The End Game for AM radio

When Rush Limbaugh died, it was pretty inevitable that his death would mark the end of most viable commercial AM radio stations in the United States, at least the English-speaking non-religious population. The bankruptcy of Audacy, the owner of the all news stations in major markets (formerly operated by CBS radio) was yet another indicator.

About a week ago, I received a phone call from a woman whose father was distraught because his local AM radio station in rural Pennsylvania was off the air and they didn’t know why.  They have been carrying the predictable conservative talk lineup of Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, Ben Shapiro, etc. After a little digging around, I found the answer and it’s a sign of things to come. They had switched to a music format and apparently turned off the AM transmitter.

A few years ago under the FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who was elevated to Chairman by Donald Trump, an attempt was made to “save AM radio”.  It was thought that if each AM station was given an FM translator with a range of about 5 miles, the AM stations could remain viable financially, including being able to be on the air 24 hours a day at full power with emergency broadcast capabilities after the sun goes down. Interference on the AM dial from electronic devices is killing the signal quality.

There are approximately 4,400 licensed AM stations, and about 3,300 of them now have new FM translators.   If by “saving AM radio”, they meant saving the AM local full-service format of news and information and local talk shows from the 1950s, it is a dismal failure.  Once the station owner moves their audience to the FM band, it’s extremely tempting to drop News talk and switch to a music format. Many have done just that.

So once all of your audience is listening on FM to your AM station, it becomes very tempting to just turn off the AM transmitter to save electricity.  But that’s against the rules.  In theory, the FM translator is supposed to be listening to the AM signal and rebroadcasting it, but if you actually did that you’re going to have the narrow bandwidth of AM radio on your FM station – without stereo.

What is happening, and has been going on for a long time but people are slow to acknowledge it, is that AM station operators have turned off their transmitter, some of them have torn down their antennas, and almost nobody notices or cares. In some situations, that means listeners will no longer be able to hear the AM station because it had a further range than the FM translator that is replacing it.

If I were in charge of the FCC, I would acknowledge reality.  Give the AM station owners the option of permanently turning off the AM transmitter, tear down the tower, sell the land, recycle the copper and move the call sign to their FM translator instead of its current name like W246RQ. Within the limits of not causing interference, allow the FM translators to increase their effective radiated power.

The national association of broadcasters (NAB) is trying to use their political clout to force vehicle manufacturers to continue to offer AM radio in their new vehicles. That is roughly analogous to forcing Henry Ford to include a buggy whip in every Model T. People are not relying on radio to hear the traffic report “on the 8s”, or discovering new music. Most people under age 50 who care about music are listening to Sirius XM, Pandora, or Spotify or their own collection of music, using Bluetooth on their phone to play music on the entertainment system in their car. Podcasts are replacing live news talk because people can listen on their schedule and be able to pause the program, or skip commercials. Some people download audiobooks and listen to that in their car. Many people now work from home and don’t even commute.

Many of the traditional advertisers on AM radio no longer exist, having been replaced by Amazon or people buying automobiles over the internet. The once powerful Sears Roebuck is down to only a handful of remaing stores across the entire country

It’s time to let go of the past.

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Garbage In, Garbage Out

I’m not positive when this happened but I think it was very recently – the licensee of the radio stations in a large percentage of the records is now a seemingly random number rather than the text of the actual licensee.

This at least temporarily corrupted a number of the reports that you can get like the count of licenses by licensee.    I sent off a message the appropriate person at the FCC who might be interested since it also affects their website.

 

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Who streams from here?

I was doing some end of year processing related to the listening counts, and decided to total up which IP addresses have been the most active coming here to find the streaming. This goes all the way back to the beginning of the website.

Since we’ve had a lot of military activity since 2006, you can see that a lot of people in the military are trying to listen to their radio station back home while deployed.

There’s also a strong contingent of people listening from prison (bop.gov)

#2 on the list without a host name is PCCW Global, a global telecom company based in Hong Kong (China)

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The future of Salem media

This was originally attached to the Audacy bankruptcy story, but it’s worthy of its own separate discussion

Salem Radio is much smaller than Audacy but also in trouble.   Salem is a hybrid for-profit / religious radio company that sold off some of their assets in June after falling in default on their loan agreement with Wells Fargo, and the threat of being delisted at NASDAQ.   NASDAQ requires a minimum stock price of $1 to remain listed and Salem is currently around $0.30.   The failure of Audacy will likely push Salem over the edge as well.

I have an unfavorable opinion of Salem Media.  They operate a string of right-wing pro-Zionist christian talk radio stations.  Bill Bennett, Larry Elder and Michael Medved have departed, and the average age of the legacy hosts (Hugh Hewitt (66),  Mike Gallagher (63), Dennis Prager(75)  are up in Social Security territory.  Their audience are baby boomers who are rapidly dying off.

The newer hosts have quite a challenge – Charlie Kirk(29), Sebastian Gorka (53) and Officer Tatum (53).  Weekends on the talk stations are absolutely dreadful with non-stop dubious infomercials and little if any local programming.

Salem’s main cash flow is from Christian teaching stations that sell programming time to nonprofits that beg for donations, and then pay Salem which can then legally make a profit for Wall Street.   Channeling the donations through a non-profit allows the donor to claim a tax deduction.

Some of the shows are from preachers who died a long time ago with  a foundation owning the intellectual property and they exist to keep raising money for no purpose other than to keep paying to air the old sermons and maybe selling books.

Salem also operates a few “Fish” branded contemporary Christian music stations, which again are for-profit and cannot directly solicit tax deductible donations.

Another profitable part of their business was selling books (Regnery) and magazines (Town Hall.com), both of which are not future growth prospects as the world goes digital. 

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Audacy files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

Audacy is the combination of CBS Radio and Entercom.   This is the last of the large radio companies to succumb to their debt.   This is not a surprise as they’ve been telegraphing it for quite a while now – retaining a company to plan the restructuring.

https://www.cnbc.com/2024/01/07/largest-us-radio-company-audacy-files-for-bankruptcy-protection-.html

This CNBC story headline is wrong.    My ex-wife educated me that story headlines are written by editors and not the reporters.   No matter how you measure it, Audacy is NOT the largest radio owner in the country.  iHeart,  Cumulus and Townsquare are significantly larger.

If you take off the commercial radio blinders, EMF (parent company of K-Love and Air1) and CSN (Calvary Chapel) are larger and have substantially larger positive cash flows they are using to buy up the failing commercial stations.

To make the headline accurate, it would have to say large commercial radio station owner and qualify it in the first paragraph that it is the largest radio company that had not previously been through chapter 11 bankruptcy…   Perhaps the fact that the CEO of Audacy thinks he runs the largest radio company in the United States might be a part of the problem.

Possibly related, the FCC just decided that it’s okay for Canadians to own United States radio companies.

On Deck:  The future of Salem media

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Where are they now?

Hopefully, fairly soon you’ll see an interesting post on the current status of radio shows and hosts from 15 years ago.   As mentioned in the Alex Jones post, shows were assigned a sequential ID number so I have pulled a subset of those less than or equal to 1,000.   The initial group of radio shows was gathered in 2004.

Some of the hosts of course have died – Rush Limbaugh, Art Bell, Paul Harvey, Derry Brownfield, Don Imus, Jim Bohannon, Neil Rogers, Tony Snow, Don Wade, Dick Clark, Phil Valentine, Herman Cain, Sid Mark (Sinatra friend), Russ Martin, Ralph Snodsmith, Phyllis Schlafly, Lynn Samuels, Kidd Kraddick, Joy Browne, Joe Massa, Jerry Doyle, Jake Hartford, Inga Barks, Bob “get off my lines!” grant…

Others of quietly left the stage but are still alive as far as I know – Bob Brinker, Bruce Williams, Bill Bennett, Dennis Miller, G Gordon Liddy,

Others have voluntarily left radio to move to Sirius XM or just running their own website Dr Laura, Clark Howard, Phil Hendrie, Michael Savage, Tammy Bruce, Dr Dean Edell,…

Others have moved exclusively to TV – Laura Ingraham, Joe Scarborough,

 

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Alex Jones is baaaack!

If you haven’t already heard it, Elon Musk has made the decision to allow Alex Jones to return to X (formerly known as Twitter) after a 5-year “permanent’ ban. This decision was largely due to a lengthy interview that Tucker Carlson did with Alex Jones giving him the opportunity to explain his situation and why it was important for him to return.  That video has been removed from YouTube which continues to believe its path the success is government mandated and controlled censorship of content. When somebody preemptively  tells you  they are not evil, they probably are not telling the truth.

Shows in our database are assigned sequentially, so the lower the number, the longer that show has been around. Infowars with Alex Jones is show #13.

https://streamingradioguide.com/radio-show.php?showid=13

Alex used to have a very significant presence on over-the-air broadcast radio, primarily in smaller individual-owned stations without the fear of advertiser boycotts.   Syndication was handled by GCN (Genesis) whose business model is to sell time on the satellite channels and then the show tries to sign up affiliates and advertisers.  GCN and Alex Jones have a long-term business relationship largely based on scaring people into buying gold and selling herbal supplements.

I’ve been listening to Alex Jones for a very long time sporadically, even longer than former president Donald J Trump, who used to listen to the show overnight before he thought about being president. If you know that little detail and explains quite a bit about President Trump’s beliefs and his interaction with globalists and “the swamp”.  Donald Trump did a half hour interview with Alex Jones during the 2016 presidential race where he makes it clear that Alex Jones and Trump believed some of the same things.

Alex is responsible for introducing the world to the Bilderbergers, the world economic forum in Davos, skull and bones at Yale University, and Epstein’s Island for  Democratic politicians to have sex with children.  I have said to people that I know that what scares me about Alex Jones is how often the crazy things he is saying turn out to be true.

That being said, I still have issues with how he develops his content.   He does a very poor job of backtracking to the original source of material and then testing it to see if it makes sense.   At the time of Sandy Hook, I was living in Derby Connecticut which is about a 15 minute drive from there.  I definitely had some concerns about the official narrative, and Alex Jones has a default explanation for every tragic event that it’s a government false flag operation, so there was no shock on my part when he put forth that idea.

One of his long-standing theories is that the US government intends to exterminate people that disagree with the government by rounding them up and putting them into FEMA extermination camps. That part I don’t have an issue with.

But his proof was that he identified that the Amtrak maintenance facility in Beech Grove  Indiana is one of those locations. It has “secret”  tunnels underground that hide their real purpose. This is very similar to the mass psychosis of the McMartin Preschool case, or the current belief that the Catholic church in Canada buried hundreds of native american children in unmarked graves.

Amtrak went so far is to invite him to the facility without any limitations. He could go anywhere he wanted, open any door, film anything he saw and established that in fact it’s not a FEMA extermination camp. The building that he thought was the ovens where people were going to be incinerated turned out to be the facility that dries the paint when they repaint a locomotive.  But with all of that information and it being obvious that he was wrong, he refused to back down on his claims. His ultimate proof was the barbed wire and one-way gates are how employees go into and out of the facility.  They were very popular 100 years ago is a simple way to control access and make it difficult to steal property.

(Credit: Google Earth)

The position of Elon Musk is that so long as people do not violate the law, people like Alex Jones should be allowed to say whatever they want. X now has a community feedback facility where people can point out mistakes or misinformation without relying on a committee appointed by the three letter government agencies.  That doesn’t change the person’s responsibility if what they say is libelous.

His show still seems to be on GCN, so I’ll go back and revisit which stations are actually carrying the show still over the air.   If you’ve been paying any attention at all, it’s been probably 3 years since I’ve done any significant maintenance of the database.

In October 2023, the FCC changed over to their new database system and I’m undecided as to whether I want to go to the effort to continue to maintain the radio station license data

 

 

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What is the SIPC?

Many of you know that I worked as a computer software programmer and designer for the NASDAQ stock market from 1997 until 2002 during the peak of the “dot com bubble”.  I am not a securities lawyer and I don’t give investment advice, beyond answering questions about how the actual process works.   I became an employee in 1998 in a managerial position doing software design and supervision of programmers.

While working there, I was curious what the SIPC was or was not.   Until 2014, I had never owned individual stocks other than one I had purchased while I was an employee in the employee stock purchase plan.  After researching SIPC a bit, I concluded that was mostly a facade to reassure stock investors that their brokerage accounts were as safe as money in the FDIC insured banking system.

The 1929 stock market crash could never happen again because we have the SIPC!   If you believe that story, you completely misunderstand its purpose.

My opinion has not changed.   Here are two little factoids from my looking at the SIPC again today to see if anything has changed.    The SIPC currently has a little over $4 billion in its emergency fund.   There are an estimated $40 trillion in publicly traded securities in the United States.  So far, I have been unable to find a figure of how much of that is sitting in stock brokerage accounts.  My sense is that people have been moving away from owning individual stocks to investing in mutual funds and real estate.

Mutual funds are NOT insured by anyone, unless they are held in a stock brokerage account, but even that is meaningless.   Let’s say you have 512.2 shares of a mutual fund worth $1,000 a share ($512,200), and the mutual fund collapses.   The SIPC only guarantees that you still own 512 shares in the mutual fund, each of which is now potentially worth $0.00.

The SIPC does not protect you from bad investment decisions.    This is not to encourage you to sell mutual funds because you’re scared.   For the big mutual funds to go bankrupt would mean that the entire system has collapsed and it doesn’t matter where you think your wealth is invested.  Hopefully, we don’t get to that point.

The other thing that concerns me is that between 1996 and 2008, the participating stockbrokers paid absolutely nothing into the emergency fund.  $0.  Nada.

The 2008 crash wiped out whatever money the SIPC  had, and they’ve been collecting about $400 million a year since 2008.   If you do the math, that probably means about $3 billion dollars went to cover losses incurred in 2008.

There have been two major emergencies they’ve had to deal with.  The first was the collapse of Lehman Brothers.  Lehman Brothers itself was not a big retail brokerage, but they had products that they sold to other financial institutions and institutional investors like pension funds, and financial institutions put money into short-term deposits at Lehman Brothers that got tied up.  In the case of Lehman Brothers, it was bad decision making and not monitoring the risk profile of the things they were doing.

The other problem was Bernie Madoff, which was a very different situation.  It was outright fraud.   People had “bought”securities  through the Madoff’s firm and had them in their account, but Madoff had never actually bought the securities.

So when the firm collapsed, people found out that their stock brokerage statements were fabrications.  Normally, when a stock brokerage fails, most of what the SIPC does is just does “bulk transfers” of  the stocks from the failed broker to a new one that’s healthy.

But when the failed broker doesn’t actually own the stocks they reported to own, that put SIPC right on the hook.   That case is still open.  They’re slowly still clawing back money and trickling it back to the people who lost money.

You might be wondering where the SIPC has that $4 billion invested.  Of course, the only “safe”  place to invest that kind of money “risk free” is in long-term treasury securities, which is exactly how Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank in New York became insolvent.

I’m considering doing some more writing on how things work, but I’m somewhat reluctant to spend the time if only three people are going to read it.

 

 

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16 tons of student debt

The chatGPT thing that you’re starting to hear about is at least as important to the future of humanity as the internet was in 1995.    If I was to describe it in one sentence, it has an uncanny ability to synthesize all of human knowledge with very accurate insights. (As long as you don’t behave in “unethical!”  ways)

My request: 

Rewrite the lyrics for “16 Tons” as if sung by an unemployed political science PhD demanding the government forgive his student loans:

The result:

I was born one morning, it was drizzling rain
Raised in a college town, never knew no pain
But I got my degree, and I thought I was free
Until the student loans came and they shackled me

You load 16 tons of debt on my back
And what do you get? A broke intellectual hack
St. Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to Sallie Mae, don’t you know

I studied politics, theories and stats
I thought I’d change the world, I’d have a few pats
On the back for the research I’d do
But now I’m just a bum with a PhD, it’s true

You load 16 tons of debt on my back
And what do you get? A broke intellectual hack
St. Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to Sallie Mae, don’t you know

I wrote my dissertation, defended with pride
But the job market’s tough, and I’m dead inside
I teach adjunct classes, no benefits or pay
But the loans keep coming, they won’t go away

You load 16 tons of debt on my back
And what do you get? A broke intellectual hack
St. Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to Sallie Mae, don’t you know

So here’s my demand, to the powers that be
Forgive my loans, set my intellect free
I’ll still teach and write, contribute my part
But I can’t do it broke, with this weight on my heart

You load 16 tons of debt on my back
And what do you get? A broke intellectual hack
St. Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to Sallie Mae, don’t you know

Bravo!

If you don’t like that version, you can click regenerate and keep making one until you do like it

Some people say a man’s made out of muscle and bone
But this PhD’s made out of debt and loans
My education cost me a mountain of cash
But now I’m unemployed and my dreams are smashed

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
I owe my soul to the government loans
And my degree’s worth less than a pile of stones

I went to college with the promise of a bright future
But now I’m stuck with a bill I can’t nurture
I studied hard and earned my degree
But now I’m broke and can’t even afford tea

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
I owe my soul to the government loans
And my degree’s worth less than a pile of stones

I’m not asking for a handout or a free ride
I just want a chance to get my life back in stride
Forgiving my loans would give me a fresh start
And help me rebuild my broken heart

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
I owe my soul to the government loans
And my degree’s worth less than a pile of stones

So please, Congress, hear my plea
Don’t let me drown in this debt sea
Forgive my loans and set me free
And I promise to pay it forward for eternity.

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Hurricane hits WAVE-FM

My instructions to ChatGPT

Write a 90 second script about people working in a radio station during a hurricane

The result (after picking appropriate? free video)

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