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News Archive: September 2006

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9/28/06 - Enforcement Action Database Revamp [link to this story]

Sparked by an interview done for this story, I've spent the last couple of weeks conducting a much-needed audit of the Enforcement Action Database. The biggest changes involved harmonizing the counting methodology from year-to-year, and correcting scattered counting errors collected over a decade of compilation.

However, the revised figures show no significant change in the trends of late: more administrative penalties, less overall muscle, and the proliferation of stations continues. I will be the first to admit to sucking at math.

I also took the liberty of deleting a few of the more nebulous "stats" I'd been keeping, like the average wattage of a U.S. microradio station and average lifespan. Truth be told, there were too many holes in the information for those numbers to ever be remotely useful.

The FCC should end up well north of 200 enforcement actions for this calendar year, though September is traditionally the second-slowest pirate-busting month on record.

9/25/06 - FCC FM Auction Announced [link to this story]

The FCC is soliciting comment on rules to govern an upcoming auction of 124 full-power FM station construction permits around the country. These channels are on the commercial portion of the FM dial; the action is set to commence on March 7.

It will be interesting to see if our translator-mongering friends will make a killing in this buying spree. Remember that it is part of their business plan to convert FM translator construction permits into cash, and use the cash to buy full-power FM stations (or station construction permits) from which to feed RAM/EB/WRL's own network. This auction may very well usher in phase two of the ongoing invasion of godcasters onto the FM dial.

9/21/06 - N$X: Seeking Direction [link to this story]

I had a nice long chat with Rayon Payne earlier this week. He's been up to some interesting stuff.

Payne's latest project is Myspace Radio. The plan involves establishing a database of music from which users will be able to access and assemble playlists for free. Said playlists can then be streamed from anywhere. Payne describes it as akin to Shoutcast, except you're in complete control of the programming.

Users will be able to upload and request new audio files and share their playlists with others, but they will not be able to download files. The system will log everything that's played, with the appropriate streaming royalty payments to follow. The entire service will be free; Payne hopes to generate revenue via advertising.

In truth, this project sounds a lot like, but we'll see: the actual Myspace Radio technical infrastructure is still under development, bid out to contract-programmers in India. The investment costs are in the mid-five figures so far.

Payne believes he's got the copyright angle covered by disallowing direct copying and paying royalties on every song played through Myspace Radio. He's also not very worried about trademark issues involving his chosen domain name: he bought off a guy in Canada, something News Corporation could have done long ago if it wanted.

In a way, Payne would almost welcome a high-profile tussle, because he sounded kind of frustrated. His television gig fell through, and entreaties to terrestrial and satellite broadcasters for entry into the legitimate side of the radio business have come up dry. Continued lopsided media portrayal as a serial miscreant certainly isn't making things any easier.

He wonders if his checkered past has left indelible marks that may force him to seek a new path in life. The Myspace Radio project is a part of that exploration, though he's hungry to be back in business more generally. He's even considered law school, or writing a book about his pirate past, but the patience required to undertake those projects eludes him at the moment.

Payne would also really like to talk to kids, for whom he has two pieces of advice: "Stop watching these music videos and getting ideas," and take advantage of getting an education. "Life is about passing knowledge on," Payne said, and he feels a real responsibility to leave something positive behind when all is said and done.

9/19/06 - FCC Report-Spiking Redux [link to this story]

As if last week's bombshell did not do enough to tarnish the legitimacy of the FCC, now comes word that a second media ownership study did not see the light of day back during the agency's last go-round on the subject.

The funny thing is, this newly-unearthed report - "Review of the Radio Industry" - doesn't tell us anything that we didn't already know, which is how consolidation has decimated radio since the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. When regulators find themselves threatened to the point where they go out of their way to cover up the obvious, you know things are f*cked up to an insane degree.

The whistleblower who saved the first buried research project, Adam Candeub, was recently interviewed on New York's WBAI. While said he doesn't know who gave the order to kill the study, the suspects it came from "somewhere in the imperium heights of the FCC."

As for why? "Not unlike a lot of federal agencies, the [FCC] staff can be somewhat craven at times, and I think they saw their job as to sort of paint a factual reality consistent with what their bosses wanted. And this report was not part of that factual reality they wanted around," said Candeub.

For his part, Mikey Powell claims to have no idea how these reports got ditched. Yeah. I'm buying that.

Current FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has promised an "independent investigation" into the spiking of these studies. But will he finish that before the current media ownership proceeding closes? Perhaps: the FCC's extended the deadline for interested public to file comments on the proceeding from the end of this week to October 23, with replies due December 21.

9/14/06 - Mikey Powell, Document-Shredder [link to this story]

During the FCC's mostly-failed media ownership revision-quest of 2003, the agency cooked up a bunch of "research" to justify trying to let big media grow even bigger. However, one report with real integrity never made it out the door.

The agency's Media Bureau studied local television news coverage, and tallied up the amount of actual local news stations produced, and correlated that to station ownership. It turns out that locally-owned stations produce as much as 33 hours more local news per year than stations owned by chains or networks. The study also concluded that cross-ownership - the ownership of a TV station and/or newspaper and/or radio by one company in a single market - did nothing to enhance a TV station's local news coverage. In fact, cross-owned properties more often than not produce less local news.

This did not argue in favor of media consolidation, so Powell not only had the study shredded, but evidence of any research be destroyed as well. Thank heavens for the Internets.

Kevin Martin was smacked on the head with this at his Senate reconfirmation hearing Tuesday, and he says he's looking into it. The trouble is, he's just a smarter version of Mikey Powell. The FCC's new attempt at relaxing the ownership rules is underway; the first round of public comments are due next week.

9/12/06 - Translator Tidbits of Note [link to this story]

Recently found two documents of interest related to the impact of translator station proliferation on the potential for LPFM station expansion. The first two are contained as appendices to late-filed reply comments tendered by the Prometheus Radio Project in the FCC's still-open LPFM proceeding last September.

One is a REC Networks listing of more than three dozen markets done shortly after the Great Translator Invasion of 2003. In a nutshell, whereas REC identified 279 open channels for LPFM stations in 2000, only four would survive the GTI.

The other is a specific analysis of the Portland, Oregon radio market by Michael Brown in 2004. Where Brown identified as many as 11 potential LPFM frequencies in the Portland metropolitan area, including suburbs, the proliferation of translators would cut that to one.

9/10/06 - Congressional LPFM Expansion Play Afoot [link to this story]

Ever since Congress bowed to pressure from commercial and public broadcasters six years ago and severely gutted the low-power FM radio service, its advocates have been working the Hill looking for a way to nullify the intervention. Several tries at passing bills to directly reverse the damage died quietly, which has directed attention toward using the amendment process as a vehicle for progress.

The "Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act" only became law because it was attached to a spending measure. This maneuver is one of the most sneakily abused ways of routing corrupt legislation through the system. LPFM advocates, led by the Prometheus Radio Project, are at least working with an existing bill that specifically involves important communications regulation.

It is called the WARN Act, and its primary goal is to effectively expand the use of the Emergency Alert System to media outlets other than broadcast radio and television - this will eventually include cell phones and other devices.

LPFM enhances the WARN Act by getting Congress to reaffirm its commitment to signal diversity - more stations means tighter coverage of the "National Alert System" network. LPFM stations proved their worth in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The relative inexpensiveness of LPFM stations, along with their heightened commitments to localism, make hitching an expansion of LPFM to the WARN Act a pretty powerful sell.

The bill's currently sitting in committee with just over a dozen co-sponsors. No word on how or when an LPFM expansion amendment might come into play, but those laying the groundwork are doing so with optimism.

9/5/06 - The Karmic Circle of WIN(S) [link to this story]

Fresh from a skirmish with an overzealous state lawmaker on a liberal media witch-hunt, the Workers Independent News (Service) got a surprising bit of good news recently. WIN(S) can now be heard in New York on 1010 WINS-AM.

This is quite a turn of events, for three years ago the owner of 1010 WINS, the CBS Corporation (née Infinity Broadcasting, formerly a subsidiary of Viacom) threatened to sue WIN(S) not once, but twice, on spurious claims of trademark infringement.

Apparently WIN(S) on WINS debuted yesterday and can be heard several times throughout the day. This does not mean, however, that those who own and control CBS Radio are no longer bullying f*cktards. It's a somewhat bittersweet vindication, as I still wish we would have told them to suck it when the saga first began. All praise due to the current WIN(S) crew for growing the project to the point where this could happen.