Guy Wire Letters
     

FM in 76-88?
11.10.2008

I chose to stay put on Channel 5. Why? Lower multipath, better propagation around mountains and trees, and less Doppler effect, less cost for transmission as VHF needs less ERP all other things being equal, and the reality that it would be impossible to replicate analog 100 KW coverage in UHF with one transmitter without unlimited ERP and a nuclear power plant to power the thing.

Feb. 18 we will find out soon how right or wrong I am.

If I were dictator, I would allow sound broadcasting in all low V TV Channels 2-6 using Digital Radio Mondiale, DRM, not FM. DRM is COFDM which allows much better coverage if you use a multiple-transmitter single-frequency network. If the standard called for 100 kHz channel width and, let's say, 20 KHz guard bands, the number of sound broadcast stations possible would explode, 60 per TV channel. And at, let's say, 3 bits per Hertz, each station would get 300 kilobits per second to play with allowing for far more services than IBOC. FM is antique.

And, by the way, you should hear the sound quality I can get on the DTV using 320 kbps Dolby. Which raises another question: Why am I the only one broadcasting sound only channels on DTV?

Finally, DTV and other services can co-exist in low V if properly allocated. We won't know for sure how good low band VHF is for 8VSB television broadcasting until some maximum power (45 kW DTV average ERP) signals get on the air.

Jeremy Lansman
Owner
KYES(TV)
Anchorage, Alaska


RW Article on BMC
11.05.2008 Dear GW:

Thank you very much for the very positive article on the BMC proposal for CH 5/6 in today's RW Online. As a member of this committee, it is heartening to see some positive spin from a respected source. We are hopeful that many others with influence in the industry will see the benefits to be had by employing this, or a composite, plan which will put this newly available spectrum to good use.

Laura M. Mizrahi
Communications Technologies, Inc.
Marlton, N.J.


The Problems Are Real
2.15.2008

Regarding Guy Wire's predictions:

IBOC is dead. We are still talking about getting radios into cars more than five years into the process. Five years into AM stereo the receivers were showing up as standard equipment for the higher-end models of common cars.

Denigrating the stations protesting AM IBOC interference as shoe-horned rimshots reflects your big-city, big-group biases. There is real interference, inside protected interference-free contours of licensed stations. The WYSL case will probably be another loss for the commission once it goes to federal court. Once Savage has established enough of a record that the FCC is going to stonewall on the interference issue, he'll argue to a federal judge that the commission is deliberately ignoring their own rules. My business partner once worked with him in Pittsburgh, his memory is that he is either an attorney, or his brother is. So they have this planned out.

FM IBOC is not catching fire either. There's little discernible difference between main and digital channel in audio quality. Second channels are of little value to many operators that can't fill the six or seven main channels they already own. And then there are the receivers that don't exist in any significant numbers.

Now to FM translators for AMs: Make more sense to use 76 to 88 MHz for FM services for AMs (and perhaps new LPFMs) but that is politically impossible and way too creative for this commission to consider. In most areas, there's no place to put new translators for AM stations, unless they can displace other translators now in use for out-of market signals. Even then, the FM band in most areas is still too crowded.

There are rural and small-market AMs that will be able to find a translator frequency, and these translators will be very useful. Unlikely that AM stations will be allowed to convert these secondary translators into full-service stations. Here in the east translators are, for the most part, limited to 250 watts at 200 feet maximum. Often less, since they have a contour limitation based on 12 separately calculated radials. Most AM stations have better daytime coverage than that.

tpt@literock93r.com

Guy replies:

First, let's get my text quoted accurately. I indicated that BOTH unlucky stations AND rim-shooters will suffer from adjacent-channel AM IBOC interference. It's the luck of the draw on who will be the unlucky ones. Many are most certainly not rim-shooters but they will suffer right along with the rim-shooters. Some are getting hit already. I have very deep small-market station roots and have great empathy for all of them still trying to serve their communities of license with quality local programming. No bias to the big boys whatsoever.

WYSL(AM) is by all measure a rim-shooter trying to serve nearby Rochester from Avon, a suburban community of license. Even the casual observer can easily see it was shoehorned in to be able to do that with the major lobe of each of their DA-3 patterns aimed due north. It does seem reasonable that WYSL's NIF and critical hours protected contours have been compromised. But I am hearing that some of the measuring techniques and methods used by Bob Savage in his FCC showings of demonstrated interference by WBZ may have been flawed, or at least problematic. We shall see what the FCC decides in this case.

FM translators for AM primaries that are able to establish operations at decent HAATs should cover smaller population areas quite well and be preferred over AM. Those are the ones that will be candidates for eventually turning off the AM channel and converting the translator to a full-time Class D where allocations permit. Admittedly most of those will not be in congested areas like yours.

Comparing HD to AM stereo and calling HD's acceptance already failed is much too premature. A more appropriate comparison would be the evolution of FM stereo with HD. Five years since the introduction of HD radios is miniscule compared to how long it took FM stereo to become adopted, implemented and declared successful.

Reread the Book of Job and have some patience my friend.

GW


If They Come, Someone Will Build It
12.17.2007

Hi Guy,

I just wanted to respond to your comments you made after my initial brief summary on Internet radio.

I completely agree with you on almost all points, but you really need to gain some hands-on experience with some of the tools available; you might be quite surprised!

For example, you are absolutely correct, that the average person doesn't want to fumble with complicated installations, hookups of various equipment, navigating complicated menus or pressing tons of buttons just to perform a simple task; also the average Joe doesn't care about how this stuff works, so long as it does. Right now, these custom "infotainment" systems are primarily in the hands of a small niche market, consisting of mainly techheads, and software gurus.

However, these individuals have put their heads together to come up with solutions to some of the problems that you pointed out.

Yes, currently, it is fairly complicated to initially build/setup an infotainment system to pick up streaming audio and have all the other bells and whistles that off-the-shelf systems, or vehicle OEM systems do. However, once the initial setup is done, tuning into your favorite stations can take as few as a couple finger presses on the touchscreen. Also, with PC motherboards that provide options for PCMCIA cards, you can have a custom system complete with aircard integrated into the system, setup to connect to the Internet when powered on, and never have a need to hook up your cellphone at all, or any other complicated equipment. Although because of cost and convenience, I am sure most people will opt for the Bluetooth cellphone connection to the infotainment system, the point is, the system can be made so that it is easy, and convenient to access whatever content you desire.

I also agree with your comments regarding the lack of bandwidth of 3G cellphone service to instantly support the demands of streaming audio should everyone decide to tune in simultaneously. However, demand dictates the supply. And like any other service in the past, not everyone jumps on the bandwagon simultaneously. Back in the mid-90s most people were content with dialup. However, as the demand for faster connections increased, the ISPs obliged and started offering broadband services. And like all new technology, initially the cost was high (as the aircard subscriptions are currently), but as the demand is met, the costs do come down.

Maybe 3G is the wave of the future, maybe its not, but the main point here is, if there is a demand for a service, and a profit can be made providing that service, someone WILL provide the supply, whether it be 3G, or a faster form of it, or WiMax (which I am not really familiar with). I think the technology is here. The only question is what does the average Joe really want? If the demand is there it's only a matter of time before two companies (let's say, Pioneer and Verizon Wireless) figure this out and get together and offer a complete turnkey system complete with Internet radio. With the current crop of "car stereos" that do darn near everything but make breakfast, it wouldn't be too difficult to incorporate a 3G transceiver circuit in the system, and offer a subscription, much in the same way that GM/Ford offers you a subscription to XM/Sirius when you purchase a new car.

I don't really follow your comments on the wireless carriers configuring their services for "forward and store" rather than real time streaming audio. In a "forward and store" scenario, the goal is to get the data from point A as quickly as possible to point B. The benefit of course is if there is a delay or some packets have to be resent, since the content isn't real-time, there will be no pauses or skips when the content is finally played back. But you are still transferring massive amounts of data; you're transferring as much data as you possibly can and as quickly as you can from one point to another. With streaming audio, your "trickle" data from point A to point B. With today's higher quality high compression codecs, VERY good quality audio can be had with as little as 48K. If I am not mistaken, this bitrate is on par with HD Radio bitrates, so the end product quality should be very similar. Although, streaming audio does have the disadvantage that momentary loss of network connectivity or packet loss can cause interruption in playback, with the right buffer settings in your player, you can configure your software to minimize those effects for all but the longest network outages. In both "store and forward" and real-time streaming, you're transferring a large amount of data from point A to point B. The difference however is that in store and forward you're transferring a large amount of data in a short time using the maximum bandwidth available; in a streaming scenario, you're transferring a large amount of data, but you're only using the minimum bandwidth required for the encoded bitrate, and evenly distributing it over a long period of time.

Finally, I wanted to address your comment of hoping when these systems do arrive they "don't use Windows." You didn't really elaborate on that comment, so I don't know what you were inferring, but — and let me make myself perfectly clear here: Microsoft is NOT one of my favorite companies, and I am rapidly becoming a proponent of the Open Source model of software (oh boy, that is a WHOLE new subject that I could dedicate an entire article too) — BUT ... I have to give credit where credit is due. Windows 2000 and XP have been some of the best, most stable Windows platforms. But, as far as the OS goes in an "infotainment" system, you can use whatever you like. I do believe Windows is probably the most popular platform, but there are Linux distos in development right now that are being designed specifically for infotainment systems.

But when it comes to actual use of the system, the OS is irrelevant. In both cases, the systems run a piece of software called a "front end" that is the main navigation point for all features of the system. The actual OS itself is hidden away, and is not accessible (unless you make it so) by the end user. Gone are the Desktop, taskbar, startmenu, etc.

I guess to sum up this long novel: No one knows what the future holds, but we do have the technology now to start rolling out mobile Internet radio in the car. As you said, there isn't enough bandwidth to sustain a massive influx of customers, but as the demands increase so will the supply if there is a dollar to be made from it. It all comes down to what the average consumer REALLY wants. As the saying goes, "If you build it, they will come," but I think in this case it's more along the lines of "If they come, they will build it."

Alan Smith
alansmith@flinn.com

Guy replies:

Alan,

There is no question that a lot of momentum is building to supply and enable internet access and streaming audio services into the dashboards of new cars in the near future. The recent tests by TheRadio.com in South Carolina with the Ford Sync are impressive. They herald an exciting future for wireless Internet radio and as you say, if they come (and enough are willing to pay for it), they will build it. Such capability however will be offered as an option with a price tag and monthly fee for the service provider just like satellite radio. Early adopters and techies will undoubtedly jump right in.

But just as we have seen with satellite radio, the rollout enthusiasm and growth rates will level off. What percentage of the mass audience will buy in and stay with it is unknown. Certainly a successful business model should be forged that will sustain dashboard Internet services better than satellite radio has been able to achieve.

Free and ubiquitous radio service in the car has been almost a birthright for over three generations now. About 45% of streaming audio consumption is now provided by the Web streams of existing radio services, and that figure is growing. If traditional terrestrial radio stays focused on providing valuable and compelling local service on both their legacy AM/FM channels and via their Web streams, we will likely be the major supplier of Internet radio content used in the car.

Whether cellphone companies with 3G and 4G connectivity or the deployment of a national WiMax system will be the infrastructure used by mobile streaming audio services to reach the masses in the future is unknown. There are still a lot of technical challenges to be resolved before such a service will be able to prove itself as a reliable and widely available mass delivery system comparable to over the air radio. I'm still convinced that we're not going to know for sure for quite a while. Just as satellite provides another option for mobile consumers, so will Internet radio, but it will come at a price. Don't count free AM and FM radio down and out anytime soon.

GW


Internet Radio in the Car: More Than a Test Drive?
11.26.2007

Guy,

A fellow contract engineer pointed me to your Web site, specifically the mailbag section concerning HD Radio.

I just wanted to correct a few things you may be unaware of. In a reply to an e-mailer you stated:

"Ford's new Sync technology is interesting and will no doubt eventually be a winner. But it's a very long way away from being able to deliver the same kind of reliable, uninterrupted and ubiquitous listening experience to the majority of average Americans that broadcast radio can."

That is simply untrue. While Ford/Microsoft's *new* collaboration is definitely going to bring Internet radio to the masses, the product itself is nothing new, and the technology started becoming available 5 years ago. It's not a "very long way away"; it's already here, and has been for some time.

I have "test drove" (no pun intended) cellular 3G technology, and tested the feasibility of Internet radio in the car. My results suggest that TODAY, as long as your in a metropolitan area, you can obtain near CD-quality streaming audio as you motor around town in your automobile, and not miss a beat. Although the rural areas don't provide enough bandwidth for high-bitrate high-quality streaming audio, that is rapidly changing as cellular companies are expanding their Rev A coverage at an enormous rate. (Rev A 3G networks provide bandwidths up to 1.4 Mbps down/800 kbps up, which is on par with, and actually exceeds some of today's land-line "broadband" connections.)

Also, with the Mini-ITX form factor PC available since 2002, or the new Pico ITX standard, it is, and has been possible to have a fully functional PC no larger than your typical car stereo installed in your vehicle that can do anything from GPS navigation, Bluetooth cellphone hands-free operation, real-time onboard vehicle diagnostics, your entire music library available at your fingertips, to of course Web browsing and streaming audio and video, all driven by a touchscreen interface. The possibilities of what can be done with a PC are limitless.

For more information, a really good Web site dedicated to "car computing" is www.mp3car.com.

So you have to ask yourself: "Why do I need a radio in my car again?"

- Alan

Guy replies:

Alan,

I've read and heard lots of opinions similar to yours, that wireless Internet radio is already here and will soon be commonly available in the dashboards of new cars. The extrapolated conclusion is that it will completely replace traditional AM and FM terrestrial radio in a few years.

I have never disagreed with the premise that this might eventually occur. But I do take exception with the notion that the conversion is already happening at a rapid pace and will quickly attract the majority of consumers to spell the death of radio as we now know it.

Early adopters of new personal electronics technology, especially many radio engineers, are particularly enamored with what the Internet is now delivering via a cellphone connection. We'll take the extra effort to fumble with our cellphones in the car using multiple finger punches and much patience to finally lock into a Webstreaming station. And we're happy to use earbuds or a Bluetooth to listen.

Trust me on this one Alan: The vast majority of folks who use technology, especially while they're driving a car, want it to be easy and quick. They also want it to be reliable and uninterrupted. Internet radio in the car isn't anywhere close to that yet and won't be for quite a while.

You may find that a 3G connection running from your laptop on the car seat or from an Internet-connected cellphone holds up fairly well driving through an urban hotspot of good cellphone service. I'm afraid that if thousands or maybe even only hundreds of folks did what you are doing in the same area simultaneously, you would all be very disappointed very quickly.

You're correct that computers of various kinds are common in cars and that is nothing new. Including a built-in PC like the mini-ITX form factor you mention with Web browser and continuous Internet connectivity seems like a logical extended feature for cars. Let's just hope they don't use Windows.

Unfortunately, those 3G wireless carriers you are counting on to provide multitudes of simultaneous connections to support high-quality uninterrupted live audio streaming have not designed their networks to support such traffic. Nor do they appear to be interested in supporting it in the near future. 3G is optimized to handle constantly turning-over volumes of short duration "peak burst" packet traffic typical of lower bandwidth cellphone calls and Internet file transfers ... not for the sustained higher bandwidth demands of live streaming audio. Ask any wireless network engineer and they will confirm that. Or, ask the folks at Comrex and Tieline who have been trying to design reliable real-time portable RPU equipment based on the 3G cellphone to replace ISDN. It's very much an uphill battle.

Wireless carriers know their systems cannot handle large volumes of live streamed connections so they are configuring and promoting their wireless broadband services around podcasts as well as forward and store content before it actually plays. Today's smaller data pipes and lower data-rates over wireless delivery can better handle that. It's going to take another technology breakthrough before wireless can embrace live multi-media streaming over their circuits for the mass audience to a level that would replace live radio broadcasting. I'm not saying that will not happen eventually. Only that it will take a lot longer than you seem to think.

WiMax may have a better chance of providing the infrastructure necessary in population centers to support the anticipated needs of wireless broadband in the future. But we don't even have a national scheme or designated band even close to being adopted to be able to do that yet. The early municipal WiMax projects that have picked their own standards have not been very impressive so far and are not going to be a factor in this arena.

Another recent development that will slow down the quest to create a wireless world capable of doing everything wired broadband is doing is the revelation that today's Internet backbone is already straining at the seams. Even though it's been a marvelous tool that has mostly kept pace with early growth, the Internet is not an unlimited resource without problems as many assume it is. A number of forecasters are projecting major bandwidth limitations and bottlenecks in the near future because of the burgeoning growth. I don't foresee the anticipated uptake in mobile streaming doing anything but making that challenge even more difficult.

GW


HD Radio Antenna Question
10.17.2007

In your commentary on HD Radio, you state that an HD desktop radio usually requires an external antenna: "If he or she buys the relatively expensive HD-R desktop, that individual often discovers that an effective external antenna needs to be added to make it perform reliably and lock in stations similar to analog."

Hopefully, this is not an outdoor antenna. Most housing in America today is governed by homeowner associations that prohibit the installation of any outdoor antennas. So would-be listeners are blocked from installing outdoor antennas for HD Radio.

An indoor whip antenna is not regulated, but such an antenna may not be effective for HD reception.

Nickolaus E. Leggett
leggett3@gmail.com

Guy replies:

Nickolaus,

The need for an external antenna for most of the desktop HD Radios and component tuners will vary a lot depending on location elevation, surrounding obstacles and distance from transmitter sites.

We’ve found that the use of an efficient indoor antenna properly placed can make a huge difference. TV rabbit ears or a wire dipole stretched out near a window is often enough to make the local HD stations achieve digital lock. But if you live in a hole or significant distance from your desired HD stations, an outside vertical whip mounted on a flagpole or FM yagi mounted on the chimney may be needed.

If it cannot be visible because of covenants or zoning restrictions, it may be placed it in the attic with good results. YMMV.

The good news is that in general, the radios appearing since the Boston Acoustics Recepter came and went have had better front-end sensitivity so there’s less need for lots of external antenna boost. The Radiosophy works fairly well with its built-in telescoping rod, but there are still stations that play OK in analog that will not lock on HD in “average” listening environments.

As the HD rollout proceeds and new models appear, better resolution of this issue appears to be heading in the right direction.

GW


You're Living a Pipe Dream
10.10.07

Guy,

Geeez... I'm pleased to see some apprehension from you about the potential success of HD Radio; but you are still living a pipe-dream if you think auto manufacturers are going to offer standard HD Radio with new technologies such as Ford's Sync, which allows seamless streaming of Internet radio, iPods and music services from cell phones, such as Pandora:

"Radio: Internet Radio or HD Radio. You choose!"

"Here's the choice - supplementary channels of varied audio quality from the same radio chains that deliver today's unimaginative terrestrial radio formats, or worldwide radio of every imaginable format and style where the passion is in the performance?... And, most of all, who'll apologize for the time and money spent, the years the radio industry bought into it, and the deceitfulness suffered because of Ibiquity and the HD Radio Alliance's misguidance?"

We just bought a Ford Mustang, and the salesman got HD Radio confused with satellite radio and said that he had not a single request for a second-class, dealer-installed, point-of-sale, $350 HD Radio. Almost all of the Fords sitting on the lot had factory-installed satellite radio.

Greg Smith
Olney, Md.

Guy replies:

Greg,

It's too bad you've decided to run to the other extreme side of this debate and embrace the arguments of a hard-core Ibiquity HD radio opponent like John Gorman. Political analogies might raise some eyebrows here but as a once-proud veteran jock from radio's glory days at WMMS, he reminds me of representative John Murtha. The ex-Marine Pennsylvania congressman has so much vehement disdain for the Iraq war, he chooses to ignore everything positive about the mission and improving conditions there or what would happen if the U.S. withdrew quickly.

Ford's new Sync technology is interesting and will no doubt eventually be a winner. But it's a very long way away from being able to deliver the same kind of reliable, uninterrupted and ubiquitous listening experience to the majority of average Americans that broadcast radio can. And that includes HD Radio. It's simply much too early to count HD Radio receiver sales and marketing efforts down and out. They've barely just begun. Ford stepped up to offer HD as an option within a month of the effective adoption of the FCC IBOC standard. The industry expects other major car companies to follow suit. It may take another few years for that to happen, and a few years after that for standard OEM radios to appear in most models. I'm still predicting that they will.

No new technology is ever perfect. It takes time to beat out the bugs and attract mass acceptance in the market. There are too simply too many reasons consumers will discover FM-HD as a winner over analog only. I'm convinced Ibiquity and its partners will not allow their baby to get flushed down the drain with the dirty bath water. The business model and the royalty structure will adapt to make HD Radio distribution and sales eventually reach critical mass. After HD portables appear and digital coverage is made much more reliable with the anticipated implementation of the 10 dB boost in transmitted digital power, we'll see this technology turn the corner.

Try to keep an open mind, Greg. And don't get sucked into the naysayer's vortex so far that you'll say and support anything to promote HD's demise.


GW
A Wager for Guy
7.27.07

Well, the father of discriminate audio processing summed up IBOC in one sentence: "Politically driven junk engineering."

The terrestrial broadcasting industry had a chance to advance into the 21st century and they blew it. I could list the many, many reasons again and again, but I won't. You know the reasons, but because of "political" constraints, you can't speak out against this disaster. The "pie" slices for broadcast stations are getting smaller each year. In 10 years, the "slice" will be so small that most small- to mid-market stations will be gone. Only the large market outlets will survive, and they will be generating a fraction of the income that they do today. I don't even listen to radio anymore, even in the car, and I was an avid radio fan at one time.

The outcome of this situation is clear (no pun intended). In the year 2030 traditional analog or HD "broadcast stations" will not exist. Bank on it! Let's make a small wager, say $1,000? If you are still around in 2030, let's revisit this and "pay up." It's only 23 years!

K Chaton
radiomaven100@yahoo.com

Guy replies:

RadioMaven100,

You're ON! But since nobody is guaranteed tomorrow, it's probably not too realistic that I'll be able to track you down and collect my $1,000 23 years from now.

Check out my pending Oct. 17 column. Everyone in the industry is obviously concerned about how technology is reshaping our future. The Internet via WiMax may eventually become the primary content delivery platform for information and entertainment in the future, but it ain't gonna be a done deal in a mere 23 years.

WiMax has a long way to go before it can displace broadcasting over wide areas for reliable and continuous reception. What will most likely appear in vehicles in terms of "car radios" in the coming years will be combination or hybrid units that feature both WiMax enabled internet and traditional AM/FM and satellite capable receivers.

In terms of the total population, the percentage of folks who are using Internet-based devices as replacements for broadcast-based devices for personal infotainment consumption is very small. It will continue to grow of course, but not at a rate that will compel broadcasters to turn off transmitters to depend only on their Internet streams within 23 years. That will take considerably longer.

There will be any number of unknown surprises that will likely appear to redefine the use of our dedicated broadcast channels. Among those will be new schemes to better handle data transmission that could augment WiMax. IBOC will probably not survive in its present form and will likely undergo continuing changes and improvements to resolve its current limitations and drawbacks.

If nothing else, our industry has learned how to adapt to survive. As long as it focuses on its core mission as a content delivery business and not a technology business, we'll be fine. We can only dream of how the delivery methods will morph in the next 23 years.

GW


HD Radio and Small Daytimers
4.30.07

Guy,

I own and operate by myself a small daytimer AM 1530 KVDW. I have asked around but no real answers. Will it benefit me to go AM HD?

I currently come on at 270 watts; two hours later I raise to 2,500 watts and two hours before I sign off I lower to 270 watts...I’m nondirectional and one tower.

Vernon Wells
victory1530@yahoo.com

Guy replies:

Vernon,

Your dilemma is a huge concern for all small AM station owners and operators. I think a lot of them are opposed to AM HD mostly because of the added expense and ongoing royalty payments, but also because it causes more adjacent-channel interference and doesn’t carry most of the additional “killer apps” that FM HD has like extra channels and surround sound. Fortunately there is still plenty of time before it becomes an issue that will affect your ability to compete effectively in your marketplace.

I really think it’s appropriate that format should play a big part in your decision. If you are news/talk, frankly I don’t see a big advantage adding AM HD during the hybrid transition period. If you are music, then 15 kHz stereo reception plus song title and artist scrolling text is a major improvement to be able to gain parity with FM listening. The AM HD hybrid will likely be around longer than the FM hybrid as HD receiver sales gain traction, assuming they eventually will. Most knowledgeable observers of that process estimate it will take about 15 to 20 years after HD radios become standard OEM equipment in cars for enough HD radios to displace old models in the hands of consumers for stations to even think about turning off the FM analog. AM will probably take longer, if it ever happens at all.

When we arrive at that point in the future, the all-digital mode will bring many more improvements to both services, especially to AM. There are some who think that if the AM service continues to deteriorate, only the big guns will remain standing and most of the little stations like yours will either go broke or go to LPFM or the Internet as WiMax and IP radios start becoming significant. If that happens, it is possible that the FCC might consider mandating a complete conversion to All-digital for AM, putting the hybrid and analog modes behind us forever. That could happen sooner than 20 years. It depends on whose crystal ball you gaze into at any given moment in time.

GW


Radio Down the Hopper
Good afternoon Mr. Wire, I'm sure I know you.

I read with interest your article and the subsequent comments. Yep, I spent almost 35 years in radio and TV, everything from a quarter of a megawatt FMs to 50 kW AMs and 5 megawatt TVs. But I clearly saw the hand writing on the wall about 5 years ago. Once Wall Street found out there is a profit to own a broadcast license, they did what they do to everything ... immediately think they are smarter than the people that actually make broadcast happen. So they bought into it, replaced the veteran broadcasters with their own financial people and down the toilet it went. As they were after the quick buck, and almost anyone with the simplest of thought processing would know that when the concentration is only on instant success, the tendency is to kill the long-term viability. It is a pattern that is repeated over and over, yet expecting different results.

How well I remember when working in radio was considered elitist. Howard Stern fixed that.

So now-a-days I am mostly involved in the world of wireless and it has been good to me and our group. Radio and TV will sputter and have a few upside activities over the next few years, but the spectrum is going to be more valuable for other services in the not-too-distant future.

Rick Edwards
TowerAmerica Corp.
rick@toweramerica.com

Guy replies:

Rick,

I think you're being a bit too simplistic and short-sighted about broadcasting falling into the hands of moneygrubbing opportunists looking for nothing but a quick buck and suggesting the business will be going the way of the buffalo in the "not too distant future."

Those who control the major broadcast outlets today are certainly more atuned to the demands of Wall Street and protecting shareholder value, but they are no different that those who run the business of your new employer, the wireless industry. Smart businessmen know they need to have an attractive and competitive product to sell to be successful. If they are going to maintain that success, they will do what it takes to maintain the value of their product. They hire smart people to run their businesses who are constantly in search of innovative and better ways to be competitive and successful, slugging it out every day to thrive and survive. Frankly, wireless has been much more volatile and unpredictable as an industry than broadcasting in that arena.

Broadcasting has been entrenched in the American life experience for almost four generations. Time and again it has found ways to diversify and "reinvent itself" to stay relevant, competitive and very successful. In spite of all the new multimedia delivery choices out there nowadays, broadcasting is not about to surrender its legacy and ability to serve the public in the myriad of ways that it does to your indstry or any other that delivers basic communications or other people's content to small handheld devices.

GW


You're Shilling Again for HD Radio
3.12.07

Guy Wire:

There you go again, just so obviously shilling for HD/IBOC - here are a few things for you to chew on:

"In-Stat: Digital Radio Set to Take Off"

"In 2006, 73 percent of respondents to an In-Stat U.S. consumer survey were aware of HD Radio on some level."

http://beradio.com/eyeoniboc/instat-digital-radio-set/

"Sirius, XM, and HD: Consumer interest reality check" (Alexaholic)

"While interest in satellite radio is diminishing, interest in HD shows no signs of a pulse."

http://www.hear2.com/2007/02/sirius_xm_and_h.html#comments

This just confirms, the lack of interest for HD Radio, on Google Trends:

http://www.google.com/trends?q='hd+radio',+xm,+sirius&ctab=0&geo=all&date=all

"Rethinking AM's Future"

"Only 175 or so AM stations have even licensed AM-HD. For a number of reasons, quite a few have tried it and taken it off the air, or so the anecdotal evidence suggests. Ibiquity no longer reports in its public summaries whether a station is on the air."

http://www.rwonline.com/pages/s.0044/t.557.html

Existing RDS has the same texting functions as HD/IBOC - the iPod has already chosen FM-RDS, not HD/IBOC. For now, HD Radio/IBOC is dead.

Sidwellfriends@aol.com


Are You Kidding?
1.22.07

Are You Kidding? The stance taken in your rebuttal to engineer Mark Krieger reflects an approach consistent with what we've been hearing from radio execs: "Radio is used by the vast majority of people who think highly of it, so the boat's not sinking."

Unfortunately, it also discounts the abundant evidence of a shift towards other audio entertainment devices is well underway. Radio won't disappear, but it will lose its audience's time spent listening — a negative almost as dramatic as being replaced.

You make a few points that don't address fact:

1) "It's not too surprising to hear comments like Mark's coming out of a university environment where MP3 players, cell phones, laptops and WiFi internet are the mass media staples." You may also add, where nobody has a radio in their dorm room. Or: where tomorrow's targeted demos are developing their audio listening habits.

2) "Furthermore, students and teachers alike generally have little interest in the affairs of their surrounding communities and are narrow focused on their own pursuits." I'd like to see the research that backs this up; the psychographics of this audience makes it ripe for discovery of new things delivered by media.

3) "Content, content, content." In a word, laughable. Radio station "content" is bad. Programmers have been fired, talent has been cut back and the expense of producing quality programs is avoided. Besides a few syndicated programs, how many top-flight personalities can you name that work radio today? One, maybe two, in each market? Content is not a radio strong point.

4) "Perhaps the most underestimated aspect of broadcast radio that Mark overlooks is the burgeoning commitment to develop Web site and streaming resources to extend its reach and appeal to broadband and Internet users." Please, show me any combination of radio station Web sites that satisfy an online user's needs. The one element required for a successful site is the one radio won't pay for: consistent updates with quality information.

There are a number of radio station Web site links through this link: www.audiographics.com/agd/122106-1.htm. View them. Then send me those station URLs you feel contradict what's stated. Radio is doing a cheap imitation of "online." It won't ever pay to do it right.

I'm in agreement with you on WiMax and its potential harm. WiMax is a lifetime away from being used by the masses. But it's not simply a "shift towards other audio entertainment devices" that has caused those 30 and below to seek audio via sources other than radio. That damage was done by radio lowering the amount of quality programming, beefing up its commercial counts, dwindling the playlists, cutting its news rooms and adding voice tracking.

Your reference to the "Mercury Radio Wake-Up Call" is an urging to listen to the same style of "rah rah, we're not as bad off as they say" reports that the radio industry has dragged out many times before. All jaded recounts of a changing world.

Only when the industry decides to adapt to new technology, instead of forcing new technology to adapt to the radio industry, will progress be made.

That didn't happen in 2006. I'm not hopeful it will occur in 2007.

Ken Dardis
President
Audio Graphics Inc.
Cleveland

Guy replies:

There's no sense denying that the new audio devices are getting lots of play and press. But radio has seen this kind of development before when cassette and CD Walkmans appeared. iPods simply make it easier to store more tunes with shuffle play.

Radio has always offered much more than tune players managed by their users. Portable entertainment is a crowded field, to be sure, and radio is losing some TSL to other choices. I am concerned about the long haul as IP-based devices and WiMax mature. Radio needs to position itself to be ready for that as a desirable content choice. It's just not going to happen "in a few short years," as Mark and others are so convinced. We've got a little time to prepare.

You mentioned dorm room listening. Actually college students in general have been shunning radio as "uncool" for almost 15 years, since PCs with multi-media became popular. Yet Arbitron confirms, as does the Mercury study, that the majority of the under-30 demo still uses radio to hear new music first. They are just listening to radio a bit less. CHR, rhythmic and rap/hiphop-formatted stations may have lost a small amount of their former ratings successes in most all surveyed markets over that time span, but not much. Check the historical ARB ratings in almost any market if you don't believe that.

You commented on my remark that students and teachers generally have little interest in the affairs of surrounding communities. There is nothing new about this Ken. College students have always been a target audience for most new consumer electronics product introductions and their acceptance. I spent 7 years going to college and do not recall many students or profs who cared about local affairs except the weather and how to catch a ride to the local night spots or the mall. Few could name the local and state government officials or could talk about the economic and political issues of the day affecting the surrounding area. If anything, that state of affairs has gotten worse.

On the matter of content, you're making a dangerous mistake generalizing about all of radio with such claims. While the quality of content in smaller markets has declined in general, I do not agree that bad content predominates in larger and major markets. There are many examples of local radio personalities even in small markets who still command large and loyal audiences. Check the NAB Marconi Awards in all sizes of markets and the lists of candidates. These folks grind out daily shows full of compelling content. Large-market morning shows typically employ an entire team of folks to prepare and direct every day's offerings. I see millions being spent in almost all large markets to find, develop and hold good talent, especially morning shows.

It takes a lot of time, talent and nurturing to develop truly entertaining and enduring shows on the radio or on any other platform, and that includes the Internet. Most all Internet users are discovering new and different content there, and they find it novel and cool as part of a new "art form." I am among them.

But as time goes on, we are finding that much of it is pure drivel and a waste of time. There are a few diamonds in the rough and exceptions of course, but aside from the major Web content players, there are many semi-pro and amateurs trying to do compelling content on the Internet. Most are finding that such an endeavor day after day is a helluva lot of hard work. The good ones know it takes more than just raw talent with a Web site to survive and become successful. It takes support, resources and money, not to mention advertising to let the world know you are out there to attract a significant audience.

Regarding the Web: I guess your local Cleveland stations haven't done enough yet with their sites to impress or get your attention. Actually KISS 96.5 ain't half bad. The link appears to be an editorial on your own Web site and much of your criticism scolds the various sites for not pushing HD or keeping their community events pages updated and links all working. That's not hard to fix.

Your company appears to be in the business of signing up stations of all kinds for your portal and is hoping to raise the bar higher for online audio entertainment choices. That's good for radio and for consumers. It's a bit amusing however that you are dissing most web sites of the stations who are your very customers. Don't be too hard on radio and its renewed commitment to growing a quality Web experience, Ken. Companies like CC and most other large group owners are getting the message and are ramping up their effort in this regard. Many more public stations have already gotten the message.

These things don't happen overnight. The ones that want to survive and be part of Web-based radio as it grows will step up and pay to do it right. With every passing day, stations that understand where technology is taking us are hiring more folks for Web and graphic support. You want some truly good radio station Web sites? Try these:

indie103.fm
93xrt.com
kcrw.org
kson.com
delmarvabroadcasting.com
Q101.com
wabcradio.com
doorcountydailynews.com (yes, it is actually a great Web site for radio stations)

These are just a few examples. Talk to any programming or Web site consultant working with radio and they will give you many more.

I certainly won't argue that some of your points about changes in radio programming are valid. Cutting newsrooms and adding voice tracking has unfortunately diminished radio's appeal. That was done mostly to keep cost-conscious owners and Wall Street happy and is coming back to haunt the industry.

But commercial loads were actually higher in years gone by than they are now. I remember when we used to play 15 to 18 minutes an hour even on music stations and still pulled big numbers. Playlists in general have remained about the same for most formats. The beloved free form FM rock formats of the late 1960s and '70s that played anything and everything are gone; but in the end, they did not attract sustainable audience appeal to keep them viable.

"Quality programming" is in the ear of the beholder and has always been the driving force for owners and managers to maintain ratings. Ratings drive revenue, pure and simple. Radio has always been judged by those metrics and that will not change. The only thing that will change is the methodology with the addition of Arbitron's PPM and the addition of new platforms like Webstreaming which automatically provides such metrics.

On the Mercury Radio study: This is not some old "jaded recount" that has been dragged out from the past. It's brand new scientifically gathered and supported research. If anything, you appear to be much too jaded about radio and its appeal.

Last, you wrote: "Only when the industry decides to adapt to new technology, instead of forcing new technology to adapt to the radio industry, will progress be made. That didn't happen in 2006. I'm not hopeful it will occur in 2007."

Give it just a little more time, Ken, and I think you will see our business embrace this change and become part of it.

GW


Too Little, Too Late?
1.02.07

Dear Guy,

First of all, many thanks for your contributions to RWOnline. I’ve been a big fan of radio all my life and “discovered” your website about 18 months ago. As my interests cover many aspects of radio, RWOnline has become one of my favorite websites on the Net.

Note: I’m not involved in the radio industry. Though I was a radio amateur in my teens and have been a shortwave listener for over 30 years, by profession I’m a Computer Systems Administrator. I’ve been working in the Information Technology field since 1980.

I found your article “Radio Makes Room for WiMax” extremely interesting. Mark Krieger’s comments and sentiments regarding the future of radio broadcasting closely mirror my own. Though it may take several years, I do believe that the popularity of AM/FM broadcasting has likely reached its peak and is now beginning a gradual downturn. This is not something I am wishing for. It is simply the reality of technological changes now taking place.

My own listening habits have already been drastically affected by the presence of the Internet. With wireless broadband in my home, I’ve got access to literally tens of thousands of stations all in various degrees of digital quality. For instance, being a big fan of classical and film music, I often tune in to various stations that offer audio streaming of these genres. Some of these stations are also regular broadcasting stations: (WFMR Milwaukee, WGUC Cincinnati, KUSC Los Angeles). Others are “net only” stations via ShoutCast, Live365 or from several websites across Europe.

National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition” are two news programs that I enjoy listening to. I used to make it a point to tune into these broadcasts on my commutes to and from work. Occasionally I still do. But now, thanks to the Internet, I can check out these programs at any time from home and skip over any individual stories that I find not of interest.

Several shortwave broadcasters, such as Radio Netherlands, also offer their programming via audio streaming. Why should I struggle tuning in via shortwave when a far better signal is available via the Net?

You may think that I have to be at my computer console to hear these stations, but that is no longer the case. I bought a small laptop computer that I use for “tuning in” to these stations. Most of the time I feed the laptop into my home stereo system or into a small subwoofer/satellite speaker system for better sound. My daughter bought a reconditioned Fujitsu tablet PC from eBay earlier this year for about $150. Its dimensions are roughly 9 x 12 inches and about an inch thick. It runs a full version of Windows 2000 and thus works great as a portable “net radio”. Slowly but surely, more and more products are coming out that allow one to tune into Internet audio streams much as one tunes a station on the radio.

I live in a mountainous area about 100 miles north of Seattle. Perhaps if my AM/FM reception was better, I’d be less apt to use the Internet so much. But the fact is, for home listening, Internet radio has become my primary means of listening to “the radio.” Even for local stations, I often find that their webcast stream provides superior audio vs. the “over the air” signals that I receive.

Though it may take 5 to 10 years or more, I can easily see the day when WiMax will be as commonplace as cell phone coverage is today. It isn’t hard for me to imagine that we’ll one day have car radios that can tune into Internet audio streams with the same ease as we tune into AM/FM stations today. Why will I want to tune into my local NPR affiliate if I can get a far better signal via WiMax?

I do believe that some local broadcast radio will survive and even thrive well into the future. My local talk radio station (KGMI - Bellingham, WA), is excellent in their coverage of local news and events. In fact, KGMI won the 2006 Marconi Award for being the best radio station in the country. Stations like KGMI that provide top-quality local content should do well. But overall, I do not believe that AM/FM stations have a bright future. As for HD Radio, I feel it is too little, too late.

Once again many thanks for your contributions to RWOnline. Should you wish to include any of my comments or letter in a future article, feel free to do so.

Chris Kantack
Bellingham, WA
email: nwkantacks@kantack.com


A Word on Behalf of the Little Guys
12.29.06

I have read with interest your story on help for AM radio, i.e. translators (Guy Wire, "Let’s Have AM Improvement With Clout").

I have written the commission on several occasions with my recommendations. I have suggested that a good start would be for many of the AMs that have to reduce power from 1 kW to (in our case) 67 watts or less be allowed to maintain 1 kW unlimited. I had a station at 1340 kHz and ultimately was allowed unlimited but had to agree to accept interference. I also suggested the translators and the possibility of 30 watts at less than 100 feet. This would provide a great service to our community.

You are absolutely correct as to where the listeners go in severe weather, AM RADIO. This little station is fighting for survival in the midst of Clear Channel, Citadel and Emmis dominance. Agencies will not buy any station not in the top 10 of a market. We can’t cover the entire market so ratings are nonexistent. High school sports are big business for us but a high school football game after sunset is a killer. Local businesses won’t buy because the station can’t be heard; replay is unacceptable. I’m sure you have heard all of this before.

I was told that once all of us little guys are gone the commission will be much happier; don’t know if that is true or not but I do know we don’t get near the preferential treatment the big guys get. The commission has all of the tools available to allow for a SIMPLE application process. Use the commission search engine for a frequency search, advise the commission of the intent, location, equipment, send $750 and sign an agreement that the LPFM/translator is 100 percent simulcast and can NEVER be sold leaving the AM to standalone again, simply stated no AM, no FM, no sense in reliving the 80-90 debacle.

I even suggested a novel idea to a commissioner. How about coming down and sitting with me in front of the station on our “main street” and let’s just talk about what a little station in a little town means to the people? I haven’t received a reply on that one.

I even suggested that the field agents make appointments with us little guys to stop in and ask what can be done to help us. The commission used to do that quite often 30 years ago; had one field agent help me adjust a modulation problem. I asked the commissioner if he could explain the need for digital radio. The farmers and working people around here say they just quit listening to radio as opposed to spending a couple of hundred of dollars for a radio in a combine, tractor, work truck etc. Just more worthless junk for us to buy because the big guys and the manufacturers have a love affair going.

Anyway, great story. Hope the commission reads it.

Sincerely,
Harry Hoyler
KKAY 1590 AM
Donaldsonville, La.


A Fraud and a Farce
12.27.06

HD Radio/IBOC is a fraud and a farce - sales of HD radios has been anemic, and the general public is not interested in this joke of a technology. Portable Internet Radio, already out, will kill HD Radio. HD Radio has problems with reception, especially in moving vehicles, causes adjacent-channel interference, and has only 60% the coverage of analog. Oh boy, more HD channels of the same lousy terrestrial radio, if one can even receive the channels - consumers are not interested in having to mount dipole antennnas outside, on the roof, or in the attic - what a joke ! HD Radio will fail, as AM Stereo of the 1980s. I am getting sick of reading your shill for HD Radio/ibiquity articles and sick of listening to the ridiculous "Discover It!" commercials, which mean absolutely nothing ! What a waste of $500 million dollars, which could have been spent on improving programming content. And, the audio quality is worse, with low-bitrate digital stream of HD channels, with digital artifacts. NO ONE CARES ABOUT HD RADIO, OR RADIO IN GENERAL!

- Sidwellfriends@aol.com


Time Marches On
12.18.06

Mr. Guy Wire is trying to hold still in a world that is moving fast. His comments in "Radio Makes Room for WiMax", Radio World, Dec 13, 2006, miss the mark altogether. Mr. Wire argues for the longevity of conventional Radio and TV in a newsmagazine whose life blood depends on things like HD radio and the possibility of multiple audio streams through one radio carrier; the harbinger of a "multiple pipe" WiMax world. There may be less fog in Mark Krieger's crystal ball than Guy Wire realizes.

C'mon, get real. 15 years ago only a few executives and well-heeled people had cell phones. Today they are the bane of elementary school classrooms and the highways throughout America. Cell phones do almost everything imaginable in terms of communications: email, photography, imaging and internet browsing. How much of a leap is it to think in a year or two WiMax and similar technologies will unclog the bandwidth pipeline to bring radio and TV into the cell phone without the need for a conventional radio or TV carrier? Don’t like the small cell phone screen? Blue-tooth will "share" your phone video on the huge flat screen in your front room. That is about as far fetched as a microwave oven that will warm your meal in 3 minutes!

WiMax is changing our world whether we like it or not. When that happens, and trust me Mr. Guy Wire it will, you will need a new pen name. Perhaps you could use some contemporary Instant Messaging slang word for a name, like "JK" for "Just Kidding", or "TTFN" for "Ta-Ta for Now" as you readjust your mindset to enter the new century. I’m older every year myself, and I’ve been working in radio for more than 40 years, but my inability to keep up with it all isn’t stopping technology’s advancement.

So is WiMax the demise of Radio and TV? Probably not. But there will be nothing "conventional" about Radio and TV in a few short years, including how its spectrum is used. The smart money is adapting to a new broadcasting paradigm. Time marches on.

Carl E. Gluck
VP Technical Research
Salem Communications

Guy replies:

Carl,

Neither I nor anyone I know in this business who is successful and wants to be successful in the future is holding still. Everybody realizes technology is changing the playing field. That's been going on ever since radio was invented. I'll grant you that this change is probably moving at a faster clip in recent years. The industry has always adapted to change and continues to do so.

I am fully embracing and accepting the reality that the Internet is changing our industry and that WiMax will be part of our future. I'm wondering why you chose to ignore that observation in my discussion as well as perhaps my key point about radio and WiMax: We have always been and always will be in the content creation business.

Whether that content is distributed over the air or via the Internet won't matter that much as time marches on. Radio is the major contributor to online audio streaming listening right now. Check the stats. Clear Channel and CBS combine for about 40% of the total. Radio is not just depending on HD and over the air carriers for its long-term "survival." Where you and I disagree regarding the impact of WiMax is the speed at which it will become a viable and eventually perhaps a preferred alternative to over the air broadcasting … particularly its ability to fully displace radio listening as we know it "in just a few short years."

Advances in technology do not automatically replace an old process with a new one. You mention the three-minute microwave oven. Every kitchen I see still being constructed has a conventional oven with stovetop burners, in addition to a microwave.

Cellphones became wildly popular because they simply untethered telephone conversations away from wires for the masses. The fact that cellphones now have built-in Internet access, e-mail clients, text messaging and cameras are add-on features that a distinct minority of their users is actually using on a regular basis. If you don't believe that, check the average user stats from any cellphone carrier. Texting has become a big hit for the under-25 crowd and might be in its own category in this arena.

As you have observed, Carl, more features are being added to cellphones over the next few years. Soon we will see FM radio receivers with data and audio players with MP3 and iPod capability. Whether consumers will want and be willing to pay extra for those add-ons on a large scale is not yet known. I have a sneakin' suspicion the majority of folks will want to keep using their cellphones for the primary task of making and receiving phone calls. Many will also check e-mail or perhaps their favorite Web sites. Using it as a substitute pocket radio or iPod and running down the batteries much faster may not be all that attractive or appropriate for many.

Listening to streaming audio via the Internet on WiMax is the same cat of only a slightly different color. The advent of cellphones did not make folks stop using wired phones or render that infrastructure obsolete. WiMax and Wifi will not render wired broadband or LAN's anymore less useful than portable radios made wired sets go away. As WiMax rolls out in the years to come, it will merely add more choices and flexibility to an already dizzying array of consumer entertainment resources. But I still think it's going to be a long time before WiMax delivers the same ease of use, reliability, range of service and quality of reception as over-the-air broadcasting. Especially for the automobile and portable devices.

I would also disagree that WiMax will force some kind of fundamental change in how the present radio and TV channel spectrum is used in "just a few short years." I predict WiMax will be granted a new band or group of bands somewhere in the UHF spectrum while existing radio and HD TV channels will essentially stay as they are for many years to come. The "new broadcasting paradigm" you refer to will certainly include the successful stations already streaming, available via WiMax, but not at the expense of turning off all the over-the-air transmitters and repurposing those channels for WiMax.

Let's revisit this exchange in maybe 10 years and see who's right.

Thanks for the alternate pen name suggestions, but I think Guy Wire is just fine for now and for as long as my brain and fingers still work.

Happy New Year.

GW


Scully at Long Range
12.18.06

Hi Guy,

I still remember being about 13 in the early 1960s living in upstate New York and waking my mom about 3 in the morning after picking up Vin Scully signing off the Dodgers broadcast on KFI Los Angeles. I was stoked. My mom did not share the enthusiasm. I'm sure you can relate.

Thanks for a thoughtful analysis. The sky isn't falling....it's always been all around us!

Steve Gimbert
WRAF, Toccoa Falls, GA


What's Up With IP?
11.21.06

Hi there,

I stumbled across your entry "NAB2006 Abuzz Over IP, HD Rollout" dated 6/5/2006. I'm a business guy, not technical, at a voice-over production company that works a great deal with ISDN remote studios. Can you give me a little overview on where we stand with using IP-based connections for these voice-over remote recording sessions? What brands are leading in this technology?

Thanks for your help!

Guy replies:

You would need to acquire hardware like the Comrex Access system to be able to replace your ISDN-based codec to be able to use IP and the Internet to do live real-time voice-over production feeds. But Comrex will tell you that because of the unreliability of the public Internet, such feeds will still be vulnerable to occasional dropouts, no matter how much bandwidth you buy or how good your QoS is. Since most of your kind of work does not have to be done live, but can be recorded and edited first before sending out, most of the VO guys we work with are sending their stuff via hi-rate MP3 files (MP3-256) via FTP or if short enough, via e-mail attachments. If that isn't appropriate, the good old ISDN connection is still the most reliable and preferred. But we are hearing some phone companies like Verizon are phasing out ISDN service. It wont be too many more years before that will be the norm.

GW


This Is a Legacy Industry
10.26.06

Just read your article regarding supporting FM translator grants to AM's and I confess it evoked a couple of laughs.

I too am a veteran radio engineer (31 years, and SBE officer and senior member as well). During that time I've had a variety of AM's and FM's under my watch, including a 50KW AM with a 5 tower DA. I used to love sending out QSL cards to Europe, just as I used to love listening to international broadcasting on my trusty Hallicrafters when I was 12 years old. I still have a basement full of every type of broadcast and utility receiver imaginable - the leavings of a lifelong love affair with radio.

Even so, here's how the thesis of this article strikes me: In a nutshell, what's being proposed is that AM operators be allowed to leave their sinking ships to board lifeboats that are overfilled and are also sinking.

This may be an unpleasant analogy, but we need to come to grips with the reality that the way Americans use media, including radio, is being irretrievably transformed by broadband technology. The fact of the matter is that AM has had a long and venerable life, as have FM and analog TV. But we're nearing the end of that era. Broadcasting as a conduit for OPC (Other People's Content) is drawing to a close. As the "pull" model, takes over, the use of large chunks of bandwidth for carriage of dedicated programming makes no sense. In fact, I believe we'll begin discussing turning off dedicated broadcast signals (FM and TV) and repurposing that spectrum to broadband in just a few years - and broadcasters will be powerless to stop it, because WE'VE NEVER OWNED THE SPECTRUM WE OPERATE ON. That resource has been on loan to us by the American people.

The harsh fact of the matter is that unless you are in the business of creating content, you probably ought to cash out of broadcasting now, while you can still get a decent buck for the station. The public soon won't need you to listen to Rush, Dr. Laura, Westwood One, the NFL, MLB, ad nausea. Even now, they can get much of that programming right from the source.

Presuming, for a moment, that a local broadcaster does produce a quality localized product that has real value, he or she had better focus on developing their broadband delivery, promotion, and business model rather than thinking about how to survive economically as a low-power FM. That really is the ultimate in futility. The only thing I've read lately that made me chuckle more was the article by a gentleman proposing the creation of a new FM band for AM owners - now that was a hoot!

I could go on about studies that reveal that people under 30 have little or no affinity for the radio medium, how the NAB's clout on capital hill is waning, how WI-Max is going to present a huge blow to major market radio, etc., but it's all too grim. Let's just say that we're all working in a Legacy industry, and that those of us that wish to continue working in electronic media ought to be about the business of getting our broadband pipelines in order with the knowledge that quality content, not a piece of paper from the federal government, is where our collective fortunes lay.

Cheers

- Mark Krieger
Director/General Manager
WJCU FM, A Service of John Carroll University


Feeling Threatened?
10.11.2006

Hey Radio Dude, if you keep printing this stuff, eventually people will think its true! NOT !!!!! Dude, How do you know how Stern is feeling? Don't forget he left Testicular Radio voluntarily. XM decide to share O&A out of desperation. XM wasn't getting any major new subscription with O&A, so they gave them up to TERRA radio. If Satellite is leveling off or not threat, then why keep writing about it. Do you guys feel threatened by the little upstart doggie? You know how Burger King says " Have it your way", well that's what Satellite radio is, Radio Your Way. Not some Corporate Play List. How cool is it to go from state to state listening to the same programming that you like.

- GRIFFNASTY@aol.com
Guy replies:

Yet another satellite fan who misread my statement about its rate of subscription growth slowing down and starting to level off. I never said that subscriptions have stopped growing. Only the rate of growth has stopped growing. There is a crucial difference such readers have apparently not taken the time to carefully think about.

My major point about both sat services is that their business models are unsustainable if this trend continues in the face of exorbitant debt. Investors don't like to hang onto companies that lose billions quarter after quarter long after their original predictions of becoming profitable have long since passed.

Love and enjoy the sat service all you want while you can. It will likely change in very significant and fundamental ways as I've suggested, sooner than later, to keep from going in the tank. And trust me, Howard is seething inside over O&A being on both satellite and terra radio while his show reaches only about 15% of his old audience on Sirius. I know. I worked with him on too many remote broadcasts.

GW


The Slow Road
09.13.06

RE: Eric Godzis' concern over satellite growth (6000 PER DAY), if this growth rate continued, with zero popuoation growth it would take over a century to saturate th USA.

-R L Nix rlnix@adelphia.net


You're Misinformed
9.13.2006

This is a pretty misinformed article. As a matter of fact satellite radio continues to grow, at a rate of 6000 people PER DAY! It's sad that you'd write an article without doing any research.

- Eric Gajdzis Eric.Gajdzis@guideworkstv.com

Guy replies:

Eric misread my statement about subscriber growth rates. I never said subscriptions have stopped growing. Only that the rate of growth has stopped increasing. Therefore the growth rates are slowing down and showing signs of leveling off. Yes the total number of subscribers does continue to grow, but not the rate of increase.

GW


Guy’s Split Personality
(This letter was published in Radio World Engineering Extra, Dec. 14 2005) The continuation of Guy Wire to present an argument for digital broadcasting is a study in multiple personality behavior. There is one side of Guy that is trying to promote HD for obvious reasons. Then there is the other side that will not permit him to tell a lie. The newest article on defending the thinning of the "heard" is another classic ("The Great AM Debate," Aug. 24).

For the first time I understand the words of my favorite English professor when she declared that great "lit" was written to be digested and dissected. Guy's comments, if carefully read, would show the inward struggle. Guy needs to take a travel vacation.

HD Radio itself will eliminate first-adjacent contours on FM. HD Radio on AM, using the proposed system owned by the 21 gunners pointed at the head, will eliminate any broadcaster within 20-30 kHz of each side of the HD blaster. Any new FM LPs offered to drop-dead AM guys would get killed by the nearby digital adjacencies. The cost of going digital for the LP guy would be higher than the cost of the LP basic analog gear alone.

Perhaps Ibiquity could donate the royalty fees to the little guys. The adjacent jamming applies to present market conditions, not just small towns of America. The facts are not mine, they are the facts of life as currently playing at the local theatre of the mind (broadcast spectrum). This is well calculated in Guy's comments advising the narrow-casters to exit AM via a tax break. The idea is great.

It will require power increases for the survivors to restore the contours lost to digital. I don't expect the extra compressed spare channel idea to fly on FM, given that the blind population, most likely candidates for the secondary channel, also possess the finest hearing in our midst and will not tolerate anything that sounds distorted and irritating, such as the channels proposed in the first and second rounds of the selling of digital stuff to the broadcasters.

As for the idea that HD sounds better on either the FM or AM channels, that too is proving to be a relatively false prophesy. There just ain't enough bandwidth on either spectrum (even if you consider the stolen component already in the mix such as the neighbor's territory on AM and FM) to deliver better audio. The term "amelioration" from Guy's article is another double-meaning word, normally written suggesting that one find another word to "amend" the real meaning of the discussion.

I submit the entire article is an amelioration of the debate by spinning the blame backwards. He is a smart fella for sure. We kill off the little guys and those religious stations and we wipe out the only remaining locally active broadcasters giving them a real estate sale and a tax certificate and leave the channel space to the 21 players with 100 million investors watching them grow more hard drives. Fact is, upon closer examination, the heartbeat of real radio is still the small and medium markets where a couple of thousand stations still thrive or struggle in the midst of the Wal-Marting of the spectrum. Another oxymoron for tomorrow's trivia game: "public airways." Perhaps the good part of the latest Guy story is the criticism of the NAB, claiming they want to keep the number of stations high. In fact that is probably a smokescreen, as NAB collects few dues from broadcasters, especially the small folks.

NAB enjoys deep pockets from its annual show, and selling ad space as well. Thus, NAB supports digital stuff and has jumped for a room reservation with the digital stalkers convention long ago. The first horse out of the chute on digital, if you recall, are the geniuses who live off our tax and donated dollars at NPR with visions of multichannel TV and multichannel FM to add more cap-ex and budget goals to the mix. Then came the NAB with its list of former FCC lawyers and spinoffs funded by those annual radio shows.

- Smith Terre Haute, Ind.



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