radio

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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.

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.

We’re not watching any less TV. In fact, we’re watching more of it, on more different kinds of screens. Does this mean that TV absorbs the Net, or vice versa? Or neither? That’s what I’m exploring here. By “explore” I mean I’m not close to finished, and never will be. I’m just vetting some ideas and perspectives, and looking for help improving them.

TV 1.0: The Antenna Age

In the beginning, 100% of  TV went out over the air, radiated by contraptions atop towers or buildings, and picked up by rabbit ears on the backs of TV sets or by bird roosts on roofs. “Cable” was the wire that ran from the roof to the TV set. It helps to understand how this now-ancient system worked, because its main conceptual frame — the channel, or a collection of them —  is still with us, even though the technologies used are almost entirely different. So here goes.

tv antenna

Empire State Building antennas

On the left is a typical urban rooftop TV antenna. The different lengths of the antenna elements correspond roughly to the wavelengths of the signals. For reception, this mattered a lot.

In New York  City, for example, TV signals all came from the Empire State Building — and still do, at least until they move to the sleek new spire atop One World Trade Center, aka the Freedom Tower. (Many stations were on the North Tower of the old World Trade center, and perished with the rest of the building on 9/11/2001. After that, they moved back to their original homes on the Empire State Building.)

“Old” in the right photo refers to analog, and “new” to digital. (An aside: FM is still analog. Old and New here are just different generations of transmitting antennas. The old FM master antenna is two rings of sixteen T-shaped things protruding above and below the observation deck on the 102nd floor. It’s still in use as an auxiliary antenna. Here’s a similar photo from several decades back, showing the contraptual arrangement at the height of the Antenna Age.)

Channels 2-6 were created by the FCC in the 1940s (along with FM radio, which is in a band just above TV channel 6). Those weren’t enough channels, so 7-13 came along next, on higher frequencies — and therefore shorter wavelengths. Since the shorter waves don’t bend as well around buildings and terrain, stations on channels 7-13 needed higher power. So, while the maximum power for channels 2-6 was 100,000 watts, the “equivalent” on channels 7-13 was 316,000 watts. All those channels were in VHF bands, for Very High Frequency. Channels 14-83 — the UHF, or Ultra High Frequency band, was added in the 1950s, to make room for more stations in more places. Here the waves were much shorter, and the maximum transmitted power for “equivalent” coverage  to VHF was 5,000,000 watts. (All were ERP, or effective radiated power, toward the horizon.)

This was, and remains, a brute-force approach to what we now call “delivering content.” Equally brute approaches were required for reception as well. To watch TV, homes in outer suburban or rural areas needed rooftop antennas that looked like giant centipedes.

What they got — analog TV — didn’t have the resolution of today’s digital TV, but it was far more forgiving of bad reception conditions. You might get “ghosting” from reflected signals, or “snow” from a weak signal, but people put up with those problems just so they could see what was on.

More importantly, they got hooked.

TV 2.0: the Cable Age.

It began with CATV, or Community Antenna Television. For TV junkies who couldn’t get a good signal, CATV was a godsend. In the earliest ’70s I lived in McAfee, New Jersey, deep in a valley, where a rabbit-ears antenna got nothing, and even the biggest rooftop antenna couldn’t do much better. (We got a snowy signal on Channel 2 and nothing else.) So when CATV came through, giving us twelve clear channels of TV from New York and Philadelphia, we were happy to pay for it. A bit later, when we moved down Highway 94 to a high spot south of Newton, my rooftop antenna got all those channels and more, so there was  no need for CATV there. Then, after ’74, when we moved to North Carolina, we did without cable for a few years, because our rooftop antennas, which we could spin about with a rotator, could get everything from Roanoke, Virginia to Florence, South Carolina.

But then, in the early ’80s, we picked up on cable because it had Atlanta “superstation” WTCG (later WTBS and then just TBS) and HBO, which was great for watching old movies. WTCG, then still called Channel 17, also featured the great Bill Tush. (Sample here.) The transformation of WTCG into a satellite-distributed “superstation” meant that a TV station no longer needed to be local, or regional. For “super” stations on cable, “coverage” and “range” became bugs, not features.

Cable could also present viewers with more channels than they could ever get over the air. Technical improvements gradually raised the number of possible channels from dozens to hundreds. Satellite systems, which replicated cable in look and feel, could carry even more channels.

Today cable is post-peak. See here:

catv and cable tv

That’s because, in the ’90s, cable also turned out to be ideal for connecting homes to the Internet. We were still addicted to what cable gave us as “TV,” but we also had the option to watch a boundless variety of other stuff — and to produce our own. Today people are no less hooked on video than they were in 1955, but a declining percentage of their glowing-rectangle viewing is on cable-fed TV screens. The main thing still tying people to cable is the exclusive availability of high-quality and in-demand shows (including, especially, live sports) over cable and satellite alone.

This is why apps for CNN, ESPN, HBO and other cable channels require proof of a cable or satellite TV subscription. If cable content was á la carte, the industry would collapse. The industry knows this, of course, which makes it defensive.

That’s why Aereo freaks them out. Aereo is the new company that Fox and other broadcasters are now suing for giving people who can’t receive TV signals a way to do that over the Net. The potential served population is large, since the transition of U.S. television from analog to digital transmission (DTV) was, and remains, a great big fail.

Where the FCC estimated a 2% loss of analog viewers after the transition in June 2009, in fact 100% of the system changed, and post-transition digital coverage was not only a fraction of pre-transition analog coverage, but required an entirely new way to receive signals, as well as to view them. Here in New York, for example, I’m writing this in an apartment that could receive analog TV over rabbit ears in the old analog days. It looked bad, but at least it was there. With DTV there is nothing. For apartment dwellers without line-of-sight to the Empire State Building, the FCC’s reception maps are a fiction. Same goes for anybody out in the suburbs or in rural areas. If there isn’t a clear-enough path between the station’s transmitter and your TV’s antenna, you’re getting squat.

TV stations actually don’t give much of a damn about over-the-air any more, because 90+% of viewers are watching cable. But TV stations still make money from cable systems, thanks to re-transmission fees and “must carry” rules. These rules require cable systems to carry all the signals receivable in the area they serve. And the coverage areas are mostly defined by the old analog signal footprints, rather than the new smaller digital footprints, which are also much larger on the FCC’s maps than in the realities where people actually live.

Aereo gets around all that by giving each customer an antenna of their own, somewhere out where the signals can be received, and delivering each received station’s video to customers over the Net. In other words, it avoids being defined as cable, or even CATV. It’s just giving you, the customer, your own little antenna.

This is a clever technical and legal hack, and strong enough for Aereo towin in court. After that victory, Fox threatened to take its stations off the air entirely, becoming cable- and satellite-only. This exposed the low regard that broadcasters hold for their over-the-air signals, and for broadcasting’s legacy “public service” purpose.

The rest of the Aereo story is inside baseball, and far from over. (If you want a good rundown of the story so far, dig Aereo: Reinventing the cable TV model, by Tristan Louis.)

Complicating this even more is the matter of “white spaces.” Those are parts of the TV bands where there are no broadcast signals, or where broadcast signals are going away. These spaces are valuable because there are countless other purposes to which signals in those spaces could be put, including wireless Internet connections. Naturally, TV station owners want to hold on to those spaces, whether they broadcast in them or not. And, just as naturally, the U.S. government would like to auction the spaces off. (To see where the spaces are, check out Google’s “spectrum browser“. And note how few of them there are in urban areas, where there are the most remaining TV signals.)

Still, TV 2.0 through 2.9 is all about cable, and what cable can do. What’s happening with over-the-air is mostly about what the wonks call policy. From Aereo to white spaces, it’s all a lot of jockeying for position — and making hay where the regulatory sun shines.

Meanwhile, broadcasters and cable operators still hate the Net, even though cable operators are in the business of providing access to it. Both also remain in denial about the Net’s benefits beyond serving as Cable 2.x. They call distribution of content over the Net (e.g. through Hulu and Netflix) “over the top” or OTT, even though it’s beyond obvious that OTT is the new bottom.

FCC regulations regarding TV today are in desperate need of normalizing to the plain fact that the Net is the new bottom — and incumbent broadcasters aren’t the only ones operating there. But then, the feds don’t understand the Net either. The FCC’s world is radio, TV and telephony. To them, the Net is just a “service” provided by phone and cable companies.

TV 3.0: The IPTV age

IPTV is TV over the Internet Protocol — in other words, through the open Internet, rather than through cable’s own line-up of channels. One example is Netflix. By streaming movies over the Net, Netflix put a big dent in cable viewing. Adding insult to that injury, the vast majority of Netflix streamed movies are delivered over cable connections, and cable doesn’t get a piece of the action, because delivery is over OTT, via IPTV. And now, by producing its own high-quality shows, such as House of Cards, Netflix is competing with cable on the program front as well. To make the viewing experience as smooth as possible for its customers, Netflix also has its own equivalent of a TV transmitter. It’s called OpenConnect, and it’s one among a number of competing CDNs, or Content Delivery Networks. Basically they put up big server farms as close as possible to large volumes of demand, such as in cities.

So think of Netflix as a premium cable channel without the cable, or the channel, optimized for delivery over the Internet. It carries forward some of TV’s norms (such as showing old movies and new TV shows for a monthly subscription charge) while breaking new ground where cable and its sources either can’t or won’t go.

Bigger than Netflix, at least in terms of its catalog and global popularity, is Google’s YouTube. If you want your video to be seen by the world, YouTube is where you put it today, if you want maximum leverage. YouTube isn’t a monopoly for Google (the list of competitors is long), but it’s close. (According to Alexa, YouTube is accessed by a third of all Internet users worldwide. Its closest competitor (in the U.S., at least), is Vimeo, with a global reach of under 1%.) So, while Netflix looks a lot like cable, YouTube looks like the Web. It’s Net-native.

Bassem Youssef, “the Jon Stewart of Egypt,” got his start on YouTube, and then expanded into regular TV. He’s still on YouTube, even though his show on TV got canceled when he was hauled off to jail for offending the regime. Here he tells NBC’s Today show, “there’s always YouTube.” [Later... Dig this bonus link.]

But is there? YouTube is a grace of Google, not the Web. And Google is a big advertising business that has lately been putting more and more ads, TV-like, in front of videos. Nothing wrong with that, it’s a proven system. The question, as we move from TV 3.0 to 3.9, is whether the Net and the Web will survive the inclusion of TV’s legacy methods and values in its midst. In The TV in the Snake of Time, written in July 2010, I examined that question at some length:

Television is deeply embedded in pretty much all developed cultures by now. We — and I mean this in the worldwide sense — are not going to cease being couch potatoes. Nor will our suppliers cease couch potato farming, even as TV moves from airwaves to cable, satellite, and finally the Internet.

In the process we should expect the spirit (if not also the letter) of the Net’s protocols to be violated.

Follow the money. It’s not for nothing that Comcast wishes to be in the content business. In the old cable model there’s a cap on what Comcast can charge, and make, distributing content from others. That cap is its top cable subscription deals. Worse, they’re all delivered over old-fashioned set top boxes, all of which are — as Steve Jobs correctly puts it — lame. If you’re Comcast, here’s what ya do:

  1. Liberate the TV content distro system from the set top sphincter.
  2. Modify or re-build the plumbing to deliver content to Net-native (if not entirely -friendly) devices such as home flat screens, smartphones and iPads.
  3. Make it easy for users to pay for any or all of it on an à la carte (or at least an easy-to-pay) basis, and/or add a pile of new subscription deals.

Now you’ve got a much bigger marketplace, enlarged by many more devices and much less friction on the payment side. (Put all “content” and subscriptions on the shelves of “stores” like iTunes’ and there ya go.) Oh, and the Internet? … that World of Ends that techno-utopians (such as yours truly) liked to blab about? Oh, it’s there. You can download whatever you want on it, at higher speeds every day, overall. But it won’t be symmetrical. It will be biased for consumption. Our job as customers will be to consume — to persist, in the perfect words of Jerry Michalski, as “gullets with wallets and eyeballs.”

Future of the Internet

So, for current and future build-out, the Internet we techno-utopians know and love goes off the cliff while better rails get built for the next generations of TV — on the very same “system.” (For the bigger picture, Jonathan Zittrain’s latest is required reading.)

In other words, it will get worse before it gets better. A lot worse, in fact.

But it will get better, and I’m not saying that just because I’m still a utopian. I’m saying that because the new world really is the Net, and there’s a limit to how much of it you can pave with one-way streets. And how long the couch potato farming business will last.

More and more of us are bound to produce as well as consume, and we’ll need two things that a biased-for-TV Net can’t provide. One is speed in both directions: out as well as in. (“Upstream” calls Sisyphus to mind, so let’s drop that one.) The other is what Bob Frankston calls “ambient connectivity.” That is, connectivity we just assume.

When you go to a hotel, you don’t have to pay extra to get water from the “hydro service provider,” or electricity from the “power service provider.” It’s just there. It has a cost, but it’s just overhead.

That’s the end state. We’re still headed there. But in the meantime the Net’s going through a stage that will be The Last Days of TV. The optimistic view here is that they’ll also be the First Days of the Net.

Think of the original Net as the New World, circa 1491. Then think of TV as the Spanish invasion. Conquistators! Then read this essay by Richard Rodriguez. My point is similar. TV won’t eat the Net. It can’t. It’s not big enough. Instead, the Net will swallow TV. Ten iPad generations from now, TV as we know it will be diffused into countless genres and sub-genres, with millions of non-Hollywood production centers. And the Net will be bigger than ever.

In the meantime, however, don’t hold your breath.

That meantime has  now lasted nearly three years — or much longer if you go back to 1998, when I wrote a chapter of a book by Microsoft, right after they bought WebTV. An excerpt:

The Web is about dialog. The fact that it supports entertainment, and does a great job of it, does nothing to change that fact. What the Web brings to the entertainment business (and every business), for the first time, is dialog like nobody has ever seen before. Now everybody can get into the entertainment conversation. Or the conversations that comprise any other market you can name. Embracing that is the safest bet in the world. Betting on the old illusion machine, however popular it may be at the moment, is risky to say the least…

TV is just chewing gum for the eyes. — Fred Allen

This may look like a long shot, but I’m going to bet that the first fifty years of TV will be the only fifty years. We’ll look back on it the way we now look back on radio’s golden age. It was something communal and friendly that brought the family together. It was a way we could be silent together. Something of complete unimportance we could all talk about.

And, to be fair, TV has always had a very high quantity of Good Stuff. But it also had a much higher quantity of drugs. Fred Allen was being kind when he called it “chewing gum for the eyes.” It was much worse. It made us stupid. It started us on real drugs like cannabis and cocaine. It taught us that guns solve problems and that violence is ordinary. It disconnected us from our families and communities and plugged us into a system that treated us as a product to be fattened and led around blind, like cattle.

Convergence between the Web and TV is inevitable. But it will happen on the terms of the metaphors that make sense of it, such as publishing and retailing. There is plenty of room in these metaphors — especially retailing — for ordering and shipping entertainment freight. The Web is a perfect way to enable the direct-demand market for video goods that the television industry was never equipped to provide, because it could never embrace the concept. They were in the eyeballs-for-advertisers business. Their job was to give away entertainment, not to charge for it.

So what will we get? Gum on the computer screen, or choice on the tube?

It’ll be no contest, especially when the form starts funding itself.

Bet on Web/TV, not TV/Web.

I was recruited to write that chapter because I was the only guy Microsoft could find who thought the Web would eat TV rather than vice versa. And it does look like that’s finally happening, but only if you think Google is the Web. Or if you think Web sites are the new channels. In tech-speak, channels are silos.

When I wrote those pieces, I did not foresee the degree to which our use of the Net would be contained in silos that Bruce Schneier compares to feudal-age castles. Too much of the Web we know today is inside the walls governed by Lord Zuck, King Tim, Duke Jeff and the emperors Larry and Sergey. In some ways those rulers are kind and generous, but we are not free so long as we are native to their dominions rather than the boundless Networked world on which they sit.

The downside of depending on giants is that you can, and will, get screwed. Exhibit A (among too many for one alphabet) is Si Dawson’s goodbye post on Twitcleaner, a service to which he devoted his life, and countless people loved, that “was an engineering marvel built, as it were, atop a fail-whaling ship.”  When Twitter “upgraded” its API, it sank Twitcleaner and many other services built on Twitter. Writes Si, “Through all this I’ve learned so, so much.Perhaps the key thing? Never playfootball when someone else owns the field. So obvious in hindsight.”

Now I’m having the same misgivings about Dropbox, which works as what Anil Dash calls a POPS: Privately Owned Public Space. It’s a great service, but it’s also a private one. And therefore risky like Twitter is risky.

What has happened with all those companies was a morphing of mission from a way to the way:

  • Google was way to search, and became the way to search
  • Facebook was way to be social on the Web, and became the way to be social on the Web
  • Twitter was way to microblog, and became the way to microblog

I could go on, but you get the idea.

What makes the Net and the Web open and free are not its physical systems, or any legal system. What makes them free are their protocols, which are nothing more than agreements: the machine equivalents of handshakes. Protocols do not by their nature presume a centralized system, like TV — or like giant Web sites and services. Protocols are also also not corruptible, because they are each NEA: Nobody owns it, Everybody can use it and Anybody can improve it.

Back in 2003, David Weinberger and I wrote about protocols and NEA in a site called World of Ends: What the Internet Is and How to Stop Mistaking It For Something Else. In it we said the Net was defined by its protocols, not by the companies providing the wiring and the airwaves over which we access the Net.

Yet, a decade later, we are still mistaking the Net for TV. Why? One reason is that there is so much more TV on the Net than ever before. Another is that we get billed for the Net by cable and phone companies. For cable and phone companies providing home service, it’s “broadband” or “high speed Internet.” For mobile phone companies, it’s a “data plan.” By whatever name, it’s one great big channel: a silo open at both ends, through which “content” gets piped to “consumers.” To its distributors — the ones we pay for access — it’s just another kind of cable TV.

The biggest player in cable is not Comcast or Time Warner. It’s ESPN. That’s because the most popular kind of live TV is sports, and ESPN runs that show. Today, ESPN is moving aggressively to mobile. In other words, from cable to the Net. Says Bloomberg Businessweek,

ESPN has been unique among traditional media businesses in that it has flourished on the Web and in the mobile space, where the number of users per minute, which is ESPN’s internal metric, reached 102,000 in June, an increase of 48 percent so far this year. Mobile is now ESPN’s fastest-growing platform.

Now, in ESPN Eyes Subsidizing Wireless-Data Plans, the Wall Street Journal reports, “Under one potential scenario, the company would pay a carrier to guarantee that people viewing ESPN mobile content wouldn’t have that usage counted toward their monthly data caps.” If this happens, it would clearly violate the principle of network neutrality: that the network itself should not favor one kind of data, or data producer, over another.Such a deal would instantly turn every competing data producer into a net neutrality activist, so it’s not likely to happen.

Meanwhile John McCain, no friend of net neutrality, has introduced the TV Consumer Freedom Act, which is even less friendly to cable. As Business Insider puts it, McCain wants to blow the sucker upSays McCain,

This legislation has three principal objectives: (1) encourage the wholesale and retail ‘unbundling’ of programming by distributors and programmers; (2) establish consequences if broadcasters choose to ‘downgrade’ their over-the-air service; and (3) eliminate the sports blackout rule for events held in publicly-financed stadiums.

For over 15 years I have supported giving consumers the ability to buy cable channels individually, also known as ‘a la carte’ – to provide consumers more control over viewing options in their home and, as a result, their monthly cable bill.

The video industry, principally cable companies and satellite companies and the programmers that sell channels, like NBC and Disney-ABC, continue to give consumers two options when buying TV programming: First, to purchase a package of channels whether you watch them all or not; or, second, not purchase any cable programming at all.

This is unfair and wrong – especially when you consider how the regulatory deck is stacked in favor of industry and against the American consumer.

Unbundle TV, make it á la carte, and you have nothing more than subscription video on the Net. And that is what TV will become. If McCain’s bill passes, we will still pay Time Warner and Comcast for connections to the Net; and they will continue to present a portfolio of á la carte and bundled subscription options. Many video sources will continue to be called “networks” and “channels.” But it won’t be TV 4.0 because TV 3.0 — TV over IP — will be the end of TV’s line.

Shows will live on. So will producers and artists and distributors. The old TV business to be as creative as ever, and will produce more good stuff than ever. Couch potatoes will live too, but there will be many more farmers, and the fertilizer will abound in variety.

What we’ll have won’t be TV because TV is channels, and channels are scarce. The Net has no channels, and isn’t about scarcity. It just has an endless number of ends, and no limit on the variety of sources pumping out “content” from those ends. Those sources include you, me, and everybody else who wants to produce and share video, whether for free or for pay.

The Net is an environment built for abundance. You can put all the scarcities you want on it, because an abundance-supporting environment allows that. An abundance system such as the Net gives business many more ways to bet than a scarcity system such as TV has been from the antenna age on through cable. As Jerry Michalski says (and tweets), “#abundance is pretty scary, isn’t it? Yet it’s the way forward.”

Abundance also frees all of us personally. How we organize what we watch should be up to us, not up to cable systems compiling their own guides that look like spreadsheets, with rows of channels and columns of times. We can, and should, do better than that. We should also do better than what YouTube gives us, based on what its machines think we might want.

The new box to think outside of is Google’s. So let’s re-start there. TV is what it’s always been: dumb and terminal.

 

Hurricane flag

7:30am Tuesday morning: I can tell the storm is over by tuning in to the Weather Channel and finding it back to the normally heavy load of ads, program promotions and breathless sensationalism. So I’ll turn ya’ll back over to your irregularly scheduled programs. Rock on.

11:14pm The Weather Channel just said 4.1 million homes are without power now. The numbers bounce around. For a good list of outages, check with Edward Vielmetti’s blog.

11:07pm Bitly stats for this page  http://hvrd.me/YerGzj). Interesting: 442 clicks, 30 shares. Below, two comments other than my only one. Life in the vast lane, I guess. FWIW, I can’t see stats for this site, and generally don’t care about them; but I put some work into this post and the list over at Trunk Line, so some feedback is helpful.

10:48pm When you look up “Sandy” on Bing images, shouldn’t you see at least one hurricane picture? Instead, a sea of pretty faces. Here’s Sandy + hurricane. Credit where due: I can figure a way to shorten the tracking cruft out of the URL with Bing. Not so with Google’s Sandy search, which looks like … well, I killed it, because it f’d up this page royally. Please, Google, have mercy. Make the search URL’s sensible again.

10:42pm Glad I stayed in Boston, with power running and a solid Verizon FiOS fiber connection (25mbps upstream and down), right through the storm. Looks like the New York place is powerless right now, and the Verizon DSL connection there is awful even in good weather. Got lots of stuff to do here too, through Thursday.

9:54pm TV stations with live streams online:

In a city-by-city rundown, Hartford wins with four stations, Washington and New York is second with three each, Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia come in third with one station each, and Providence loses, with no live stations online at all. (Thanks for the corrections, which I keep adding.)

All the CBSlocal.com stations have “listen live.” C’mon, guys. You’re TV stations.

Some TV stations, e.g. WFXT in Boston, have pages so complicated that they don’t load (again, for me). On the whole, everybody’s site is waaay too complicated. At times like this they need three things:

  1. Live video
  2. Rivers of news
  3. Links to files of stories already run

Better yet, they should just have an emergency page they bring up for crises, since it’s obviously too hard for many of them to tweak their complicated (often crap-filled) CMSes (Content Management Systems) to become truly useful when real news hits the fan.

9:50pm When you go to bed tonight in #Sandy territory, take the good advice of Ready.gov, with one additional point I picked up in California for earthquake prep: have shoes nearby, and upside down, so they don’t take glass if any breaks nearby.

9:46pm What’s the ad load right now on the Weather Channel? Usually it seems like it has more ads than programming. Clearly there is less advertising now. How much less? Are the advertisers paying more? Anybody know the answers?

9:37pm A moment of calm. Rain slowing. intellicast map

The current weather map, via Intellicast, on the right. Note the snow and ice in West Virginia. Eye-less, #Sandy is currently spinning around the juncture of Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. BTW, this is Intellicast’s “old” map, which I like better.

9:29pm A friend runs outage totals from many sources:

  • Total out 3,0639,62:
  • Maine 65,817
  • New Hampshire 120,687
  • Vermont 14,482
  • Massachusetts 378,034
  • Connecticut 254643
  • New York 836,931
  • New Jersey 929,507
  • Pennsylvania
  • Delaware
  • Maryland 279,396
  • Virginia 118,766
  • DC 16,608
  • West Virginia
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio 49,091
  • Michigan
  • Illinois

With so many blank TBDs, the numbers must be higher.

9:18pm Please, radio stations, stop streaming in highly proprietary formats (e.g. Silverlight and Windows Media) that require annoying user installs (which won’t work on some platforms, e.g. Linux). Right now I’d like to listen to WOND in Atlantic City, but it wants me to get Silverlight. Not happening.

9:12 Via @WhoaNancyLynn, boardwalklooks like the Boardwalk is without boards in Atlantic City. Bonus link from Philly.com.

9:06 Water covering the runway at LaGuardia, says the Weather Channel. (Which I’m still watching here in Boston over our Dish TV connection in Santa Barbara. Amazing how solid it has been.)

8:54 Added newspapers to the list of sources at Trunk Line.

8:49 Courant: More than 500,000 without power in Connecticut. Boston Globe: 350,ooo out in Mass. Weather Channel: “More than 3 million without power.” Kind of amazed our house isn’t among those. Winds have been just as big in gusts as the microburst from last summer, which caused this damage here. One big difference: leaves. Fall was post-peak to begin with, and remaining color has mostly been blown away. In the summer, trees weren’t ready to give up their leaves, and many got blown over or torn up.

8:03 Just heard Con Edison has shut down the power in lower Manhattan. Con Ed outage map“Completely dark down toward Wall Street.” No specific reports on the Con Ed site. But here’s an outage map (on the right).

7:56 Listening to WCAI (Cape and Islands radio), on which I hear locals saying that things aren’t as bad as had been expected.

7:54 The Christian Science Monitor has a story on the sinking of the Bounty off Cape Hatteras. Two crew are still missing. What was it doing out in that storm? The story says they left Connecticut last week for Florida and was in touch with the National Hurricane Center; but Sandy was already on the radar then, wasn’t it? Maybe not. Dunno. In any case, bad timing.

7:38 Heard a loud pop across the street, followed by a flickering orange light between the houses, and reflected on the windows. Wondering if a fire had started I went out in the wind and rain, found it was nothing and got thoroughly soaked — and almost hit by a car. This is a quiet street that should have no traffic under the conditions, but there it was. Fortunately, we spotted each other just in time.

7:33 Curious: what’s up with JFK, LGA,EWR, BOS. If the seas rise enough, some runways may be under water. But… haven’t heard anything yet.

7:31 Water continues to rise, etc. Yet… Not seeing or hearing about any Big Disasters. The Weather Channel is reporting lots of storm surge levels, all-time records… but no unusual damage reports yet.  Their reporters are still standing on dunes, walking on sea-walls. In a real big-time storm surge, they’d be long gone, along with geology and structures. You can almost hear a bit of disappointment for lack of devastation to show. “We still have hours and hours and hours left…” Translation: “and time to fill.”

7:28 @TWCbreaking: “The water level at the Battery in #NYC has reached 11.25 feet, surpassing the all-time record of 11.2 feet set in 1821.#Sandy

7:25 Big winds, long ping times over my FiOS connection.

7:21 List of mainstream live media covering #Sandy.

7:17 I wonder if the main effects of #Sandy will be like #Irene‘s: while most of the media attention was on the coast, Vermont was quietly destroyed.

7:12pm The Weather Channel just said that #Sandy has lost her (or is it his?) hurricane status, and is now just a “superstorm.” I also notice that Crane 9 quit reporting winds at 4pm. :-( Meanwhile Huffpo says on Twitter than #Sandy has it down.

6:41pm Here’s a “before” shot of the crane on 57th Street that’s now broken. (@DaveWiner has a closer shot here.) I took it on 27 August. Between staying in hotels (e.g. the Salisbury, twice), going to meetings, shopping and other stuff, I’ve gone back and forth in front of this construction site more times than I can count. So, naturally, I shot some pictures of it. Fun fodder: the OUT and IN liquid concrete vats that the crane hauled up and down for many months. These shots are Creative Commons licensed for attribution only, so feel free to re-use them.

6:22pm Just heard on the Weather Channel that up to 10 million people may be without power soon. This “will take a big bite out of retail in November.”

5:59pm Dark now. Just in time for the biggest winds yet. Whoa. House is shaking. Tree pieces flying by.

5:46pm More evidence that station-based radio is declining: the great WBZ, which still carries three of the most august call letters in radio history, is http://cbsboston.com on the Web and @cbsboston on Twitter. Same goes for CBS stations in Washington, New York and elsewhere. Clear Channel meanwhile is blurring all its station brands behind iHeartRadio.

5:43pm @WNYC reports that many of New York’s major bridges are soon to close. Earlier I heard on WBZ that toll booths are abandoned, so feel free to ride through without paying if you’re busy disobeying advice to stay off the roads.

5:22pm Five “creative newsjacks” of #Sandy by “savvy marketers”. At Hubspot. Explanation: “Newsjacking is the practice of capitalizing on the popularity of a news story to amplify your sales and marketing efforts. The term was popularized thanks to David Meerman Scott’s book Newsjacking.” All are, in the larger scheme, trivial, if not in bad taste. For that, nothing beats The Onion:

5:12pm Crane 9 in New Jersey (see the graphic below) now reports steady winds of 46mph from the northeast with peak gusts of 63mph.

4:45pm I have some “before” shots of the crane that broke on 57th Street. I’ll put those up soon.

4:40pm Right now we have the highest winds since a microburst in July took out hundreds of trees in a matter of seconds across East Arlington, Mass. Here’s a photo tour of the damage that I took at the time. In fact I have a lot more shots that I haven’t put up yet. I might do that when I get a break.

4:38pm A gust just peeled back some siding on the house across the street. Watched some pieces of trees across the street break off and fall.  The trees taking it hardest are the ones with leaves, which increases the wind loading. Interesting to see how the red maples give up their colored leaves while the black oaks do not. Same with the silver and norway maples. The leaves on those seem to resist detachment.

2:55pm Given the direction of the storm, it will continue longer in New England than elsewhere, even though the hit is not direct.

2:52pm Just heard a crane on W. 57th Street went down. That’s the site next to the Salisbury Hotel, I believe. Across from the Russian Tea Room.

2:45pm Now it’s getting scary here near Boston. Very high wind gusts, shaking the house, along with heavy rain. Check out the increasing peak winds at Crane 9 at the New York Container Terminal in New Jersey, on the right.

2:21pm Thinking about fluid dynamics and looking at a map of the New Jersey and Long Island coasts, which in two dimensions comprise a funnel, with Raritan Bay and New York Harbor at the narrow end. High tide will hit about 8pm tonight there. Given the direction of the storm, and the concentrating effects of the coastlines toward their convergence point, I would be very surprised if this doesn’t put some or all of the following under at least some water:

  • All three major airports: JFK, LaGuardia and Newark.
  • The New York Container Terminal.
  • The tower bases of New York’s AM radio stations. Most of them transmit from the New Jersey Meadows, because AM transmission works best on the most conductive ground, which is salt water. On AM, the whole tower radiates. That’s why a station with its base under water won’t stay on the air. At risk: WMCA/570, WSNR/620,  WOR/710, WNYC-AM/820,  WINS/1010, WEPN/1050, WBBR/1130, WLIB/1190, WADO/1280 and several others farther up the band. WFAN/660 and WCBS/880 share a tower on High Island in Long Island Sound by City Island, and I think are far enough above sea level. WMCA and WNYC share a three-tower rig standing in water next to Belleville Pike by the  New Jersey Turnpike and will be the first at risk.
  • [Later... According to this story, WINS was knocked off the air.]
  • [Later still... Scott Fybush's Northeast Radio Watch says WMCA and WNYC were knocked offAnd the WNYC site says it was knocked off too. He has a long list of silenced stations there.]

Funnel #2, right where the eye will hit: Delaware Bay. Watch out Philly/Camden/Wilmington.

Funnel #3, Massachusetts Bay and Boston Harbor.

1:03pm: I forgot to bring a portable radio, so I got a new little “travel radio” for $39.95 from Radio Shack, along with some re-chargeable batteries. After charging them overnight, I put the batteries in, and… nada. The clock comes on at 12:00, but nothing else happens. None of the buttons change anything. The time just advances forward from the imaginary noon. So, it’s useless. Oh well. I have other radios plugged into the wall. But if the power goes out, so do they.

12:48pm: In a crisis like #Sandy, one of the great failures of public television is exposed: there is almost no live local coverage of anything, despite a boundless abundance of presumably willing helpers in the Long Tail. Public TV’s connection with What’s Actually Happening is astoundingly low, and ironic given its name. Scheduled programs throb through the calendar with metronomic precision. About the only times they ever go live is during pledge breaks, which always give the impression of being the main form of programming. If they were as good at actual journalism as they are at asking for money*, they would kick ass. I’ve included local public stations in my list here. None of them are go-to sites for the public. I just scanned through them, and here’s the rundown:

  • Maryland Public Television displays no evidence that a hurricane is going on.
  • WHYY Philadelphia-Wilmington: Pointage to Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane, which ran from 10-Noon today. The top Special Announcement is “Visit NewsWorks.org or follow @NewsWorksWHYY on Twitter for continuing coverage of Hurricane Sandy.”
  • WNET in New York is itself almost inert. But it does have links to its three broadcast outlet pages. thirteen.org in Metro Focus has a scary visual of likely flooding in New York, last updated at 7:38pm Sunday. WLIW, another of its stations, has the same pointage. That’s about it. Its NJTV site is a bit more current. They post this: “Committed to serving Garden State residents during what is predicted to be an exceptional storm in Hurricane Sandy, NJTV will provide updates throughout the day plus Gov. Chris Christie’s next press conference. Monday night, join Managing Editor Mike Schneider for full storm analysis during live NJ Today broadcasts at 6 pm, 7:30 and 11 pm. Residents can also expect ongoing weather-related news updates on the network’s Facebook andTwitter sites. NJTV is also planning a joint broadcast with WNET’s MetroFocus news program on Tuesday night at 9:30 pm, to assess the effect of the storm on the Tri-State area.” Can’t wait.
  • WETA in Washington, D.C. has exactly nothing. WHUT appears to be down.
  • CPBN, the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network, has nothing.
  • WGBH in Boston points to a show about the great hurricane of ’38. Almost helpful, that.

* See Jan Hooks’ legendary Tammy Jean show on the old Tush program, which ran on Ted Turner’s original cable station back at the turn of the ’80s. It was a perfect parody of a low-end religious program that seemed to exist only for seeking money, which viewers were told to put in the “money font”: a fish bowl on a pedestal. Watch here, starting around 2:50 into the show. Bonus show, with the pitch point arriving about five minutes in.

12:43pm: Normally I’d be headed this afternoon to Jay Rosen‘s Studio 20 journalism class at NYU. But after NYU announced its closures yesterday,  I decided to stay here in Boston and report on what some corners of journalism are up to, as Sandy hits New York. To help with that, I’ve put up a roster of what I’m calling “infrastructural” sources, on Trunk Line, a blog that Christian Sandvig and I set up at the Berkman Center, and which is coming in handy right now. I have websites, feeds, radio and TV stations. Haven’t added newspapers yet. Stay tuned.

12:38pm: A Weather Channel reporter on the beach in Point Pleasant, New Jersey just said, live, “We’ve been told to get out of the shot. Sorry. Gotta cut it off.”

12:28pm: Getting our first strong wind gusts here, from the north. The fall colors, which were right at peak on our street, just flew past my window here in the attic.

12:19pm: We have no TV here at the Boston place. Normally I carry an EyeTV Hybrid thingie to watch over-the-air TV on a laptop, but the thingie is at our New York place (yes, we’re there too; just not now). But we have Dish Network back home in Santa Barbara, so that’s what I’m watching, over our iPad here in Boston, thanks to the Slingbox on the Dish set top box. (Which is actually in a hall cabinet, since “sets” these days don’t have tops. They have edges, none of which supports a box.) Consider the route here. TWC distributes to Dish over a 50,ooo mile round trip to a satellite. Then Dish sends the signal to Santa Barbara over another round trip through a satellite just as far away. Then I’m watching 3000 miles away over a wireless connection at our place in Boston. Credits en route go to Cox for the cable connection in Santa Barbara, and to Verizon FiOS for the connection here. This will work until the power goes out here.

12:12pm: Finally heard somebody on the Weather Channel mention that there is a full moon today, which means maximized tide swings. Here’s the tide chart for the Battery, at the lower end of Manhattan.

11:20am Weather Channel gets all ominous, sez InsideTV at Entertainment Weekly.

11:18a: Slate is on top of Frankenstorm coverage in the papers.

11:05am: Radio stations should list their stream URLs as clearly as they list their dial positions. None do. Some have many steams but not enough links. WNYC, for example, has a nice help page, but the links to the streams are buried in a pop-up menu titled “other formats” (than the “Listen Now” pop-up page).

11:00am: How New Nersey Broadcasters Have Prepared for Sandy, at RadioINK. It begins,

New Jersey Broadcasters Association President and CEO Paul Rotella tells Radio Ink stations in his state have been preparing for Hurricane Sandy since Friday. “This is a perfect example of how only  local radio and TV can provide the critical information our audiences need to know in times of emergency. Sure, you can get a “big picture” overview from some media sources, but our citizens need to know much more detailed and salient information that only local broadcasters can provide.”

No links. Anybody have evidence of that yet? I’m listening to WKXW, aka New Jersey 101.5, After a lot of ads, they have lots of weather-related closings, followed by live talk, where they’re talking about other media at the moment.

10:56am: I’ve put up a fairly comprehensive list of infrastructure-grade Sandy information sources over on the Trunk Line blog. Much of what I’ll write about here will come from checking over there. Note that all the TV and radio stations from DC to Boston carrying live (or nearly live) coverage are listed, plus a number of live streams from stations providing them.

NOAA has Sandy headed straight at New Jersey and Delaware. The Weather Channel has a prettier map:

I was going to go to New York today, but decided to stay around Cambridge instead. All the media are making dire sounds, and there is lots of stocking up going on. Home Depot, Costco, all the grocery stores have had packed parking lots all day. Schools are closed all over the East Coast. New York City is shutting down the subways and Mayor Bloomberg has advised everybody to stay inside. Huge storm surges are expected.

I’m a natural event freak, so I’m on the case, but also need some sleep, in the calm before The Storm. More in a few hours.

A few days ago RadioInk reported that WTOP, the all-news radio station in Washington, D.C., is now the top-billing station in the nation. Two surprising things there. One is that Washington is the #7 market (behind New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston-Galveston), and that in the latest ratings WTOP is #2 overall, behind WAMU, the top local public station. (WAMU gets an 8.2% AQH, or Average Quarter Hour share, to WTOP’s 6.9%,)

One non-surprise is new competition, from WNEW — “all-news 99-1,” created by CBS, which owns the top news stations in New York (WCBS and WINS), Chicago (WBBM), Los Angeles (KNX and KFWB), San Francisco (KCBS) and elsewhere. Of the ten top billing stations (according to that same RadioINK story), five are all-news, and all but WTOP are owned by CBS. So clearly CBS would like to compete in a town that makes more news than any other.

So far, however, WNEW has been all but nowhere in the ratings. WTOP has slipped a bit (a month earlier it was #1 with a 7.5% AQH share), but WNEW went from 0.3% to a “-”. Not good. Still, according to this piece by Ben Fischer in the Washington Business Journal, CBS says things are going “according to plan.”

wnewAs an old radio guy with a transmitter obsession that I’ll never fully repress, I’m wondering if the signal is an issue. WNEW, which is licensed to Annapolis, transmits from a tower in the woods near near Patuxent River Park, between Bowie and Crofton, in Maryland, about four miles east of the 197 exit off the Baltimore-Washington Expressway (295). The maxium power allowed for FM stations in the Northeast is 50,000 watts at 500 feet (above average terrain), and WNEW puts out the equivalent of that with 45,000 watts at 515 feet. (Coverage results from a combination of power and height. You need less power at higher antenna heights to achieve the same coverage. Most FM stations in New York radiate from atop the Empire State Building with 6,000 wats at 1361 feet.)

Could be the idea is to cover both Washington and Baltimore, which it does, as you can see from the Radio-Locator.com map on the right. The red line is the calculated extent of strong signal coverage. But signal strength still falls off with distance from the transmitter, and it helps to be in the middle of town, as WTOP is.

Recently I drove around both cities, and WNEW sounded fine there in a car. Homes and offices are another matter, though. Car radios tend to be pretty good. Home radios and portables much less so. On a kitchen radio in Baltimore, about the same distance from WNEW as, say, Arlington, Virginia, WNEW was all but inaudible.

Some history.

WTOP began life at 1500 on the AM dial, with a powerful directional signal pumped out by its three-tower 50,000-watt facility in Wheaton, Maryland. The signal on the ground covered most of the metro area by day, though it left out places to the west, especially at night. (Thanks to the reflective qualities of the ionosphere at night, the station could also be heard well from North Carolina to the Maritimes.) The Washington Post, the primary owner of the station back then, made WTOP all-news in the mid-1960s. (Around that same time, the Post also made a royally dumb decision to donate its FM station, on 96.3fm, to Howard University, where it thrives today as WHUR — because the Post didn’t believe people were going to listen much to FM.) Then, to make a long story short, the station went through a series of ownership changes and facilities proliferations until it arrived at this current state (first links go to coverage maps):

  • WTOP, the namesake, radiates on 103.5fm, with 44,000 watts at 518 feet above average terrain, from the American University tower it shares with WAMU, WKYS, WMMJ and WPFW. This is equivalent to the legal maximum of 50,00o watts at 500 feet; except that the station has a directional signal, with a dent to about half that power in the Baltimore direction.
  • WTLP, on 103.9, with 350 watts at 950 feet above average terrain, on a ridge alongside Gambrill Park Road, overlooking Frederick, Maryland.
  • WWWT, on 107.7, with 29,000 watts at 646 feet, also equivalent to the legal max of 50,000 watts at 500 feet. on a hill overlooking Warrenton, Virginia.
  • W282BA, on 104.3, a 100-watt translator on a tower in downtown Leesburg, VA.
  • All four simulcast and identify as WTOP.

Meanwhile the old signal on 1500 is now WFED, called FederalNewsRadio. It is simulcast on WWFD on 820am in Frederick, MD. That transmitter is a two-tower rig, alongside I-70 just west of Frederick. It’s 4,300 watts by day and 430 watts at night, when its signal is aimed east over Frederick. Both WTOP and WFED are owned by Hubbard Broadcasting, which recently bought them from Bonneville.

Maybe CBS will buy up a fleet of secondary stations around the edge of the market(s), like WTOP did. That might help. Meanwhile, I think that signal is a problem.

I could say more, but I’d rather just put this up. It’s been languishing in my pile of drafts for long enough, waiting for me to say more. Rather than that, I’ll just leave the rest of that up to those of you who care.

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