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Cumulus Moves Grabbed Fall Show Buzz in Early October

Meanwhile, Voltair and AM improvement were among topics du jour in Atlanta

Here’s a final look back at news and themes emerging from this fall’s Radio Show convention.

Steven Tyler, sprawling at left as befits a rock star, talked business with Premiere Networks radio hosts Lorianne Crook and Charlie Chase. “They’re still playing Aerosmith all over the radio, I can’t believe it,” he said, according to an NAB tweet. Tyler also told the radio crowd, “I would not be here if it weren’t for you.”
Credit: ©NAB When the 2,170 radio people who attended Radio Show 2015 in Atlanta look back on their experience, they’ll probably remember two things about the gathering.

This was the Radio Show when remnants of Hurricane Joaquin made it hard for many to get home. And it was the Radio Show when hometown broadcast moguls Lew Dickey Jr. and his brother John were dethroned in humiliating fashion just before the show opened.

The precipitous decline of Cumulus stock, which fell below the $1-a-share mark on the Friday before the show began, proved the final straw for Lew Jr. as Cumulus CEO. Just a day before the convention’s Sept. 30 opening, the company’s board demoted him to vice-chairman and ousted John Dickey from the company completely. Mary G. Berner was named as CEO to turn the company around.

While the Dickeys’ woes made for interesting talk from a distance, there was actual news being made right there at the Marriott Marquis, too, some of it literally on the show floor.

The NAB’s decision to hold some engineering sessions on the floor itself, in a presentation area sandwiched between exhibitors and food carts, amped up the excitement when both sides of the big Nielsen/Voltair controversy held separate presentations on Thursday.

More than an hour before Voltair’s Geoff Steadman kicked off the duel, low benches in the presentation area were packed full, leaving latecomers to stand and watch from the sidelines.

Lara Logan, chief foreign affairs correspondent for CBS News and “60 Minutes” correspondent, headlined the Radio Luncheon. Attendees reacted emotionally to stories of her time in war zones, including the brutal assault she suffered in Egypt in 2011.

Steadman steered clear of direct attacks on (or even direct mentions of) Nielsen itself, instead focusing on Voltair’s ability to provide monitoring of a station’s watermarking performance. Just before the show, 25-Seven released version 2.0 of its Voltair firmware and said a version 2.2 is in alpha test mode.

Steadman said 2.2 will include an analysis-only mode that will not affect Voltair’s audio output but will allow stations to conduct ongoing analysis on how well Nielsen’s proprietary PPM encoders are succeeding at putting usable watermarks on a station’s audio. The new software also will include an enhanced ability to export encoding analysis data, a move Steadman says could enable larger groups to establish central monitoring facilities to ensure their encoding is working properly.

Nielsen’s subsequent presentation may have muddied the waters considerably for broadcasters who’ve purchased the $15,000 Voltair box or who might be considering doing so. Expanding on a promise it made during its national client webinar in July, Nielsen told attendees it plans to deliver its own “next-generation” in-station monitor to PPM client stations next year.

“It kind of sounds like a Voltair,” said Steadman after watching the Nielsen presentation from the back row. Steadman said, though, that his company is shipping Voltair now, while Nielsen monitoring boxes won’t arrive until the middle of 2016 at the earliest.

The ongoing PPM/Voltair controversy drew crowds to separate presentations by Nielsen, shown, and 25-Seven Systems about audio watermarking technologies.
Courtesy David Layer The bigger and more immediate announcement from Nielsen was an upgraded version of its CBET watermark encoding system to make coding more robust and more easily detectable in challenging acoustic environments, all without creating audible artifacts.

“Every client gets the same benefit without any user controls, so it’s a uniform benefit in how we apply this,” said Nielsen Chief Engineer Arun Ramaswamy.

He said feedback from the original CBET system showed Nielsen that there was too much variability in how well watermarks could be decoded in different listening environments.

The upgrade is seen by many as a response to the Voltair, though Nielsen said in its webinar this summer that it had already been working on enhancements and was expediting them due to market conditions.

Ramaswamy says the new version is much more robust, needing as little as a single “hit” in one minute for data to be decoded and a station to have its listening credited. Testing of the enhanced system was conducted in several “non-currency” PPM markets, then in parallel with standard CBET at 19 stations in the Washington and Baltimore markets using a second layer of encoding. Nielsen said those markets would move to the enhanced CBET system almost immediately, with all PPM markets following suit as early as the end of November.

Nielsen’s Beth Webb said the enhanced CBET produced a 15 percent increase in AQH persons, giving at least a 0.1 point gain in AQH ratings in approximately 40 percent of the cases studied.

Show attendance was estimated at 2,170, up slightly from last year’s event.

The conference rooms off the show floor were just as crowded for several sessions addressing another big concern for broadcasters: where they’ll fit into the new world of plentiful entertainment options in cars and on mobile devices.

The NextRadio initiative, backed heavily by Emmis Communications, boasted about big growth to come. Thanks to the addition of AT&T and T-Mobile as partners, NextRadio President Paul Brenner said 60 million new phone handsets will be activated in 2016 with FM reception included via the NextRadio app.

There are still two big holdouts, Verizon on the carrier side and Apple on the manufacturer side. Brenner said NextRadio is turning up the heat on Verizon with a bigger promotional campaign from radio stations urging listeners to tell the carrier they want FM capability in their phones.

Marconi Winners

Credit: ©NAB

Legendary Station of the Year
KYW(AM), Philadelphia, Pa.

Major Market Station of the Year
WTOP(FM), Washington, D.C.

Large Market Station of the Year
KSTP(FM), St. Paul, Minn.

Medium Market Station of the Year
KRMG(AM), Tulsa, Okla.

Small Market Station of the Year
WLEN(FM), Adrian, Mich.

AC Station of the Year
WDUV(FM), Tampa, Fla.

CHR Station of the Year
KQMV(FM), Seattle, Wash.

Classic Hits Station of the Year
KONO(FM), San Antonio, Texas

Country Station of the Year
WUBE(FM) Cincinnati, Ohio

News/Talk Station of the Year
WSB(AM) Atlanta, Ga.

Religious Station of the Year
WPRS(FM) Washington, D.C.

Rock Station of the Year
WDRV(FM) Chicago, Ill.

Sports Station of the Year
WFAN(AM) New York, N.Y.

Urban Station of the Year
WBLS(FM) New York, N.Y.

Noncommercial Station of the Year
WKAR(FM) East Lansing, Mich.

Network/Syndicated Personality of the Year
Steve Harvey, Premiere Networks

Major Market Personality of the Year
Eric & Kathy, WTMX(FM), Chicago, Ill.

Large Market Personality of the Year
Gene & Julie Gates, WRAL(FM) Raleigh, N.C.

Medium Market Personality of the Year
Dan Potter, KRMG(AM), Tulsa, Okla.

Small Market Personality of the Year
Brian Byers, WSOY(AM), Decatur, Ill.

As for Apple, Brenner says it’s the one phone maker that can dictate terms to carriers instead of the other way around. But he says momentum is building as more consumers catch on to the interactive features that stations can use through NextRadio. He urged radio stations to do their part by activating their links to NextRadio, sending dynamic content such as album covers and contests through the app.

The connected car is another battlefield; and if broadcasters weren’t already worried about their place on the dashboard, a session moderated by Radio World Editor-in-Chief Paul McLane provided plenty of nightmare material.

“There’s still a place for AM and FM in vehicles, but if it comes down to a question of cost — sorry,” said Scott Burnell of Ford’s Business Development and Partner Management division.

Burnell said younger audiences aren’t making terrestrial radio a top priority for in-car entertainment, and their desires will drive the decisions car manufacturers make about what features get included in future vehicles.

“There’s going to be more entities fighting for that real estate on that 8-inch screen in the car,” he said.

Here, too, the message to broadcasters came down to “keep fighting.” While Pandora, for instance, has an organized campaign to educate dealers with incentives to demonstrate Pandora features to buyers of new connected cars, Burnell said he hasn’t seen similar initiatives by broadcasters to work with dealers to educate buyers about where to find their local FM and AM signals.


As the Radio Show wrapped up, some broadcasters made early exits in hopes of avoiding a huge East Coast rainstorm that wreaked havoc on many return flights and drives.

For those who remained for the last hours of the show, there was plenty of entertainment. A big gathering of engineers assembled Thursday night at the suburban transmitter site of Cox Radio’s WSB(AM) for tours of the 50,000-watt facility at 750 kHz, and a barbecue truck supplied by the Telos Alliance. Meanwhile back at the Marriott Marquis, WSB’s managers were accepting the News-Talk Station of the Year trophy at the Marconi Radio Awards. Country star Gavin DeGraw and syndicated radio host Rickey Smiley headlined the ceremony. CBS Radio’s KYW(AM) in Philadelphia walked away with Legendary Station of the Year, accompanied by Major Market Station of the Year WTOP(FM), Washington; Medium Market winner KRMG, Tulsa and Small Market winner WLEN, Adrian, Mich.

The partnership of NAB and the Radio Advertising Bureau in co-producing the fall show appears to have been a successful one. Plans are already in the works for the 2016 event, to be held in Nashville, a choice that drew rave reviews from many on the floor when it was announced.