Friday, January 30, 2015

RETRO FRIDAY: TERRY GROSS – LIFE IN PUBLIC RADIO (1999)



My favorite PRPD Conference was in Memphis in September 1999.  We were at the vibrant Peabody Hotel – home of the duck walk. Memphis was so warm and inviting.  Sam Phillips from Sun Records was there.  Dan Jensen threw amazing parties. It seemed like we, the public radio team, were all pulling in the same direction.

The highlight of the conference was a morning appearance by Terry Gross.  Terry talked about her life in public radio and interviewed several folks. On this clip: Terry interviews Jay Kernis, John Barth & Deb Amos.

video


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

CPB & HD RADIO -- LOTS OF READER COMMENTS


We are now using HD-2 to relay a second
program stream to two of our [translators].
We call it The Poor Man's STL.

I was surprised to see the ample number of replies to my PubRadio post. At the very least, I’m glad to start a discussion.

First, I learned something today.  I am a newbie blogger – I started last September.  WORDS MATTER.  I’ve always known that but today I went over the top saying HD Radio is DOA. Thank you to several readers for making this point.

Please let me share some of the comments.  Several people asked that their names not be used. I’ve marked them Confidential.

Some people have found value in CPB’s approach to HD Radio…
I don't agree with you that it was a boondoggle. The HD grants assisted us in updating crucial infrastructure that, with the subsequent demise of the PTFP program won't likely see significant updates for a long time to come. I'm very glad we have those recently updated transmitter systems.
A notable change in the recent past is that a lot more cars have HD. Perhaps that's why we are seeing our WERN HD-3 signal in Madison supplementing listening to AM 970 WHA, as do the two analog FM translators we have in town. We are very glad that the FCC has permitted translating HD signals onto analog FM translators, and AM signals onto FM translators too, as we use each strategy.
In the case of WPR, we're seeing AQH's in the hundreds and cumes under 6k for the HD signals. Those are "real" but not large. That said, some of our analog stations in smaller communities have fewer listeners than the HD signals in larger cities.
Mike Crane, Wisconsin Public Radio
Some people think things are okay with HD Radio now…

We've had success in developing our HD2-Classical and HD3-News/Talk channels. Some of our members pledge specifically to support these channels and we've distributed hundreds of HD radios as pledge premiums.
Brett Tannehill
We have three HD signals and listenership is good on all three.

Clinton Barrick

And some people agree with me…
HD is a waste – the audience has spoken. Podcasting smokes HD...and that is the place to put the bet.
Confidential
We did the HD conversion. It gave us a new transmitter and allowed us to recycle our old one to another location for a repeater. We are now using HD-2 to relay a second program stream to two of our transmitters. We call it the Poor Man's STL. Now the [coverage area population] can hear it on traditional analog channels.
Confidential
And, one person had a more radical approach…
Actually, the best thing CPB could do here (in my opinion) is to absolve granted stations of their commitment to continue to broadcast in HD.
I consider the non-availability of receivers to be a material breach of the reasonably-presumed terms of our participation. To hold us to our end of the bargain is simply damaging stations.
Confidential
Followed by a good question…

I'm not necessarily against the idea, but what, exactly, would you have CPB do?
Aaron Read

My answer:

CPB should start by acknowledging the problem. CPB needs to commit to making better use of the digital broadcast radio spectrum.  I still haven’t heard from CPB regarding my question: How much money has CPB sunk into iBiquity and HD Radio? Stay tuned...

CPB HAS A LOT OF MONEY RIDING ON HD RADIO



We recently found out that our HD2 channel was off the air

for two weeks and no one new about it.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) has invested millions of dollars building and promoting iBiquity’s HD Radio system for public radio.  CPB endorsed and embraced the whole concept early.

Consider this cheery 2005 CPB Press Release:

Over 800 Additional Stations to Receive Funding for HD Radio Technology

September 22, 2005 - The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and iBiquity Digital Corporation, today announced an agreement that will accelerate the conversion of over 800 AM and FM CPB-funded stations to iBiquity's digital HD Radio broadcasting.

Under the agreement, CPB will purchase a group license that will allow more than 400 CPB-funded public radio stations to acquire iBiquity's digital HD Radio technology.

"This historic agreement will give…public broadcasters the resources they need to pursue digital HD Radio…this will mean dramatically improved sound quality and a greater variety of music, news and information choices on their favorite public radio stations."

But, that’s not what happened.

Today it is rare to see CPB-sponsored HD channels ever show up in “the book.”  The few who do seem to be getting their listeners from simulcasts on old-fashioned FM translators.

How much has CPB invested in HD Radio?

I asked CPB’s press folks and haven’t heard back from them.

CPB offered Digital Conversion Grants – a sweetheart deal to get stations into the HD biz.

Consider these CPB “sales points” to stations in 2005:

• A licensee may apply for a grant of up to $75,000 per transmitter converted, but the total grant can not exceed 70 percent of the total eligible digital conversion cost… [The total estimated installation cost was $130,000.]

Each of the major vendors [for HD equipment] has agreed to discount their equipment on a package basis to CPB grant recipients. Discounts can range from 10 to 22% or more. Contact your vendor for a specific discount quote. All conversion budgets must be submitted with the vendor discount applied to each item. 

• If your engineer is a qualified independent contract engineer, that cost may be included in the budget.

• Stations enjoy favorable terms and a one time Main Channel License Fee of $5,000. CPB pre-pays the main channel fee on behalf of qualifying station.

• Stations still must execute an individual Station License Agreement (SLA) with iBiquity.

• Stations enjoy favorable royalty terms.

This is how public radio got into the HD Radio business.  

How’s it going now?  

Here is a recent comment I heard from a Midwest PD when I asked him how the station’s HD-2 was doing:

Funny you should ask about HD because we recently found out that our HD2 channel was off the air for two weeks and no one new about it. Technically, we were on the air because the carrier was on.  But, a board op failed to turn up the fader for the main audio line and there was no audio going to the transmitter.  It was discovered two weeks later when the same board op went into the “HD room” and noticed the fader was down.  He told me and I haven’t told a soul.

So here is my point: I have the highest regard for CPB and the people in the radio division.  CPB did not cause the pathetic performance of HD Radio, they bought the hype.

I want CPB to be part of the solution. I am calling for CPB to join my effort to have the FCC set up an independent panel and investigate this wasteful boondoggle. Let’s find a better way to use digital radio broadcasting to serve the American Public.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

FREE NONCOMMERCIAL STATION DIRECTORY



In 2007 I published the KMA PUBLIC & NONCOMMERCIAL STATION DIRECTORY.  It runs 390 pages with dial guides, station and market profiles and hard to find stuff like station's gross annual revenue.

THE DIRECTORY has detailed listings for 1,158 noncom stations in over 250 markets. It includes every major program format: NPR News, Classical, Jazz, Triple A, College Rock and Christian Contemporary, plus niche formats like Gospel and Bluegrass.

Each listing in THE DIRECTORY has the station’s frequency, power, licensee, format and slogan.  Many station listings also include management contact information.

There were around 1,600 copies of THE DIRECTORY in circulation.  I sold about 1,200 and gave away the other 400 to reviewers, libraries and friends.  If nothing else, THE DIRECTORY is a snapshot in time – noncommercial radio broadcasting as it existed in 2007.

I don’t sell copies of the KMA PUBLIC & NONCOMMERCIAL STATION DIRECTORY because the information is dated – it was current in 2007.
But, it still is very useful for research and a “big picture” view of the noncom radio broadcasting landscape. Plus, it was put together by a guy loves and knows quite a bit about radio.

If you would like a free copy, please send me an email at publicradio@hotmail.com and put “Directory” in the subject line.  I’ll email THE DIRECTORY back to you.  No cost, no obligation, no hassle.

Here are some quotes from people who bought THE DIRECTORY in 2007:

This directory invaluable. The Spotlights are like listening to the stations. Barrett Golding, HearingVoices.com

I have the directory and it looks like a labor of love. I will certainly be using it as a reference in my reporting on radio in the months to come. Marc Fisher, The Washington Post

It's all really well done! Congratulations on creating a terrific resource.
Jeff Hansen, KUOW

It looks good, thanks, and I’ve made use of it already. Bill Thomas

I love it.  It’s a must-have. Craig Oliver, Consultant

Outstanding.  I wish I had done it!  Jim Duncan, Duncan’s American Radio

Monday, January 26, 2015

Q&A ABOUT MY FCC COMPLAINT & READER THOUGHTS



Q: Why did you file a complaint with the FCC in which you said the current HD Radio scheme is NOT in the public interest?

A: In early January I was working on a story about Nielsen Audio’s November PPM ratings.  I noticed that there were four HD stations listed in the data. Since it is rare for HD stations to show up in “the book” I wondered what these four stations were doing that attracted listeners to the HD channels.  My working title  for the post was Yes, There Are People Listening to HD Radio.

One of the things I checked when I investigated was whether the four HD channels were simulcast on FM translators.  I am aware of this practice because here in Minneapolis, where I am based, Clear Channel (now iHeartMedia) has successfully created two new FM stations by simulcasting HD channels on translators.  Other than the legal ID at the top of the hour, the Minneapolis stations promote themselves as “FM stations" -- not "HD stations"

When I checked Radio-Locator, I found that all four HD channels were simulcast on good old-fashioned FM radio.  The transmission sites for the translators were located in places where, despite low power, the height of the antenna created a decent signal over heavily populated metro areas.  The broadcasts on FM seemed to be the reason these “HD” stations had enough listeners to show up in the book and HD channels without translators don't.  

 I changed the title of my post to Yes, There Are People Listening to HD Radio. Sort of…
You can see this post at http://acrnewsfeed.blogspot.com/2015/01/yes-there-are-people-listening-to-hd.html

Then, in a “eureka moment” I realized an entire part of the broadcast spectrum, the In-Band On-Channel (“IBOC”) HD Radio platform has so few listeners if it went away almost no one would care.   

This seems like a huge waste of private and public money, time and energy.  When I realized this, I filed the complaint with the FCC.  To me “broadcasting in the public interest” means reaching enough of the public to matter.  HD Radio is like the sound of one hand clapping – it exists but isn't relevant.
 
Q: Do you have ties to the HD Radio industry?  Do you a have a stake in the outcome of your FCC complaint?

A: I have no ties – personally or professionally – to HD Radio.  Several years ago I did some consulting work for Radiosophy, a tech start-up located in a Midwest tax haven called Dakota Dunes, South Dakota. Radiosophy was started in 2007 by former Gateway Computer folks – the kind of company you’d like to see succeed.  For a time, Radiosophy sets were used as pledge drive premiums at public radio stations.  I don’t think Radiosophy is still in business.

Personally, I once hoped that HD Radio would succeed. A civilian friend told me back: I heard there are going to be over a dozen new radio stations here soon. The HD channels are there but my friend hasn’t listened to them in years.

Back in ’09, I bought a Mighty Red HD Radio – a perky little device from commercial consultant Eric Rhoads.  Rhoads thought if broadcasters heard how good HD Radio sounds, they would jump on the bandwagon.  It didn’t work.

My only interest in the outcome of any FCC action is that wise use be made of the spectrum. I’ve recommended that the FCC set up an independent panel to examine all of the issues with HD Radio, including possible alternatives.

QUESTION FROM A READER: Will you next suggest that unless a radio station has a Nielsen "number", it ought not exist?

A: I didn’t mean to imply that Nielsen Audio data should be any kind of standard.  It is just evidence – a quantification of radio listening in general use in media industries. So, it is a useful metric.

QUESTION FROM A READER: You can argue, and I would agree, that there was a lot of winking and nodding going on throughout [the HD Radio development] process. Any formal standard where the inner workings are allowed to remain largely proprietary and unknown to the public is a terrible idea, but [isn’t that] what happened?

A: Absolutely correct! iBiquity’s HD Radio is not a free universal system. You’ve got to buy a license from iBiquity – and they own the technology.  This is no way to serve the American public.

QUESTION FROM A READER:  the roll-out of digital radio in the US has been disappointing to date for one reason: …"any digital radio MUST be in the existing AM and FM bands, and MUST be on the same frequency as our existing licenses."

A: That is still the rule!  HD Radio was designed to give the major broadcast owners, such as iHeartRadio, Cumulus and CBS, the same parity on HD they had on FM and AM.  The broadcaster’s biggest fear was a digital radio system that would open channels to new folks and challenge their monopoly.

QUESTION FROM A READER:  [Isn’t] "blessed" a little misleading here?. There WAS a formal process with the National Radio Systems Committee (NRSC) to create the legal standard for Digital Audio Broadcasting in the USA and to base it on HD Radio technology from iBiquity.

A: Even though I’d like to know more about the NRSC and iBiquity, my complaint is solely based on the fact that this digital radio system is a technology that the marketplace has been unwilling to adoptTherefore, it is NOT serving the public interest.

QUESTION FROM A READER: What does the “HD” in “HD Radio” stand for?

A: Nothing, absolutely nothing.  It is a made up word designed to be sort of cool.  It is like Comcastic or Xfinity – a grandfalloon as Kurt Vonnegut would say.