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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

My schedule at the 2009 NAB Show

The convention is about three weeks away, and I’m starting to get full-court press for appointments at the convention. This will be my 21st NAB convention. I have attended every convention since 1989. I know many people have attended many more than that, but I think 21 qualifies for seasoned status.

My typical plan at the convention is to visit as many exhibitors’ booths as I can. I gather information about new products and get ideas for future articles. The exhibitors want to be sure to see me, so many of them call and ask to set a formal appointment.

In the past, I would make as many appointments as I could. I would also try to set the appointments based on booth geography. I hate wasting time by running from one of the hall to the other — or worse, from the South Hall to the North to the Central. I also get some help to visit these booths from Radio magazine associate editor Erin Shipps. In previous years, I have also gotten help from Chris Wygal, Doug Irwin and a few other contributors.

But this year is different. Erin and I will cover the floor alone. I’ll get some assistance from a few people, but Erin and I get the main load. To maximize my time, I’m also not making any booth appointments. The marketing directors for the exhibitors don’t like hearing this, but they are accepting it. Everyone knows that time is money, and money is tight. I’m just going to navigate the floor in a linear path. I’ll stop at each booth and make my rounds without losing time to run between halls.

This means you might not see me as often during the convention. At least I won’t be running back and forth. Still if you see me, say hello. Tell me what you have found of interest at the show. I’ll tell you what I have found. We can help each other make the most of our time this year.

HD Radio: Still low in priority at stores

I visited a Best Buy the other day, and while I was there I stopped in the auto sound department. The sales person immediately greeted me and asked if I needed help. I said, “HD Radio. Tell me about it.”

He said, “Well, it’s HD. It sounds better.”

I said, “What else can you tell me?”

He replied, “What else do you want to know?”

I decided to end the game and play my hand, telling him that I worked in broadcasting and that I know a great deal about HD Radio, but I wanted to see what he knew and what he had available.

He took me to the display wall and showed me the one unit that had HD Radio built in. It was a model from JVC. He said that others were HD Radio ready, but they all required an “expensive interface” to add HD Radio.

Gee, where’s my incentive to buy one of those?

The JVC was priced around $130, which is reasonable for a decent car radio.

As usual, satellite radio had plenty of presence. An aisle-end display was loaded with info, flashy signs and four receiver styles. Several radios on the wall display had obvious Sirius or XM signs.

I saw nothing about HD Radio.

As I talked to the sales person, I mentioned that HD Radio lacked any presence. He agreed. I said that there appeared to be no incentive for anyone to buy an HD Radio receiver, let alone ask for it. He also agreed. When I said that HD Radio should be in every model and not a conscious decision on the part of the consumer, he also agreed.

It’s nice that he agreed with me, but that doesn’t really help move HD Radio forward.

The radio ads for HD Radio (or “What the ??”)

I’m sure you’ve heard the latest round of radio spots for HD Radio. The school teacher-sounding woman who compares HD Radio to the mating cycle of an insect, or the feeding habits of a bat, or some other bizarre idea.

The body of these spots focuses on the odd comparison, which I suppose is intended to pique interest while entertaining. That’s a valid method of advertising. We want listeners to remember the product being advertised, and if they are engaged in the ad, they probably will.

But these ads are just strange. I mean really strange.

When I am in the car with someone not in broadcasting and one of these spots is played, I ask the person with me what he or she thinks. Most of the time the reply is, “I don’t get it,” or “What was that all about?”

Perhaps they appeal to a younger demo, although I doubt it.

I have yet to really see a compelling campaign to spark interest in HD Radio. There are some unique multicast formats available, but I’m not hearing any promotion on the primary channels.

I’m not seeing promotional efforts for listeners to win an HD Radio receiver.

I’m not seeing signage at events promoting multicast streams.

What’s your plan to promote HD Radio? What would your HD Radio promo spot sound like? Go ahead and make one and we’ll post them online. What are you doing to promote HD Radio? Tell me about it and I’ll share it here.

A plea to attend the NAB Show

Speculation abounds about the 2009 NAB Show and the anticipated attendance. I’ve heard predictions on attendance ranging from 80,000 to 100,000. All the predictions say that the state of the economy will affect attendance in some way.

Today, I received the following message from the NAB:

Dear friends:
As a leader in the radio business, your presence at the 2009 NAB Show – and that of your colleagues and your organization – is important to the overall success of the event and the association as a whole. The financial success of the show directly impacts NAB’s ability to advocate on behalf of America’s broadcasters in Congress, at the FCC and in the courts; provide educational and professional development programs that help stations grow their businesses and broadcasters enhance their careers; educate policymakers about the many ways broadcasters serve their communities; and invest in future technologies to enhance revenue for the broadcasting business.
The organization is able to provide great value to its members, and has not increased member dues rates, in large part due to the revenue generated by the NAB Show. It is up to all of us to be sure this event continues to be successful.
The NAB Show is also an economic engine for the industry, displaying the most exciting technologies in the business, such as HD Radio, Itunes tagging and radio data system (RDS) services, Internet streaming and incorporating radio on all mobile and handheld devices. The capital spending that occurs at the show fuels future industry growth. It is a positive economic catalyst during a time when our country sorely needs it. Thus, your presence at the show not only ensures that you stay at the forefront of a constantly evolving industry like ours, but also demonstrates the unity of the business in moving forward and doing its part in helping to spur economic growth.
The show is also an important time to celebrate the men and women who have made lasting contributions to radio and television. We hope you join us as we honor renowned comedienne and actress Mary Tyler Moore with the Distinguished Service Award during the Opening Keynote session and induct legendary sportscaster Vin Scully into NAB’s Broadcasting Hall of Fame during the Radio Luncheon. In addition to these events, the show features many other notable speakers and experts in media, entertainment and communications.
Now more than ever, your leadership is needed. It’s time for us to step up and lead by example. By engaging in the NAB Show and working together, we are proving our commitment to building a strong future for radio.
We urge you to maintain this commitment to our business by participating, attending and experiencing the NAB Show. Please visit www.nabshow.com for details on this year’s show.
We look forward to seeing you in April.
Best regards,
Jack Sander; Joint Board Chair; Senior Advisor, Belo Corporation

Steve Newberry; Radio Board Chair; President and CEO, Commonwealth Broadcasting

I won’t call it a desperate call from the NAB, but you know the show organizers are concerned. Last year’s attendance was 105,259. I think this year’s will be closer to 95,000, but the big difference will not be in raw attendance, but in time spent at the show.

I’m talking to people who in years past have spent a week in Las Vegas. This year, they are only spending 3 or 4 days. That person will still count as an attendee in the raw total, so the number will be high, but there won’t be as many people on the floor at any given time.

What’s your attendance prediction for the 2009 NAB Show?

HD Radio comes to Costco

There’s a new name on the HD Radio receiver manufacturer list: Teac. The new device is also being offered through a popular consumer outlet: Costco.

The Teac HD-1 is an Ipod dock and HD Radio receiver that has an introductory price of $99. Give one point to Ibiquity, the HD Radio Alliance or someone for getting this unit into the megaretailer.

The discount retail path has been used before. Recall that Walmart also offered an HD Radio receiver when it was unveiled. Now Walmart lists eight models on its website.

I usually visit Costco one a week, so I’ll look for the Teac display to see what the HD Radio marketing looks like there. Will I see groups of people standing at a display learning about the technology? Will I see an empty display with no interest? I’ll let you know.

Either way, this is yet another positive step in promoting the technology.

Miami follow-up

This doesn’t really apply to radio in general, but I thought it was interesting nonetheless.

I told you about my recent visit to Miami. There were two items that fit the trip very well. They seemed rather kismet at the time.

I told you that my visit to Miami was to talk to the students in the Music Engineering Technology program at the University of Miami. I studied through this program (so many years ago), and I like to return to talk to the current students about radio broadcasting. (As far as I know there is only one other graduate of this program who also went into radio engineering: William Blum, who works for Clear Channel in San Francisco.)

Both items that fit the trip occurred in my hotel. While I was there I stayed at the Hampton Inn in Coconut Grove. Hampton Inns have a decorated style that uses black and white photos throughout the hotel. Each room has a plaque with the room number and a small picture. The pictures are usually nostalgic in some way: a rusty mailbox, a wheel barrow, a child in a pond, an old road sign. What was the picture on my room? A close up of an AM radio dial from an Oldsmobile. How appropriate is that?

The other item? My room number. This one take a little longer to explain.

While in school, the curriculum included a series of specialized audio classes that brought together the electronics, acoustics, physics, business, music and other aspects of music engineering. These four classes were numbered 501, 502, 503 and 504. It was one of these classes that led to me coming to work for Radio magazine.

The 503 class had a final project assigned in the class. The project was to do something that can be put on a resume. At the time, this seemed like an obtuse assignment, but we all charged ahead and thought about what to do.

One suggestion was to write an article for a trade publication. A popular magazine among my fellow students was Mix magazine (another Penton Media title). Some students started thinking of topics to submit to the editor. I liked this idea, but I wanted to do something different.

My interest in radio was strong then, so I turned to the broadcast magazine that I liked to read: Broadcast Engineering. In 1986, Broadcast Engineering still covered radio and TV. (In 1994, the radio content was pulled out and Radio magazine was begun.) I considered some topics and decided to try my hand at a Field Report. I arranged to receive a piece of equipment as a demo, and then I called the radio editor or Broadcast Engineering, Brad Dick (who is now editorial director of the magazine), and offered him the Field Report. He accepted the idea, so I got to work writing.

The piece of equipment? The Pacific Recorders and Engineering Micromax cart machine. The article ran in the Sept. 1987 issue.

That first article led to other Field Reports and then short features. For the next 10 years, I continued writing for Broadcast Engineering and then Radio magazine when it was launched. Then one day in 1997 I was asked if I would like to work for the magazine full time as the editor. I took the job.

But back to the second item from my trip. The 503 class is what started my career in publishing. My room number at the Hampton Inn? 503.

It seems that trip was just meant to be.

Robert Gibbs Will Watch What He Says Now

When White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs dismisses Rush Limaugh’s comments about President Obama by saying he (Gibbs) does not have a radio, you know he was asking for it. It didn’t take long for Washington-area station WTOP (Bonneville), the Washington-area Clear Channel stations, and the HD Digital Radio Alliance to remedy the problem. They all delivered radios to the spokesman so he won’t be disadvantaged.

All kidding aside, the “I don’t have a radio” comment was not a wise thing to say. He’s the press secretary. He’s the spokesman for the White House. He’s not paying attention to the various media? That’s part of his job.

Broadcasters were rather friendly about the matter, although it could have really blown up in Gibbs’ face.

I doubt Gibbs will repeat a mistake like this again.

The Youth of radio

When I attended the University of Miami, I spent a great deal of time at the campus radio station, WVUM. In the 80s, the station ran a whopping 365W ERP. A few years ago, the station increased its power to 1.3kW.

I visited the station on my campus visit, and I was warmly greeted by some of the students who work there. They gladly showed me their station. They are proud of what they are doing, and it shows in their attitude.

The facilities are modest but functional. Like many college radio stations, it’s a good training ground for the students. They can learn about radio without the pressure of fulfilling ratings goals or sales figures. Is it polished and perfect? No. I can’t say I like some of the music they play. But they are learning about radio, and they’re getting hooked on it, just like you and I are hooked on it.

Keep up the good work, WVUM.

Goin’ Back to Miami

I’m reminded of the song the Blues Brothers played while on my current trip. I am taking a couple of days to visit Miami, FL, and my alma mater, the University of Miami. I graduated from there in 1987 with a degree in Music Engineering Technology. Ken Pohlman was the program director when I was in school, and he held that post until 2006, which is the last time I visited the campus.

I’ve been back here a few times since the 80s, and I usually plan the trip to talk to the students in the Music Engineering program during the Friday morning Audio Forum. I’m always impressed by the projects the students are working on, and I enjoy the chance to talk about a side of audio that many of them don’t think about at all: radio.

While my goal in presenting is to offer some insight into another technical career where their study of electronics, acoustics, digital technology and audio can be applied, I also share some advice in establishing and pursuing a career in general.

In return, I see some young minds taking in information and getting new ideas of their own. I get a glimpse into new thoughts being formulated.

Earned recognition

By now you’ve heard that the NAB announced the recipients of the 2009 Engineering Achievement Award. Congratulations to Jack Sellmeyer and Sterling Davis. They join a distinguished list of broadcasters who have made their mark on broadcast engineering.

I am lucky enough to know many of the radio recipients. Hopefully some of their experience and knowledge will rub off on me.

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