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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

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.

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.

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.

Sat Radio Commitment

The Jacobs Media survey on satellite radio that was released this month included the observation that satellite radio’s “dirty little secret” is that subscription rates have been supported through free subscriptions and packaged offerings, so that subscribers who received the service as a gift or as part of a larger purchase seem less inclined to renew the service when it is due.

Is this really that surprising? Naturally, the NAB and several radio trades jumped on this item like it was a revolutionary concept. Think about it: what makes something have a value to us? If we pay our own money for something, we will likely take better care of it or be more inclined to use it than if we get something as a gift. Why is this any different? I am not surprised to hear this dirty little secret.

What if the tables were turned? What if a survey asked people who were given an HD Radio receiver if they use the HR Radio receiver more than another media device? I know it’s not exactly the same argument, but I think you see my point. I’m sure the results of my survey would show that HD Radio has a dirty little secret too. I also doubt that those touting the sat radio secret would tout the HD Radio secret in the same way.

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.

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.

Money well spent?

I just read that XM has spent $30 million in its effort to finalize the merger with Sirius. This includes $1.2 million in lobbying costs. These figures were reported by the Washington Post and touted by the NAB.

The NAB has spent considerable resources opposing the merger itself, although I have yet to see how much of its members’ money has been spent on the effort. I’m sure it’s a hefty sum.

I wonder if the NAB’s money could be better spent somewhere else.

Radio should be everywhere

At the recent Radio Advertising Bureau convention, RAB CEO and President Jeff Haley outlined his vision of radio’s future, which includes audio delivery beyond the traditional transmission systems that we have used for 80+ plus years. Online streaming, podcasting, Wimax and more are part of his vision. Haley also called for broadcasters to work together to ensure that a radio receiver is in every consumer portable device within the next five years.

Read a summary of Haley’s speech at this link.

What caught my attention is that I noted a similar goal for radio more than a year ago (How to Make HD Radio Succeed: Do Nothing, Dec 2006). Haley’s challenge is a broader approach, and it has the correct goal in mind. Listeners have grown and evolved. Radio needs to grow and evolve as well.

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