Dennis Haarsager's rolling environmental scan for electronic media. "Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us." --Jerry Garcia "Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then." --Bob Seger
No sooner did I get done posting on this topic earlier this morning, but I found that consultant Mark Ramsey made an excellent closely-related post on his on blog yesterday. Great minds think alike? ;-) See Everything you need to know about FM radio chips in mobile phones at Mark Ramsey Media. He covers more ground than the title implies. Good reading. --Dennis
Steve Yasko, GM of WTMD in Towson, MD (Baltimore area) recently brought up this subject on two public radio lists which I would really categorize as scalability of listening by means other than an analog radio. Here’s my take on this and, as usual in things relating to public radio, comments here are my own, not NPR’s (see About).
Content is like water. Water flows through big channels nicely but also through smaller channels and cracks whenever it has a chance. Continuing the analogy, the effect of those smaller flows over time often makes the smaller openings larger. Radio content is flowing nicely through the broadcast channels we have – they scale very well, but it’s also beginning to emerge through other openings as well. And, just as well-drillers often fractionate bedrock to create more cracks for water to be released, new products for distributing media content are being developed constantly.
With some regularity, I listen to Pandora over my iPhone on my car’s sound system and to Northwest Public Radio’s folk music program while riding my tractor Saturday afternoons in Virginia. Some people to whom I (and others) mention this think, “Well, that’s cool,” and try it themselves, thereby testing a little more the limits of the wireless IP channels that were originally set up for voice calls. It should probably be like not telling your friends about that great little restaurant you found. Already, I can’t reliably do this inside the Washington beltway at most times of day, and it’s a non-starter during rush hour along major roads. Wireless providers are reaching the limits of available spectrum in major markets so are abandoning their “all-you-can-eat” plans (I’m grandfathered – heh, heh), at least for now. The reason mobile streaming is working at all during favorable hours or favorable locations is that so few people – other than us in the radio cognoscenti – are doing it.
But don’t take too much comfort from today’s limitations. They won’t last. The iPhone and iPad are garnering a well-deserved share of attention, but Android devices are now outselling iPhones and an avalanche of cheap Android tablets will almost surely do the same to the iPad in the autumn (WebOS, Windows Phone 7 and Linux tablets in there, too). There will be a lot of mobile media devices out there very soon. 4G systems are being rolled out by all major carriers and reclaiming spectrum from television and government users has a head of steam. The cracks through which content trickles now will enlarge to small channels and the small channels will become larger ones. Do we really want to bring out the Bondo and duct tape or do we want people to find us many places?
Broadcasters even have a (possibly interim) role in mitigating the current spectrum problems. Flo TV is providing white label television streaming services to Sprint and AT&T cell phones using broadcast-style transmission over spectrum that used to belong to UHF TV (seamless to the cell phone user). In radio, the NAB is advocating putting mandatory FM chips in cell phones while a credible research company report says that digital radio will benefit from the spectrum crunch by mid-2011 when carriers use it to mitigate IP audio traffic problems in smartphones. If we’re smart, broadcasters will use the time we have to develop hybrid IP/broadcast radios and/or RadioDNS-enabled radio receivers – not to mention find ways to make it easier for people to find us on their many IP devices.
It’s all about scale. We’ll see lots of strategies to manage it. Right now it’s pricing and the beginnings of non-IP delivery for media content. Soon it will be more IP packets delivered to your devices, and you can be sure that will impact pricing as well – likely in the more for your dollar direction. Carriers have a lot of knobs they can twist, so don’t judge today’s situation in pricing or capacity as significant for much longer than an eye blink in media time.
Update 11:15 Eastern: Coincidentally, consultant Mark Ramsey makes many of the same points plus others in an excellent new (somewhat mistitled) post on his blog. Link: Mark Ramsey Media.
Nine of ten visitors to local televisions station websites are already fans of the station, but only half of any given station’s “fans” visit their website. This startling piece of information comes from AR&D cross-platform media studies based on 2,200 interviews with consumers and reveals a major weakness in the operating strategies of local television companies. Online, according to AR&D senior analyst Rory Ellender, “stations are only playing to their on-air audience and not even doing a very good job of that.” ¶ This is the fruit of trying only to be a television station online, while the marketplace is vastly bigger. …
After some analysis, he goes on to recommend that stations “need to creat an online news service that is 100% Web native,” that they “need to be able to separate [their] ability to make money from [their] ability to create content,” and that they “need to place strategic control of making local money in the hands of local people.”
The FCC’s OBI issued a paper in June called Spectrum Analysis: Options for Broadcast Spectrum, OBI Technical Paper No. 3 [3.5 mb pdf]. The agency has a goal of recouping 120 MHz of spectrum (20 TV channels).
BroadcastEngineering has thus far printed two articles of analysis by Phil Kurz in what will be a multipart series analyzing the report.
In a related Congressional development, Sen. Jay Rockefeller has introduced a bill authorizing voluntary incentive auctions of TV spectrum, and last month Rep. Rick Boucher and Rep. Cliff Stearns introduced a similar bill in the House. Link: BroadcastEngineering. --Dennis
On Friday MediaDailyNews reported erroneously on a new report from ABI Research (picked up by FMQB and others) that “various [European] governments have established HD radio as the national standard” and says that “ABI expects the global ‘installed base’ of HD radio receivers to jump to 200 million by 2015.”
The digital radio market has just began to see consumer adoption in the US and Western Europe. By the end of 2010, about four million digital radios using iBiquity’s proprietary HD Radio technology will have shipped in the US. In Europe (led by Britain) governments have chosen the DAB standard and consumers have purchased nearly 13.5 million radio receivers. By 2015, the worldwide installed base of digital radio receivers, excluding handsets, is expected to reach nearly 200 million units. ¶ “Smartphones are expected to include digital radio receivers starting in mid-2011, driven by carriers’ desire to offer users premium audio content while limiting the use of scarce radio spectrum,” says ABI Research senior analyst Sam Rosen. “This concern is demonstrated by AT&T’s decision to stop offering unlimited data plans, due largely to high data usage in New York and San Francisco resulting from Internet radio sites such as Pandora.” ¶ Digital radio technologies, including satellite radio and Internet radio, are expected to reverse trends of decreasing listenership. Listeners will have access to niche programming targeted to narrower demographic segments and will respond to a more interactive user experience enabled by program guides and other enhancements. Broadcasters, in turn, will have a larger reach and the ability to provide better targeted and more interactive ads. … [bold added]
HD Radio® is primarily a U.S. standard for in-band on-channel digital radio. Europe chose a DAB standard that operates on exclusively digital channels.
For our purposes as broadcasters, the two sentences that I highlighted in bold above contain some encouragement, if they prove correct. Clearly, the carriers are finding it difficult to scale to audio and video streaming on existing networks so incorporating broadcast spectrum capabilities into their handsets can be a good strategy for them. Apple has reportedly included (but not yet turned on) broadcast capabilities in recent chipsets.
That in turn enabled me to find and listen to lots of his material on the web, including quite a few on YouTube. My favorite so far is the one on Fibonacci numbers. If you’re under 40 and have never heard of him or if you’re a radio professional (and especially if you’re a radio professional under 40), you owe it to yourself to spend some time with these.
Mr. Nordine turned 90 this spring, but check out this video interview by Andrew Gill of WBEZ in Chicago. It shows that his brain and awesome pipes are nowhere near 90. Link: WBEZ.org.
His Word Jazz radio program is available as a podcast. It’s still running as a radio series on WBEZ 91.5 in Chicago at midnight Monday mornings Central Time. --Dennis
I was born on the leading age of the baby boom and FM radio was non-existent in our part of the country when I was growing up. So my introduction to radio was on my family’s Coronado console radio with “magic eye tuning” back when soap operas, evening dramas and westerns, and variety shows still were popular on radio. When I started one-room country school in 1953, our teacher would play a story lady program from KUSD in Vermillion, South Dakota for those of us in the younger grades, so what we now call public radio on AM was one of my earliest media sources.
In my early teenage years, I collected QSL (verification) cards from AM stations all over the country, and KUSD’s towers could be seen blinking at night from where we lived 15 miles away. AM radio had a sort of romantic pull, best memorialized in the 1973 movie, American Graffiti, where Wolfman Jack spun records in the shack under a tower. My first electronic gadget was a 6-transistor AM radio, bought circa 1962 for $21 ($149 today by CPI), and on it I listened to all the top 40 music I could find on KAAY, KOMA and, of course, Dick Biondi on WLS.
When I got out of the Air Force in 1969 and needed a job to help pay for college, KUSD seemed to be a good place to look, and I landed one there. I was now sitting in the shack under the tower as a weekend transmitter operator, but rather than spinning records, all I had to do was get out of my chair every half hour and read the meters. A few years later, I did the engineering to drop in an FM station for KUSD and, quite some time after I left, they shut down the AM station and took down the towers. It’s starting to look like that will be the fate of other public radio AMs.
In the August 9 issue of the public broadcasting industry newspaper, Current, Karen Everhart has what is, therefore, for me a sad recounting of the difficulty of building an audience for public radio news programming on the AM band. She writes:
… Decisions about audience service priorities have never been easy for public radio stations that broadcast both news and music programming, but they’re especially confounding for those with AM stations. AM’s low audio fidelity and interference problems make the frequencies more suitable for news/talk than music, but listeners’ habits of scanning the left end of the FM dial for public radio are so deeply ingrained that building a loyal audience on AM would be a Sisyphean labor. …
Yes, it is difficult to build audiences there. When I took over as GM of KWSU(AM) in 1978, 70% of listening in the market was to AM, but by the mid-80s, that ratio had flipped. The AM band has been greatly compromised as ably described in Karen’s article, and that’s led to it becoming a sort of remainder store for all manner of programming that can’t make it on FM. Public radio alone won’t make a difference there because the AM band is such a rundown neighborhood. The neighborhood determines in large part the value of your property. Even if HD takes hold on the AM band, unless the band is used again for something other than political and religious screamers, cellar-dwelling baseball teams, and the like, the fidelity improvement alone won’t make a difference. --Dennis