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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

Back into the swing

It’s November, and now the AES Convention, SBE National Meeting and a vacation are behind me. Maybe now I can start posting again.

Between NAB Radio, AES and the SBE meeting at the Broadcasters Clinic, I saw lots of people and had a chance to catch up. Did you attend any of the fall conferences or conventions? If so, which ones?

NAB Radio: Day Two

The second day of the convention is also the last day of exhibits, which is where I will spend most of my time today.

I have not seen attendance numbers yet, and when I asked I was told that they should be released on Friday. I expect to see a decrease from last year; possibly a significant one. The sessions have fewer attendees. The show floor is fairly quiet. Even the show Daily is pretty thin.

Tagging with Zune

I ran into Jeff Littlejohn of Clear Channel this morning. After the initial hellos he asked if I had seen the Zune media player with song tagging. (Read about the idea in the Radio Currents.) I had not seen it firsthand yet, so the demo began. First, he tuned one of the Clear Channel station here in Austin and tagged the song that was playing. Then we walked back to the newsroom where there is an open Wi-fi connection, where he accessed his tagged songs and then purchased the one he just tagged. Within a minute or so, he had the song and album art on his Zune ready to play again. His credit card was automatically billed for the transaction in the background.

Talk about instant gratification.

NAB Radio: Day One

The NAB Radio Show starts today. I dropped into a few sessions already, and I’m on my way to another. The first observation: The show looks smaller than ever. The exhibit floor is a decent size, but I know I’ll easily be able to cover it in the 11 hours or so of exhibit time.

The size can’t be blamed on any storms. The location was picked more than a year ago. The storms might affect attendance, and we’ll see if that’s the case.

On the way to the NAB Radio Show

I’m about to board a plane for Austin. When Ike was heading toward Texas I wondered if it would affect the convention, but from what I see, Austin is ok. I wish we could say the same for Galveston and Houston.

Not to ignore their situation, but looking on to the convention, I’m looking forward to some of the sessons — particularly on revenue generation from AM towers and copper theft — as well as seeing some of the new products being shown.

What are you looking for at the convention?

Sony is Zappin, but not for HD Radio

The newest in-dash receivers from Sony include connectivity for Ipods and other media players. Other radios can do this, but the Sony models (CDX-GT630UI, CDX-GT430IP, CDX-GT330, CDX-GT130) have a feature called Zappin, which allows the radio head unit to scan the media player like a radio’s station scan button. Users can scan their own media players to find music they like.

Oh, the radios are HD Radio ready, too. That seemed like an afterthought in the press release.

It’s getting easier and easier to use a radio to listen to everything except radio.

On the road in Oklahoma City

I am in Oklahoma City today moderating the Society of Broadcast Engineers Ennes Workshop for SBE chapter 85. There are nearly 50 attendees here for the one-day conference. The chapter also arranged an exhibits area with about eight exhibitors.

The workshop sessions covered career advice, disaster planning, HD Radio, audio routing and more. It was a good mix of topics.

If a regional or local event such as this takes place near you, I hope you will take advantage of the opportunity and attend. They’re informative. The SBE is careful to screen an presentations that are sales pitches. (If a sales presentation is made, that presenter is not invited back.)

Not all road shows are the same.
You have probably seen other travelling events making their way around the country. These range in quality and substance. Don’t be fooled by those that claim to be educational events with lots of glitzy prizes. Just because someone does not mention the cost of a piece of equipment does not mean it’s not a sales pitch.

While those marathon sales pitches claim to offer a taste of something (a bad taste), they at least offer one benefit: they bring broadcast engineers together. There is an advantage to the networking opportunity.

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.

    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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