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From the Letter Bag of Mr. Cool Pants

In this issue we offer the first of several articles about the Federal Communications Commission as it approaches its 75th birthday.

In this issue we offer the first of several articles about the Federal Communications Commission as it approaches its 75th birthday.

Love or loathe it, the FCC is a fact of life for radio broadcasters. I think it’s productive to look both forward and back, to reflect on the role it plays, and may yet play, in our business and industry.

What should a future FCC look like? Tell me your thoughts at [email protected].

* * *

I received several gratifying notes from readers regarding my comments about Facebook and evolving media consumption habits in the March 1 issue.

“I read your recent editorial about Facebook and saw that you are also on LinkedIn,” a longtime friend wrote. “We’re in the same field, so I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn. Even though you seem to be turning into a cranky old Luddite.

“One way Facebook has been good for radio,” she continued. “I often send my Facebook friends links to articles on NPR. My iPod has had a great impact on the way I consume radio. I don’t use it to listen to music. I use it to listen to favorite spoken-word radio programs on my own schedule. I never need to miss ‘Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me’ again.”

High school teacher Ronald Burtnick also likes spoken-word content:

“While reading your Facebook lessons article, I thought about what has affected my radio listening. During most of my careers I have usually commuted a fairly good haul. During the years that I took the train or the bus I would sleep or read (usually books: alternating between science fiction and political nonfiction). In other commutes I have been car-bubble bound and the radio was my constant companion.

“Bob Grant was one of the first to catch my ear with his sign-off: ‘Your influence counts …. Uuuuuuuse it.’ I think I caught Rush’s first days on WABC. I have gone through the ups and downs of losing a favored host and learning to accept the replacements of discovering that the lineup at the Big Talker in Philly was more listenable at times (when I got the signal). If I weren’t on a budget I would have probably gotten satellite and maybe then I would get back to listening to G. Gordon Liddy.

“What has changed things the most,” he continued, “was deciding to finally listen to all those books I had been meaning to read.

“Now I’m usually oblivious to breaking news, weather and traffic. Well, I rarely heard about a traffic jam of which I wasn’t already stuck in the middle. I don’t listen to much science fiction lately, but I do listen to a good deal of political titles and other interesting topics such as brain science.

“I don’t bother telling Facebook which Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson movie I am watching anymore.”

Another friend and former colleague pitched in: “Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your recent commentary about Facebook. I know exactly how you feel. My nieces and nephews coerced me into setting up a Facebook page and I’m still getting the hang of things. I just joined a couple of weeks ago and am still trying to get my page set up; still haven’t posted a picture. Glad to know that I’m not the only ‘older’ adult to be on FB.”

(When did I become an older adult? Sigh.)

And my favorite reply: “I absolutely loved reading about your FB experience — I was on the floor rolling because I totally related. I’m impressed you had the guts to do it — I’ll look at you in a completely different light now — like that guy is cool he has an FB page. I must ask my daughter to show me your page. I have no idea how to do that stuff, Mr. Cool Pants.”

* * *

Another Mr. Cool Pants — and self-described audio nerd — is Tim Schwieger, president of equipment distributor BSW.

“I have HD buyer’s remorse,” he wrote on his blog recently. “I purchased the HD Radio option in my BMW-X5 in January 2008. … But I must say after having paid for and using this option I kinda secretly wish I could get my money back. And here’s why. The HD audio signal can’t seem to find my car.”

Tim relates that in the Seattle-Tacoma area, there are 10 or so HD Radio stations on FM, one on AM. But: “After a year of trying to listen to the HD signal, I’m now conditioned to expect the HD signal to constantly pop in and out, just like mono/stereo signal in my old 1970s FM converter box.”

In between longings for the days of his 1964 Chevy Impala, Tim made the point that his HD Radio “kicks in and out a lot. If I happen to tune into a HD2 signal, then the ‘no commercial HD2 Crawdaddy Blues format’ just mutes. And mutes. And mutes some more. You get the mute point.”

“Speaking as a citizen here in Publicville, I feel gypped. And I really don’t care what the technical reasons are … I just want HD to work. So … fix it.”

Strong words from a guy who makes his living selling broadcast equipment — and another indication (if you need one) that, for all its promise, HD Radio has a long way to go to meet its many promises.

* * *

One other note worth sharing comes from a DOE working hard in the engineering trenches.

“Sorry about being radio silent lately. Lately, the business of radio in this post-Madoff, Ponzi-crazed world and advertizing starved era is a challenge.”

All engineers at his company effectively were “banned” from attending the NAB Show this year, he told me, and were instructed that their responsibilities right now are on finding operational savings in their respective markets.

“They don’t even want us driving to the transmitter, or if we do, there are no expense reports being approved, so that’s on our own nickel.

“The biggest impact for us is that there are more layoffs looming in the days ahead, and my department will not be spared in this latest round.”

Bottom line, he tells me: “It is very tough right now. Every expenditure at every level is being scrutinized, from diesel for the emergency generators to a complete ban on overtime, with the expectation that employees will continue to work effectively for free to complete projects and event engineering.”

(He says the accounting folks have even asked how many times a year he really needs a generator anyway: “Can’t you just buy fuel when you need to use it?”)

You too can probably point to stories like this that are both wryly funny and troubling. They reflect how close to the bone some companies are operating.

Here’s to better times.