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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 of the Industry Category

One Satellite Radio Provider

The FCC’s votes are in. Sirius and XM will soon merge into a single company. Are you surprised? I’m not.

In a narrow view, Sirius and XM competed only with each other. In a more realistic view, they competed with every other form of audio media including terrestrial radio, Internet radio and media players. Will this approved merger be the end of terrestrial radio? Hardly.

After nearly 1.5 years of challenging the transaction, the NAB lost its fight. We saw a steady stream of activity in this debate, and now that it’s over, NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton issued a statement: “Today’s vote certainly comes as a disappointment to NAB. We continue to believe that consumers are best served by competition rather than monopolies.”

Competition is healthy. I agree with that. So monopolies are bad, but superopolies formed from a few companies owning huge numbers of stations in a single market are good.

Tower safety

On July 21, 2008, NBC Dateline aired a show about the most dangerous profession in America: tower climbing. The one-hour show focused on a company and crew that mostly works with cellular and two-way installations. I watched this show because, like you, I work around towers and I work with tower climbers.

My first reaction was the term that was used to describe the climbers: tower dogs. I had never heard that before. After the show aired, I talked to Kevin McNamara, the Managing Technology column writer for Radio magazine. Kevin often handles special projects for cellular carrier and has worked with a great number of tower crews. He told me that there are almost two sects of tower climbers. One group tends to work on larger broadcast towers. The other group tends to work on smaller and more prevalent communications towers. There is overlap, but there is a dividing line.

Kevin’s take on the show is that it was a fairly accurate depiction of the communication tower climbers. They work hard and they play hard after work.

Something that the show lightly touched on is that the time window for most tower projects is too narrow. Kevin agreed with this. A few times it was noted that the climber had four hours to complete a project. In one instance, the climber completed it in 2.5 hours. That’s good from a business standpoint. The project was completed under time and no one was hurt.

Too often, the time window is unrealistic, and the climbers are encouraged to cut corners to get the job done. The only corner to cut is safety.

The National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) issued a statement following the program.

NATE is disappointed with the approach that Dateline took with its Tower Dogs special shown last night. The program did not present an accurate view of the professionalism and work habits of most tower crews. NATE was not involved in the production of this piece, nor is it affiliated with this program.

Now that this program has been run, NATE hopes this shocking portrayal of the tower industry will draw attention to the men and women that face difficult job conditions each day to make cellular, broadcast and radio communications possible.

NATE believes the Dateline piece inadvertently highlighted some of the most critical issues that must be addressed by the tower industry including:

  • The impact that unrealistic timelines and budgets have on the safety. There is an inherent pressure in our industry to work to the clock rather than to the safety needs of the task at hand. It is our hope that this opens a dialogue with tower owner and operators to show the worth of an investment of safety and the importance of taking the time needed to complete the job properly the first time.
  • The importance of hiring qualified contractors with the proper equipment and skills to accomplish the task at hand safely. One of the subcontractors featured on the Dateline piece was subject to a safety audit by the general contractor and did not have the correct safety equipment in proper working condition. These safety audits are critical to ensure that the work is done in the safest way possible.
  • The need for adequate training of all members of the crew. One of the subcontractor’s crewmen walked off the job, putting the team behind schedule because he was the only person trained and qualified. When evaluating a subcontractor it is important to ensure that all members of the team are properly trained so that the team isn’t hampered if one person becomes unavailable.

    As demonstrated by this television show, the tower workers, especially those working aloft, are the focal point for many of the pressures that are inherent in today’s tower construction environment. In a very real sense, the brunt of the industries pressure rests on the shoulders of these individuals.

    Although Kevin Hayden, board member and founding member of NATE, was interviewed as part of this special, the story edited out many of his comments stressing the importance of creating a dedication to safety and the efforts that this industry is taking to improve.

    While highlighting the dangers inherent to working aloft, we hope the show will also help tower owners and operators and everyone else involved in tower construction and maintenance realize their role in protecting the men and women working aloft. We hope that this will start a dialogue to address what can be done to prevent future accidents and ensure that everyone goes home safe at the end of the day.

    We believe that the only way the industry can conquer its challenges is by creating a continuous dedication to safety. This is a dedication that must extend from the tower owner and operator, to the project manager, primary contractor, sub contractors as well as every person who works on a tower site from a project’s beginning to end. The dangers of this industry are not going to vanish, but must be addressed by an ongoing concentrated effort by everyone involved.

  • Like or hate the TV program, NATE has a good point. There is no substitute for safety. If the pressure is on to complete a task in an unrealistic time frame, it’s up to an individual to decide it is not worth the risk. He may get lucky and everything will be fine. If not, the unfortunate situation that was shown in the program could happen: a climber fell to his death.

    The TV program focused more on the personalities of those profiled than the actual details of the dangerous career. This was entertainment, not a documentary.

    While few Radio magazine readers actually climb (and those who do should be properly trained and equipped), the same attention to safety applies everywhere. When a transmitter is off the air, there is a focus on getting it back on the air quickly. Off the air time is lost revenue. At the same time, taking a chance and electrocuting yourself is not worth the risk either. Wait the extra 15 minutes for a second person to join you at the site before working on the high voltage supply.

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    NAB Radio Show Agenda

    The NAB has posted a timetable on the NAB Radio Show site. At first glance, everything looks like it’s about the same as previous years. The show covers three days, Wednesday through Friday. The usual range of papers are being presented, as well as the Marconi Awards.
    Then there’s the exhibit floor. In past years, the exhibits have been open a few hours on Wednesday evening, Thursday all day, and most of the day Friday until the early afternoon. There have been up to 16 hours of exhibit floor time in past years. The exhibit time continues to be trimmed. There were 12.5 hours last year over three days. There will be 12 hours this year on two days. The show floor will be open on Wednesday and Thursday only.

    Is this enough time for you as an attendee? Granted, the Radio Show is much smaller than the NAB Show, and the exhibit floor at the Radio Show is manageable in 12 hours. But is it enough when it’s competing for the same schedule time as the sessions and other meetings?

    I will talk to exhibitors as the show approaches, and I’ll get their view as well. It takes time to set up a booth, and it’s not cheap to ship equipment and display material. Then again, many exhibitors complain that the third day is wasted anyway because of the light traffic.

    What’s your take on the change in exhibit hours? Too few? Too clumped?

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    Surround for radio — kind of quiet

    The discussion of surround sound for radio broadcasts has dwindled over the past few months. The technology is still there, but we have not heard much if anything from stations who are using the technology for analog or digital radio.

    I heard it mentioned a few times at the 2008 NAB Show, but even then it was a low-key discussion.

    Is surround for radio worthwhile? What would you do to promote the technology?

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    When amateur challenges professional

    As technology evolves, it becomes more accessible to the masses. I’m not just talking about smaller media players and the ability to access media on just about any electronic device, I’m talking about creation of this media.

    It used to be that publishing printed materials, producing songs and distributing entertainment were expensive projects. There were high costs in creating the material, and high costs in distributing it. Then the world changed. Desktop publishing, home recording and the great pipe — the Internet — made all of these project accessible to the masses. The ability to create is ubiquitous now. It extends far beyond publishing and recording, but those are just two examples.

    Projects are created and exchanged all over the Internet. Some are so bad I can’t believe someone completed it and then sat back with pride and thought, “This is really good.” I would show some of those to anyone. I wouldn’t have even saved it if I created it. But the world accepts mediocrity now.

    Just making the effort appears to be sufficient. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stick figure or the Mona Lisa. Society is losing the distinction between a quality work and just showing up for work. Everyone gets a participant ribbon.

    What does this have to do with radio? I received an e-mail message that touted that the newest hobby is to be a DJ at home. This is a new hobby? I think everyone who works in radio played DJ at home at some point. Regardless, the message showed that anyone can purchase some basic equipment and be a DJ at home.

    If consumers can create their own entertainment, why do they need radio? Well, for one, people are lazy. We like to have other people do things for us. This includes entertaining us. Still, if the average Joe can provide a jukebox listening experience, why should the radio station?

    The level of quality available to the consumer continues to rise. As this happens, established media (radio in this case) needs to stay ahead and remain a better product. Professional should always be better than consumer or amateur. Radio stations need to continue to raise the bar to maintain a higher level of quality and service than what consumers can create. Consumers are learning how to make radio on their own. We already know how, but we have to continue to do it better.

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    Earned Recognition

    Did you see the note that Clear Channel has recognized three of its engineers? This is part of the company’s annual tradition now. The move is a smart one, and it’s one that I have seen other companies take as well, although some companies don’t publicize it as widely.

    Read the news at this link.

    It’s sometimes hard to quantify an engineer’s value to a company. Sales people have revenue goals. Managers have budgets. Many engineers are responsible for a budget as well, but it’s not as simple to compare.

    The SBE has honored its members for many years as well. Several Radio magazine contributors have received SBE honors for the best article award, including John Battison, Doug Irwin and Roz Clark.

    We all appreciate a good pat on the back for a job well done. I hope you’re giving those pats once in a while. I also hope you’re giving them publicly. I have seen too many compliments given when no one is looking. A back-room compliment is worthless.

    Have you accomplished something? Make it known. Be sure your boss knows. If you are recognized, ask that the news be shared beyond the tight quarters of someone’s office. Be sure to tell us about it as well. We’ll help spread the word.

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    Sat Radio – Still Waiting

    The FCC is taking its time in completing the satellite radio merger deal. While it’s anyone’s guess as to which way the decision will go, the feud continues about the pros and cons of the deal. Once the deal passed the DOJ, Radio magazine posted a survey question asking you to vote on your thought about the possiblie conditions the FCC might include with the deal. I think it’s likely that the deal will be approved by the FCC, and it will include a conditions. A few days ago, two congressmen sent a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin echoing the idea. The congressmen said that they do not support or oppose the merger, but urge the FCC to include some requirements if the deal is approved. I wonder which lobbying group got them to do that.

    Of course this is how politics work. There’s always a deal and a compromise. The Congressional letter doesn’t get any closer to completing the deal, but keeping it at the top of the discussion list will prevent it from being ignored.

    NAB says 105,000. What do you say?

    The 2008 NAB Show is over, and the NAB reports that registered attendance was just more than 105,000. This figure is only 3,000 fewer than the 2007 convention. It seems like there were a lot fewer than 3,000 people on the floor this year.

    As I have said many times before, registered attendance really means nothing. Like most conventions, I hold more than one badge (news media, exhibitor, speaker and full convention). I’m told that I only count once, but I don’t buy it.

    I have talked to exhibitors and attendees, and the general feeling is that attendance was more likely closer to 80,000 or so. That’s 25 percent less than registered. Because the NAB does not track actual attendance, we’ll never really know.

    It wouldn’t be difficult for the NAB to track actual attendance. At some AES conventions, all badges are scanned when they enter the convention. Another way would be to imbed an RF ID chip in each badge holder and have attendees enter through sensor gates.

    Until then we’ll just have to guess at the real attendance figures.

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    Another kind of blog

    During the 2008 NAB Show, the Radio magazine staff and contributors were armed with cameras to capture the sights of the convention. We call it our photo blog. Check it out.

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    Sat Radio Merger: One Step Closer

    The proposed merger of XM and Sirius has passed the Department of Justice gauntlet. This was one hurdle that was uncertain for the deal, but the DOJ decided that allowing the merger would not lessen competition in the media landscape.

    Naturally, the opponents to the deal are all crying about the decision and repeating the same claims about legalized monopoly, the satcasters defiance of existing rules, the expectation that the merged company will raise its subscription rates (why is that a concern to terrestrial broadcasters?) and more. The DOJ doesn’t see it that way, and neither do I.

    The next step in the process is the visit the FCC. From what I see, the unbiased parties believe that the FCC will agree with the DOJ, although there will likely be some restrictions and conditions imposed on the deal. Will the merged entity be required to surrender some of its spectrum? I doubt it. Will the combined service radio be required to include HD Radio? Possibly. If so, that’s a win for that technology.

    Now I wonder how the opponents, who have spent huge sums to publicize their opposition, will justify the cost of their efforts to their constituents.

    With less than 10 days left in the first quarter of 2008, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin stated that he doubts the FCC will complete its review of the proposal before the end of the quarter. That’s an easy bet. I’m sure the pressure will increase to have a ruling by the end of the second quarter. The FCC will move carefully, and will receive many visits from the lobbyists before this decision is made.

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