An interesting trial-balloon was floated last month in Radio World. In it, John Kean, one of the founding employees of NPR Labs (who was let go in a reshuffle this past August) suggested that the FCC’s spectrum allocation rules be revised to better “protect” FM-HD Radio sideband signals.
Before going any further, it’s best to cover some history. HD Radio was adopted by the FCC in 2000 primarily on the premise that the system used “no new spectrum.” In fact, FM-HD signals double the spectral footprint of FM stations — but HD’s proponents got around this by appropriating fallow spectrum the FCC leaves between stations as the stations’ own allocation. Continue reading “HD Proponents Seek Protection for "No New Spectrum"”
Things continue to spiral downward over at Cumulus Media, whose stock closed at 29 cents at the end of trading last week. That put the company’s total market capitalization at just $67.8 million dollars, or just 39% of what the HD Radio system sold for two months ago. NASDAQ has threatened to delist CLMS stock next spring unless it can resume consistent trading above $1.
Perhaps a better comparison might be to a direct competitor: see Townsquare Media, one of the second generation of radio consolidators formed in the last half-decade and now the third-largest owner of radio stations in the country (right behind Cumulus). Townsquare owns about 100-150 fewer stations than Cumulus does, has no holdings in network syndication or distribution companies, but it is making acquisitory forays into online platforms/apps and just three months ago purchased a traveling carinval company. Sound familiar? Only on the surface, because Wall Street valued Townsquare at 106 million dollars last Friday ($10.70/share on 9.94 million shares). Continue reading “Cumulus Meltdown Continues; is iHeartMedia Next?”
Next month is the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual radio convention, to be held in Atlanta. I wish I could be a fly on the wall in some select panels and the local off-hours watering-holes. Fireworks are expected over an issue that’s been feistily percolating for more than a year — the integrity of the U.S. radio ratings system.
First, a quick primer about radio ratings in the United States. Administered by Nielsen, the ratings are collected by two primary means: listener diaries and Portable People Meters (PPM). The PPM system is a small pager-like device that selected listeners carry around with them; when exposed to a station’s broadcast, the meter logs the station and time spent listening. How? Stations that subscribe to the Nielsen ratings in PPM-enabled markets broadcast a special audio watermark that is inaudible to listeners, but that PPM devices can hear. The watermark is a 1000-3000 Hz tone; as a proprietary technology, the only way to work out how it really operates is by observing it in the wild or by examining its patents.
When the PPM system was introduced in 2007, it was touted as a new era for measuring radio ratings because listeners aren’t all that great about accurately and meticulously recording all the stations they’re exposed to. For example, radio often functions as background noise in places like restaurants, stores, and offices; when you’re at the dentist are you really paying attention to the smooth/lite pabulum oozing from the waiting room ceiling? Today, four dozen markets are measured using PPM technology. Continue reading “Voltair Controversy: The Seduction of Denial”
The radio industry’s efforts to carve out space for itself on mobile phones took some big strides foward this summer. In late July, AT&T announced that it would seek to enable FM reception capability in the Android devices it offers. This month, after a NextRadio-led Twitterstorm, T-Mobile declared it would do the same.
This is an important milestone for the NextRadio effort: three of the four major wireless providers in the United States have embraced the notion that terrestrial radio should be part of the media mix on mobile platforms. It will be interesting to see how long Verizon, the #1 carrier in the country, decides to hold out on offering FM radio as a feature in its phones. That it took until 2015 for this to happen is testament to the gatekeeping-power of the wireless oligopoly in the United States. Continue reading “NextRadio Reaches Carrier Milestone”
Just received a comprehensive update on the work of the Radio Preservation Task Force, an initiative announced last year by the Library of Congress to digitally preserve local radio history. About 100 scholars spent last fall scouring libraries, museums, historical societies, and stations around the country looking for recordings large and small. More than 100,000 were discovered, and that impressed the LoC’s National Recording Preservation Board enough to move on to “phase two,” which (in part) will involve more detailed examination of our finds.
The Task Force is also lining up some specific preservation programs in conjunction with other media preservationists. Continue reading “Next Steps for Radio Preservation Task Force”
Just a couple of days after prognosticating on the policy future of all-digital AM-HD radio broadcasting, one of the key players in the industry’s testing regimen issued his own reality check: for digital radio to succeed, all over-the-air broadcasting must migrate to FM.
Andrew Skotdal is the owner of two AM stations the NAB et al. used to test all-digital AM-HD in Seattle this fall; he presented on these tests at the NAB Radio Show. In prior trade coverage, Skotdal has been upbeat about the future of digital AM broadcasting, though cognizant of its uphill climb. His latest missive shatters many illusions. Continue reading “Skotdal: The Future of AM is FM”
Several radio stations in small markets throughout the United States are licking their wounds after suffering cyber-intrusions.
The alarm was first sounded by a cluster of radio stations in Louisiana on October 16. When the morning crews arrived, they found they had no access to the stations’ automation systems or music libraries. Instead, the data on their computers had been encrypted and frozen…and then they began to receive e-mails asking them to pay hundreds of dollars in order to set their machines free.
The stations’ owner reports that instead of paying the ransom demand, they’ve reported the intrusions to the police and plan to rebuild their systems from scratch. It will cost “tens of thousands of dollars” to undo the damage that the malicious software has inflicted, and they apparently keep finding more compromises as they continue their damage assessment.
Then last week, stations in Arkansas and Virginia announced that they, too had been infected by software that scrambled several of their computer systems and demanded payment to restore them. And this week, a cluster of stations in Michigan belatedly reported that they suffered the same sort of attack in September. Continue reading “Radio Stations Fall Victim to Cyberattack (Again)”
Fresh off the heels of the NAB Radio Show came news that an FM broadcaster in Norway is testing the all-digital FM-HD Radio system. According to Radio World, the tests have been conducted under the auspices of the Norweigan Local Radio Association, the industry’s longest-running trade association.
Recently, two large commercial broadcasters split off from the NLRA and have created their own lobbying arm, advocating for the eventual switch-off of FM broadcasting in Norway (in favor of DAB+). The NLRA has long promoted allowing broadcasters to retain their legacy FM infrastructure; is this affair with HD Radio a strategic maneuver to convince Norwegian regulators to drop the switchoff? Continue reading “HD Radio: New Frontier in Norway?”
I mentioned this initiative a few months ago when I first heard about it, but the details have only recently been released. Can you help us assemble a national archive of local radio broadcasts?
The official name of this project is the Radio Preservation Task Force, being conducted under the auspices of the LoC’s National Recording Preservation Board. For many years, the NRPB has pursued various study-strategies to get a sense of just how much of our nation’s broadcast history has actually been preserved.
Turns out, it’s not much: sure, you can easily find and watch pretty much any of the “Big Three” national TV newscasts of the last 40+ years, but radio has no such archive, and local radio is especially unremembered. The Radio Preservation Task Force hopes to change that, with special focus on radio broadcasts from 1922-1980, and especially those from the noncommercial, educational side of the medium. Continue reading “Library of Congress Launches Local Radio Preservation Project”
As industry forces continue to grapple with radio’s digital transition, the medium’s push for renewed portability got a bit more complicated this summer. Not much of a surprise that the discourse surrounding the NextRadio app mimics similar forays into the new: lovers and haters lining up with little air to breathe between them.
The latest developments began with the launch last month of Free Radio On My Phone, a public-awareness campaign for enabling FM reception in smartphones. The campaign is a joint project of NextRadio, the National Association of Broadcasters, National Public Radio, American Public Radio, and the Educational Media Foundation—all heavy-hitters in commercial, public, and religious broadcasting. EMF has also agreed to sign its entire station-roster up for enhanced NextRadio services. Continue reading “The Polarization of NextRadio”