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hugh-carDash — “the connected car audiotainment™ conference” — is happening next week in Detroit. It’s a big deal, because cars are morphing into digital things as well as automotive ones. This means lots of new stuff is crowding onto dashboard spaces where radios alone used to live.

This is a big deal for radio, since most listening happens in cars.

In The Battle of My Life, Eric Rhoads challenges attendees to join him in a cause: keeping radio in cars. It’s an uphill battle. Radio is already gone from this BMW, and it’s looking woefully retro against an onslaught of audiotainment™ alternatives for “connected cars” — ones with Internet access over the cellular system.

Eric wants to “build a dialogue between radio and the world of automotive,” recruiting “foot soldiers in every market who understand what is happening and who work collectively to make change, market by market.”

I want to help. I’ll start with this post, which will do three things. First is unpack what’s right and wrong about the Internet and advertising on it. Second is give some advice that radio needs desperately and nobody else seems to be offering. Third is giving specific responses to some of the Dash conference agenda items.

First, the Net:

  1. Radio is moving to the Net, which is eating every other medium as well. TV, magazines, newspapers… they’re all going online, and re-basing themselves there rather than in their original media forms. For radio, the transmitters with the most reach are servers, not antennas.
  2. Proprietary radio-like services, e.g. Apple’s iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, and SiriusXM, are also on the Net, and easy to add to cars. Some have been there for years. New ones, like iHeartRadio, are trying to grab a slice of this new already-slided pie for the old radio business. (Note how Clear Channel abandoned its radio legacy by changing its name to iHeartMedia. NPR did the same thing by ceasing to be National Public Radio.)
  3. The direct response side of the advertising business (born as junk mail) has been body-snatching advertising as a whole. It thrives as a parasite off data generated by individual human beings, mostly without their knowledge or express consent. It “personalizes” user “experiences” with messages targeted by surveillance. It’s powerful, well-funded, and wants to do this in cars now too.

Radio needs to fight on the side of the history by siding with the Net. It can do this because, like the Net, radio is an open system. You don’t need permission to use it, just like you don’t need permission to use old-fashioned radio. Or to make one. This aspect of the Internet is a huge advantage for radio, because stations and networks can now transmit on-Net as well as on-air, and expand coverage through time (e.g. with podcasts) and space (throughout the world).

The problems come with numbers 2 and 3.

While the things listed in #2 are on the Net (and in SiriusXM’s case, also via radio from satellites and terrestrial translators), they are not open. They are closed. Nothing wrong with being able to get them in cars, of course. Just recognize that they are captive and closed forms of what we now, in the internet marketing fashion, call “content delivery.” They are different in kind from radio itself. They are closed, while radio is open.

The temptation with #3 is to corrupt cars with the same pernicious privacy-invading advertising system that has turned browsers (our cars on the Web) into shopping carts infected with tracking beacons — and turned the Web into a giant strip mall beside streets lined with billboards pumping “personalized” messages alongside “content” that’s just click-bait.

Radio needs to take up the fight for individual privacy and independence by standing with the people who own and drive cars. In a word, customers. Not with the car makers and third parties who want to sell people’s souls to the surveillance-based advertising business.

There is already one car company on the customer’s side in this fight: Volkswagen. This past March, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winkerhorn gave a keynote at the Cebit show that drew this headline: “Das Auto darf nicht zur Datenkrake warden.” Translation: The car should not be a data octopus. For drivers (and Dash) that means Keep your tentacles and data suction cups out of my car.

In is essential to recognize the radical difference between brand advertising and direct response (usually surveillance-based) advertising:

  • Brand advertising is what we’ve been running on radio from the beginning. It can be annoying at times, but it isn’t personal and isn’t based on surveillance. It delivers messages to whole populations. It builds advertiser reputations and delivers what economists call a signal of substance. (Read Don Marti on this. He produces the wisest, deepest and best writing in the world on this subject.)
  • Direct response advertising wants to get personal, and is based increasingly on privacy-violating surveillance of individuals.

The blowback against unwelcome surveillance of individuals is getting stronger every day. Ad and tracking blocking have been going up steadily. In some countries one quarter of all ads are blocked. For 18-29 year olds, the figure is 41%. Yet, according to the same source (PageFair), “a majority of adblockers expressed some willingness to receive less intrusive ad formats.” Like we’ve had from radio for almost a century.

It would be wise for radio’s foot soldiers to surf this wave of sentiment, by taking the individual’s side in the fight.

Now to the rest of my general advice, before we get down to specifics for the Dash conference:

  1. Get real about fully integrating with the Net. For example, stations need URLs that are as fixed as their channels on the air. And those URL need to be as easy to find on the Net as they are on the dial. Nobody has fixed this yet, but it does need to be fixed. Maybe Detroit can take the lead here. (Datum: I just spent hours updating the data streams stations in my home Sonos system. A huge percentage of them had changed their URLs: their “channels” on the Net.)
  2. Get personal. Meaning side with listeners. This has always been hard for commercial radio, because listeners’ ears are the products sold to advertisers. But with radio moving to the Net, and integrating with the Net, there is an infinitude of opportunity to interact directly with listeners, and get the benefit of their positive input and involvement.
  3. Fight for better radios. On the whole these have become worse over the years, especially on AM. One reason is that antennas have moved from whips (which work best) outside the car to little stubby things on the outside or wires embedded in windows.
  4. Lean on the equipment-making industry to harmonize American RDBS with the RDS being used by the rest of the world. RDS and RDBS are what put station names and song titles on a radio’s display. With RDS (but not RDBS), the radio listens to the best signal from a programming service, such as ESPN, that uses multiple stations and transmitters. It can also set clocks and interrupt one program source for traffic notifications from another. (Radio was self-defeating when it forked RDBS off RDS two decades ago. And I’ll admit that may be way too late for this one)

Now to my suggestions in response to Dash agenda topics:

It’s All About The Experience
How do we need to partner to build tomorrow’s user experiences? How will consumers interact with content and services as they drive?

Put customers in charge. Let them do the driving. For example, give them ways to collect their own data and put it to use. Fuse is one example.

Turning Data Into Dollars
We’ve got access to vehicle data, driving data, listener data and traveler data. What can we do with it all? How do we make it actionable? What is now possible with cross-platform marketing and services?

Don’t spy on people. Give drivers that data first. Give them ways to say what they want done with the data. Make those ways open, rather than trapped inside some company’s closed and proprietary system. Listen to pull in the marketplace, rather than looking for more ways to push crap at people.

The Class Of 2015 — Millennials, Cars & Radio
First look at Nielsen’s long-term study looking at how college students have woven digital into their lives, with a special emphasis on the role of cars, the “connected car,” and what personal transportation means in their lives today and their plans for the future.

Consider the source (a company that lives off the advertising business) — and the fact that nobody wants to be marketed to all the time.

And side with personal independence, which has been a primary selling point for cars since the beginning. Don’t compromise it by making cars less personal.

The Future Of Mobility
The ways consumers are transporting themselves in major metropolitan areas is dramatically changing. Car and bike sharing, mass transportation options, and other approaches are enabling consumers to transport themselves. How will this affect the way we interact with consumers?

Cars are now one option among many, but that doesn’t make them less personal. Companies of all kinds are going to have to get truly personal with their users and customers, and that means being fully respectful of them.

The Game Changers? Apple & Google &….
Everyone from Apple and Google to Intel and Amazon is suddenly paying attention to the connected car. DASH will provide an update on their efforts and the implications of these major players on this competitive space.

Fight for drivers and passengers against companies that want to capture and control them. Drivers are the people who move the industry, not these Johnny-come-latelys, all of which want to hold customers captive. This means insisting that personal data belongs to persons first, and that competing services need to be compatible and interoperable. One can’t freeze out another. Being fully Net-native will take care of this problem.

Free customers are more valuable than captive ones. The car business has always known this, which is why they’ve run ads for decades promoting personal independence. For all the good they do (and it’s plenty) Apple and Amazon believe captive customers are more valuable than free ones. Meanwhile Google and Facebook are busy snarfing up personal data and using that to sell personalized advertising. This is done more with acquiescence than consent (an important difference).

The game that needs to change here is called Who’s In Charge? Is it the customer or companies that want to capture and milk the customer? While car companies have played the customer-capture game all along (example: “chip keys” that can only be replaced at dealerships and cost $hundreds), at least they’ve also reveled in how much independence cars give to their owners and drivers. This is a unique and durable advantage. Radio needs to get on board with it.

Collaboration:  Dealers, Radio, And The Connected Car
It’s time to take a look at the entire car-buying and ownership life cycle from the connected consumer perspective. How will drivers buy and service their vehicles going forward? What new services could we be offering to them? How will their connected car experience interact with their connected lives?

Take a look at this graphic, from Esteban Kolsky:

oracle-twist

 

Now think about where you spend your life. It’s mostly owning, not buying. So the loop on the right is much bigger than the one on the left. This fact is going to dawn on marketing in the next several years. It has already dawned on winning car companies, and on exactly one computer company: Apple. While I have problems with Apple’s employee-silencing control-freakishness, they have done an amazing job off making the experience of owning a computer or a phone one of pleasure rather than of pain.

In a huge way, radio is part of the car-owning and -driving experience, not the buying one. The only place the reverse shows up is at dealerships, which radio advertising supports and where (I’ll bet) there are also incentives to up-sell alternatives to radio, such as SiriusXM. Can regular old radio create similar incentives? Hope so.

The Future Of Traffic Information
Will real-time, customized traffic reports delivered through online connectivity and apps usurp radio’s role?

It already has. The victors in this space are Google Maps and Waze, which Google now owns. Since Waze depends on user input, I suggest that radio folks figure out a way to help Waze and Google improve what they already do. Traffic reports also need to adapt. Report on what’s turned red on Google Maps, for example. “Sepulveda Pass northbound from Mulholland to the 101 has turned red. Same goes for the Harbor Freeway both ways trough downtown.” Better to hear what Google Maps or Waze says than to look down at a phone and risk an accident.

And why stop at traffic. Take on all of journalism. Make every smart and engaged listener a first source of news. See JayRosen‘s Designs for a Networked Beat. He doesn’t mention radio, but it totally applies.

Wish I could make it to Dash. Sounds like fun. But I’ll be in London, working for a paying client and listening to U.S. (as well as U.K.) radio on the Net. I’m curious to see how it goes, and if anybody going going to the show takes the above to heart.

This might help: The greatest authorities on connected cars are not the people speaking on stage. They’re the ones who buy and drive cars: you and me. At Dash, think and speak for yourself. Don’t listen to, or put up with, anything that threatens your independence — which is the same thing as having radio hold its place as the alpha medium on the dashboard.

Bonus links: everything Phil Windley says about the InternetIoT (the Internet of Things) Fuse, picos, decentralization and connected cars, and Hugh McLeod, who drew the picture at the top.

amradioThe BMW i3 may be the first new car to come without AM radio since cars starting coming with radios, way back in the 1930s. Meanwhile, Disney is unloading a big pile of AM stations carrying Radio Disney, a program service for kids focused mostly on “teen idols.”

In Disney’s Devastating Signal About Radio, Eric Rhoads of Radio Ink spoke Big Truth about the heft of the harbinger Disney’s move delivers to the media marketplace. In a follow-up post he defended his case, adding (as he did in the first post) that “radio is not dead.”

In Redefining “Radio” for the Digital Age,” Deborah Newman‘s proposed panel for the next SXSW, she begins with this question: Is radio a technology or a marketing term? Good one. I think “marketing term” is the answer — because the original technology, AM radio itself, is dead tech walking.

Here in the UK, for example, I am listening right now to Radio 4 on 198KHz, in the longwave (LW) band — one still used in Europe, because waves on frequencies down that low (below the AM band, called MW for Medium Wave) travel great distances across the land. I can also get LW stations from Germany (on 153) and France (on 162). All are doomed, because the required tubes (called valves here) are no longer made. When the last ones fail, Radio 4 is going off the air on LW. Most AM stations, which operate at lower powers (50,000 watts vs. 500,000 watts for Radio 4 LW), are solid state and don’t use tubes, so they lack the same risk of obsolescence on the transmitting side. But AM receivers tend to suck these days (manufacturers cheap out in the extreme), and transmitting towers tend to be sited on land that is worth more as real estate than the stations themselves. Environmentalists would also like to see towers sited in swamps and tidelands revert to nature. (The best sites for AM towers are on salt water or tideland, because the ground conductivity is highest there. This is why the Meadowlands of New Jersey are home to most of New York’s AM stations.)

The bottom line, as it always has been (at least for commercial radio) is ratings. Here are the latest from Radio-Info (sourcing Nielsen). In some markets, some AM stations do well. You’ll find an AM news, talk or sports station or two near the top of the list for Chicago, San Francisco, Baltimore, Cincinatti, St. Louis, Sacramento, Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, Memphis and Hartford. Elsewhere AM stations are way down the list. Most don’t make the listings at all. In Orlando, the bottom six are three AM stations and three “HD” stations (secondary streams carried by radio stations and audible only on radios that can decode them). Of the 29 listed stations for Washington, DC, only 3 AM stations make the cut. The top one of those, WTEM/980, is a sports station with a 1.5 rating. The next two are WSPZ/570 with an 0.4 and WFED with an 0.1.

History… WTEM was once WRC, NBC’s big station for the Capitol City. WSPZ was WGMS, an AM classical station. Its new tranmitter is way out of town for some reason and barely covers the metro at night with just 1000 watts. WFED was WTOP, a 50,000 watt powerhouse news station that dominated the market. The signal is still there, but the listeners aren’t. Back when those listeners started leaving, WTOP itself moved to WGMS’ old FM channel, where it went on to dominate the ratings again.

So the key for radio stations and networks is to re-base their mentalities and their work in the marketplace, where most receivers are now phones and tablets tuning in to digital streams on the Net, rather than to waves over the old broadcast bands. In the new digital world, native players such as Pandora have a huge advantage in not having their boat anchored to a transmitter.

More in this direction:

Bonus link: See how AM stations are doing in ratings for various cities.

 

Here is my short list:

  1. Larry Josephson
  2. Howard Stern
  3. Bob Grant
  4. Bob & Ray
  5. Barry Gray
  6. Bob Fass
  7. Steve Post
  8. Rush Limbaugh
  9. Alex Bennett
  10. Allan Handelman

And here are my qualifications: a) the performer has to do (or have done) a show that runs daily (or close),  b) the listener has to sense that they are missing something if they’re not listening, and c) I need to have been a listener.

I bring this up because in January I heard Howard Stern speak regretfully — and movingly — about how Bob Grant was something like “the greatest broadcaster who ever lived,” and how he (Howard) blew the chance to say that to Bob directly while the old guy was still alive. Bob died on New Years Eve at age 84. (Later Howard was not only reminded that he did say kind things to Bob, but somebody produced recorded evidence. Apparently Howard is correct that his memory sucks.)

I first heard Bob in the early ’70s, when he came to WMCA in New York from KLAC in Los Angeles. (Staying at the same spot on the dial, since both were on 570am.) WMCA had dropped its Top 40 format (conceding that ground to WABC and the FM band) and became the first full-time talk station in New York. I agreed with very little that Bob espoused, but found the show highly entertaining, especially when some dumb caller made no sense and Bob yelled “Get off the phone!”

But Howard is by far the best radio performer, ever. There’s nobody close. He’s funny as hell and his celebrity interviews are masterful to an extreme nobody will ever exceed. All his shows are longer than Gone With The Wind, filled with original comedy bits and supported by a veteran and gifted staff of interesting characters who are themselves sources of entertaining studio encounters. On days Howard’s not on, the re-runs — both from the past few days and from archives that stretch back a quarter century — are also brilliant. The show is blue, but I enjoy that. Life fucks itself all the time, or none of us would be here.

I put Larry Josephson ahead of Howard because I’ve never loved a morning host more than I loved Larry. Back when he was on WBAI in the ’60s and early ’70s, my daily life was anchored in Larry’s show. Larry spoke frankly about his personal life, and flouted just about every morning-host formalism you can list. (As Howard still does. But Larry was first.) He’d show up late, eat on the air, and take calls during which you heard nothing of the person at the other end. He was funny (among other things, like me, he was a sucker for puns), wickedly smart, hugely informed, and deeply interested in big issues of many kinds. Years later he leveraged all that into the public radio shows Modern Times and Bridges. I still have many recordings of both on cassettes in my garage. After leaving the air Larry made a living selling recordings of Bob & Ray (next on my list), who were two of the funniest guys in radio, from the fifties into the seventies. Find those and other goodies (including What is Judaism and Only In Amercia) from Larry at RadioArt.org. Meanwhile, also dig what Larry is doing today at An Inconvenient Jew: My Life in Radio. A better biography than this one or Wikipedia’s is here.

Bob & Ray are next on my list because they were the funniest radio comics of their time. Both had warm baritone voices, which hardly changed whether they were playing characters young or old, male or female. Their humor was droll and dry and played for irony at many levels. Buy some samples from Larry.

I’ve got Barry Gray next because he was — at least for me — the father of all the radio talk shows that followed. His slot from 11pm to 1am on WMCA seemed highly anomalous, given WMCA’s role as one of New York’s Top 40 music landmarks. But for me as a kid growing up in the 50s and early 60s, it was a window on the intellectual and cultural world, giving me lots of stuff to talk and think about the next day. I liked Barry Farber too (they were both pioneers, and Farber is still at it today) but to me, growing up, the better Barry was Gray.

I put Bob Fass and Steve Post next because they were Larry Josephson’s teammates on WBAI during the station’s heyday, and I loved all three of them (and some others I hate not mentioning, but I’m trying to keep this from getting too long). Bob Fass’s Radio Unnameable was required late night radio listening in The Sixties, and had enormous influence on the spirit of that time, including too many events and personalities to mention. I recall Steve as WBAI’s smart and witty utility infielder and team captain. He was more than that, both for WBAI and later for WNYC, where he was active while I was elsewhere. Mostly I enjoyed listening to him whenever he was on.

I put Rush Limbaugh next because he is just so damn good at what he does. For many years I enjoyed listening to him, even though I mostly disagreed with his politics. He was tuned in to a sensibility that I knew well, and in many ways he understood the political left better than it understood itself. Maybe he still does. I’m just so tired of right wing talkers at this point that I don’t listen to any of them. But I want to give credit where due, and Rush deserves plenty.

I first heard Alex Bennett on WMCA in the late ’60s, and followed him to WPLJ while I was still living in New Jersey. Later I picked him up again in the Bay Area when he was on a variety of stations there. Alex was at his best (for me at least), when he brought comedians into the studio to hang out. I’m sure Alex played a key role in the surge in comedy clubs that happened in the 1980s. (Wow, I just learned that Ronni Bennett is Alex’s ex. Guess I missed that.)

Allan Handelman is the only guy on this list (and I regret that they are all guys) who has had me as a guest on the air. It was in the early ’80s on WPTF in Raleigh, to talk about radio, like I am now. I first heard Allan when he was on a little FM station in Farmville, North Carolina. I was 100+ miles away, in Chapel Hill, but had a big antenna on my roof that I would aim east to get Allan’s signal, amazed at the guests he would get to come on. Most notable among those was Frank Zappa. Allan’s discussions with Frank are among my treasured radio memories.

So that’s it for now. I started to write this in January and decided to finally throw a few more sentences in, and liberate it from the Drafts folder. If you care, tweet or comment on your own faves. One I would volunteer for a slightly different category (such as “uncategorizable”): Phil Hendrie.

RadioINK reports that Rush Limbaugh is switching stations in three markets:

Clear Channel Los Angeles says Rush will be moving from KFI to KTLK-AM in January. KTLK-AM will become The Patriot AM 1150, home of Los Angeles conservative talk radio, featuring Rush, Hannity, Glenn Beck and others. A similar move is being made in San Francisco where Rush will be moving from KKSF-AM to KNEW-AM. And as expected on Rush will move from WABC to WOR. The Clear Channel strategy is to move Rush off an established station, in the case of L.A. and San Francisco, to anchor a new station and help build that station up. Clear Channel recently purchased WOR-AM in New York and he’s being moved off WABC, a Cumulus station.

In all those cases the move is to a station with less coverage. Technicalities:

I’m also wondering how much the temporary move of Rush in Boston from WRKO/680 to WXKS/1200 helped “build up” the latter.  These days WXKS is running Bloomberg business news, which fills a niche but isn’t a big ratings winner.

The larger picture here, and the reason I bring this story up, is that the real stations aren’t the stations at all, but the shows and the talent. Rush’s listeners care about Rush, not where they find him. As this fact becomes more obvious over time, look for the Clear Channels of the world to become routers of talent and programming through any available medium (especially the Net, which is where everything is already moving), rather than a collection of radio stations.

And let’s face it: Rush isn’t on any one station. He’s on SCAN. Keep hitting that button and you won’t miss him.

Not missing is the future of radio. And, maybe, of all media.

 

towerRadio used to be wireless audio on a broadcast band. That’s still the short version of every dictionary definition.

But now radio is streamed audio. That was already the case when webcasting* showed up in the ’90s, and even more so with the rise of Last.fm, SiriusXM, Pandora, rdio, Spotify and every other audio service delivered over the Net.

And now Apple delivers the crowning blow, with this:

This isn’t just the height of presumption on Apple’s part. It’s a body-snatch on all of radio, as well as a straight-up knock-off of Pandora.

But it’s actually worse for radio than it looks here.

What used to be called Radio (iTunes’ collection of webcasting radio stations), which had already been pushed down one directory level to “Music,” is now available only under a new button called “Internet.” (See the screenshot above.) Worse, it won’t appear unless you open preferences in iTunes and check a box to turn it on.

So Apple clearly hates radio as we’ve always known it, and could hardly be more passive-aggressive about subordinating it to their own closed, exclusive, silo’d and proprietary service. (Here’s some bonus evidence.)

So where does this leave plain old over-the-air radio — you know, the kind that fades away when you drive out of town?

Simply put, in a new context. That context is the Net. It’s the new broadcast band. Here on the Net (where you are right now), audio servers are the new transmitters and mobile devices are the new portable radios.

So, some advice.

For stations, networks and chains:

  1. Normalize to the Net. That doesn’t mean just “digital first.” It means recognizing that the Internet is your coverage area, and the new native land for all forms of radio, including Satellite. This is the lecture that @JeffJarvis has given for years, correctly, to his friend @HowardStern and to @SiriusXM, where Howard (also correctly) anchors the whole link-up.
  2. Recognize that the Net does not belong to the cable and phone companies but to nobody, which is why it covers the world. Think of it as a world of ends (where every audio source and every listener is a separate end), and NEA — nobody owns it, everybody can use it, and anybody can improve it. Including you.
  3. Choose a streaming URL (or a set of URLs) for your station(s) that will be as permanent as your over-the-air dial positions. Make sure you’re streaming in .mp3 or some other standard codec that all mobile apps can receive. (Right now the burden of finding a streaming URL in the first place is a pain in the ass.)
  4. Transmit over the air in HD. Yes, HD has problems, and the adoption rate is still low. But it’s an all-digital bridge between net-casting and over-the-air.
  5. Continue to use RDS (RDBS in the U.S.) with your analog signals. That way it will display your identity and content on radios equipped to do so, most of which, so far, are in cars.
  6. Support every possible app that moves toward re-creating the old dial-based radio experience. The closest I’ve seen so far is the BBC’s iPlayer app, which isn’t available in the U.S.
  7. Have truly unique programming. If you’re running what dozens or hundreds of other stations are running, you’re just a relay.
  8. Look toward making more money from subscriptions and voluntary donations than from advertising. More about that below.
  9. Think in terms of relationships, and not just listeners. This is essential because listeners have communication power now too. Don’t waste it by looking at them only as populations. This isn’t easy, because the grooves of one-way-one-to-many non-relating are nearly a century deep. But those who relate best will win biggest.
  10. Make podcasting a normal and easy part of your mix of offerings. More listeners will listen, more of the time (which they will make for themselves.) And, if you can’t easily podcast because you’re doing music, see the last section below.

For app developers:

  1. Keep up the pioneering work done by Tune InWunderradioPRX’s Public Radio PlayerStitcher and the rest. But note this…
  2.  No app yet (to my knowledge, at least) re-creates the simple experience we got from knobs, dials and uncomplicated read-outs on good old-fashioned radios. In effect we’re still stuck where mp3 players were before the iPad came along with its scroll wheel. Only now the shitty experience is on our mobile devices, including our Apple i-things.
  3. Ease the experience of listening, and recording (like with DAR.fm), across everything possible. I know this isn’t easy, because chains like Clear Channel (with its iHeartRadio) and the BBC like to limit listening within their app to their own stations. But this isn’t what most listeners want.
  4. Work toward a single easy non-proprietary way to support subscription services (such as SiriusXM) and volunteer-pay services, (such as public radio stations in the U.S). Everybody with that model will make more money, much more easily, if the process isn’t different for every station, every network, every service.
  5. Symbolize relationships (especially paid ones) with UI elements that are easy to read and universally used and accepted. I recommend the r-button, which the VRM development community came up with, and which is there for the taking. The ⊂ represents the person’s side of the relationship, while the ⊃ is the ‘caster’s. If you’re interested, talk to me about it.
  6. Think relationships, not just listeners.

For equipment makers:

  1. Quit making shitty radios. The receiving circuitry and antennas for most home and portable radios have been awful for awhile now, and I don’t expect them to get better. But I think there is room for some companies still making radios to put out a few actually good ones. And include HD.
  2. Ibiquity (developer and licensor of HD Radio technology): change your game. Adoption by equipment makers is clearly too slow and too hard. Hell, you’ve been around since 2001, and now you’re bragging on just the first car to feature it. This search on Amazon for “HD Radio” should bring up lots of results, rather than a few hens’ teeth.
  3. Make radios that hunt easily from over the air analog to HD Radio to streams on the Net.

For everybody:

  1. Lobby to get rid of the completely aversive royalty system for webcasting, and its inequities with over-the-air broadcasting. Replace it with something sane and respectful of the all-digital world in which we now live.
  2. In respect to the link above, note this language: Sections 112 and 114 require that rates for the statutory licenses for webcasting and for ephemeral recordings must be the rates that most clearly represent the rates that would have been negotiated in the marketplace between a willing buyer and a willing seller. That boldfaced language is a relic of the DMCA, which was passed in ’98 — just three years after the dawn of the graphical browser, before anybody could imagine that the Net could support willing buyers and sellers of streamed music. The effect of this has been to marginalize or kill music podcasting, to name just one victim. Nobody wants the rights-holders to get screwed, but everybody should recognize by now that its the music itself, and the relationships between artists, distributors (including radio service operators) and listeners that are getting screwed by the current system. And that we can do better. Hell, it’s almost 2014. Let’s get this done.

* “Webcasting” should have been called “netcasting” in the first place. As Wikipedia says at the moment (at that last link), “Essentially, webcasting is ‘broadcasting’ over the Internet.” The difference is important because the Web is something that runs on the Net, rather than a synonym for the Net.

[4:45pm EDST  2 October 2013 — Late breaking news: RadioINK reports that Darryl Parks' blog post — the first item below — has been pulled off the 700wlw site. — Doc]

In A SERIOUS Message To The Broadcast Industry About Revitalizing AM Radio, Darryl Parks of 700WLW made waves (e.g. here, here, here) by correctly dismissing six FCC ideas intended to make life easier for owners of AM radio stations. Those ideas are detailed at that last link (by David Oxenford of the excellent Broadcast Law Blog).

All six, Darryl says, would increase interference. Instead, he suggests, “The answer is not MORE interference. The answer is LESS interference. And you do that by turning off non-viable stations. And before station owners start crying poverty, many of these non-viable AM stations have one thing that is worth a ton of money. The land their towers sit on.”

Well, not all stations own the land their towers sit on. KCBS/740 leases their land from a farmer up in the North Bay. Other stations’ towers, such nearly all of those serving New York, sit in tidal swampland or on  islands that would revert to nature if the towers came down. (For example, WMCA and WNYC, which share the towers next to the New Jersey Turnpike, shown here. Likewise KGOKNBR and WBZ.)

But Daryyl’s right: there are too many stations, and too much interference — not only between them, but also from electronic thingies that didn’t exist when AM’s base technology and regulatory system were framed out in the 1920s.  Computers, mobile phones and energy-saving light bulbs all play havoc with AM reception.

I see three other solutions, only one of which is likely to happen.

The first is better AM receivers. The old tube and transistor types were much better, on the whole, than the newer chip-based ones. But even the chip-based receivers were better in the early days than they are now. The faults are not just in the electronics, but in the methods used for gathering signals. In cars, for example, the fashion in recent years has been to shorten antennas or to embed them in windows, mixed in with defrosting wires. Radios in cars I drove in the 1960s and 1970s would get New York’s biggest AM signals (on 660, 770 and 880) past Richmond, Virginia, in the middle of the day. The radios were not only better, but served by whip antennas on their fenders. Even portable radios were better. When I was a kid riding in the back seat of our new Chevy, on a family trip in the summer of 1963, I listened to WNAX in Yankton, South Dakota, from the Black Hills to Minneapolis, again in the daytime (when AM signals don’t bounce off the sky, as they do at night — on a Zenith Royal 400 seven-transistor radio. Alas, modern receivers and antennas are studies in cheap-out-y-ness, and don’t do the same job. In the absence of regulatory or market urgings, the chance of improvement here is zero.

The second is moving to an all-digital AM band. In this Broadcast Law Blog post David Oxenford says all-digtial “has shown promise for an interference-free operation in recent tests,” but “would require that there be a digital transition for AM radio just as there was to digital TV. That might be problematic, as it would require new AM receivers for almost everyone (except for those few people who already have Ibiquity IBOC receivers which should work in an all-digital environment).” I have one of those receivers in my kitchen. (That’s a shot of its display, there on the left.) HD on AM sounds like FM. Combine that with better receivers and antennas, and it’s a double-win. Here there is a small amount of regulatory urging, but try to find find a portable HD radio at Amazon or Radio Shack. Not happening.

The third is to develop better ways of getting radio streams on mobile devices. I have a mess of apps for getting radio streams on my iPhone and iPad, and none of them provide the simplicity of radio’s original dial & buttons system. If one app provided that simplicity, radio would move smoothly to mobile along with every other medium already re-locating there. Stations would continue to operate on the AM and FM bands until doing so no longer made technical or economic sense. But the path would be clear.

The one company that might have made this easy is Apple; but Apple has never been interested in improving radio as we know it. For years it buried radio station streams in an iTunes directory most people didn’t know was there — and then created a Pandora competitor with iTunes Radio. Like Pandora, Apple calls its streams “stations,” which also fuzzes things. The old stream directory still exists, for what it’s worth, under “Music.”

So it’s up to app developers. TuneIn, WunderRadio and Stitcher are currently the big three (at least on my devices), but all of them bury local radio deep in directories that are annoying to navigate and often incomplete. For example, let’s say I want to navigate the “dial” for Boston while I’m here in New York. On TuneIn, I hit “Browse,” then “Local Radio,” then find myself in New York. Not Boston. Then I hit “By Location.” That gives me a map I can pinch toward a red pin on Boston, where I find a virtual dial in the form of a list. That’s less work than it used to be, back when TuneIn wanted me to drill down through a directory that started (as I recall) with “Continent.” But it’s also missing all the great discoveries I used to make in local radio elsewhere in the world, such as the UK. (There are red pins only for major cities there.) Over on Stitcher one hits “Live Radio,” then “Massachusetts,” then “Boston” to do the same kind of thing, but the directory is has just three minor AM stations, then a bunch of FMs, but not WEEI/93.7, my favorite sports talker there. Between WBOS/92.9 and WTKK/96.9 there is nothing. All three do offer search, but that’s not easy to do when you’re driving or walking. (Nor is any of the above.)

All of them also assume, correctly (as do Apple, Pandora, Spotify, LastFM and many others), that individuals would rather put together their own “stations” in the form of music types, program collections, or whatever.

Individuals doing what they want is both the threat and the promise of radio online. Bring back dial-like simplicity, marry it to “roll your own,” and you’ll have the holy grail of radio.

Last Saturday evening I was walking up Wadsworth Avenue in Manhattan, a few blocks north of 181st Street, when I passed a group of people sitting sitting on the steps of an apartment building. They were talking, drinking, eating snacks and listening to a boom box set to 94.9FM. A disc jockey chattered in Spanish, followed by music. I noticed the frequency because I’m a lifelong radio guy, and I know there isn’t a licensed station on that channel in New York. The closest is WNSH, called “Nash,” a country-music station in Newark, on 94.7. Given the disc jockey and what little I heard of the sound of 94.9, I was sure the station was a pirate and not just somebody with one of those short-range transmitters you can jack into a phone or a pad.

Before I started hanging at this end of Manhattan I thought the pirate radio game was up. After all, that was the clear message behind these stories:

But where I mostly hang is a Manhattan apartment that is highly shadowed from FM signals coming from the Empire State Building and 4 Times Square downtown. (That’s where all New York’s main licensed stations radiate from.) Between those transmitters and our low-floor apartment are about a hundred blocks of apartment buildings. Meanwhile, our angle to the North and East (toward The Bronx both ways) is a bit less obstructed. From here I get pirate signals on all these channels:

  • 88.1
  • 88.7
  • 89.3
  • 89.7
  • 91.3
  • 94.5
  • 94.9
  • 959
  • 98.1
  • 98.9
  • 99.7
  • 102.3
  • 103.3
  • 104.7 (Same as the busted one? Sounds like it.)
  • 105.5

I can tell most are pirates because they tend to disappear in the morning. Nearly all are in Spanish and most play varieties of Caribbean music. (Which I wish I could understand what the disc jockeys say, but I don’t.)

As for 94.9, here’s how it looks on the display of the Teac 100 HD radio in our kitchen:

Estacion Rika

RDBS is the standard used for displaying information about a station.  The longer scroll across the bottom says “OTRA ESTACION RIKA.” Looking around a bit on the Web for that, I found this page, which says (among much else) “La administración de Rika 94.5 FM  Rikafm.com)…” So I went to RikaFM.com, where a graphic at the top of the page says “‘FCC Part 15 Radio Station’.” Part 15 is what those tiny transmitters for your mobile device have to obey. It’s an FCC rule on interference that limits the range of unlicensed transmissions to a few feet, not a few miles. So clearly this is a claim, not a fact. I’ve listened in the car as well, and the signal is pretty strong. Other links at RikaFM go to its Facebook and Twitter pages. The latter says “3ra Radio en la cuidad de New York Rika fm una estacion con talentos joven cubriendo toda la ciudad de NY musica variada 24hrs.,” which Google Chrome translates to “The 3rd Radio in the city of New York RikaFM a station with young talents covering all the varied music NYC 24hrs.”

To me this phenomenon is radio at its best. I hope somebody fluent in Spanish and hip to Caribbean music and culture will come up here and study the phenomenon a bit more closely. Because the mainstream media (thus far — consider this a shout-out, @VivianYee :-) ) is just coving a few minutes of the authorities’ losing game of whack-a-mole.

Read Dave’s Cable News is Ripe for Disruption. Then Jay Rosen’s Edward Snowden, Meet Jeff Bezos. Then everything Jeff Jarvis has been writing about lately.

Then listen to the August 9 edition of On The Media. Pay special attention to the history of New York’s newspapers, and the strike of 1962-3. Note how vitally important papers back then were to the culture back then, how the strike (by a union tragically committed to preserving a dying technology that employed >100k people) killed off three of the seven papers while wounding the rest, and how that event gave birth to TV news and launched many young journalists (Nora Ephron, Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, et. al.). Listen to other interviews in the show about the history of media, from telegraph to telephony to radio and beyond.  Note also how structural separation assures that the past will have minimal drag on the future, and how laws (e.g. antitrust) learn from bad experiences in the marketplace and society. There’s a lot of other meat to chew on there.

Then, if you’re up for it again (I’ve improved it a bit), read what I wrote here about Al Jazeera giving up on the Net while it goes after CNN, et. al. on cable.

I have only one complete, though provisional, thought about all of it:  TV news is ripe for complete replacement and not just disruption. What will replace it is up to us. (Note: radio is different. I’ll explain why in a later post. On the road right now, so no time.)

Bonus link.

Route 66A year ago I entered the final demographic. So far, so good.

@Deanland texted earlier, asking if I had a new affinity with WFAN, the New Yawk radio station that radiates at 660 on what used to be the AM “dial.” Back when range mattered, WFAN was still called WNBC, and its status as a “clear channel” station was non-trivial. At night clear channel stations could be heard up to thousands of miles away on a good radio. Other stations went off the air to clear the way for these beacons of raw 50,000-watt power. As a kid I listened to KFI from Los Angeles in the wee hours and in California I sometimes got WBZ from Boston. Now even “clears” like WFAN are protected only to 750 miles away, which means any or all of these stations also on 660 splatter over each other. Reminds me of a fake ad I did once back when I was at WSUS: All the world’s most beautiful music, all at once. We overdubbed everything we could onto one track.

Funny, a few months back my 16-year old son asked what the point of “range” was with radio. He’s a digital native who is used to being zero distance from everybody else on the Net, including every broadcaster.

He made his point when we were driving from Boston to New York on a Sunday afternoon last month, listening to the only radio show he actually cares about: All A Capella on WERS. While WERS is one of Boston’s smaller stations, it has a good signal out to the west, so we got it nearly to Worcester. Then, when it went away, the kid pulled out the family iPad, which has a Net connection over the cell system, got WERS’ stream going, and we listened to the end of the show, somewhere in Connecticut, with the iPad jacked into the car radio, sounding great.

Meanwhile here I am with a giant pile of trivia in my brain about how AM and FM broadcasting works. It’s like knowing about steam engines.

But mostly I keep living in the future. That’s why I’m jazzed that both VRM and personal cloud development is rocking away, in many places. Following developments took me on three trips to Europe in May and June, plus two to California and one to New Zealand and Australia. Lots of great stuff going on. It’s beyond awesome to have the opportunity to help move so much good stuff forward.

Speaking of distance, the metaphor I like best, for the birthday at hand, is “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66.” Composed in the ’40s by Bobby Troup, the jazz composer and actor, it has been covered by approximately everybody in the years since. The Nelson Riddle sound track for the TV show Route 66 was evocative in the extreme: one of the best road tunes ever written and performed. In addition to that one I have ten other versions:

  • Erich Kunzel
  • John Mayer
  • Chuck Berry
  • Nat King Cole
  • The Cramps
  • The Surfaris
  • Oscar Peterson & Manhattan Transfer
  • Andrews Sisters and Bing Crosby
  • Manhattan Transfer
  • Asleep at the Wheel

My faves are the last two. I’ll also put in a vote for Danny Gatton‘s Cruisin’ Deuces, which runs Nelson Riddle’s beat and muted trumpet through a rockabilly template of Danny’s own, and just kicks it.

Anyway, my birthday is happy, so far. Thanks for all the good wishes coming in.

I like and subscribe to Radio INK, which is the main way I stay current with what’s happening in mainstream radio. And Radio INK loves WTOP, the news station in Washington. Do a search for site:http://www.radioink.com WTOP and you’ll get many pages of praise running from Radio INK to WTOP — all of it, I am sure, deserving.

The latest of these is WTOP IS #1 NEWS STATION IN AMERICA. It begins,

A panel of news and news/talk experts have named Hubbard Radio’s WTOP top news station in the country in Radio Ink’s first listing of news and news/talk stations. Under the leadership of GM Joel Oxley, Vice President of Programming Jim Farley, and Program Director Laurie Cantillo, WTOP has developed into a news leader in the Washington D.C. market, competing with newspaper outlets like the Washington Post and television news organizations in the nation’s capital. WTOP has also established itself as a digital news leader with nearly 100,000 regular readers at WTOP.com and 60,000 followers on Twitter and 11 full- and part-time digital journalists.

Here is the list of stations:

  • #1) WTOP – Washington DC*
  • #2) 1010 WINS – New York City*
  • #3) KFI-AM – Los Angeles
  • #4) KCBS-AM – San Francisco*
  • #5) WBBM-AM/FM – Chicago*
  • #6) WCBS-AM – New York City*
  • #7) WBZ-AM – Boston
  • #8) WSB-AM/FM – Atlanta
  • #9) KYW-AM – Philadelphia*
  • #10) WWJ-AM – Detroit*
  • #11) KIRO-FM – Seattle
  • #12) WBT-AM/FM – Charlotte
  • #13) KNX-AM – Los Angeles*
  • #14) KKOB-AM -Albuquerque
  • #15) WBAP-AM & FM – Dallas
  • #16) KTRH-AM – Houston
  • #17) KFBK-AM & FM – Sacramento
  • #18) KMBZ-AM & FM – Kansas City*
  • #19) KRMG-AM & FM – Tulsa*
  • #20) WGAN & WGIN – Portland, ME

I put an * next to the stations that are all-news, meaning you’ll hear live news on them if you tune them in, rather than a talk show. The rest on the list are talk/news, rather than news/talk. By that I mean, if Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity are in the station’s program lineup, it’s a talk station.

But I’m also thinking, okay… As long as we’re opening the door here to stations that are a mix of talk and news, why not public radio stations?

Go to Radio-Info’s ratings page for April, and we find, among other things,

  • WAMU beating WTOP in Washington, 9.7 to 7.9
  • KQED beating KCBS in San Francisco, 5.5 to 5.4 (and KQED also has a 5.6, #3 overall, in San Jose)
  • KUOW beating KIRO in Seattle, 4.6 to 3.3. (And why doesn’t KOMO, a full-time news station in Seattle, with a 3.2, miss the list above?)
  • KPBS in San Diego is the top talk station in that city, with a 4.9. (It has no news stations.)
  • KOPB is the #2 station overall in Portland, with a 6.9.
  • WUNC is #2 overall in Raleigh-Durham with an 8.1 (and is often #1, for example in February, when it had an 8.4)

As I put it in my response to Radio INK’s latest, “Why not give some credit to the public stations that are huge ratings successes? … I understand that your main interest is commercial radio; but noncommercial radio matters just as much — if not more, if actual listening is taken into account.”

Ed Ryan replied, Doc: Good Points. We did not receive any nominations for non-coms. Hopefully you will nominate a few next year. And, ratings was not the only factor in determining the list. Hope yo are well.  Ed

I hadn’t realized that this story was based entirely on nominations by the stations themselves. Now that I do, I invite public stations to step up and start claiming the credit they deserve. I’ll try to remember to do the same, next time this rolls around.

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