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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

Time flies by

I just noticed that it’s been some time since I last posted. That’s what the holidays will do. I meant to post right after the new year, but of course I was dealing with the work pile that developed during the time off.

I think I’m caught up now. Posting to Talkback was even on of those items in the work pile.

Back to work.

Remembering the Buzz About the Sat Radio Merger

Remember when the idea of a merged satellite radio provider was seemingly the only items of news for radio? The New York Times recently ran a story about the ongoing woes of the company.

When the merger was the top story, the NAB opposed it. No, it more than opposed the merger, the NAB waged a war against it. Unfortunately for the NAB, it lost that very visible war. But as I expected, the merger of the two satcasters has had a minimal affect on terrestrial radio.

The combined company has a huge debt, and apparently it needs to refinance that debt in 2009. Howard Stern is considering retirement when his contract expires. It looks like Sirius XM just can’t catch a break.

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The RIAA Gets Smart on Pirates

After years of bad publicity for suing teenagers and hapless Internet users, the Recording Industry Association of America is trying a new approach. Its going to work with the Internet service providers to impede the illegal activity.

Based on a plan being developed in France, a user gets three chances to illegally share a file. At that point, the RIAA tells the ISP, which can then forward the warning or directly as the user to stop. If the user continues, the warnings continue. The RIAA wants the ISP to reduce the user’s data rate the practice continues, eventually stopping the service altogether.

This sounds like a gentler approach, and it makes the ISP look like the bad guy, not the RIAA. Almost any change will help the RIAA at this point.

Regardless, thwarting efforts to stop song piracy will always make the record label or the RIAA look bad. For the individual, it’s a petty crime worth a few cents. I understand the RIAA plan so for. Lot and lots of pennies here and pennies there add up to big bucks. I believe artists are due to receive their share for their work. Taking single moms and teenagers to court makes them an example to discourage others from doing it, but it hasn’t seemed to make a difference.

It also does not help that the royalty process in general has bruises of its own with artists reporting that they never received royalties that were negotiated on their behalf.

I expect this debate to continue for some time. And as the Internet continues to grow and online social networking becomes more common than actually putting on shoes and socks and engaging in face-to-face interaction, enforcing copyright laws and collecting on royalties is only going to become more challenging.

Prolific? Yes. Profitable? No.

I receive regular updates from Media Monitors about top radio advertisers. We don’t post the info at Radio magazine because it’s not really tech related. It’s also covered just fine in the management outlets.
Some companies purchase a great deal of radio advertising. Walmart and Geico are two that come to mind. A recent Media Monitors list ranked the biggest radio advertisers of 2008, and the names aren’t really surprising, although there is some false hope in one. Here’s the list:

Rank Advertiser # spots (millions)
1. HD Digital Radio Alliance 1.69
2. Walmart 1.64
3. Geico 1.56
4. Verizon 1.24
5. Home Depot 1.22

It’s good to see HD Radio being promoted so heavily, but at the same time, there’s no money changing hands for these ads. Stations are committed to running the spots, but the volume of unsold inventory also raises a flag for our struggling economy.
The news is a mixed message. Good for HD Radio. Telling for radio advertising.

Help Wanted: Honest FCC Commissioner

We already knew that there were problems at the FCC. Now, some members of Congress have affirmed that belief. Read about it here:

radiomagonline.com/currents/house-report-investigates-fcc-problems-martin-1210/

Unfortunately, it is likely that little will be done. Once Obama is sworn in, a the commission will have a new chairman.

Activate EAS: I have a hangnail!

I don’t really have a hangnail, but read on and you’ll see that something that silly could be in an upcoming EAS message.

We posted a news item in the Radio Currents today. The following message was sent on Dec. 4, 2008, in the Lubbock, TX, area:

BULLETIN – EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
Civil Emergency Message
Texas Emergency Management Agency Lubbock Texas
Relayed By National Weather Service Lubbock TX
531 PM CST Thu Dec 4 2008
The following message is transmitted at the request of the Childress Office of Emergency Management.
At 530 PM this evening officials with the Childress Office of Emergency Management and the Childress Banking Center are advising bank customers to be aware of a telephone scam being conducted in the Childress area. The scam involves either a recorded telephone message or a live person calling who represents them self as an employee of either the Childress Banking Center or Wellington State Bank. The scam requests specific information about your personal accounts. You are advised to be very wary of any calls requesting information about your personal accounts. The banks do not make calls such as these. If you have given out any information that may have compromised your accounts you should contact your bank immediately.

Civil emergency? Really? When life is at risk — even a single life — it makes sense to use EAS. When property is involved, it becomes a problem to decide if an activiation is warranted. To me, this was an inapprorpiate use of EAS. This should have been run on the local news stations, not as an EAS mesasge.

What’s next? Attention citizens: there are bad people in the world! Don’t talk to strangers. Lock your doors when you leave the house. Brush and floss twice daily.

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Riding the HD Radio coat tails

On Nov. 28, 2008, NPR held a National Day of Listening that was highlighted by a special series that ran Nov. 22 to Nov. 28. The series, which NPR created in partnership with Story Corps, featured interviews of 10 popular NPR hosts, correspondents and commentators with their own friends and family.

Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? The series was carried on NPR affiliates across the country, and the segments were also posted online. I know some listeners found it to be compelling, interesting content.

What I found strange is that I received a press release about the series under a thin HD Radio veil. The release said, “Experience the first ever National Day of Listening on National Public Radio member stations [on] November 28, broadcasting in crystal-clear sound — only with HD Radio.”

It appeared that the series was only available to listeners with HD Radio receivers. As an effort to promote HD Radio, this is an ideal way to encourage listeners to obtain receivers with the technology. But as I read more I realized that HD Radio had nothing to do with the series. I asked a PR rep from the source of the press release, and I was told:

“With NPR’s National Day of Listening, we’re highlighting some of the most compelling programming on the radio today and we’re saying that there is no better way to listen to these multigenerational stories from across the country than in crystal-clear HD Radio quality. It’s a reminder to folks of the improved sound quality of HD Radio broadcasts and the many great receivers available on the market.”

So the series has nothing to do with HD Radio. Just to be sure, I asked if the series was being offered exclusively on multicast channels, which would be another way to promote HD Radio for what HD Radio has to offer. But alas, the reply proved that wrong: “This series will be broadcast on NPR’s primary stations, not multicast stations.”

I appreciate the intent of the release. HD Radio provides a clearer sound. We know that. I think most of the respectable trade press will see through this as well. Unfortunately, some consumer media may pick this up and only confuse the issue.

There’s no need to tack HD Radio to unique content when that content is available elsewhere. Make the content exclusive to HD Radio and not a tag-along to other forms of media.

HD Radio in all vehicles – getting closer

I have said before that for HD Radio to succeed it must be in every radio. It shouldn’t be a choice for consumers to make, especially one that carries an extra cost.

We’re getting closer. Volvo will include HD Radio as standard in all but one of its models in 2009. See:
radiomagonline.com/currents/hd-radio-standard-volvo-cars-1119/

Good step in the right direction.

So who’s next to offer HD Radio as standard on all its models? I’m sure it’s the last thing on the minds of the financially troubled US auto makers. Lincoln, Ford, Audi and Mercury offer it as standard on some models.

Radio on demand

I’ve received several announcements about new Internet radio services coming online. Some are juke boxes, some offer customized playlists, all of them have a variety of set channels or formats available.

Why don’t hear about local stations providing an on-demand service of their own? I’m not talking simply streaming the signal online. I know some stations offer alternate juke box channels with formats related to the station’s format. But if I’m a fan of a certain rock station, why shouldn’t I be able to go that site and access all the Rush (the Canadian trio, not the talker) or Joe Satriani I want?

We all know that Internet radio knows no borders while a local station caters to its signal coverage area. Some of the local flair of Kansas City will be lost to someone in Cincinnati, but national advertisers could find an engaged audience.

If your station is providing an online service beyond some fixed channels tell me about it.

Who’s Next at the FCC?

With a new president comes new legal appointments. It’s already expected that Kevin Martin, a Republican, will be stepping out when Obama is sworn in. The two sitting Democrat commissioners are Adelstein and Copps. Which one of them could be appointed to be the chairman?

If I had to pick one, it would be Adelstein. Based on his comments and history at the FCC I think he has a better record of being broadcaster friendly.

Copps seems to have good intentions, but his actions always consider the broadcaster second or third. While I agree that public interest should be served, Copps seems to have an unrealistic view of what the public really wants.

I also wonder what other changes will be made at the FCC.

We’ll know soon enough.

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