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Chriss Scherer Scherer has been the editor of Radio magazine since 1997. His experience in radio includes work as chief engineer at stations in Cleveland (WMMS-FM, WHK-AM, WZJM-FM, WJMO-AM...more

Archive by Chriss Scherer

Mark Ramsey: Consumers Don’t Seek FM in Cell Phones

In a blog post, Mark Ramsey looks into the FM in cell phones question more closely. The NAB has pushed for FM chips to be installed in all cell phones, citing consumer demand and practicality during emergencies. The NAB has also used the FM in cell phones ideas as a bargaining chip in the performance royalty debate.

Ramsey says the NAB is asking the wrong questions. He notes that surveys say consumers would use FM radio if it were built into their mobile phones. He says the surveys ignore that there are many phones on the market already that already have FM built in. Ramsey says the better question to ask is, “Have you ever used FM radio as a decision factor in the mobile phones you have purchased?”

Ramsey worked with VIP Research to ask a national sample of more than 1,000 radio listeners ages 10-54 whether they had ever specifically looked for a mobile phone that contains FM radio. 88 percent said no. 4 percent said yes. 8 percent said it does not apply.

Ramsey says FM radio is not a feature that motivates decision-making about which mobile phone to buy.

The next question: If you didn’t look for a phone containing an FM radio, why not? 83 percent said they wanted a particular phone regardless of whether or not it had an FM radio. 17 percent said they weren’t looking for a phone to be able to play radio.

For the group that wanted FM in the cell phone, the stats say 69 percent purchased a phone with FM, 28 percent purchased a phone without FM and 3 percent don’t know.

It seems FM in a cell phone is a nice idea, but it’s not being actively sought, nor is it a deciding factor.

Read Ramsey’s full report.

I didn’t see you at the Radio Show

The 2010 Radio Show was an interesting event. I say interesting because it was not exactly like previous NAB Radio Shows. Now that the event is a joint effort with the RAB, the format has been adjusted somewhat.

The big changes
The convention was held in a hotel, not a convention center. The Radio Show has been held in hotels before (San Diego, Austin), but unfortunately, the Washington Grand Hyatt was not set up well to accommodate the convention events. Signage was not very good. When I arrived, I had no idea where to go. Once I found the registration desk (two floors below the lobby) I had to ask where the exhibit hall was located. The exhibits (called the Marketplace) were another floor down. And that was down a long escalator.

The session rooms were around the Marketplace. Four session rooms were supposed to be entered through the Marketplace. The idea was to draw attendees through the exhibits as they entered and exited sessions. The other sessions room was across from the Marketplace entrance.

The idea of drawing attendees through the Marketplace has merit, except those sessions were predominantly sales, management and programming sessions. Most of the attendees at these sessions had little interest in the exhibits and simply walked through.

The exhibits themselves were set on tabletops. No booths. Four tables were arranged in a box. The aisles between tables were no more than six feet wide. I think the intent was that exhibitors would stand behind their tables (inside the box) and attendees would stand in the aisles. In reality, most exhibitors stood in the aisles as well, which further crowded the space.

A big change for attendees is that the only way to get into any convention area you had to purchase a convention registration, which cost at least $450. I heard from some exhibitors that they had to purchase additional badges for their booth workers as well.

With no free exhibits-only passes, the organizers excluded most engineers from the region from attending. While the desire of the NAB and RAB was to attract a qualified audience, this move also excluded most regional engineers from dropping in for the day to see what equipment was being shown.

And there was little actual equipment being shown because of the table-top layout.

The cost for the exhibitors was also rather expensive when compared to other regional broadcast conferences. Some exhibitors told me their cost per square foot was higher than the spring NAB convention. And even if you consider the exhibit costs are not for space rental but for access to an audience, the number of technical and engineering attendees was so low that the cost per potential lead was excessively high. Many exhibitors sais they could have spent less to fly to a couple of cities in the area and host a private dinner for less. And by hosting the dinner they would have had an exclusive audience.

Another way to describe the economics of the convention: A regional convention at national convention rates.

Near the end of the convention, several attendees were invited share their views with representatives of the NAB and RAB. Honest opinions were given, and questions were raised about the sensibilities of continuing a fall NAB convention. The NAB said that this issue has been debated, and that the radio members continue to support the need for a radio-only event.

I agree that there are advantages to holding a radio-specific event. Radio is easily overshadowed at the spring convention, particularly with the NAB’s efforts to expand the convention into all areas of electronic media. And I can understand how the owners, sales, programming and station management personnel can support this. It’s important for the technical staff to be involved in these areas of station operations, but unfortunately, while a station finds it easy to pay for the station manager, sales manager and program director to attend, paying to send the engineer appears to be a low priority.

As the convention came to a close, it was noted that the NAB is very close to completing an agreement to hold the convention in Chicago in 2011 at the Grand Hyatt. Moving the convention to a new region has the advantage to attract new attendees, but unless some changes are made to encourage attendance and improve the opportunities for exhibitors, the fall Radio Show may continue its slow demise.

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Faked EAS Tones — Really a Big Deal?

You have heard about the Arco ads that have a pseudo-faked alert theme in them, which includes an altered EAS header. (If not, read the story here.) As is usually the case with anything even slightly emergency notification related, a small group of broadcasters stands up to make a mountain out of the mole hill.

First, listen to the spot. There’s a link to the audio in the article reference above. You’ll hear the duck-squawk-like tones at the beginning and inclusion of the phrase, “This is only a test.” The first question that is raised is if this radio spot violates FCC rules to transmit a fake emergency alert message.

This was fueled by a handful of EAS decoders that were able to decode the altered header, which happens to include corrupt data that says it’s a required weekly test (RWT) for several counties around Tampa, FL. Not all decoders reacted to it. Those encoders that did reacted like they should with an RWT: They only logged it.

Some stations were concerned about the erroneous header without a message. I agree with the due diligence to determine the nature of the incomplete message. It could have easily been indicative of a problem with the EAS decoder. But it was not.

So what’s the appropriate action? Some in the small group of emergency alerting watchers are calling for FCC fines and deliberate effort to teach station owners and the marketing world a lesson.

Some say issue fines. Who should be fined? The station aired a spot. Granted, the production effort of the spot was a poor idea, but investigation of the faked header shows it is not an actual or even valid alert header. The stations should notify the client that this was a bad idea. The client can notify the ad agency that created the spot. The FCC can’t fine the ad agency for creating the spot, and broadcasters insisting the FCC fine other broadcasters for accepting and airing ad materials opens the door to even bigger issues.

Some say that broadcasters should create a suitable faked EAS-like audio file for media outlets to use when needed. This was compared to using a phone number starting with 555. Why would anyone promote using a faked signal? That’s just a bad idea no matter how you look at it. The reality is that faked emergency alert tones will be used from time to time. Rather than make it easier for faked tones to be used — and condition the public to ignore them more than they already do — inform those who made the mistake now. Everyone knows not to yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. They should also know not to use real EAS headers in spots and promos.

In the end, this was really a harmless action. Rather than use it as a witch hunt, use the opportunity to inform those who are less familiar with FCC rules (and apparently some common sense).

More Tech for the 2010 Radio Show

With a little more than 3 months to go before the 2010 Radio Show, details are starting to be released. I was concerned that there would be no real technical element to the convention. It seems there will be something for the tech crowd after all.

The NAB announced the tech slate recently, and we shared it in the Radio Currents:

http://radiomagonline.com/currents/technical-sessions-2010-radio-show-0607/

The NAB Science and Technology Department has put together a series of panel discussions on various topics. The panels will include representatives from manufacturers to discuss their various fields of expertise. The session announcement noted (several times) that nothing is off limits for the discussion, and controversial topics will not be avoided.

In addition, the exhibits will be called The Marketplace. It appears these will be table-top displays outside the session room and will feature the companies who are speaking on the panels.

The 2010 Radio Show will be a modified format from the previous NAB Radio Shows of the past, and it seems many details are being set as the event draws nearer. What initially appeared to be initially a sales, management and programming conference has now added a serious engineering component.

A Little Tech at the 2010 Radio Show

The details on the 2010 Radio Show are still vague, however, I see two updates that are worth noting.

The location: A recent press release says the show will be held at the Washington Convention Center. There is no mention of the location on the convention website itself, although I thought there were previous notes of it being held at a DC hotel. If it’s at the convention center, it seems the planners anticipate a big event.

The sessions: About a month ago there was no mention of any technical sessions at the convention. There is still no rundown of sessions at this point, but there is a list of themes and topics. In these lists are two items of interest to the engineers. Under themes it includes “Engineering: Ask the Experts”, and under topics it lists “Engineering/Technology.”

With just less than four months to go until the convention starts, we’re still waiting to see if the event is worth an engineer attending.

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The Business of Business Casual

You probably don’t wear a tie to work. Or a suit. That’s ok. The world has become a more casual place.

I’m sure you’ve seen photos of people working at a transmitter site or in a studio wearing suits while carefully taking hourly readings or attentively adjusting an audio program level. It seems funny that things were so formal then.

My office is officially business casual attire. Yours probably is as well. But do you adhere to the business element or simply the casual? Too often, it’s the casual.

I have always focused on encouraging broadcast and media engineers to work to improve themselves and their professional images. An easy place to start is with personal dress. No, ties aren’t needed — but sometimes they are appropriate.

Early in my career, I worked with an engineer who kept a tie in his desk drawer. I asked him why. This was the time when the telephone company made regular visits to the station because everything we did involved leased lines from a single source. When a telephone company installer would arrive, the engineer would be sure to have the tie on. Why? Because installers did not wear ties, but their supervisors did. By wearing a tie, the engineer immediately put himself in a position of authority with the installer. This was not an effort to put the installer down, but rather to ensure the engineer had authority.

There was a mind trick there. And while some may think it was evil tactic, the truth is that it worked.

The same principal can be applied today. While it’s easy to get into a routine to wear casual clothes every day, it’s just as easy to select clothes that look good and are still practical when you have to climb up to the roof. On days when you know you’ll be burying radials in the mud, wear the appropriate clothes. But on days when you expect to be working on the budget, dress for business.

It’s a good idea to have a change of clothes on hand for the appropriate need. I know one engineer who wears a tie every day. He also keeps a pair of disposable coveralls on hand in case he expects to get dirty.

If you dress like a beach bum you’ll likely be treated like one.

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Americans Are Oblivious to Broadband Speeds

The headline from a June 1, 2010 FCC press release:
“FCC Survey Finds 4 out of 5 Americans Don’t Know Their Broadband Speeds”

Whoa! Really? And you know what else? 4 out of 5 Americans probably don’t care either.

More from the FCC press release:

“The Federal Communications Commission released the results of a survey on the consumer broadband experience. The survey found that 80 percent of broadband users in the United States do not know the speed of their broadband connection.”

Well, that’s good to know, right?

“FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, ‘Speed matters. The more broadband subscribers know about what speeds they need and what speeds they get, the more they can make the market work and push faster speeds over broadband networks.’”

I agree that speed matters, but is it really that critical for Mabel and Homer to know they have 720kb/s or 1.4Mb/s download capability? There are lots of technical details consumers don’t know or really need to know. They just want it to work.

And no matter how well something is explained, it often makes no sense in the end. The short answer is to simply say, “You need to pay a little more each month and step up to the next level of speed.

There is one benefit to the study. The FCC wants to verify that advertised connection speeds are actually being delivered. I typically lean towards buyer beware, but this is a case where Mabel and Homer will likely never verify their Internet connection speeds.

Still, are Mabel and Homer depending on a lightning-fast connection in the first place?

This is all part of the FCC’s efforts to push broadband improvements. Sure, let’s improve the broadband infrastructure for everyone. It’s the opening headline that made me laugh.

But on the serious side, the FCC looking for 10,000 volunteers to participate in a study to measure home broadband speed in the U.S. Specialized hardware will be installed in the homes of volunteers to measure the performance of all the country’s major Internet service providers across geographic regions and service tiers. The FCC is partnering with SamKnows Limited in this effort, the same firm that successfully conducted a similar test in the United Kingdom. A Public Notice asking for comment on the test plan was released in April 2010 and can be found at http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-10-670A1.pdf.

Anyone can register as a volunteer for this national test at www.TestMyISP.com. Volunteers will be able to track the performance of their own broadband service, as well as providing valuable data for the FCC, Internet service providers, and the public at large.

The Radio Show — Still light on Tech Details

I received an e-mail message prompting me to register for the Radio Show, the new incarnation of the NAB Radio Show. This revised event is co-produced by the RAB and the NAB. What do I notice first? The RAB is listed first in the production title. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it appears to be a sign that the convention is drifting back to its non-engineering roots.

Details on the event website (radioshowweb.com) are sparse. There is an introductory video touting all the benefits of attending the show. The conferences are highlighted as well: sales and marketing, finance, legislative/regulatory issues, digital media, programming, and management. Sounds like an impressive rundown of events.

But there’s no mention of technology.

There’s no mention of an exhibit floor or technical sessions.

The show description offers no information: “The enhanced Radio Show allows radio broadcasters and industry colleagues to come together to share knowledge, discover the latest innovations, network with industry leaders and explore creative business strategies to help radio flourish in the digital age.” There is mention that the “show will also feature an exclusive vendor resource and networking destination: The Marketplace.”

I see nothing about exhibitor registration.

The NAB Radio Show has not been strong on the technical side. It appears the new convention is even lighter. For now, we wait and see if it’s worth it for engineers to attend.

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Future Trends in IT According to Gartner

Gartner has announced its key predictions for IT organizations and the people they serve for 2010 and beyond. This list is derived from research and trends in IT and online usage. It’s an interesting list of predictions, and in some ways, there aren’t any hug surprises within, but there are some that should be considered for the future.

For businesses and consumers in general, many of these make sense. For radio specifically, many seem to not apply.

By 2012, 20 percent of businesses will own no IT assets. This prediction cites virtualization, cloud-enabled services and employees running personal desktops and notebook systems on corporate networks.

Some of this could apply to radio, but the 24/7 nature of radio comes first. Off-site data centers have advantages, but still have limitations for daily IT needs.

By 2012, Facebook will become the hub for social network integration and Web socialization. This is one that seems natural to me. While Gartner specifies Facebook, I’m not surprised that one service will dominate this online setting. The report says other services, including Twitter, will continue to hold a useful place, but Facebook will be the clear leader. So what’s your station’s Facebook presence?

Internet marketing will be regulated by 2015, controlling more than $250 billion in Internet marketing spending worldwide. By reducing the online marketing clutter, radio can perhaps rise above in its marketing outlets, both online and on the air.

Gartner research predicts that by 2014, there will be a 90 percent mobile penetration rate and 6.5 billion mobile connections. Gartner adds that “Penetration will not be uniform, as continents like Asia (excluding Japan) will see a 68 percent penetration and Africa will see a 56 percent mobile penetration.” Once again, what’s your station’s online presence?

By 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide. This is one to watch. Everything online has to be ready to reach this mobile audience. While you and I may prefer to work online with a keyboard and bigger screen, the rest of the world will not. According to Gartner’s PC installed base forecast, the total number of PCs in use will reach 1.78 billion units in 2013. By 2013, the combined installed base of smartphones and browser-equipped enhanced phones will exceed 1.82 billion units and will be greater than the installed base for PCs thereafter.

What’s your view of the future for radio?

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Annoying Press Releases

One more thought from yesterday’s note about fact-free press releases:

I tell companies to send releases to me. I encourage them to send information to me. We don’t use all of them, and sometimes a release spurs an idea for something more useful to you as a reader.

Then there’s the absurd approach. I have received at least 10 messages from one company about one new product. This is not the same release coming to me in 10 different ways, this is 10 different versions of the same information. OK, I get it. Thanks.

Just part of the filtering we do at Radio magazine and RadioMagOnline.com.

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