Julyin' to yourself

August is already upon us

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Podcasting explains why Amtrak is so bad

I came up with this comparison while engaged in a discussion about India railways on YouTube. India railways employees 1.4 million people, making it one of the largest non-military employers of the world. Because India railways is operated essentially to create public sector jobs, it is grossly inefficient. Only 5% of their routes use automatic block signals. The rest of the network uses manual block control with people on phones talking to each other at the end of each block. Outside of the main urban areas, crossing gates are opened and closed by a human and switches are thrown by hand, not even using pneumatic remote switches which the Pennsylvania railroad started using in 1920.

For those who think Amtrak should become a European like rail system, the Indian system is the ultimate expression of dependence on railroads for passenger transport. You can pretty much go from anywhere to anywhere in India by riding a train. You may not have air conditioning, the train may be packed with lots of smelly people, lots of people die – but they run 20,000 trains a day carrying 8.2 billion passengers a year, paying an average fare of around $1. Passenger service loses around $0.33 per passenger/km. There are 70 billion dollars worth of unfunded necessary projects, some of which have been on the drawing boards for 30 years.

So why is Amtrak a failure outside of the Northeast corridor? One of the most potentially viable routes used to be from New York City to Chicago. Now Amtrak can only muster one train a day, and it is shared with cars going to and from Boston. How did this happen? And why?

The 1939 world's Fair set things in motion. The recently-formed General Motors painted a vision for the future of America in which people owned automobiles and drove where they wanted when they wanted. Americans would have freedom, albeit with the price of a monthly car payment. People with decent incomes could move out of the dangerous smelly cities full of immigrants speaking strange languages. So we bought cars, built suburbs, created malls, and had the ability to go where we wanted, when we wanted, without requiring government oversight and permission. Increased air travel became another option, although not as free.

So podcasts are doing the same thing to radio that automobiles did to trains, and Netflix is doing to television. It is very compelling to be able to listen to or watch what you want, when you want. No government agency is telling Netflix what products it has to produce and forcing consumers to buy it.

Unfortunately, in the past few days, President Trump has crossed over a very dangerous line. He wants the FCC to be involved in content on the internet, regulating "unfair" actions by folks like Facebook and Twitter. With the exception of obscene material, the FCC has assiduously stayed out of content decisions. Unlike Canada, the FCC does not declare that a city has too many country music stations, so they force a station to change its programming.

It is not a long distance between regulating Facebook and telling The Washington Post what they are allowed to print. We are really starting to live in dangerous times. the irony is that it was the Democrats who wanted the FCC to treat the internet like a common carrier and start micromanaging in the name of fairness.

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What makes music popular?

Is it the quality of the music? The opinions of the people listening?

Probably not.

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/radio-stations-hit-pay-for-play-867825/

It adds a detail that might explain why there are so many country music stations in a genre which maybe isn’t that popular.

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Improved All FCC Licenses Query

This is an old, but very powerful, search tool that is only slightly related to radio.

The FCC makes available a database of every fixed location transmitter license (including broadcast licenses, excluding federal agencies, of course). Access to this search is available at the top of this blog, as well as on the main menu page of the directory.

The search starts with the premise that you want to know which licenses are closest to where are you physically located. If your device does not have location services (GPS), the service is turned off, or you refuse to let my server know where you are, you are given the opportunity instead to name a city, and it will just use the central city location.

You’ll get a report back like this


(Click to enlarge)

If you are a Democratic supporter and anti-gun terrorist, you can click on the tower icon to see the tower location.

There is a controversy going on right now in Denver of great interest to newspaper people around the country. A fundamental principle of the 1934 Communications Act is that anyone who is issued a license must allow their signal to be listened to by anyone for free. Encryption or other non-standard techniques are prohibited on over the air licensed signals.

Over time though, that has been weakened. I doubt that anybody would disagree that cell phone communications should be encrypted and private, so people can’t hear the conversations, unless they’re the government using a special Stingray device to pretend to be a cell tower to listen without a warrant, and then denying such a device exists. In the early 1980s, there were attempts to transmit porno movies on over the air TV which were encrypted so tender minds would not be corrupted. Of course, when cable TV came along, that solved that problem.

The ability of ordinary citizens to be able to listen to the broadcast of police, fire, and other first responders is either incredibly valuable to a free country, or a horrific mistake – depending on your level of concern about criminal behavior or government corruption.

This has been moot for a very long time, since police officers all carry cell phones and can talk to each other without fear of being overheard. In the good old days, you just agreed to meet in a parking lot and talk to each other face-to-face. All but the most backward cities, use digital dispatch anyway, where each police car has a tablet. Central dispatching using voice with multiple people able to talk at once over repeaters is now a horrible idea. The same is true for taxicabs, who used to have to deal with their competitors trying to steal their fares.

News reporters depended very much on being able to hear breaking activity to get on the scene quickly so they could have pictures of the building burning down before the fire truck arrived. It was common for reporters to have a scanner in their car, something that ordinary citizens would likely not do and generally required a special permit.

So the city of Denver has just decided to start encrypting their police dispatching frequencies. That means reporters for TV and newspapers will no longer be able to hear breaking stories about fire, ambulance and police activities. The city is offering a compromise, to allow these entities to purchase the equipment necessary to listen to encrypted Communications, as long as they agreed to a long list of restrictions of what the news outlet can or cannot do with what they hear, and or record. The city is now being sued.

These days, nothing happens that isn’t immediately reported on Twitter, so I’m not sure we even need the ability anymore to hear what the police say is happening. What is your opinion?

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Does Jesus love Salem?

So Bill Bennett and Michael Medved have retired, moving the magnanimous Hugh Hewitt to early mornings. I don’t have the sense that their new talent has exactly caught fire. Salem’s hosts basically are heard only on Salem radio stations. Bill Bennett was probably an exception

Salem stock on the NASDAQ stock exchange is languishing approaching penny stock territory. Their earnings are coming out soon and people suspect there might be bad news. One of the radio rumor mills says that they are in the process is selling off some of their stations. They were the buyer of last resort when Disney had trouble unloading many of their Major market AM radio stations.

Salem lost $3.8 million on their deal to sell WWRC in Washington DC. the problem is if you sell radio stations to raise cash, you wind up with huge paper losses recognizing the difference between what you say the station is worth, and the amount of cash you actually accepted. Sometimes that can obfuscated by doing things as a trade rather than a sale. On a trade, both parties can make up any number they want to say how much they gave each other.

For some time now Salem’s profitability is based more on selling townhall.com subscriptions and books and not brokering advertising and religious time on their stations. Selling blocks of infomercial advertising time on weekends is foolish, as all it does is decreases people’s interest in listening to this station during the week. They would be better off just playing contemporary Christian music.

As of their last 10-Q, it shows they had a whopping $4,000 in cash on hand and $30 million in accounts receivable, with about one-fourth of that estimated to be uncollectible. They have $227 million in long-term debt which is being backed by the value of their broadcast licenses and very little else. Maybe they have land underneath their broadcast towers they could sell as Cumulus was doing.

For the quarter they had about $984,000 in operating loss with about $60 million in revenue. Their interest expense was about $4.4 million giving rise to about a $5 million dollar total loss including interest, but before taxes. With some accounting magic, by losng $5 million they saved $5.3 million dollars in income tax, creating a net profit after taxes of $322,000. Isn’t America wonderful?

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Improved Stations by Frequency

From the main streaming guide menu page, there is a choice that says radio stations by frequency. This was one of the first pages I created and had very little updating and was just plain ugly. It has the potential to be a very useful page, including some features I have not seen anywhere else.

Radio stations by frequency

I added a capability similar to the FCC’s search page where you can say only show me stations that match one specific frequency, instead of forcing you to create a range. I also removed TV stations.

So let’s say you know that there’s an oldies format radio station on 97.3 MHz, but you don’t know where the station is located or what the call sign is – now you have a better chance of finding what you’re looking for.

I also modified the FCC link to go to the public inspection file part of the FCC website. If you are interested in radio behind the scenes and have not yet been to the public inspection files online, it is definitely worth a look. The current administration is really pushing radio stations to put their information onto the internet. It only took 25 years to bring along this notion to these companies that are supposedly in the communication business. The data is still incomplete, but one of the requirements from Congress is that radio stations disclose all of their political advertising and who paid for the ads. The only real problem with the public information files is a lot of the time you don’t get the page to load.

Making the public inspection file online releases the radio station from the responsibility of having a physical business location in order for you to inspect this file that nobody ever wants to see. The station also is not required to be staffed by a manager and administrative staff during business hours. As long as there is a phone number that somebody might answer, the FCC is happy. Our ability to contact a radio station is now significantly less certain if the station desires to be secretive and not have a presence in their local community. Just wait until the stations are owned by Saudi sovereign wealth funds…

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Playing country women fairly

Well, radio Disney country is off to a great start. They now have a studio in Nashville on music row.

It sounds like they’re going to use voice tracking, where these two women featured in this article are going to record bits that will be replayed at various times during the week. They have made it their purpose in life to make sure that women get “Fair” airplay.

https://www.newschannel5.com/news/radio-disney-country-opens-studio-on-music-row

I would not say that I am a huge country music fan. When we moved here to North Carolina in 1970, it was a brand new experience for me to listen to country music on the radio. At the time, that meant what is today called classic country, and the local station also threw in a significant amount of bluegrass.

So I’m going to lob about some possibilities as to why radio stations that play contemporary country music play very little music sung by women

  • a large portion of the audience for country radio music is women, and they don’t want to listen to women
  • the real money in country music is concert tours, and female artists are less likely to want go on tour
  • fans of country music don’t buy their records/downloads
  • typical topics of country music songs sound strange in the context of a woman. How many female truck drivers are there? A woman singing about going to the honky tonk and getting drunk and having sex with a stranger sounds like the woman is a whore. Hello double standard!
  • recent popular new female country artists (Taylor Swift comes to mind) end up crossing over to mainstream, and abandon their fan base because they don’t actually like country music

I fully expect that Disney will embrace country rap and variations like Islamic country music. You would think that Disney would recognize country music fans tend to have children, and would be inclined to go to the Disney parks. They would be more beneficial customers than POC who like to have fist fight brawls on main Street. On the other hand, I think they have enough sense to not give Disney $100 a person to go inside for a chance to buy Mickey mouse ears.

Savannah Keyes is from California. Her persona sends off strong lesbian vibes. She doesn’t seem to have any use for men.

Kalie Short is 25 years old and grew up in Maine. Her debut in country music was a single named “fight like a girl” as part of the suffragette movement within country music. While there is a mention that somebody on Sirius XM played the song, details about how much money it made don’t seem to exist.

I seriously doubt that either of these women know how to ride a horse or have ever spent more than 5 minutes on a farm.
But that’s probably true of everyone who pretends to have a connection to “country” music.

Disney divested itself of all the AM stations it used to own except for KDIS (now KDRC) in California. and they don’t have a presence on FM. The one AM station they still have located near Disneyland in California, has switched over to country music. For a while the old teeny pop Disney radio was being broadcast on some HD sub-channels around the country, but that deal lapsed. For now, the only way you’re going to hear Disney “radio” country is online. By next year, this whole concept will just be a memory unless somebody at Disney comes to their senses.

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EMF has a new leader

Educational Media Foundation (EMF) now is the second largest radio station operator if you count AM and FM licenses. EMF is the operator of two Christian music services called K-LOVE and Air1. They only own AM-stations briefly when they have to purchase them as part of a package. They are essentially an FM-only radio company.

Mike Novak was the person who formed this large broadcasting entity that most people in radio either do not know exists or they’re in total denial of what is going on. Since EMF is non-commercial, that means they don’t sell advertisements to the businesses that fund commercial radio. Commercial radio then views them as not a threat because they do not realize that the listeners are the ultimate consumer. EMF is not going to put a 50 ft tall gorilla balloon in front of the parking lot and give away free hot dogs. however, when we went into a barbecue restaurant in Lexington North Carolina, we realized EMF was playing in the restaurant, not Alice Cooper.

Mr. Novak’s retirement was announced several months ago, and they have now identified his successor by hiring an outside search company. That is always good for morale of the existing employees who who spent their entire life working for your company, only to have an outsider come in to reshape the company that they know very little about. It is not uncommon for generation one’s leader to believe they’re going to be in charge forever, and not having groomed a successor, leaving generation two to have a fight for control

The New Boss

Bill Reeves is the new choice to run EMF. He currently operates a company based in Nashville called the WTA group. His background is in marketing, not theology. EMF is based in California, setting up an immediate culture clash.

If you visit his website, he mainly seems to liberate money from Christians by acquiring marketing rights to melodrama videos about current day Christians, then handles the merchandising of the Jesus bobblehead dolls and T-Shirts. Part of hiring him includes that his for-profit company will be incorporated into the non-profit 501(c)3 EMF.

One of the partners in WTA is Bill Landis, who has had a prior relationship with radio entrepreneur Dave Ramsey. I am “shocked” at that connection, I tell you. Since they are both based in Nashville, it is inconceivable that there was not a relationship. The press release that forms the basis of the rbr.com story doesn’t seem to be aware of that detail.

Dave Ramsey is another force that caught commercial radio by surprise. I believe the jargon for this term is a “disrupter”. Dave Ramsey figured out that he could get Christians to live on rice and beans so they could redirect their discretionary income into buying life insurance from his business partners. Do you think that Mary and Joseph took out a life insurance policy on their son?

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Searching for McGouda

My car said that it’s 103 degrees outside – i’m a little skeptical – 98 perhaps. I am a global heat denier.

So after my relatively uneventful doctor appointment, I decided to go visit McDonald’s, joining the huddled masses yearning to be gluten free. Yesterday, I read something on a restaurant industry publication that bothered me. this particular publication is as toxic to the restaurant business as the radio publications are to the radio business, in my opinion.

The essence of the story was they were encouraging McDonald’s franchisees to start a revolution to overthrow the people in Chicago. To understand McDonald’s, you need to understand they are primarily in the real estate business, not the business of selling the hamburgers. To the corporate people in Chicago, their customers are the franchisee owners, not the people who eat their hamburgers. This is why for at least a decade, every survey of consumers said people wanted McDonald’s to serve breakfast all day. But the franchise owners didn’t want to have to buy new equipment or retrain staff, so they blocked the effort until the new CEO made it clear that franchisees were going to have all day breakfast, whether they wanted to or not. Some are still fighting the battle, believing it’s still the 1970s.

Similarly, the radio publications want to convince station managers or owners that their key to success would be the latest greatest orban digital signal processor, when what the ultimate consumer wants is a news guy who knows the name of the mayor without having to go to Google to look it up.

So the quote from the restaurant rag was that some of the franchisees were irate that McDonald’s was pushing this global menu on them, and gosh darn the customers don’t even want this global crap. So of course, I had to go try it. There are currently four special menu items – I went with the hamburger from Spain and the dairy dessert from the Netherlands. The burger had a special sauce, bacon, slivered onions and gouda cheese. The dessert had Carmel syrup and crunchy wafel bits. By coincidence, the stroopwafel also originated in the city of Gouda in the nether regions.

So I will not be going back for the special Burger. It really wasn’t that important that is proving that I’m a global citizen. The problem is they’ve gone to using the George Foreman type grill, cooking burgers quickly on both sides – essentially cooking the inside of the burger by steaming it. They are awful burgers and by the time I got mine it was cold. Whether their beef is fresh really is beyond the point. Fresh crap is still crap. These stroopwafel sundae was okay, although by the time I was ready to eat it, it was melting in the heat.

Another news item was that McDonald’s is ending its exclusive delivery arrangement with Uber eats. Where I used to live in Charlotte, there were three McDonald’s within a 2-mile radius of the house, yet not one of them was willing to cooperate with the delivery. So now later this year, doordash is going to enter the delivery business for McDonald’s. Their goal is to integrate doordash into the point-of-sale terminals at the store, so that when the delivery person shows up, the order has just been finished and can be handed off to them without any delay. That’s the hope. McDonalds food does not travel well.

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Iconic heritage AM station fades away

The chicago-based Moody Bible institute was truly a pioneer in radio. They had to fend off NBC / RCA and the other early players in radio in the 1920s. Moody, along with the CFL labor union (WCFL) believed that radio should belong to the community, not just the money-grubbing evil capitalists. This was a fight they continued through the 1940s when the argument spilled over to the FM band, resulting in the non-commercial set aside from 88 to 92 megahertz.

Because moody did not have access to the AT&T coax cable that NBC controlled for its two networks, Moody’s Nationwide religious programming was distributed on records, so nothing was live. Moody had a number of owned and operated radio stations, but a lot of the Moody affiliates were independent of Moody.

Somewhere around four years ago, the Moody flagship station on the near north side of Chicago was changed from English to Spanish language programming. All of the AM Moody stations became Spanish at the same time. Last year, Moody filed a “transfer of control” for its stations indicated that there was enough of a change in the composition of their non-profit board to make it necessary to inform the FCC.

Today’s news is that they have given up on using AM radio, even though wmbi-am now has an FM translator. it was announced today that three of the four AM stations are being sold to raise cash. So far, there is no indication of who the buyer is. In the end, we had to kill AM radio to save it. Realistically, Moody Bible cannot compete with K-Love. They actually want people to understand what the Bible says, not just passively listen to happy “I love Jesus” songs

For those curious about their finance

https://www.moodybible.org/about/reports/

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