Betting on the future

This is a followup to the “Why Talk is Moving to FM” post about a week ago.

I’m actually going to encourage you right wing nuts (and you know who you are!) to read the Huffington Post, specifically HERE.  Tamara Conniff is a former editor of Billboard Magazine, which means she really knows the music business and is not a light weight.

This article lays out the details behind the Performance Rights Act currently making its way through the U.S. Senate.  She supports the act, but lays out a factual description of what it is and what it could do.

While she supports the idea of the radio stations paying performers to play their music, she also raises the red flag of FM radio turning into a wasteland of right wing talk radio, sports talk and Spanish language programming.

(I tend to think some radio stations and companies would fail, but others would adapt and thrive even paying the “tax”)

Anyhow, put yourself in the shoes of a scared radio company owner.   You’re looking at the possibility that this thing still might pass.  If you wait for the 9th inning, and then decide to switch your music FM station to Talk, by that point the best syndicated shows and sports networks will already be pinned down in your market and you won’t have anything to put on the air (unless you produce it locally)

KKAT-AM in Utah and WNUW-FM in New Jersey (Philly area) have joined the list of recent switches from Music to Talk.

Look at the rate of this “format flips” as a barometer of if the NAB’s members think they are going to lose the fight with the music industry.    If they “flip” now, they can pin down the better shows to secure their future as a talk station.   If the performance rights act doesn’t pass, they can always flip back to computers playing random music in six months or a year (unless of course, they have a surge in ratings when they put on Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh :)).

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Clear Channel issue coming to a head

Radio Online picks up on the news story from the NY Post that the tortured $27 Billion go private buyout of Clear Channel two years ago may be ready to begin its next chapter.

Here is the story in the New York Post.

Back when this deal was trying to come together, it became apparent that taking Clear Channel private was not going to work out so well, and the banks the two Private Equity firms were relying on to provide the funding got cold feet (this was just about the time that Bear Stearns was in trouble). The PE firms took the banks to court to keep them from backing out of financing the deal.

A few months ago, it was reported that several parties were actively pushing to force Clear Channel into bankruptcy sooner rather than later. Clear Channel probably will fail to meet the terms of its loans late this year or early next year, at which point the banks can say “no” to any further extension of time or relaxing the terms of the loans.

The speculation in the NY Post story is that the two private equity firms may ultimately find it in their interest to let Clear Channel fail, and at least own a portion of the company after it exits bankrupcty.

The NY Times reports that the PE firms and Clear Channel say the NY Post story is not factual – that no effort is being made to restructure.

Posted in Streaming Radio Guide | 12 Comments

Beck & Muse

Beck once again scores a victory proving that Media Matters doesn’t.  He regularly baits Media Matters by saying things during the show that sound totally bizarre if you take them out of context and don’t know the “game” he is playing.

Media Matters picked up a sarcastic joke Beck made about the band Muse – if you listen to his program, he has been playing their song warning about the encroachment of global government.   He said that he had just received an email from the manager of the group requesting that he withdraw his endorsement of the group.

Media Matters printed that as fact – and a flurry of media sources then reported it as fact (MTV, London Telegraph, and flurry of blogs that nobody reads) quoting Media Matters as the source, without attempting to fact check with the group or with Beck.   The Telegraph has now printed a retraction (kind of).

Posted in Streaming Radio Guide | 8 Comments

Mixing formats

KTLK-FM in Minneapolis (Clear Channel) is doing something that strikes me as totally bizarre.  They started doing it about two months ago – they are playing “hard” rock music on the weekends on what is a Conservative Talk station during the week

First, the crap that is on most News/Talk stations on the weekends is pretty worthless, so I follow that part of it.   What I just found out is they start the rock music on Friday nights (preempting Laura Ingraham on Fridays – and I suspect Jason Lewis).

Are they thinking…  Let’s see if Laura Ingraham listeners would like some rock music, or are they hoping that young people who notice the rock music on the weekend will accidentally hear Rush Limbaugh on Monday and get “hooked”?   Neither seems likely.

Or is it that the program director for the station hates Conservative talk and just pulled the plug on it so they can have more fun putting their rock music into the computer to play over the weekend?

If you really think it makes sense to play music on the weekends, then play the kind of music that news/talk junkies listen to (look at the stats here)…  Classic Rock, Country or Oldies.

Oh, I found the answer:

They’re just “screwing around”…

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Why talk is moving to FM

Maybe two years ago Bonneville started a trend – they took an existing AM News/Talk programming format from KTAR  and “moved” it to FM.  There were always a few FM News/Talk stations – this trend is moving an existing AM programming format to FM.  According to my count, there are now 140 FM News/Talk stations.  Why is this happening?   A lot about radio has changed since the 1960s and radio is adapting.

– the end of the monopoly of 50 kw clear channel AM stations.  Back in the early 1980s, the FCC let it be known that nighttime AM stations that covered much of the country at night (WBZ, WBT, KDKA, WOWO, WJR, etc…) would be scaled back to allow local stations to stay on at night – by 1986, the FCC no longer issued new daytime only AM licenses.   We now have the worst of both worlds – the clear channel stations are now regional stations with directional antennas and the local AM stations are too weak to be of much use (many are less than 50w at night)

– the marriage of AM stations with FM Translators – this is now fully under way with FCC support.  AM stations can now have the AM signal carried on the FM band without having an FM station license.   This allows the AM stations to have fairly decent local coverage at night.  I see this as just a transition to eventually transfer the AM licenses to the FM band.

– most radios force you to choose AM or FM and don’t go seamlessly between AM and FM stations.  People tend to leave the radio set either on AM or FM, especially in their car.   If people can hear their AM station on FM, they are more likely to keep the radio on FM and listen to other FM stations owned by the same radio company in the same city.

– young people are listening to music on iPods now, not radio (despite what Nielson says…)   as FM radio loses music listeners, it opens the door for talk radio.   Since children tend to be the opposite of their parents (it’s a rule!), there are probably more than few 20 something Glenn Beck fans, especially if he invades their FM radio and they actually listen to his show, not what other people say he says

– if HD radio ever catches on, the HD2 or HD3 channels are being used often as a way to offer the existing AM stations on the FM frequency

 – production values of AM programming are improving – because AM programming is now streaming on the internet and on HD channels, it’s no longer good enough to have a mono phone quality analog signal with 60 Hz hum….    the smarter syndicated talk shows incorporate high fidelity stereo music and pay attention to FM type sound quality since the 8 kHz analog AM limitations no long are the barrier.  After you listen to AM digital on the internet, you don’t want to go back to over the air.

– directional AM antenna farms are very expensive to run and maintain – many AM stations have as many as 6 antennas to make their signal go in a specific direction.   Back in the heyday of AM radio when you might have a 60% share in a market, that wasn’t a big deal.  When you have a 0.6% share, the engineering, security, insurance, maintenance and electricity costs are much harder to justify. 

An FM antenna doesn’t need much infrastructure, except people tend to like them to be up high to get the signal as far as possible.  For AM, a tall antenna is a requirement, not an option – the radio tower is tuned to a specific frequency and the antenna itself is typically around 300 feet long to match the resonance of the transmitter frequency.   The typical FM wavelength is something like 18 inches, so it is trivial to change frequencies on an FM antenna by just tweaking a trimming capacitor, not building an entire new antenna system.

The AM band itself isn’t that useful of spectrum any more – it has the issues of signals bouncing off the ionosphere at night, and picks up noise from electrical storms and assorted electrical discharges.

There is group of people who get much enjoyment over DXing – which means trying to listen to radio stations very far away and letting them know you heard them (you send them a QSL card stating the date, time, and signal quality of what you heard – and if they are real old-timers, they might reply with a thank you card :))… but the Internet is undermining that hobby.  Other than as a fallback if/when the internet goes down some day, it’s much easier and simpler to use internet radio guides to listen to far away stations than to stand on the roof of your barn holding a directional antenna in a thunderstorm to try to pick up that station in Australia :)

Posted in Streaming Radio Guide | 3 Comments

iPhone – playing WMA stations

My cousin pointed me to the FStream iPhone app, which does have the ability to stream Windows Media streams to the iPhone.  This still doesn’t solve the problem of players written in Flash or reliant on windows DLLs, but does open up a LOT more stations for the iPhone.

For now, the method is a bit clunky.   When you see Fstream Config, clicking that link will give you the raw URL you need for configuring the stream in FStream.  Copy/Paste is a bit hard to use on the iPhone, but if you successfully copy the URL, you can then start FStream and Paste the URL into the Favorites Configuration….   at that point, you’ll still have to manually start FStream each time, and select the right station.

But at least it works :)

[but only if you’re connected through Wi-Fi – the AT&T 3G network doesn’t allow WMA streams to play.]

Posted in Streaming Radio Guide | 2 Comments

College radio revisited

The first radio blog post I did back in 2006 was speculating about the future of college radio (or impending demise).  I was finding more and more student run stations either running on automation full time, turned over to state run NPR networks or just derelict.

Augustana College’s station KAUR-FM in Sioux Falls, SD is the latest to call it quits.   In this case, it isn’t lack of funding – it’s that there was only 1 student even interested in working on the station.   With radio companies laying off large numbers of people, and college age students having very little interest in listening to radio, this should not be a shocker.

Posted in Radio Business | Tagged | 3 Comments

iheartradio answers

The iheartradio iPhone app has lots of reviews that are either questions or complaints, but of course there is no method to respond to them.

Here are the issues that people are reporting:

  • Buffering during playback – this is probably an issue with your AT&T 3G network coverage, not the app itself.  Music won’t stream without a solid wireless connection
  • Doesn’t have all my local stations – Clear Channel created the app for their stations, and maybe other companies if they want to agree to some conditions.   Even for Clear Channel, they’re only loading up their major market stations
  • No Search Function – true
  • Won’t run in background – if you get a text message, the radio stops playing
  • Blocks non-US listeners
Posted in Streaming Radio Guide | 4 Comments

Between a rock and a hard place

Sarah McBride of the WSJ (along with Mike Spector) write in this article about a problem which has taken some of the lenders by surprise, but people who follow this site closely have known about for months.

Citadel Broadcasting (which owns the former ABC radio network and a bunch of small market stations) failed to make an interest payment on August 15th and failed to come up with the money by September 15th, so they are in default for a 3rd time this year.

The problem is that if the lenders take any actions to sieze the company – either by bankruptcy or via a debt for equity swap, they immediately run into the FCC ownership caps.  The same lenders have interests in too many radio stations already, and are not allowed to “own” any more stations.  Some of the lenders are not allowed to own radio stations at all because they are non-US companies.   Most of the existing radio companies that could buy ABC radio stations at a fire sale can’t because they already are at the limits in ther major market ownerships.

So we’re stuck with a handful of “too big to fail” radio owners in limbo – everyone wants to take their losses and move on, but the process is frozen by the limits – and long term relaxing those limits would just reinvite the same problem down the road with even bigger “too big to fail” radio networks. 

Anyone out there with a billion or two to invest want to buy a radio network cheap?

Posted in Radio Business, Radio Ownership | 12 Comments