Friday, September 4, 2015

AN URGENT OPPORTUNITY FOR PUBLIC RADIO TO CREATE NEW FM STATIONS


This week we are updating a series of columns about new INSTANT FM STATIONS – HD channels being repeated on FM translators to create new public radio stations. With creative signal engineering, acquisition of translators (often via LMAs) and re-branding HD channels as FM stations, new INSTANT FM STATIONS are signing on across the nation.

Wednesday we covered how WHQR, Wilmington, North Carolina, added a 24/7 classical station that allowed the primary station to provide 24/7 NPR News.  Yesterday we are reporting how WUFT, Gainesville, turned their HD LEMON INTO FM LEMONADE.

Today we will look at how how noncom Educational Media Foundation (EMF) is working closely with commercial iHeartMedia across the nation. iH has added FOUR new INSTANT FM STATIONS in Minneapolis.

We hope this coverage will get the attention of the leaders of public broadcasting because this method truly could expand public radio’s service.  This is a Seize The Day moment.

Column from Friday, May 8, 2015: ANOTHER NEW INSTANT FM STATION IN MINNEAPOLIS

Repeating a trend seen in markets across the country, a new FM station is about to sign on in the Twin Cities via the back door. 

iHeartMedia, the nation’s largest commercial radio broadcaster is working with the Educational Media Foundation (“EMF”), one of the nation's largest noncommercial broadcasters, to create a new FM station at 102.5. 

iHeartMedia didn’t apply for a new FM station, they got it the new-fashioned way: simulcasting an HD channel on an FM translator.

EMF owns translator K273BH – 102.5 FM – licensed to Fridley, a small suburb of Minneapolis. EMF has upgraded the translator to 250 watts and secured a transmission spot on the IDS Tower, the best nroadcasting location in town. Take a look at the K273BH coverage map below. How much do you believe the “stick value” of this station is worth?


                     THE NEW HOT 102.5 - A HELLUVA TRANSLATOR!

I’d say it is worth at least $20,000,000 – maybe more. This “scratch and win” payday is possible because of the lameness of HD Radio.

After seeing that HD Radio was failing, the FCC agreed to allow HD channels to be rebroadcast on FM translators. Translaors can be leased from another owner. In this case, iHeartMedia is going to repeat KCTZ HD2 on the new 102.5.  Presto! A new FM station thanks to HD Radio.

EMF has been repeating K-Love on 102.5.  (K-Love is beamed to Minneapolis via satellite from Sacramento.) EMF saw the current FM translator gold rush coming.  They now own dozens, maybe hundreds of FM translator licenses and construction permits.  I bet EMF’s translator revenue exceeds its underwriting revenue.

IS THE NEW 102.5 A FLANKING MOVE BY iHEARTMEDIA?

Published reports speculate that the new 102.5 FM will play Urban Contemporary – rap, hip hop and dance club hits. iHeartMedia already owns or controls nine stations on the FM dial.  One of them is Alt93.3, operating on translator W227BF at 93.3 FM.

iHeartMedia will probably operate the new 102.5 like they do 93.3 – as a bottom-feeder that exists to protect another of their stations from getting competition.  Rumor has it that iHeartMedia has secured the name Hot 102.5, and it is designed to protect their very profitable (and excellent sounding) Contemporary Hits station KDWB. This is called a "flanking move" in the radio programming biz.

HD RADIO – "KING OF THE BACKHAUL"

Though HD Radio has failed to gain any success broadcasting to listeners, it is now part of a lucrative formula to create new FM stations. FM is the spectrum where the action, and money, is.  HD signals are a cheap, easy way to transmit 24/7 programming to FM translators – known as a “backhaul” in the biz. This is a long way from what the creators of HD Radio promised.

HD Radio was created to eventually replace FM and bring digital audio broadcasting to the US.  Ironically, HD Radio now is a back door way to get on FM.

ibiquity claims HD Radio has several million weekly listeners.  This assertion is disingenuous because ALL of the rated HD Radio stations are repeating their programming on FM translators, like the new 102.5 FM will be doing soon.

People who are listening to programming created for HD on an FM translator, are NOT listening to HD Radio.  They are listening to good old FM.

Column from Tuesday, June 16, 2015: NEW INSTANT FMPRIDE 96.7 DEBUTS IN MINNEAPOLIS

Claiming to be the first LGBT FM radio station in the nation, PRIDE 96.7 [LINK] has signed on in Minneapolis.

PRIDE 96.7 is iHeartMedia’s third new Instant FM station in the market. iHeart now has EIGHT competitive FM signals in the market.  Rumor has it they have more Instant FM stations on the way.

To create PRIDE 96.7 iHeart purchased an FM translator K244EQ FM 96.7 from a Wisconsin broadcaster for $300,000. iHeart’s PRIDE RADIO is broadcast on KQQL-FM’s HD3 signal.  The HD3 feeds K244FE.  Soon FM 96.7 will broadcast from the Twin Cities best site – atop the 57-story IDS Center at 170 watts.  Here is PRIDE 96.7’s projected coverage area:



WELCOME TO CALHOUN BEACH

The new FM voice is a marvel of signal spacing and legal creation.  To accomplish the translator move from Wisconsin iHeart got the FCC to approve a new, previously unknown, city-of-license: Calhoun Beach, Minnesota.

THE "CITY' OF CALHOUN BEACH MINNESOTA
 Calhoun Beach could be any of the beaches around Lake Calhoun.  To local folks “Calhoun Beach” usually refers to the northwest corner of the lake that borders the hipster area of Minneapolis called Uptown.


LESSONS FOR NONCOM RADIO

This train is moving fast. Public radio should conduct an organized effort to get public radio’s HD channels on FM before the FM spectrum is full. I recall CPB sponsored FM frequency and underserved area studies in the 1980s and 1990s. Why not map FM translator opportunities now?

Commercial broadcasters like iHeartMedia and religious noncom broadcasters like the Educational Media Foundation (K-Love) are gobbling up the FM dial. Seize the day CPB—help turn those HD Radio lemons into FM lemonade.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

WUFT TURNS "HD RADIO LEMON" INTO "FM LEMONADE"






HD RADIO LEMONS…




…CAN BECOME FM LEMONADE






 
For the past several months SPARK! has been covering sole-service noncom stations adding a second FM station by putting their HD channel on a FM translator.  We call this MAKING HD LEMONS INTO FM LEMONADE.

Public radio stations have the chance to turn a liability (HD channels with very few listeners) into valuable new assets (FM stations).  This is being done right now. Today we have the story about WUFT in Gainesville that was originally June 15, 2015.

I wish/hope somebody at CPB is paying attention because there is the need to act quickly. Public radio is already behind the curve.  Open FM translator spots are in limited supply. Religious and commercial broadcasters are gobbling up. Public radio should ACT NOW.

THE ORIGINAL COLUMN

A decade ago, like many CPB-funded FM stations, WUFT in Gainesville added HD Radio channels.  Now HD Radio hasn’t panned out as was hoped.  This fact-of-life has left quite a few public radio stations stuck with the expense of providing HD Radio channels that reach few, if any, listeners. In other words, HD Radio is a lemon.
Now WUFT [LINK] is creating lemonade by putting it’s HD2 channel on a local FM translator.  These new Instant Stations are no longer HD Radio, they are for-real FM stations.  The one thing that HD Radio is very, very good at is feeding FM translators.
Like iHeart Media, Educational Media Foundation (“EMF” – the purveyors of K-LOVE) and other commercial broadcasters, WUFT is expanding their services by adding FM signals to expand programming choices for Gainesville area listeners.

INSIDE WUFT’S PLAN

WUFT is licensed to the University of Florida.  The UF College of Journalism and Communications operates WUFT-FM (and it's repeater WJUF-FM), PBS affiliate WUFT-TV, two commercial stations WRUF-FM (Country) and WRUF-AM (ESPN Sports).
WUFT-FM is almost full-time NPR News. WUFT-HD2 is full-time Classical, airing Classical-24 24/7 .It is the cheapest way to run the channel.  Like HD Radio elsewhere, WUFT’s HD2 channel has not attracted much listening. Beginning in October, WUFT’s Classical service will debut on 92.1 FM via translator W2748BT.
WUFT has big plans for it’s new FM station. According to news reports, WUFT will replace C-24 with local hosts. I bet this will work Big Time.  WUFT is providing a model for other public radio stations in similar situations.

(Also this fall, WUFT will debut a second FM translator that will repeat its commercial station WRUF-AM.)

“Securing these two new FM frequencies for the College is significant,” said Randall Wright, executive director of the College’s Division of Multimedia Properties. “The new WUFT-?FM Classical/Arts will provide a radio broadcast format not currently available in this market, helping to position our public media for another phase of growth from both a membership and underwriting perspective,” he said.

PUBLIC RADIO: MAKE LEMONADE FROM YOUR HD RADIO LEMONS NOW

WUFT is providing an example of what noncom stations, particularly CPB-funded licensees, can do with their HD channels. Many licensees who got into HD Radio agreed to CPB requirements that they keep the HD channels going for years. This is one way some stations can turn an underperforming channel into significant new public service.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

HOW SOLE SERVICE NPR STATIONS MAYBE CAN ADD A SECOND FM FREQUENCY NOW


The column below is a rerun from June 17, 2015. Here is an update since the original post: Cleve Callison says both stations continue to out-perform expectations.  I asked Cleve if he could recommend vendors who do this kind of work.  Here is Cleve’s advice:

Sure. Our contract engineer, who recommended the equipment and put it all together, is Jobie Sprinkle, Director of Engineering at WFAE in Charlotte (704-549-9306, sprinkle@wfae.org). The engineer who figured out all the FCC stuff (he works with commercial and non-commercial translators) is Tim Warner in Asheville (828-258-1238, twarner@tlwinc.net).
THE ORIGINAL COLUMN

WHQR BRINGS 24/7 CLASSICAL TO WILMINGTON VIA NEW “INSTANT FM STATION”

I received a lot of response to Monday’s column [LINK] about WUFT’s new classical FM station, created by repeating an HD channel on an FM translator.  I call these INSTANT FM STATIONS. These are FM stations.  HD Radio is mentioned only in the legal ID.

CLEVE CALLISON


Cleve Callison at WHQR, Wilmington, North Carolina sent me a note saying they have done something similar last September.  WHQR debuted Classical HQR at 96.7 FM [LINK].  The listener response so far has been very positive.









TOUGH CHOICES: NPR NEWS OR CLASSICAL

When Callison became GM of WHQR a few years ago the station had the very familiar tension between NPR News and classical music listeners.  Ties to classical music are in the DNA of WHQR.  Back in the early 1980s, the station founders were fans of the Met Opera.  You don’t want to piss these people off. Callison continued WHQR’s dual format until he could find a solution.
,
Like many other public radio stations, WHQR took CPB’s offer and added an HD2.  But, as we all know, HD Radio has not found consumer acceptance.  Commitments to CPB for the dough require stations to keep the HD going.

It was impossible to apply for a new FM station.  The HD2 channel had almost no listeners.  Then, a couple of years ago, WHQR acquired FM translator W244DH – 96.7FM, from a broadcaster located an hour north of Wilmington.  Through careful FCC filings, they moved the translator to Wilmington. Here is CLASSICAL 96.7’s coverage area:



THE PROUD DEBUT OF CLASSICAL 96.7

CLASSICAL 96.7 started with a high-profile public event on Tuesday, September 16, 2014.  This was the launch of a NEW FM STATION. Callison invited local bigwigs to Throw the Switch:

 The response was immediate and very, very positive from Classical and NPR News listeners.  At the same moment CLASSICAL 96.7 started, Callison deleted classical hours on WHQR’s primary station at 91.3 FM and added more news.  



 He hoped classical folks wouldn’t see the smaller coverage area of 96.7 FM as a demotion. This did not happen.  Classical listeners love 24/7 music.  WHQR had the best fundraising year ever in 2014.

Callison said at launch party:

WHQR was founded in 1980 and went on the air in 1984 thanks to the devoted work of listeners hungry for classical music on the radio. Now that vision will realize its long-cherished dream: a 24-hour classical FM station with [local hosts] Jemila Ericson, Pat Marriott, favorite syndicated programs -- and music, music, music.

ATTENTION SOLE SERVICE STATIONS: YOU CAN DO THIS TOO

Don’t wait. Act now while FM spectrum is available. 

Commercial broadcasters and religious noncoms like the Educational Media Foundation are trolling your market right now for HD-to-FM translators for their new INSTANT FM STATIONS.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

SUMMER RERUN: BROTHER JOHN “GROOVING ON A SATURDAY NIGHT IN VIETNAM”



Today we have one of my favorite earlier columns, first posted January 16, 2015. I’ve added a link to see the video via youtube.

Here is a slightly updated version of the original post:

In the late 1960s many Top 40 stations aired a fascinating weekly public affairs program called Silhouette.  It was produced by the American Lutheran Church and helped music stations meet ascertainment requirements without sounding like they were “going out of the format.”

Silhouette was created and hosted by John Rydren. At the time, Rydgren was a seminary student in St. Paul. He became a Lutheran pastor with a serious jones for creating radio.



Silhouette mixed the hottest rock songs of the day with short clips of young folks chatting about current issues in society. Rydren often crafted first-person audio essays similar to Joe Frank or Rod McKuen.






Today many of the Silhouette audio essays are laughable because they are so hippy-dippy.  But some brilliantly evoke a time and place like this one: Groovin’ on a Saturday Night In Vietnam from 1968.  The tune is an instrumental version of The Rascal’s hit song Groovin’.

video

 Youtube link: CLICK

 Silhouette ended in 1970 when Rydgren became Brother John, the voice of ABC Radio’s LOVE network, an early progressive rock experiment.  It lasted less than two years.

Rydren then moved to Los Angeles and became a popular host on K-EARTH, one of the nation’s first FM oldies stations. He created Heaven Is In Your Mind, a flashback to Silhouette, while at K-EARTH. Rydgren tragically died on the air at K-EARTH (no kidding!) in 1988.

Monday, August 31, 2015

REALITY CHECK: MANY NEW CAR BUYERS ARE SHUNNING “CONNECTED CAR” FEATURES


Proof that multi-platform media choices continue to fragment user preferences arrived last week in the JD Power 2015 Driver Interactive Vehicle Experience Report.  In a survey of 4,200 folks who bought or leased new vehicles between April and June, many folks aren’t using some highly touted Connected Car (“CC”) systems. JD Power found that at least 20% never used 16 of the 33 technology features 90 days after acquiring the car.

There are two ways of looking at the implications of the report: 

Some folks will say the CC is not living up to the hype. Rising concerns about distracted drivers and uneven digital coverage dog the CC industries.

But other observers will say focusing on the non-adapters isn’t telling the real story. Many, many people who have recently acquired new vehicles are quickly adapting to all sorts of CC features.

Both opinions are correct but there is more going on. It is not either/or with the CC digital dashboard. The consumer can have whatever they want. Media platforms and delivery systems seldom ever go away. Their usage and market share just decrease over time.  The telegraph is still used as a form of mass communication but its market share has decreased.Same with smoke signals.

Add to the list of media platforms consumers who are CC Users and CC Avoiders. Not that long ago you could count the number of viable mass media delivery systems on one hand. Today the list is endless.  And, old-school media is still am important part of the mix because it is easy to operate, predictable and cheap.  Some people like them.

INSIDE THE JD POWER REPORT

According to reporters and bloggers who have seen the full report [I couldn’t access it], a significant number of people are already happy with their entertainment and delivery systems. Here are a few of the main points in the report:

• 32% of the respondents have ignored apps embedded in the infotainment system such as Pandora.

• For Gen Y people (born (1977 to 1994), the number of never used features is 23 of 33particularly technologies related to entertainment.

• More than half of the respondents expressed reluctance about using a vehicle’s voice texting and voice recognition systems.

• Features that are “not wanted” by a majority of respondents include: Apple CarPlay, Google Android Auto and in-vehicle concierge services.

• A majority of the respondents said that their dealer did not explain the CC features in the vehicles they acquired. In some instances, the buyers didn’t even know they have the technology in their new vehicle.

The reasons respondents give for not using certain features are convenience, habit and not seeing a need. Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction research at J.D. Power said in a press release:

In many cases, owners simply prefer to use their smartphone or tablet because it meets their needs; they’re familiar with the device and it’s accurate.

Kolodge noted that the technologies owners most often want are those that enhance the driving experience and safety.

Bob Pittman, iHeartMedia chairman & CEO [a person whose opinion I greatly respect], says the findings corroborate earlier research from Ipsos, showing 91% of consumers say they prefer to use current AM/FM radio systems.
While digital apps may get more attention from news
media, we focus on listening to the consumer — and
nothing surpasses AM/FM radio as the No. 1 way consumers want to experience entertainment in the car, Pittman said in an interview with trade publication Inside Radio.
WATCH WHETER CC FEATURES REMAIN STANDARD OR BECOME OPTIONAL EXTRAS

Auto industry publications are abuzz about the JD Power conclusion that manufacturers are loosing millions of dollars to provide unused technologies by making them them part of standard vehicle price. The report claims car makers are spending billions of dollars on technologies that many drivers simply don't use.

Not only are people opting out of the features in their current cars, but a fifth said they'd rather not having them the next vehicles they purchase.

The auto industry expects to sell about 14 million vehicles to consumers this year. The report concludes consumers would like to dump technology they don’t want to cut the vehicle’s cost. So why not make many CC features optional for a price instead of standard?

The JD Power research also found that auto insurance providers are concerned that if the technology is difficult to use or not explained clearly, it can cause driver distraction that can lead to accidents. They are considering raising rates on CC vehicles.

Roger Lanctot from the auto industry research firm Global Automotive Practice at Strategy Analytics summarized the situation this way:
Carmakers are throwing a lot of pasta at the wall and some of it is sticking and some of is not. [Survey respondents] are saying [make] the user experience simpler.

The metric to watch is how many manufacturers drop entertainment-oriented systems as part of the vehicle’s purchase price.