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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

Fact-free Press Releases

The 2010 NAB Show is days away. My e-mail box is full of information from exhibitors. It’s a mix of great, good and useless information.

The great
We cover the technology of radio broadcasting. You already know that. When I receive information about new products, product updates, significant transactions, new installations, company appointments and similar information, we share it with you right away. That’s a big part of what we do. We process information for you so you can do your job better.

The good
I also get plenty of material that has relevance, but it tends to serve the manufacturer’s interests more than anyone else’s. Quite often I have to do more legwork and get the real meat from these items. The fact that a company is exhibiting at a convention is nice to know, but there has to be more to it. Begging for both visitors does no one any good.

The useless
Then there are the releases that say absolutely nothing. I think these releases are written for the company CEO so he can feel good about himself, or they are written for potential investors who want to read a series of buzz words that have no substance, or they are written by a PR person who was given no real information in the first place but was told to issue a press release. (There’s an art to issuing a press release that says nothing but appears to be loaded with great information.) I call the useless releases fact-free press releases. They say nothing. They often say nothing but still use 1,000 words to do it.

Here’s a great example I just received:
“[The company] will use its industry skills to form a product offering that will give value to the customer, while keeping stringent control over quality. [The company] aims to introducing higher end features into a cost effective range of products for the broadcast media market. This is great news for the end-users as they have gone through a torrid financial crisis and have been forced to trim the organizational fat. [The company] has done this from the beginning! And [company] will endeavor to bring in new business ideas to keep overheads at a minimum while giving fantastic value.”

The release goes on and about how this manufacturer will develop new products that help the bottom line, but there is no mention about what these products might do.

And my final peave? The exhibitors who spam the news media list with releases. Do you think I need to know about the newest $20,000 camera lens?

Lucky for you, these types of releases never make it to RadioMagOnline.com or the pages of Radio magazine.

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Kill an Idea Before it Grows

I’m watching a discussion thread on one of the many e-mail lists I monitor. This thread is about adding FM receivers to cell phones and distributing emergency alerts to mobile devices. Part of this discussion includes using RBDS (such as GSS Alert FM or Via Radio) to distribute the emergency messages.

There are some good ideas being posted, but there are many more comments stating that it’s all a bad idea:

  • “Listeners may not want to receive alerts on their devices”
  • “How will the FM receiver know to listen to the right channel to get the alert?”
  • “Phone users will complain about their Ipod or phone switching when they don’t want it to.”

    While these are valid concerns for a final implementation, it seems the idea is being killed before it even has a chance to be explored. By all means, let’s ignore technology improvements and by no means implement them for the greater good. Let’s leave radio exactly the way it was in 1948!

    Yes, I’m being sarcastic.

    First rule of brainstorming: There are no bad ideas. Accept everything and then put them together. Design a system and then consider the drawbacks. Then alter the solution to address the perceived shortcoming.

  • Streaming vs. Broadcasting

    Listeners can receive an audio stream through many means. Terrestrial radio is obviously a popular method, but streaming continues to gain ground. What surprises me is the reluctance for some broadcasters to embrace distribution methods other than the legacy terrestrial transmission.

    The reluctance is not a cost issue. That’s obviously an important consideration, but the arguments I hear against streaming or delivery via a cell phone network are not based on costs, but on service during an emergency.

    It’s been proven many times with recent tragic events (earthquakes are the most notable right now) that radio is often the best source for public information. That can’t be denied. But to discredit delivering an audio stream solely on the grounds that it won’t work well during an emergency is short-sighted.

    The decision to provide an Internet stream is rarely an either/or situation of broadcast or streaming. Streaming is in addition to the broadcast signal.

    And while it’s important to serve the public interest and deliver information during an emergency, how much of a station’s time is really taken up by emergency operations? When a crisis occurs, the terrestrial signal will prevail. The rest of the time, use all the available methods of delivery to make the business succeed.

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    Getting technical at the FCC

    In December 2009, the “FCC Commissioners Technical Resource Act” (Senate bill 2881) was introduced. The bill was introduced by Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Mark Warner (D-VA) and was in direct agreement with one of the SBE’s legislative goals: “To promote the maintenance or increase of technical expertise within the FCC to ensure that decision making by the FCC is based on technical investigation, studies and evaluation rather than political expenditures.”

    In mid-March, Representative Jerry McNerney (D-CA) introduced a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to S.2881, which would authorize an engineering staff person for each of the five FCC commissioners. With a House bill now introduced, the legislation can move through the committee process of both chambers of Congress.

    McNerney’s introduction of the bill comes after representatives of the Society of Broadcast Engineers met with his legislative staff in Washington the week prior. SBE’s Government Relations Committee Chairman Barry Thomas, CPBE CBNT, and General Counsel Chris Imlay visited offices of several members of the House to garner support for a companion to the Senate bill.

    Now that the issue is in front of both houses of Congress, it’s time for broadcasters and broadcast engineers to speak up. Now is the time to contact your U.S. Representative and urge him or her to join Rep. McNerney as a co-sponsor or at least support HR.4809.

    Contact information for U.S. Representatives: www.house.gov/zip/ZIP2Rep.html

    And also contact your U.S. Senators to urge their support for S.2881. Contact information for U.S. Senators: www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

    Countdown to Vegas

    The NAB Show is about one month away now. For the exhibitors and for us covering the industry, our planning began some time ago. In January we began gathering information on new products that will be unveiled. We also started gathering information about the sessions and assembling the data for our exhibit floor map.

    By February, most of the pieces were in place for our March issue, although we still had to add last-minute updates until the end of the month.

    It’s now March, and we’re working on the April issue while we make appointments for the convention. My hotel and airline reservations are made. I am making final arrangements on meetings rooms. Up until I arrive in Las Vegas I will be making constant updates to my daily schedule. I’ll make a few adjustments on site as well.

    Then, for one week, I’ll be a blur. I’ll spend most of my time on the exhibit floor. I’ll pop in a few sessions when I can, but unfortunately I can’t spend as much time there as I would like. In the evenings, I head back to my room not to relax, but to process all the information I gathered during the day, including news and photos of the day. Some I’ll post online myself, some I’ll pass to the staff minding the fort at home. In the morning I get to do it all again.

    I have never calculated all the time I spend preparing for the NAB Show. I don’t think I really want to know. Of course once the show is over, I’m still working on it for our Pick Hits and post-show review.

    Who says it’s only one week a year?

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    The Buggles Were Wrong

    I saw an item in the New York Daily News discussing MTV’s recent admission that it is not a music channel. Thanks for letting us know, MTV. It’s been this way since at least 1990.

    MTV went on the wire (it’s a cable channel, so saying “on the air” sounds wrong) on Aug. 1, 1981. The first video the channel played was the Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star. In 1981, many thought this was a prophecy. Three decades later, we know it hasn’t come to pass.

    Even with media iPods, Youtube, Pandora and many other outlets, radio is still making a mark. We’re not in the heyday of the golden oldies and boss jocks, but we’re still doing ok.

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    Opposing the Performance Fee

    It seems the promos the NAB has provided to radio stations about eliminating terrestrial radio’s exemption from paying the music performance fee are being heard. My non-broadcast coworkers and friends are all asking me about the tax (as the NAB calls it) being proposed for radio stations.

    First, I clarify the term “tax.” While an assessed fee can technically be called a tax, most people understand a tax to be a fee levied by the government to subsidize the government’s actions. The issue at hand is for radio stations to pay a royalty that it so far has been exempt from paying.

    But listeners only hear the tax portion. Good for the NAB; the message is at least being heard.

    However, it’s not being understood. It’s raising awareness, but it’s not answering questions. And as far as I can tell, no one is going to the website the NAB created to see what it’s about.

    Seems like it’s time for phase two of the message.

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    A pre-packaged chapter 11

    I have received several inquiries about the Chapter 11 filing made by Penton Media, the company that owns Radio magazine. For a company to file Chapter 11 raises thoughts of doom and gloom to most people. In this case, Chapter 11 is only part of the story. What was filed was a pre-packaged Chapter 11.

    During the past year, Penton’s management team and board of directors focused on strengthening the company financially and operationally as part of its commitment to making sure we are best positioned to meet the needs of our customers when the economy turns.

    We have made solid progress, which has allowed us to remain profitable. However, Penton still faces the burden of a heavy debt load at a time when difficult economic conditions are putting pressure on the entire industry. This debt is simply not sustainable. As a result, Penton proactively engaged in discussions with our current owners and lenders, and we reached an agreement on a capital restructuring that will strengthen our balance sheet and significantly improve our financial position. Once it is implemented, the restructuring will result in:

  • eliminating $270 million of the company’s debt;
  • our owners making an additional investment in Penton which we will be able to use to improve and grow our business; and
  • an extension of the maturity on Penton’s senior secured credit facility through 2014.

    Together with the company’s lenders, Penton agreed that the best way to implement this restructuring agreement is through what is called a “pre-packaged” Chapter 11, which means we have already finalized a plan of reorganization that has been approved by our lenders. The plan has been filed with the court, and it should be a very quick process. We expect the plan to be approved by the court within 30 to 45 days.

    The most important item to note is that Penton Media is not going out of business. In fact, the company has been and continues to be profitable. This is simply a capital restructuring under Chapter 11, an action that will be taken voluntarily because it will make the entire Penton organization more financially stable.

    It is equally important for you to know that during the restructuring process it will be business as usual. The entire organization remains committed to providing the trusted print publication, website and digital products that you rely on. There is no change to our readers or advertisers. There is no change to the Radio magazine staff either.

    I appreciate the notes of concern I have received, but it’s still business as usual for us.

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    Pushing Radio to Consumers

    I just finished a long weekend trip. I had a rental car this time, so I had the fun of setting up the radio so it was listenable before I left the lot. (Who turns the bass all the way down and the treble all the way up?) This radio included Sirius as well. I don’t subscribe to sat radio, so it was a good chance to check it out again.

    I have always liked the depth of programming on many of the channels. It’s a nice change, but I don’t drive enough to justify paying the monthly fee for the service. Plus, I can’t stand the audio encoding. All that swishing of the encoder drives me crazy.

    But this is not rant about the evils of sat radio.

    While I was driving, I tuned around the FM band. I was in three medium-sized markets on my trip, so I had time to sample lots of stations.

    What surprised me was that the car radio had a graphic display for Sirius, but it did not have RBDS. I saw a large numeric display of the frequency, but nothing more. That disappointed me. RBDS is far from a new technology; why isn’t it in every car radio receiver?

    While I missed not having RBDS, the fact that satellite radio was included made me think that it would have been nice to have HD Radio available. What great way to introduce consumers to the newest terrestrial radio technology.

    This car radio had an auxiliary input jack and a USB power jack. I could have bypassed radio altogether and listened to my media player if I wanted to.

    Again, terrestrial radio is missing a huge opportunity to show consumers what is available.

    The end of POTS lines?

    When ISDN was introduced, it was believed it would be the next common wired communications service. I remember looking at an office phone system and being told that POTS lines would go away and ISDN would be the norm.

    20 years later, ISDN is fading away. It’s unavailable in many areas already. Funny how POTS has managed to stick around.

    Or has it?

    AT&T filed comments with the FCC that say for broadband deployment to continue, the legacy circuit-switched network must be phased out to make room for broadband and IP. A main argument is that as demand and usage of POTS lines decreases, the cost to maintain that network increases. The money spent on maintaining the circuit-switched network could be better applied to broadband services.

    I can’t say I totally disagree with the general idea. We’re using IP connectivity for almost everything already. It’s also much more efficient than circuit-switched networks. But still, the idea of not have any tip-ring anywhere? It’s almost hard to believe.

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