial TV.”

And anything done for TV is even simpler to do for radio.

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner has been reported saying:

“There is a widening skills gap where the existing workforce has been educated and trained to obtain jobs of yesterday and not the jobs of today and tomorrow.”

The broadcast game is rapidly moving to the cellular platform. If you’re wondering why Tim Cook is jazzed about Apple Music it’s because he understands broadcasting is entering a new era. The future belongs to those who can deliver superior content to the global village known as planet Earth.

Now which company do you think has a better chance of winning this race? Apple with $178 billion cash in the bank or, I don’t know, say iHeartMedia with $20.7 billion in debt?

The FCC’s spectrum auction is all about creating more spectrum for the mobile communication platform.

Now do you understand why spectrum is being reallocated?

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