The Return of Radio Disney

Back at the height of the radio bidding wars in the 1990s, Disney made an ill advised decision.    They decided to buy up AM stations in major markets to carry their bubble gum pre teen music, written by soulless computer algorithms that create random lyrics and tunes.

The focus of the stations was not the normal business model of larding up each hour with 18 minutes of advertisements and focusing on maximizing Arbitron ratings – it was a soft sell to promote Disney Music, the Disney Cable Channel, and the American version of the haj pilgrimage, to visit the holy land of Anaheim or Orlando.  Disney is a lifestyle choice.

Two years ago, Disney pulled the plug on “over the air” radio, except for the mother ship of KDIS-AM.  Stations were sold off, in many cases for only 1/3 of the price they paid for them 15 years earlier.  Salem Radio bought many of them to launch Biz channels or Conservative talk radio.

Disney’s strategy in 2014 was it would move the programming to the Internet, however most moms driving their daughters around to soccer practice don’t have Internet access in their car radios.  More tech savvy people might notice their car radio has an input jack or Bluetooth connection to stream a cell phone, but that burns cell data.

Quietly, Disney has been repopulating Radio Disney, operating on HD 2/3 channels, mostly operated by CBS Radio and Beasley.  The new HD Radio owners have gotten much more aggressive at getting car makers to install HD capable radios as standard equipment, not special order options.   Wikipedia lists 24 Radio Disney outlets on FM.

The dirty little secret is the original owners of the HD radio technology wanted it to fail.  The FCC wants to migrate to digital radio eventually, but that might mean 10x as many radio “stations” in a city if we ended analog FM completely.  More stations means a more fragmented audience which makes selling advertisements very much harder, when the biggest station in a market has a 2 share.


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3 Responses to The Return of Radio Disney

  1. briand75 says:

    Gee – now Disney wants to take over the world. They will have to get in line behind Apple and Google.

    BTW – a 2 share? I know radio is losing popularity, but that’s somewhat shocking.

    • Fred Stiening says:

      Well, that is what might happen if FM went all digital like TV has done. One of the problems with switching to all digital radio is cars last a long time so getting critical mass of digital radios in cars takes a decade or more, unless government funds the transition or just mandates it (lawyer time!). The failure of the HD radio alliance (primarily CBS and Clear Channel) to launch a successful product in a decade opened the doors wide for the success of SiriusXM… Sirius and XM each bought 12 MHz of spectrum for their satellites. The entire FM band today (88 Mhz – 108 Mhz) requires 20 MHz of bandwidth. With analog FM, FM stereo is significantly lower quality than CD quality.

      With the hybrid analog/digital solution, one analog channel can squeeze in 4 HD channels if one is a low bandwidth news channel. The HD standard approved by the FCC in 2002 means HD compatible radios are already compatible with a pure digital mode. In that mode, the signal can be split into 3 CD quality channels and 4 FM quality channels. Digital signals also don’t need adjacent channel quiet spaces, so in theory one market could have around 400 FM radio “stations”. Digital multiplexing is how Sirius XM is able to squeeze in several hundred channels – but they are funded by subscriber fees, not advertising

    • Fred Stiening says:

      And “share” only refers to the percentage of people currently listening to the radio, not percentage of the entire population – it tells you nothing about how big the pie is during each time of the day. For that information, you have to pay money. AQH is one measure – in each 15 minute period, it is an estimate of the total number of people listing to the station for 5 or more minutes. The AQH can be translated fairly easily to the CPM (cost per thousand impressions) based on a statistical sample, but that metric is subject to easy manipulation, throwing large groups of ads in one long “stop set”. Just because the transmitter broadcasts the ad doesn’t mean anyone heard it. If the ads always occur at the same time, people change channels, turn down the volume or switch to their own music collection.

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