RW Editor in Chief Speaks at NUG@NAB Event - Radio World

RW Editor in Chief Speaks at NUG@NAB Event

He talked about regulatory and technical topics and trends that Radio World is following at the show
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Radio World Editor in Chief Paul McLane addresses the Nautel Users Group crowd of more than 300 attendees at the Paris convention center. The NUG@NAB is one of the prime pre-NAB Show events.


Here are remarks by Radio World Editor in Chief Paul McLane at the Nautel User Group meeting Sunday, as prepared for delivery.

(staring off) …. Wait hang on … hang on… You probably wonder what I’m doing… I’m posting to Facebook … oops, typo…There… you probably heard this week thatFacebook has 60 engineers working on building a “brain-computer interface” that will let you type with just your mind … using optical imaging to scan your brain a hundred times per second … so people can get their noses out of their phones again. I’m just practicing right now.

This has nothing to do with radio just now, I just think it’s cool. But every gee whiz announcement like that reminds me that we live in an incredible time, and the incredible explosion of tech advances in consumer electronics sooner or later affects the people in this room and what you and I do in our radio jobs every day …

It’s one of the interesting things about my job at Radio World and NewBay; because even while we’re reporting on what the FCC did last week, or a new transmitter from Nautel or the latest IP audio codec, we’re also trying to look ahead and understand how broader trends will play out in our space and in our jobs…

For instance just a few years ago one of the editors of a sister publication to Radio World wanted to run a cover story about drones and how they would be used for video. The publisher of the magazine and the editor got kind of testy with one another because the editor knew that drones would have a lot of impact, and the sales guy just didn’t see it, or at least he didn’t see the immediate relevance yet because to him, the only thing drones were good for yet was dropping bombs. How quickly things change.

Now an experimental project is using drones to deliver Chipotle burritos to Virginia Tech students from a nearby Chipotle truck

Myself I was fascinated by drones early on, and I wondered how radio stations might use them. It’s an example of what I’m talking about, of how broader tech trends eventually play out in our space.

At this NAB show, John Kean of Cavell Mertz will be talking about a project he’s involved in to use unmanned aerial vehicles for the collection of RF signal measurements from broadcast radio and TV stations. Maybe taking field strength measurements doesn’t have to be so tedious and expensive. He’s got a Tarot carbon-fiber drone with six motor arms that can lift a lithium battery and instrumentation for extended flights, and he’s going to dig into the specs and talk about what he learned. He’s finding thatdrones are affordable to operate and often have few FAA restrictions around their towers. But he’s also going to explain that they do require special considerations of the environment, weather, FAA regulations, airspace restrictions and coordination with local airports and helipads.

One broadcast attorney wonders if the ability to precisely measure FM patterns lead to unintended consequences for omni-directional FM stations that have optimized their coverage. Gary Kline, whom many of you know, is also doing work in this area, including specifically for AM. I expect to hear more about projects like this.

The drone story is the kind of story I like. It involves an engineer doing interesting, forward looking work that could affect how the job of the radio engineer or technologist plays out on the ground in the future.

The good folks at Nautel were nice enough to ask me to chat a bit about “what I’ll be watching for here at NAB,” so with your forbearance I’ll mention a few things. I’m not an engineer and don’t pretend to be; but I’ve spent 31 years now working with engineers and technologists. My view of the industry is very broad rather than very deep. So with that caveat, here’s a few more things I’ll be keeping an eye on.

I’ve worked often with Nautel on projects such as our Radio World ebooks, and it’s a good fit because Nautel is one of those companies that seems always to have one eye forward. I had a very interesting conversation with Chuck Kelly and John Whyte just recently about how the Internet of Things will change what we do in radio; and I think you all would have found the conversation intriguing. In fact during the call we came up with the term the Internet of Broadcast Things.

That’s one of the things I’ll be watching for: How is the pending explosion of connectivity and broadband going to change our lives. When we actually put the ebook together we found that most of our expert sources want to talk about cybersecurity, so our ebook spends a great deal of time specifically on that; but Chuck and I agreed that talking about cybersecurity’s role in the internet of things is kind of just talking about doorlocks when you’re planning to buid a new house. They’re important but it’s hardly the whole story. The potential of IP connectivity and what we’ll be able to do that is truly mindblowing.

Nevertheless, Gary Davis, the chief consumer security evangelist for Intel Security Group, is speaking at this show about the Internet of Things. He told me we as a society are basically bringing online about a million devices per hour right now; and one of the challenges he’s seeing from a security perspective is that most of those devices are being brought online without any thought about security. He said his group will bring a DVR or toaster into their labs and that within a minute of connecting it to the internet, somebody has called the device, tried the default username and password, tried a couple different options, got in and then tried to place malware.

I know you might be thinking, “Well. Why do I need a toaster that connects to the Internet,” well who needs a drone to shoot video, right? Internet toasters are coming, just like the WiFi thermostat I just installed in my townhouse. But a more immediate lesson for us in this room whether someone can go in right now on Shodan and find devices that you currently have connected to the internet, and try plugging in the factory default passwords. I don’t have to remind you about the recent hacks on streaming STL boxes and EAS devices, which inevitably end up with a radio station suddenly playing dirty lyrics or porn or anti Trump songs. So we gotta all get smarter about this stuff.

So change your passwords.

The SBE by the way just this month put out a helpful memo with a bunch of “EAS Security Notes,” it’s at sbe.org.

Even though Radio World has a technical pedigree, one of my strong opinions is that all technology comes back to people, so you see us interviewing and profiling people a great deal. One of the higlights of this show will be the NAB honoring John Kean with the radio engineering achievement award, and I’m proud to say that John is a contributor to Radio World.

Receiving the TV engineering award is John Lyons. Many of you probably know him too, and know how big a role he has played in the RF landscape of New York City. I’m proud to call John a personal friend, and Iwill never forget visiting him atop 4 Times Square and later atop 1 World Trade before it opened, and sharing remembrances with him of 9/11. So go to their award luncheon Wednesday if you can.

You may be aware there was a presidential election a few months ago…

One of the things I’ll be watching here is what Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who are the Republican majority members, will say. There’s no question that these two guys have a deregulatory mindset and are interested in modernizing FCC rules. Legal observers seem to think that the FCC is likely to ease the “local subcaps” or how many stations in each band a company can own in one city.

If the commission lifts subcaps, will it strengthen radio in competing with other media that have no restrictions, or will it just enable the strong to get stronger while making the weak weaker?

But there is a bigger change possibly looming out there. Is it possible that the commission will do away with the rule that says a radio or TV station must maintain a main studio in its city of license? Yes I think it is, and a big DC law firm just filed with the FCC last week asking it to do just that. That would change a rule that’s been in place for decades, and it would go right to the question of “what makes a local broadcaster local?” It’ll be contentious; but the times they are a changing.

I had the privilege of the first radio trade interview with Chairman Pai after he was promoted; and I asked him about that rule during Radio World’s visit. He was noncommittal, but it seems to me the timing is favorable for at least a serious discussion about why broadcasters should have a main studio rule.

Chairman Pai certainly is helping commercial US radio feel some mojo again. If you’ve followed the FCC you know he is an unabashed fan of radio, he talks about it a lot, he visits radio stations. He helped do away with physical public file requirements, and now he has been elevated to chairman by a Republican president with a very business-oriented mindset.

I like the chairman personally, it’s hard not to. He’s very engaging in addition to being smart and capable. Healso strikes me as a pragmatist and a moderate. We’ll see. He’s not going to support any kind of mandate to put receiver chips in cellphones, I can tell you that, but he’ll keep pushing on AM revitalization, in particular.

Another thing we’re all still watching for is when the next translators windows will open, and whether the FCC might tweak AM technical rules further, including nighttime protections for legacy clear-channel AMs. It does seem like the commission so far has been engaged mostly in more FM spectrum management than AM band revitalization.

But Buit And changes in DC are not always welcome by broadcsasters. Any serious reform in the federal code could bring a change in how advertising expenses can be deducted. The NAB is watching that closely.

That’s not to mention net neutrality, and the large-scale questions about whether the Internet becomes a pipeline freely available to all, like the Interstate highways, or more of a series of walled gardens?

Meanwhile, the diversification of radio’s universe of mobile and home audio platforms continues. Online radio listening keeps growing, particularly in younger demos. … 140 million people listen each week to “AM/FM stations online” or to “streamed content that’s available only on the Internet”; and more people are using cellphones to stream in the car, too.

Podcasting’s remarkable rebirth is now a multi-year trend, with a huge jump in public awareness. Many in radio now embrace podcasting because of its compatibility with radio programs and talent, it’s fascinating to see that play out in unexpected ways.

You might be surprised to learn that yes, AM/FM radio remains the number one audio source in the car, according to Infinite Dial, while online radio, satellite and podcasts, though growing in the car, still trail not only broadcast radio but also CD players and personal music there. Still, every year we watch with more amazement as the super dashboards of the future become more of a reality, and change the way we interact with content. So one thing we will be watching for here is more indication of where connected cars and automonous cars will go.

Ford and its Ford Development program have a big presence, partnering with NAB on presentations about this, and just the fact that radio is so much more in touch with Ford and other carmakers now is a real win over the past few years. Industry leaders have made a conscious push there.

But now there’s a new twist in the story. What does it mean for radio listening at home, that Americans are snapping up new “smart speaker” systems —Amazon Alexa and Google Home? Especially with fewer young people ever actually buying an AM/FM home radio? “Through the Alexa interface, audiences can play music, control smart home devices, and get news, weather and other information on a range of -enabled devices. So now radio folks have to learn where they fit in this ecosystem and how to “build experiences that allow their audiences to engage with this content.”

The number of people owning voice command devices is relatively small, but that’s changing. Jacobs Media just co-launched a company called Sonic AI because Fred Jacobs thinks Amazon Echo and Google Home are basically “the new radios for the home.” How can radio make sure it is easy to find a local radio station stream on these devices. There was an Alexa skillbuilding boot camp at this show yesterday. … The president of the New Jersey Broadcasters Paul Rotella just the other day wrote just the other day, we have to find a way to get the FM chip into these voice activated devices in the home!”. … you see how these technology and regulatory threads come together with a story like this.

I like Fred Jacobs’s blog, he explores how consumer trends like virtual reality and cord cutting are relevant to radio managers.

What technical issues will radio be talking about here and in months to come?

The NAB Radio Technology Committee submitted a Time and Level Alignment Guideline to the NRSC yesterday with the end goal of creating a new guideline document for broadcast engineers. It’s a comprehensive document that should be a big help to engineers maintaining HD time alignment, level and phase, and it consolidates a lot of information about dozens of products and their interactions and configurations in a single document.

Expect to hear a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of translators becoming more of a protected service, including how LPFMs and translators interact, and how claims of interference between them are handled. As one veteran engineer put it to me, “One single listener situated 70 miles away and listening to another station can shut down a local translator, this is not reasonable.” There are a lot of conflicting interests in that topic.

The NAB is involved in a new initiative to work with auto manufacturers to help secure a place in the future car dashboard. One small part of this initiative is to try and get FM broadcasters to have a uniform look across all stations and in all vehicles. RDS Song Title & Artist, HD metadata and Artist images are some of the basic features that the industry wantsto make consistent. Radio’s competitors like Pandora have a vey uniform look to all of their channels, while broadcasters are all over the spectrum and some do not even have basic services like RDS.

The spectrum repack is the elephant in the room for TV, but we’re watching to see how it will affect radio stations. Because of all that work on the TV RF infrastructure, radio stations might have trouble getting crews,they might find themselves having to power down or power off; and there’s no federal money directly set aside for those stations, so the scope of the impact on radio is still being figured out.

Programmers are worrying about whether current ratings methodologies fully capture headphone listening, which is a problem for PPM meters.

Out on the show floor there are changes you can see. GatesAir got out of the console biz recently, and so now we get to see what Wheatstone will do with the PR&E brand it bought from GatesAir, and how that affects GatesAir’s business. Meanwhile this is the first NAB Show since DaySequerra acquired Orban, and that has brought new energy to the Orban brand.

HD Radio penetration appears to be increasing, particulary in larger markets, and the presence of HD Radios in cars is making itself felt. But one impact of this is that HD Blending complaints are increasing as more listeners are exposed to it. And metadata title/artist and artwork are more visible than ever before. Expect to hear engineers reminding digital broadcasters to clean up their stations.

The availability of Raspberry Pis and Arduios is recalling the days of the garage hardware hacker. We are likely only to see more innovation with low-cost embedded systems that are hacker friendly. It’s possible to buy a really powerful, low power, full featured embedded computer for very little money. And Linux makes it even easier. … Tom Hartnett of Comrex showed me a little “do it yourself” box that has a powerful dual-core CPU, gobs of memory, Wifi, 4G, Ethernet, and more, and costs around $150 with power supply and cables. It could run an automation system or an IP codec, and it’s a perfect platform for all sorts of “little boxes” to make life easier in a range of industries. Tom says “The barrier to entry in electronic products has been destroyed.”

Technologists are worrying about how Nielsen captures headphone listening in PPM markets. …

Cloud based platforms are making their way into radio. …

Exhibitors are talking about studio “virtualization” and exploring expanded uses of metadata. …

Codec companies tell us that even though we’ve been talking about it for the past 12 years, there’s been an urgency regarding ISDN replacement lately, and that satellite distribution has come under cost scrutiny as well. …

What about the outlook for digital radio? Well given what the chairman said about FM chips, I think it’s safe to forget about any kind of digital radio mandate in the United States any time soon, though if all-digital is going to happen anywhere it seems like the AM band would be the place.

But we sense a lot of interest in where “hybrid radio” might go, meaning the juncture of over the air radio with an internet connectivity path, and we see people at DTS and NAB Pilot and NextRadio and RadioDNS all exploring various facets of this question.

For instance the NAB’s tech arm sent a team to a General Motors hackathon recently, an event intended to encourage development of GM vehicle apps. They worked with GM’s software development kit for its MyLink infotainment platform. Developers could access to real-time data from 300 signals on the vehicle” as part of its native HTML5 and Javascript framework.

One of the prototype apps that came out of it is Pilot’s Radio++ hybrid radio app. The app organizes local stations by genre, and a touchscreen displays graphics or advertisements integrated with the navigation system. Stations can also connect their Twitter feed, which is integrated with text-to-speech so that listeners can hear the information or tweet to the station. We can expect more exploration of projects like this. Which of them will take off? We don’t know yet.

We’ll also be scrutinizing FEMA’s Nationwide EAS Test Public Report, which just came out. And during the show I suspect we’ll hear that FEMA plans another National IPAWS/EAS later this year.

We know NextRadio as the FM chip and TagStation people, but now they’re taking a real step with their “Dial Report,” which is intended to give advertisers and stations insights based on all the processed data NextRadio has about FM radio consumption and behavior. They say it could allow for local radio measurement to demonstrate correlations between a radio campaign and behaviors such as physical store visits… a morning show could demonstrate that their mentions of a brand resulted in online or social media activity, or visits to a store.New song spins could be analyzed down to every single radio station that played the song and the exact profile of the audience who listened start to finish or left mid-song for a new station.

The show floor has a “simulation of a synchronous AM booster system” from Kintronics. … though just last week the broadcast in Puerto Rico who has been operating under a long-term STA just got turned down again to extend that. Still, we might hear about AM boosters again in the AM revitalization project.

WorldCast Systems will launch a solar-powered FM retransmitter here. It’s also demoing RDS2 technology, which extends the capabilities and geographical reach of RDS and offers new services. Don’t dismiss tech like RDS just because it’s been around for a while. We just saw an article in Inside Radio recently saying more stations are finding revenue opportunites in their RDS. It said companies like Beasley, CBS and Crista Radio are selling campaigns against their RDS capablitilies.

There are interesting consoles also at Lawo, Arrakis and Logitek. Telos has something called the Axia IP Tablet. Certainly you will all visit the Nautel booth and hear about Single Frequency Networks for HD Radio, and their HD MultiCast+ Importer/Exporter.

The Media Networking Alliance is here working to promote adoption of the AES67 standard. Meanwhile the adoption of IP standards on the video side of broadcasting is of note. Despite the TV side being later to embrace IP, they appear to be taking a more standards-based approach. Ironically this could end up prompting more of that mindset in radio, since it includes both audio and video.

Gear makers continue to explore remote capabilities with IP audio. An example is at Broadcast Bionics, which is showing Skype TX for Radio.Broadcast Bionics has been working with Microsoft to develop a solution fitting Skype calls into the workflow of radio broadcasters.They promise that radio stations now will be able deliver full multi line talkshow and contest formats using Skype, with multiple, codec quality calls, from a single PC.

What about the business side?

U.S. commercial radio has had some success lately, telling its story about reach and the fact it is heard by 247 million people every week. Some 82 percent of adults tuned into AM/FM in their primary car in the past month, according to Edison Research and Triton Digital. Radio’s digital ad income continues to grow. All of this provides a nice context for AdWeek’s article that was headlined: “Reach Is the New Black: Advertising’s Mass Reawakening,” and subtitled “Narrow targeting has its uses, but TV and radio offer greater impact.” That’s good news for radio.

The business landscape for U.S. radio executives has changed a good deal since we gathered in Las Vegas a year ago. The revenue rankings of the commercial groups are being given a good shake by the combination of Entercom and CBS Radio. The transaction is historic because of the relationship CBS has had with radio; but it also will create a bigger No. 2 radio company. That’s being seen as good for competition. So we’re watching to see how that will play out.

Yet this comes at a time when two of the other real biggies face a great deal of challenges related to their debt burdens. Consider just iHeartMedia and Cumulus, which between them take in close to a quarter of U.S. commercial radio’s revenue. If you’re a Madison Avenue advertising buyer, how do you feel about radio when you read headlines recently about Cumulus being blocked on a proposed debt restructuring, or iHeart having to worry about Chapter 11?

This affects us in the tech sector because a big broadcaster with a lot of debt doesn’t have a great deal to spend on cap-ex. And remember that iHeart and Cumulus both own radio automation companies, so any shakeup in their corporations could have an impact there too.

There’s an interesting thing I have heard, and I heard it again yesterday, when the owner of one vendor said he would be happy to see big corporate owners break up because it would spread out his market and create more buyers again. But would breaking up iHeart be good for radio overall? Think about station values for instance. This of course is all just “what if” right now… and you know it has been a fond hope of a lot of people in radio that the “pendulum would swing back” at some point, to a less consolidated landscape; and it never quite seems to. 1996 is a long time ago now.

But we all need to be paying attention to these developments.

So that’s a flavor of what I’ll be watching for. Everyone in this room is welcome to email me after the show and tell me what YOU think Radio World should be covering. My email is in every issue on page 3. Thanks to you, and thanks to the folks at Nautel for inviting me… Now I’m going back now to posting on Facebook… “S-l-a-y-e-d … t-h-e-m … a-t … t-h-e … N…U…G!”

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