"Thinking out loud since 1997"
Still a work in progress
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News of the Moment
5/23/13 - Translator Market Comes Out of the Shadows [link to this story]
Playing end-of semester catchup: the Clear Channel-owned trade publication Inside Radio recently published an article quoting a station-appraiser who likens the booming market for FM translators to the birth of the Internet. Documents for more than three dozen translator sales have been filed with the FCC this year, compared to just three at this time in 2012.
Single translator stations are now regularly sold for tens of thousands of dollars, and can fetch even more if they're within spitting distance of major markets. This results in a market for FM translator spectrum potentially worth millions of dollars per year. (Clear Channel itself is quite invested in the translator market, especially when it comes to simulcasting its AM stations.)
The market for translators will only grow once the FCC approves "substantially more" than 1,000 new-station applications still pending from the Great Translator Invasion of 2003. To put the growth of this market into perspective, keep in mind that the FCC's station totals report more than 5,000 FM translators on the air, compared to 802 LPFM stations. The majority of those translators care less than 10 years old
The product of rampant speculation on the part of (mostly) religious broadcasters, the FM translator market is finally out of the shadows, and all signs point to the FCC modifying the service's rules to encourage its growth.
5/16/13 - The Limits of "Authorized" Innovation: Settling the DPR Dilemma [link to this story]
Last month's stalemate between iBiquity Digital Corporation, the proprietor of HD Radio, and upstart-innovator DigitalPower Radio appears to have been broken.
For those just tuning in: DPR claims to have invented a process that can make HD receivers much more sensitive, allowing for better reception of digital radio signals. iBiquity asserts that DPR's method is outdated and meaningless. Since iBiquity owns all aspects of HD Radio, it also controls the code necessary to verify or debunk DPR's claims.
At the annual convention of the National Association of Broadcasters last month, the NAB's Chief Technology Officer served as an intermediary to get iBiquity and DPR talking. Since then, iBiquity has softened its stance, inviting DPR's principals to its Maryland headquarters "sometime in May."
This is not the first time iBiquity has had outside innovators over for a chat. Radio World reports that "The company frequently vets ideas to improve the system, both from inside and outside the company....Typically what's proposed is not cost-effective, won't work with its technology or both."
In a nutshell, that explains the lack of consistent and sustained innovation in the HD Radio space. You've gotta pay to play, and even then the system developer has final say about whether or not your innovation is "viable." That determination pretty much comes down to how easily iBiquity can assimilate your intellectual property into its own. Since its business model depends on keeping full control over HD Radio's source code, outsiders like DPR represent the worst kind of trouble.
In many cases like these, when an outside innovator's work seems really promising, they'll be acquired outright by a system's proprietor. That's unlikely in the case of DPR. iBiquity doesn't have the financial wherewithal to acquire other companies, and DPR's technology has multiple potential uses across different wireless networks; why limit its market to radio broadcasting by assimilation into iBiquity?
At this point, iBiquity is committed to seeing DPR's claims through. That's the reason for the meeting at company HQ: loath to disclose any of HD Radio's source code, iBiquity will administer DPR's testing regime. If the results are positive, that puts iBiquity in a difficult position where the "black box" around HD technology may need to be breached in order to make a substantive improvement in it. That may be especially problematic for iBiquity because it involves the receiver-side of its business – the licensing of which right now accounts for nearly all of the company's revenue.
5/9/13 - What is Radio? Still an Open Question [link to this story]
It was an intense two days at the What is Radio? conference in Portland. The range of ideas presented at the event was amazing: deep discussions on aesthetics, history, organization, place-making, "voice" (defined many ways), law and policy, science and technology – and that just begins to scratch the surface. We did not collectively answer the conference's question...because there's no simple answer to be had.
Radio Survivor was there in force, and has provided some in-depth coverage of specific panels and plenaries: check Matthew Lasar's reports on the keynote event and the state of classical radio in NYC as well as Jennifer Waits' reportback on the world of prison radio. Both also presented their own research: Lasar offered perhaps the closest thing to a definition for "radio" to be found all weekend, while Waits detailed the ~90-year history of her alma mater's radio station. (She was also there on assignment for Radio World, so expect some coverage there as well.)
In addition, the conference organizers recorded short interviews with several participants, which allowed many to give an overview of what they brought to the event. Some of my favorites include Michael Marcotte's near-plea for public radio to invest more in local news; the work that Monica de la Torre has done to illustrate the DIY-roots of Spanish-language radio in the U.S.; Ivy Glennon's scathing indictment of the state of women in radio; and Jeff Jacoby's perspective on what it means to "teach radio" in the 21st century.
They were also nice enough also gave me the opportunity to riff a bit on the troubles of radio's digital transition in the United States. What is Radio? was the first opportunity I had to give a bona-fide book-talk – the room was packed for our panel, which delved into the future of radio in a digital media environment.
The feedback I've received from the conference has been uplifting, providing some much-needed inspiration to finish the manuscript. David Ossman, a founder of the Firesign Theatre, joined our panel via Skype (sans video, which was perfect for a gathering like this) and repeatedly called my research "terrifying" – which I hope to use as a future blurb, because that's pretty much what the story of HD Radio is.
There's more to come, too. Conference organizers are planning an edited volume with companion web site.