In 2009, the Federal Communications Commission promulgated rules allowing AM radio stations to utilize FM translators to supplement their coverage areas. The original intent was to help "beleaguered" stations, like those that must dramatically reduce their power at night, or suffer from increased interference (from a variety of causes, including consumer electronics, traffic signals, and HD Radio sidebands).
As of today, many AM stations have taken advantage of this rule to supplement their signals with some 400 FM translator simulcasts.
But some broadcasters that are far from "beleaguered" have hopped on the translator bandwagon. These include WLW, a 50,000-watt station in Cincinnati owned by Clear Channel Communications, the nation’s largest broadcast conglomerate. Continue reading “Do AM Blowtorches Really Need FM Translators?”
Interesting news out of Saga Communications, a broadcast conglomerate with more than 100 stations in nearly 30 markets. Saga has decided to limit its online-streaming presence to the stations it owns in the top 100 markets.
For those stations that will stream, Saga plans to cap listening geographically, limiting online access to those who actually reside in the stations’ on-air coverage area. In addition, Saga may implement a 90-minute time limit for online listening: listeners will be prompted to click something to continue the stream after the initial session. If they don’t respond, they’re done.
Considering that the majority of Saga’s stations are outside the top 100 markets, this is a significant diminution of the company’s online streaming presence. Saga claims the cost of streaming is prohibitive, as it spends $800,000 per month to provide station streams, while the revenue it generates from them is paltry. Most of this money goes to pay performance royalties on the music it streams.
Contrast this with the actions of radio’s biggest player, Clear Channel, over the last year. Clear Channel’s building what it hopes to be the go-to portal for streaming broadcast radio stations in iHeartRadio.com. Not only has it repositioned its broadcast properties to act essentially as billboards for the company’s online presence, but it’s entered into several agreements with other broadcasters (both commercial and noncommercial) to aggregate their streams exclusively through its portal.
Clear Channel is also taking steps to attempt to control the cost of streaming royalties. Earlier this month, the company broke from the rest of the radio industry, striking a deal with the Big Machine Label Group to pay the first-ever performance royalties for broadcast airplay. In exchange, the company gets a discounted rate for streaming royalty payments to the label. Continue reading “Broadcasters Still Ambivalent About Streaming”
Clear Channel’s had a lot of success enticing broadcasters into its iHeartRadio service. On the surface, it looks like a nice turnkey solution for radio stations which have neither the time, technical knowledge, or money to go it alone on the Internet. Just sign up for distribution through iHeartRadio and set up enough gear to send a source-stream to the aggregator.
From there, Clear Channel does the rest, providing all the front-end bandwidth necessary for your listener base and leveraging its economies of scale to put stations’ streams in front of as large of a potential audience as possible. The iHeartRadio application is a default install on a variety of smartphones, gaming consoles, and vehicle infotainment systems. Continue reading “The Fine Print of iHeartRadio”
This week, Clear Channel (#1 in national radio station ownership) and Cumulus (#2) inked an agreement intimately linking their online broadcast strategies.
Cumulus will integrate the webcasts from its ~560 radio stations under Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio streaming platform, and will actively promote it on-air. In exchange, Clear Channel will cross-promote Cumulus’ SweetJack service, a Groupon-style business the broadcaster is developing in markets where it has stations, both on-air and online. Continue reading “Broadcast Conglomerates Consolidate in Cyberspace”
Clear Channel-owned radio stations in small to medium-sized markets were decimated last week as the company laid off dozens – if not hundreds – of on-air talent. This means that, at some Clear Channel station-clusters, there is literally no local presence on the airwaves anymore.
Clear Channel says it’ll take remaining talent and syndicate their shows across markets, using “custom breaks” and “localized content” to provide a patina of localism on affected stations – a practice otherwise known as voice tracking. The company has also appointed two dozen “Brand Managers” to oversee 11 national station formats. Continue reading “Killing the Human Element”
They make their bread and butter on access to the public airwaves, and for decades they have agitated against newcomers and ne’er-do-wells vying for a piece of the dial. But a skirmish between two commercial broadcasters over interference caused by an FM translator suggests that some radio broadcasters see over-the-air transmission slipping in importance as the primary conduit for their content.
Fortunately, the FCC does not. Continue reading “Cracking the Lid on Pandora's Box”
Exactly six months ago, I filed a complaint with the FCC regarding Madison right-wing radio harpy Vicki McKenna’s violation of broadcast law by playing a recorded phone call without the permission of the caller. Since then, McKenna’s employer, the Clear Channel-owned WIBA-AM, pulled McKenna’s podcasts from the station web site and McKenna claimed that she and her employer were being unjustly persecuted. (Her podcasts have been restored during the last month – including the show that landed her in hot water in the first place.)
Nothing could be further from the truth: the more speech the better, but use of the public airwaves comes with some responsibilities. So I called the FCC’s consumer help-line to inquire about the status of my “case.” Continue reading “Justice Takes A While”
Clear Channel is the nation’s largest commercial radio broadcaster. Educational Media Foundation is one of the nation’s largest religious radio broadcasters. Both companies have an affinity for FM translators – and now, they’re working together for mutual enrichment at the expense of others on the dial.
EMF operates the K-LOVE and AIR-1 Christian music networks. It owns several hundred FM translators around the country; during the Great Translator Invasion of 2003, when more than 13,000 new translator applications were filed, EMF tendered paperwork for 875 new translators.
Clear Channel owns more than 700 full-power radio stations, and over the last few years it has also acquired or leased FM translators to rebroadcast some of its “beleaguered” AM stations as well as to simulcast otherwise-unheard HD Radio programming in analog form. Continue reading “Unholy Alliance”
Nearly a year ago it came to light that radio broadcasters were using FM translator stations as a sort of “back door” to provide more exposure for their HD Radio signals.
Ironically, these translators do not broadcast in digital; rather, many HD-capable radio stations are rebroadcasting their digital-only (“multicast”) programming via analog translator as a way to recoup their investment in a technology which has no meaningful audience.
Some radio conglomerates have purchased or signed lease agreements with FM translator owners to create ostensibly “new” stations in markets around the country in this manner. The practice has caused difficulty for independent broadcasters. Continue reading “FM Translator Abuse Creates Ownership Loophole”
A lightly-edited version of this article was re-published on the Isthmus Daily Page.
The ongoing protests in Wisconsin over Governor Scott Walker’s plans to corporatize the state still resonate in Madison’s media environment. Unsurprisingly, the active involvement of unions in an issue that directly affects their future relevancy has been fodder galore for right-wing media pundits.
One of those pundits is Vicki McKenna, the host of some shrill demagoguery on Clear Channel-owned WIBA-AM, Madison’s bastion of reactionary talk radio. Last week, Vicki thought she had a sure thing in hand to punk organized labor – but it turns out she’s the one more likely to get stung. Continue reading “Nailed 'Em: Station Flaunts FCC in Pursuit of Partisan Politics”