Tag Archives: LPFM

From the DTB Mailbag about “Radio & Traveling”

mailbagMy blog article, “Radio & Traveling – Then & Now,” about driving through 23-states over 8-weeks, and what we saw and heard, has generated a lot of reader comments.

The discussion really boils down to two things that are on a lot of people’s minds – content & signal power – I thought you might find it useful to hear what several of those people said. Some comments have been edited for length or language.

Drew Durigan

Drew wrote about his disdain for the same syndicated programs airing on so many signals and “how the proliferation of ‘translators’ has destroyed the FM band.”

Tim Davisson

“When radio stations started streaming, I thought: ‘great! I can hear cool radio from all over the world…’ Then, I clearly remembered how blah & boring and non-companion & non-community local radio had become. And it all seemed to start in 1996…passage of the TelCom bill.”

Jon Levin

“Radio has lost its soul. With the onslaught of audio technologies, sadly it will never get its public interest, convenience and necessity thing back.” (Editor’s note: the concept of operating in the “public interest, convenience and necessity,” for the radio industry cameFRC.png into existence with the creation of the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) in 1929. For a more detailed look into all of this, read “The ‘Public Interest’ Standard: The Search for the Holy Grail.” Click HERE for a link to that document.)

Don Blesse

“I had my own ‘ultimate radio trip’ 49-years ago, and when the interstate highway system was largely incomplete. In subsequent years I’d always take a tape recorder with me and bring back airchecks. Today though I’m pretty much stuck with SXM for long trips. I still love WKXW (NJ 101.5) … hyper-local and still has that ‘show-biz’ feel.”

Tom Ogburn

“I’ve had similar experiences on trips, where we drove long distances, never heard actual call letters mentioned, no local weather or events, or anything else to give a clue as to what station it was, or where it was located.”

Rich O’Reilly

“The bad news is that most local stations are a disaster. The good news is with blue tooth/cellphone technology, I can pipe in most of my favorite local stations (NYC) wherever I am. Being a news buff, I can listen to a WTOP or a KNX where I am too. PS: Agreed on Pat St. John on Sirius.”

Pat St. JohnPat St John

“Well I am so complimented by your kind words Dick. Really spoke to what I try to do.”

(Editor’s note: We took advantage of the SiriusXM two-month free trial for our 8-week America road trip. In our hometown, we drive very little and when we do, we listen to local radio. Alexa has also invaded our home since Christmas 2017. We’re up to three Echoes now.)

Scott Carson

“I can tell which stations are locally owned, and which ones are owned by the big consolidators by scanning the dial before they ever utter a word. The consolidators process their signal to within an inch of their lives. And I can rarely listen longer than a couple of songs before turning it off. They don’t have any local news…or national news for that matter…because consultants tell them not to, even if we are now a society starved for information. Look at how attached people are to their smart phones. There are some great local stations out there still, but sadly, they are few and far between.”

(Editor’s note: I called on an AAMCO transmission shop owner who told me that what he feared most was ANY transmission repair shop doing wrong by the customer. All they remember is transmission shops are crooked forgetting the name of the shop that did them wrong. I believe that same problem exists for radio operators. If, like what Scott wrote, many radio stations are poorly run, the few good ones will be missed as people characterize all radio as being poorly run.)

Rick M Singel

“Dick, one of your best columns ever. Really hit home. Thanks for these perfect insights. Since you mentioned WLW in Cincinnati, have a funny story. Now, EVERY newscast is preceded by “Breaking News” or “Breaking Now.” EVERY single newscast, even if the news is already 2-days old.”Breaking News

(Editor’s note: I complete agree with you. Fox News Channel was the first one I noticed that consistently labeled every story as “Breaking News” and diluted this alert to be meaningless.  When I was growing up, when a TV or radio station said “Breaking News” it was something that made your heart skip-a-beat and it was something that was really important. Not anymore.)

Mike Buxser

“And now the NAB is advocating upping or totally doing away with ownership limits, meaning more vanilla, corporate radio that will take away even more local stations to be replaced by, in a box (radio) with no local content. Radio works when the station personalities connect with the listeners. That connection has always been what made radio special. Unfortunately, that connection is being destroyed.”

Walter Luffman

“Local radio isn’t just for the people who live there. As your Maine example pointed out, a local station has a local sound that reflects the community it serves. Travelers usually want/need to get an idea of the places they visit before they get out of the car. I used to love listening to local stations as I drove through the U.S.; now, like you, I listen to Pat St. John and other SiriusXM personalities who provide that sense of community, even if the ‘community’ is nationwide.”

Michael (last name not given)

LPFM“Great article. “virtually unlistenable.” That’s exactly how to put it. In fact, I’ve commented a few times in the recent past with the same argument. I do lots of traveling between work and family. In addition, my wife and I take short road trips. We have encountered the same thing. I remember way back when, before LPFM and the abundance of translators, I could pick up stations outside the predicted coverage area. Now forget it. If you’re on the fringe or in many cases not; it’s all static (with) two station overlapping. My thought is that this increase in interference will ultimately force people to other means of listening to music – whether SiriusXM or streaming.”

Bob Nestor

“Keep preaching to the mynah birds, Dick. The ‘formerly-in-radio creatures luv ya.”

Jon Holiday

“Here in Denver the FM band was already overcrowded. Now, translators have filled it up even more. I’ve listened to iHeart (CHR) 96.1 KISS-FM (KSME in Ft Collins) for years. Now, due to an FM translator on 96.1 FM licensed to Englewood, CO (a Denver suburb); I now hear KSME and Spanish News KNRV-AM’s FM translator fight for the 96.1 FM frequency. This is ridiculous! How does this even happen?”

John (last name not given)

“1. How it used to be in radio, is like reading about WWII to me, boring and too far gone. 2. I agree that local wins, the LPFMs have filled that hole. 3. You road trip must have been awesome, I want.”

Daniel Tremblay

“Thanks for the article! I miss that too, here in Canada near the border, we used to listen to WABC, WKBW Buffalo, WPTR Albany among others, when on vacation in Maine or New Jersey. There was great local radio too. Next time on vacation I will probably have to support the idea to subscribe to SiriusXM Radio. My daughter has Sirius in her car and Pat St. John is fantastic! Real air personality, real people, real radio!”

John Shomby

“Being one who grew up listening to some great radio in my hometown of Philadelphia and having the great opportunity to do lots of local radio over the years and now being a part of one of those ‘conglomerates,” I definitely have seen and heard how we’ve ‘homogenized’ ourselves over the past two decades, it’s big business now…it wasn’t then. Technology changes almost by the minute now…it didn’t then. Companionship now is defined by ‘likes’ and ‘followers.’ Radio has always been a key fabric of our society – then and… unfortunately, now. It’s those who can create the PERSONAL connection with that one individual who will continue to succeed…no matter what the playlist looks like. That’s where we are hurting ourselves. Radio Talent InstituteThank God for Dan Vallie and the Radio Talent Institute. The closest thing to developing new radio stars that we have. You experienced that personally, Dick. (Editor’s note: I was the founding director of the KBA/WKU Radio Talent Institute in Kentucky.) Let’s take a page out of the Major League Baseball team handbook and create a farm system where we can develop that raw talent who can take it from here. That’s our future.”

Dick Taylor

I chose John Shomby’s comments to end this tip toe through the mail bag article. Here’s how I responded to what John wrote: “Yes, Dan Vallie’s Radio Talent Institute is wonderful. I believe we need to start cultivating the talent farm system when students are in junior high/high school and have a way of allowing them to enter the industry without having a college degree. Most of our great radio talents, sales people and managers did not possess a college degree.

So many told me they would love to follow in my footsteps by teaching at a college or university. Both my undergraduate and graduate degrees are in education. When I started teaching at Western Kentucky University, a master’s degree was considered a terminal degree for the School of Journalism and Broadcasting.

Today, colleges want PhD’s, so they are making it even worse for new talent to be mentored by industry pros. (You don’t need a PhD to do great radio.)

This needs to change for the health of the radio industry and quickly.”

In Conclusion

Two things are key to radio’s future: 1) Like what happened to the AM radio band in terms of rising noise floor and signal interference, is now plaguing the FM band. For the health of the radio industry this needs to be addressed now. 2) People love listening to, and are loyal to, radio that provides them with community and companionship. That’sdan-ingram why when Dan Ingram passed away on June 24th, for many, the radio world stopped turning. (He signed off Music Radio 77 WABC in May of 1982 and later did weekends for another 12-years on WCBS-FM ending in June 2003.)

People love TV shows not television stations.

People love radio stations BECAUSE of the connection radio personalities form between the radio listener and the radio station.

 

 

 

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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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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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More is Less

In 1994, Dan O’Day was holding one of his famous “PD Grad Schools” in Dallas, Texas. One of the speakers he invited that day – and whose presentation was recorded by “Radio’s Best Friend” Art Vuolo – was a young Randy Michaels. Dan O’Day still sells this video, now on DVD, and labels it “The best radio video ever.” I would agree.

The video is titled “Positioning Your Radio Station by Randy Michaels.”  It addresses the explosion of new FM radio stations after the first round of radio deregulation brought us Docket 80-90. Then the LMA (Local Marketing Agreement) was born. Randy tells the audience:

“This was a fundamental change for the radio business. Just as TV was a fundamental change, duopoly fundamentally changed the radio business. This moved the radio business from being a franchise to being a commodity. McDonalds was once a franchise. Today burger fast-food restaurants are a commodity and we all know how that’s working for the ‘Golden Arches.’”

On May 24, 2004 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held a “Broadcast Localism Hearing” in Rapid City, South Dakota. The president, general manager and co-owner of KLQP-FM licensed to Madison, Minnesota (population 1, 767) Maynard Meyer addressed the commission. He told them (I’ve edited his comments. The full text can be found here.):

“Localism in radio is not dead, but it is in dire need of resuscitation in many areas. I have been involved in the radio business in announcing, sales, engineering and management for about 36 years, all of my experience is in communities of 5,000 people or less. We personally live in the communities we serve so we know the ‘issues,’ we work to address them in our programming and have been doing so for the past 21 years. “

“A few years ago, many stations operated this way, but much of that has changed for a variety of reasons. I think the beginning of the end of local broadcast service started in the 1980s when the Federal Communications Commission approved Docket 80-90.”

Mr. Meyer went on to explain to the FCC how many communities that “on paper” had a local radio station actually found that the transmitter was being fed from another location tens of miles away. Mr. Meyer went on to say:

“I don’t think this is the best way to promote local radio service. From what I have seen through my personal experience, as soon as a hometown studio is closed and relocated, the local service is relocated as well.”

Now put another decade plus on the calendar and we find that the FCC has decided that adding even more FM radio stations would fix this problem of local radio service that operates in the public “interest, convenience and/or necessity” by issuing FM licenses for FM translators and Low Power FM radio stations.

The most recent BROADCAST STATION TOTALS AS OF MARCH 31, 2015 issued by the FCC shows that there are 4,702 AM commercial radio stations, 6,659 FM commercial radio stations and 4,081 FM educational radio stations on the air. But wait; there are also 6,312 FM translators & boosters on the air; plus, another 1,029 Low Power FM radio stations. That’s 22,873 radio stations! And they now compete with SiriusXM satellite radio and streaming audio from Pandora, Spotify, Radio Tunes etc.

If Randy was thinking back in 1994 “being a media company today is a really tough business” he was seeing just the tip of the broadcast iceberg.

Randy’s prescription that day in Dallas was as prescient then as it is today; maybe even more so. He told the audience of program directors:

“In a crowded media environment radio needs to super-serve its local community. Be everywhere, all the time. Miss a day, miss a lot. Radio’s BEST when it’s personal.”

“What’s your station’s impact rating? Great radio stations are listener-focused.”

“If you’re smart enough to win in today’s radio, you’re smart enough to have done something legitimate with your life. This is work. This is a real job. It’s the merger of art and science and you’ve got to have both.”

I’m encouraged by my students who have big ideas about the future of radio and a desire to serve the communities they will be moving to and living in. I’m encouraged by some great radio broadcasters getting back into the business who are bringing back the fundamentals of great radio while extending that sense of purpose to the digital component that must be a part of today’s media company.

The pendulum is swinging back and it can’t get back here soon enough.

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