News Archive: December 2005
12/24/05 - Clear Channel Tacitly Approves Newsroom Name Sales [link to this story]
Kristian queried Clear Channel corporate about the deals and whether they're part of any national trend: he got a response from someone at Brainerd Communications, a PR firm which specializes in corporate crisis management. "[C]orporate offices are not commenting. These were local decisions made by local stations." Kristian thus surmises "the company does not disapprove of this new business direction, and considers newsroom sponsorships to be appropriate."
Chances are the practice will spread, or perhaps already has, considering that part of the news Milwaukee hears out of the "PyraMax Bank News Center" at WISN is actually sourced from Cleveland. There's a good assemblage of other interesting info-nuggets dug up by the blogosphere in part three of Kristian's series.
12/22/05 - Radio-Related Video of Note [link to this story]
Rayon Payne aka N$X sends word that he's landed a deal with Orlando TV station WRDQ to produce a weekend "reality show like no other in existence, transforming a nightclub into a mini-television set." A further teaser is available at 95Live.net. This is part of Payne's ambitious plans to not only resurrect the 95Live sensation, but blow it up in '06 to include "international promotion, a fashion line, merchandising, etc." The first 95Live TV show airs on New Year's Day.
The Hallmark Channel will screen the United Church of Christ-sponsored documentary LPFM: The People's Choice on Sunday, January 8. This will be a re-run of the documentary's extended version, which first aired on a smattering of NBC affiliates late last year.
The Prometheus Radio Project also has a compressed archive (~650 MB) online of a documentary called Low Power to the People, which generally focuses on the story of LPFM as told through the barnraising of Radio Free Nashville. I saw clips of this in November but can't seem to get the version online to work for me, unfortunately.
12/20/05 - WTUL Returns; Brattleboro Community Radio Plans Launch [link to this story]
Good news in New Orleans: after apparently having to make an emergency move earlier this month, Tulane University's student radio station went back on the air last weekend from makeshift space. WTUL is live during the day and automated at night.
In Brattleboro, Vermont, the community group holding a construction permit for an LPFM station on 107.7 MHz has announced its intent to begin broadcasting next spring. Vermont Earth Works just kicked off a fundraising drive to raise more than $10,000 for Brattleboro Community Radio (BCR)'s basic station infrastructure needs.
Nothing new to report from from radio free brattleboro, BCR's unlicensed cousin, which occupied 107.9 until June when a sucker-punch FCC raid took the station off the air. People involved with rfb have previously said they would vacate the airwaves when the LPFM station was ready to sign on. Perhaps radio free brattleboro's run is through...a Pyrrhic victory if true.
12/19/05 - FCC in 2005: Busiest Enforcement on Record [link to this story]
More than 100 enforcement actions have been logged through early December, besting the previous record (2003) by a fair margin. It's important to recognize that these are just numbers, though: FCC contact with most stations generates at least two data points in the Database (a visit followed by a warning letter). Thus, when broken down by actual stations busted, the number drops to far below 100.
I'm also logging state-level enforcement activity now, such as the first conviction under Florida's anti-pirate law. As far as the FCC is concerned this year, visits and warning letters have by and large been the name of the game, save for a smattering of high-profile raids. It all smacks of power-projection. But the real thing? Not hardly: for example, there have been no forfeitures issued this year at all, after two straight years of cranking out more than $100,000 worth of them. Not that fines do much to stem unlicensed broadcasting, either.
As always, I prefer to look at enforcement activity not for its negative effects but rather as a measure of the vibrancy of pirate radio nationwide. In that regard, the scope and intensity of enforcement trend positive.
12/16/05 - Newsroom Naming Rights: A National Trend? [link to this story]
There's been buzz about two Clear Channel radio stations in Wisconsin that have sold off the naming rights to their newsrooms. WISN in Milwaukee christened the "PyraMax Bank News Center" last year; come January, anchors at Madison's WIBA will report from the "Amcore Bank News Center." WISN and WIBA constitute Clear Channel's primary news presence in both markets and both stations carry conservative-talk formats.
The deals have been portrayed as a kind of throwback to the "Camel News Caravan" days. Sort of quaint, even. Any working/teaching journalist who believes this should hang it up and bundle themselves into a rocking chair to reminisce on the golden years. The menace of such sponsorship is the perception it stands to engender about who bankrolls your news. Not to mention that it's tacky as f*ck. Wasn't appropriate then, still not now.
This is all very ironic since commercial radio news today is a shell of what it once was. The WISN and WIBA newsrooms actually serve multiple stations in their respective clusters; some Clear Channel newsrooms even act as regional hubs feeding news to stations in multiple clusters across markets. Yet news departments either usually barely break even or lose money because the amount of advertising inventory one can sell around newscasts is not enough to pay for the staff they take to produce.
This is why radio stations used to look at newsrooms as investments of a non-financial sort, part of providing a public service - another quaint notion. The hyper-consolidation that followed the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 decimated radio newsrooms, especially in smaller markets, as individual stations merged into clusters and corporate bean-counters cut anything that dragged on immediate profitability. Leading this pack was Clear Channel and its ilk. Now the sale of newsroom naming rights is put forth as necessary to cover the "high cost of producing quality news." Such a statement is loaded with relativity.
What I'd like to know is if Madison and Milwaukee are aberrations, or if the names of Clear Channel newsrooms are for sale nationwide.
12/14/05 - First Florida Conviction Railroads Used Car Salesman [link to this story]
It was an unhappy Thanksgiving for Panagiotis Frangiskakis. He runs a used car business in Lake Worth, on land that used to belong to a cab company, which included a small tower. Frangiskakis rented out office and tower space to people who ran two Haitian FM pirate stations from the premises.
Investigations into those stations began in February. In June, the stations were raided and Frangiskakis was charged with unlawful transmission - a state felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Note Frangiskakis did not actually broadcast himself: he was just the landlord. The authorities never figured out who actually ran the stations.
Frangiskakis ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge, "attempted unlawful transmission," in November. He did so, according to his lawyer, "just to get it behind him." In exchange he received a sentence including a year's probation and 25 hours of community service. The court also ordered him to destroy his tower and make two charitable contributions totaling $2,850 - the amount he made in rent from the pirates.
Frangiskakis is not the first person to be charged under Florida's anti-pirate law, but he's the first to be convicted and sentenced. This guilty plea is a disingenuous victory. Sometimes the pursuit of law-and-order runs roughshod over common sense and long-established jurisdictional precedent.
Then there is jackass prosecutor Timothy Beckwith: "the concerns about pirated signals" include their magical ability to "affect radio signals used by law enforcement during hostage negotiations." Excuse me? Where the f*ck did that come from?
12/12/05 - Digital Radio Add-On Now Its "Killer App" [link to this story]
The languishing state of digital audio broadcasting in the United States following its introduction more than two years ago has spurred the nation's largest broadcast conglomerates to form an "HD Digital Radio Alliance" to facilitate the bona-fide rollout of digital service. Key to this campaign is the coming of what the Alliance calls "HD2 multicast sidechannels."
The ability to broadcast multiple program streams on a single radio channel is relatively new to the U.S. digital radio environment. As initially developed over the last 15 years (!) the dominant U.S. digital radio protocol, now known as "HD Radio," did not accommodate a multicasting feature: National Public Radio spearheaded its creation less than three years ago.
Expect an HD radio station's "main program" to reflect its analog equivalent and the "sidechannel" to be some variant of the main program format. For example, in May, Infinity's WUSN-FM in Chicago became the first commercial station to digitally multicast. The station's primary format is country and its sidechannel is "Future Country," described as an offshoot that skews younger than the station's traditional demographic. As encoding algorithms get more efficient the Alliance predicts stations will carve up available bandwidth to serve up additional program streams.
Notably, one of the HD Digital Radio Alliance's main functions is "to fairly and equitably coordinate local market 'format allocations,' so that companies aren't stepping on each other as they launch what amount to scores of brand new radio stations." Nothing would seem to squelch an innovation's inherent competitiveness more than dictating the bounds of its release, which is what the nation's largest broadcast companies will do by deploying multicast capability first.
Digital radio broadcasting in the United States has a long history of technical and quality-of-service shortcomings, much of which remains to be written. But what is worst is the turkey's blatantly proprietary nature. Not only must radio transmitter and receiver manufacturers give a fraction of every sale to Ibiquity, the developer of the HD Radio protocol, but stations themselves must pay both an up-front fee and recurring royalties to Ibiquity for the privilege of broadcasting.
This de facto requirement of a second, private license to broadcast in the digital future, and its attendant implications for access to the airwaves, is not yet a subject of any meaningful discussion. Alternative digital broadcast frameworks exist, but market momentum is leading regulatory momentum, meaning none are being taken seriously. The HD Digital Radio Alliance initiative is designed to make sure momentum continues in that direction.
That the major players in the HD Radio Alliance are also major investors in Ibiquity and just happen to control so many radio stations as to give them unmatched nationwide audience penetration for their technology of choice smacks of a cornered market. Think again: they are getting anxious to recoup the conservatively-estimated quarter billion dollars they've sunk into digital radio development over the years (and the Alliance proposes to nearly double this investment). Especially in the face of increasing audience erosion from satellite radio, webcasting, and podcasting. How best to sell the technology of choice? Perhaps the HD Radio Playbook, a new industry eyes-only enclave of information, holds clues.
12/8/05 - WTUL On the Move? [link to this story]
After an FCC visit to Radio Algiers last month, community radio activists working on the reconstruction of New Orleans brainstormed the notion of utilizing the facilities of WTUL, the student-run station of Tulane University. WTUL had plans to return to the air in January.
This blog says University officials decided to demolish the building housing the station and The Hullabaloo, Tulane's student weekly, on Tuesday. Station and paper staffers were given a weekend's notice to move everything. Since then, no word.
As for microbroadcast activity: there have been no reports since mid-November, and the Radio Algiers stream link has gone bad.
12/7/05 - Greenpeace Deploys Microradio in Protest [link to this story]
Yesterday activists with Greenpeace launched a banner-deploying blimp at the international headquarters of Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto, California. Supplementing this action was a microradio station broadcasting on 91.3 FM, which told nearby listeners to "contact HP CEO Mark Hurd" about the company's use of toxic chemicals in its products, when safer alternative raw materials abound. It's nice to see the onsite action-based broadcast model is alive and well.
12/5/05 - WSQT On Run From...Fire? [link to this story]
The anonymous operator behind WSQT drops another audio gem about a suspicious fire at its transmit-site. I believe this DC-Indymedia feature here speaks of the same event. Perhaps WSQT was collateral damage, but "Mr. Squatman" already believes he is a target of special interest by the powers that be. This partially explains the hardcore buildout of the station. It's heartening to know this is all going down in "the heart of occupied Washington," as Squatman puts it.
12/3/05 - Anti-Pirate Laws Under Fire, Nearing Passage [link to this story]
It's been nine months since the American Radio Relay League formally requested the FCC void a statute implemented in Florida last year that criminalized unlicensed broadcasting. The agency's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is supposed to do the deliberation. So far, no word.
The FCC's in a sticky situation. Pirate radio activity in Florida is off the charts compared to the rest of the country - way, way more than the FCC field offices in Tampa and Miami can handle. So they would prefer to look the other way while state officials clean up the AM and FM dials: the chief of the Tampa office has already said as much.
However, throughout its entire institutional history the FCC has doggedly defended its exclusive jurisdiction over the airwaves, and especially that spectrum allocated for person-to-person communication, something the ARRL's petition details in depth. To formally accept even partial state regulation of the broadcast bands runs antithetical to the agency's legal marrow.
So long as the FCC continues to sit on the ARRL petition - a not-uncommon tactic for controversial documents - the status quo will remain. Two men already await trial on charges under Florida's anti-pirate law. Perhaps their trials will settle the issue, but either way it sucks to be them.
Broadcasters in New Jersey are still quietly pushing to criminalize pirate radio there as well. In March the state Assembly voted 73-1 to make unlicensed broadcasting a fourth-degree felony. On December 1 the state Senate's Committee on Law, Public Safety, and Veterans' Affairs declared an identical bill, S1672, ready for a floor vote.