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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

HD Radio comes to Zune — soon

Microsoft has announced that the next version of the Zune media player — the Zune HD — will include an HD Radio receiver. In one way I want to say, “It’s about time.”

On the other hand I ask, “Why bother?”

For some time I have said that the real mark of HD Radio success is to have the technology in every radio receiver. If it’s an option it will always be just that. If it’s in every receiver, there’s no doubt. Adding the technology to devices such as the Zune is a good step in this direction.

I don’t know how many people use the radio receiver on the Zune. I don’t own one, nor do any of my friends. (If you have a Zune, tell us what you use it for.) Regardless, once it has an HD Radio receiver, that’s one more not-an-option choice.

But why the “why bother?” comment? While I admit to not knowing the stats on radio usage for Zune owners, I would think people are buying a Zune because it’s a media player, not a portable radio. Sure, radio is one form of media, and if it’s already in there, perhaps it will get used. Having the radio receiver is one advantage the Zune has over the Ipod. I’ll have to reserve judgment until some stats are available.

The Zune HD is slated for release in the fall 2009. I look forward to seeing one in action. I also wonder what the battery life will be like.

In the end, call the Zune HD a win for HD Radio.

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I call myself an engineer

The term “engineer” is used frequently in many industries. It means different things depending on its context. In my case, I’m a radio broadcast and audio engineer.

Using the term engineer causes some people to take a defensive stance. It seems that many of these people are state-certified professional engineers as well. (Not all the defenders are PEs, but it seems many of them are.)

I admire anyone who holds a PE. That’s quite an accomplishment. But I see that accomplishment recognized by referring to that person as a PE or professional engineer, not just an engineer.

Despite this, the argument is raised regularly. Should those who do not hold a state-issued professional engineer designation be allowed to call themselves an engineer? I think they should be allowed.

Some caution is due. If someone is using the services of an engineer, the person authorizing the work should ensure that the people he is hiring is qualified, regardless of a state-issued certificate. I would never represent myself as being qualified to design a bridge. Likewise, I know plenty of PEs who have no business popping the lid on a piece of audio equipment.

However, we are both engineers.

Something for clarification from Merriam Webster (edited):

Engineer
Etymology: Middle English engineour, from Anglo-French, from enginer to devise, construct, from engineering
1: a member of a military group devoted to engineering work
2 a: a designer or builder of engines b: a person who is trained in or follows as a profession a branch of engineering c: a person who carries through an enterprise by skillful or artful contrivance
3: a person who runs or supervises an engine or an apparatus

2b and 2c apply to me.

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Shortened license renewal?

That’s what FCC Acting Chairman Michael Copps wants.

In an address during the Free Press Summit on May 14, Copps dropped something of a bomb on broadcasters when he said that he wants to reform the license renewal process. From his speech:

If old media is going to be with us a while still, what implications does this have for us? It means we still need to get serious about defining broadcasters’ public interest obligations and reinvigorating our license renewal process. Since we still need broadcasters to contribute to the democratic dialogue, we need clear standards that can be fairly but vigorously enforced. It is time to say good-bye to postcard renewal every eight years and hello to license renewals every three years with some public interest teeth.

I understand that many thoughtful people are ready to give up on the public interest. They would rather just impose a spectrum fee on broadcasters and be done with it. I’m not ready to throw in the towel. The public interest standard is like a grand old theater that has been badly neglected over the years. The structure is sound, and with a little imagination and a lot of hard work we can make it a showplace once again.

I’m all for ensuring the public interest is met by broadcasters. There are limited licenses, so the spectrum is valuable. It should be treated like a valuable resource. However, juke box radio stations thrive according to ratings, so there is obviously some public interest being shown.

I get the feeling that Copps has the view that every consumer is actively involved in every detail of social and political events, and that radio should be just as active in covering the details. There are some listeners who want that, but it seems obvious that most listeners are happy to turn on the radio and hear something akin to what is already available. (What each market has may not be perfect, I know.)

Public interest is always a compromise. Public appeal is the counterbalance.

So Copps wants to end the postcard renewal and make it a process with some teeth. I can imagine that will involve much more paperwork. And if it’s shortened to three years, more paperwork more often.

Perhaps Copps will get his wish. I think most stations could handle increased filing requirements. The question is, can the FCC handle the new workload of reviewing and granting the revised renewal application process in a timely and efficient manner?

What you say and how you say it

I recently had a conversation with another broadcast engineer that reminded me that how you say something is just as important as what you say. As engineers, we tend to interface with equipment just fine. Sometimes our people interface isn’t always the best.

The other engineer was telling me about some work he was being asked to do. The tasks in the assignment were clear, but there were some contingencies involved. Mainly, if the initial steps of the project were done within a certain time frame, the later steps would be easier to accomplish and more likely to be accomplished successfully. Sounds simple enough, right?

This engineer explained the time sensitivity to the person assigning the work. The engineer outlined the cause and effect of the tasks and the timeline. He explained that as delays from management were introduced it would make the final result less likely to be successful. Again, sounds simple.

The problem is that engineer didn’t explain all this with an approach that built on a teamwork relationship between himself and the managers. He instead took a logical approach and presented it as if this then that scenarios, but he put a condition on the project by saying that if the management won’t agree to the strict timeline for the later tasks, he won’t waste his time on the initial tasks. Basically, he told them it’s his way or no way.

There are certainly times to take such a hard approach. Contract engineers know that some clients have to be handled in absolutes. In this case, the engineer was not to that point. By forcing the management to do it on his terms, he effectively told them he wasn’t going to take on the project.

He got his way on the project. He didn’t have to do it. But I know the relationship between the engineer and the management has been damaged.

The better way to handle the situation would be to explain the cause and effect of not staying on the timeline, and getting management to buy in on the idea. This would also involved giving the management specific parts of the project, again stressing that they affect the outcome.

I see this hardball approach too often at stations. Sometimes it’s part of the us/them mentality that engineers have toward management. Sometimes it’s just the analytical and logical engineering mind putting things into specific and concrete terms.

We’re all salesmen in our jobs. Some people sell tangible goods. Some sell intangible goods (like radio air time). Some sell ideas. Sell your idea. Make your client (the management) your partner in your work.

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Rehr is stepping out

The news that David Rehr was leaving the NAB came as a surprise to everyone. Granted, you don’t let anyone peak at the hand you want to play.

I met Rehr on several occasions. I’ll give him credit for the direction of the NAB over the past 3.5 years. He is something of a showman, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. He likes to talk to an audience with a wireless lavaliere and without a podium. He speaks with passion about whatever the topic is. I have watched him at receptions making the rounds where he has to repeat the same message 30 times to different small groups, but each time he has the same enthusiasm in his voice.

The NAB has had some interesting battles during his term. Some have been lost (satellite radio merger, which was a losing battle from the start despite the NAB’s huge fuss over it). Some are still be fought (terrestrial radio performance fees). In general, I think Rehr has been effective at bringing the NAB into a more current view of broadcasting and its part of the current electronic media state.

There’s no word yet on what Rehr is going to do next.

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Cutbacks everywhere

Just after the NAB Show we heard that Clear Channel had another round of layoffs. Unfortunately, some good workers lost their jobs thanks to an ailing economy. I know other companies have dealt with layoffs as well.

Some companies are shifting to a shortened work week as a way to trim costs without letting people go. While shifting to a four-day work week has its social and recreational advantage, it’s not easy for some people to take a 20 percent drop in pay. Still, it’s better to have a job than no job.

If you’re unemployed, getting a job is priority one. If you have been cut back in hours, take advantage of the extra time. Pick up some contract work. Take a class at the local college. Volunteer your time to a worthwhile cause.

It’s easy to be bitter about the change in your business life, but rather than dwell on the negative aspect, turn it into a positive. You might even find a better job in the process.

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Language, please

The title probably makes you think about swearing. That’s not the point this time.

I’m more and more annoyed with the lack of attention being paid to language today. I don’t expect everyone to be an award-winning language expert, but I would like to see some attention paid to using language properly.

This is about English. My concern is not with those who speak English as a second language (although there are plenty of English-second speakers who have a better understanding of English the English-first speakers), but with those of us who grew up with a language and use it every day.

What appalls me most is when I hear radio and TV announcers and news reporters butcher the language. The awful mistakes heard over the airwaves are repeated by the audience. These errors are like nails on a chalkboard to me.

Some examples:
“Have went” (instead of went or have gone)
“There is” (usually as the contraction “there’s”) when it should be “there are” (example: There’s many cars on the highway.)
Misspellings on TV crawls

Some errors in writing that are common:
Its (possessive of it) vs. it’s (contraction of it is)
Your (possessive) vs. you’re (contraction of you are)
There (adverb) vs. their (possessive pronoun) vs. they’re (contraction of they are)
Apostrophes on plurals (essays is the plural, essay’s is the possessive)

When speaking without a script, some errors are bound to occur. I can live with that. But the proliferation of errors I see in prepared material is just not acceptable.

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Happy birthday, Sam

Today (April 27) is Samuel Morse’s birthday. You should know this because it’s listed on the Radio magazine radio history page.

This morning when I used Google I noticed the homage paid to the man known for his digital (in a sense) code. You know that Google likes to modify its logo for various events. Today’s brought a smile to my face:

Happy birthday, Sam.

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So what’s new? (At the NAB Show)

The question I am most asked during the NAB convention is, “What have you seen that’s new?”

This isn’t always an easy question to answer. Frankly, like many past conventions, there isn’t much that’s truly new. There are lots of new products, but for the most part, they are refinements and enhancements to existing ideas. It’s still progress, but it’s incremental.

The Radio magazine Pick Hits, now in their 25th year, will be determined this afternoon by a panel of judges. I have no part in deciding the winners, I only moderate the panel to keep it on task. I have my own picks, but I’ll hold off telling you who they are (or were) until after the Pick Hits meeting. I don’t want to influence the panel in its decision. (This is part of our official rules.)

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NAB by the numbers

Everyone wants to know the attendance figures at the convention. They were released on Tuesday.

Registered attendance: 83,842

I was estimating 85,000. Maybe I should try counting cards in the casino tonight.

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