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A few months back I wrote a post with a headline in the form of a question: How will WMAL-AM survive losing its transmitter? Here was my best guess at the time:

To stay on the air, WMAL will need to find replacement acreage, somewhere that allows the signals … to cross as much of the Metro area as possible, meaning it will have to be northwest of town. For that Cumulus will need to either buy land out that way, or co-site with some other station already operating there.

The only two stations with transmitters out there are WTEM (“ESPN 980″) and WSPZ, both sports stations (on 980 and 570 respectively) and owned by Red Zebra Broadcasting (in which the main stakeholders are also those of the Washington Redskins)…

Of those, WSPZ’s site looks like it has more room. It’s in Germantown, about 22 miles from downtown Washington, more than twice the distance from downtown Washington as WMAL’s current site. I suspect the signal patterns could be “tightened” to concentrate energy toward Washington, though, and that might help. But ground conductivity — which matters hugely for AM signals — is poor in Maryland and Virginia, which is one reason AM stations there tend to suck in the ratings.

Now comes word that Cumulus plans to use the WSPZ/570 site. Here are the day and night signal applications to the FCC. The day power will be the same as at the current site: 10000 watts. But the night power will be only 2700 watts, rather than the current 5000 watts. As I expected, the signals both day and night are “tightened” to a headlight beam shining toward the District. The day signal is on the left and the night signal on the right. (Source:



WSPZ has similar day and night patterns, at 5000 and 1000 watts, using the same four towers.

Here is how sees WSPZ’s day and night patterns. Since the two stations are close in frequency (which greatly affects propagation: lower on the dial is better), expect WMAL’s coverage to be about the same as WSPZ’s.



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I can’t help but notice — since I follow these things — that the FCC has issued construction permits for three low power FM (LPFM) stations in Santa Barbara:

  • KGSB/92.3, with a 100-watt signal radiating from one of KZER-AM/1250’s two towers east of the airport, and licensed to ST. RAPHAEL SCHOOL, 160 St Joseph Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93111-2367
  • KZAA/96.5, with a 100-watt signal radiating from roughly the corner of Calle Cesar Chavez and Montecito Streets, and licensed to LA CASA DE LA RAZA, 601 E. Montecito St., Santa Barbara, CA 93103
  • KVSB/96.9, with a 100-watt signal radiating from a corner of Salinas and Lou Dillon Lane on the east side of town, and licensed to:SOUTH COAST COMMUNITY MEDIA ACCESS CENTER, 329 South Salinas Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93103

That’s a lot for a town this size. I’ll be interested to see how those go. Also the new FM translators for AM stations in the market:

This completes our test of interest by anybody, even those who live in Santa Barbara, in stuff like this.

Thank you for listening.


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ice-floes-off-greenland(Cross posted from this at Facebook)

In Snow on the Water I wrote about the ‘low threshold of death” for what media folks call “content” — which always seemed to me like another word for packing material. But its common parlance now.

For example, a couple days ago I heard a guy on WEEI, my fave sports station in Boston, yell “Coming up! Twenty-five straight minutes of content!”

Still, it’s all gone like snow on the water, melting at the speed of short term memory decay. Unless it’s in a podcast. And then, even if it’s saved, it’ll still get flushed or 404’d in the fullness of time.

So I think about content death a lot.

Back around the turn of the millennium, John Perry Barlow said “I didn’t start hearing the word ‘content’ until the container business felt threatened.” Same here. But the container business now looks more like plumbing than freight forwarding. Everything flows. But to where?

My Facebook timeline, standing in the vertical, looks like a core sample of glacier ice, drilled back to 1947, the year I showed up. Memory, while it lasts, is of old stuff which in the physical world would rot, dry, disintegrate, vanish or lithify from the bottom up.

But here we are on the Web, which was designed as a way to share documents, not to save them. It presumed a directory structure, inherited from Unix (e.g. domain.something/folder/folder/file.html). Amazingly, it’s still there. Whatever longevity “content” enjoys on the Web is largely owed to that structure, I believe.

But in practice most of what we pile onto the top of the Web is packed into silos such as Facebook. What happens to everything we put there if Facebook goes away? Bear in mind that Facebook isn’t even yet a decade old. It may be huge, but it’s no more permanent than a sand dune. Nothing on the Web is.

Everything on the Web, silo’d or not, flows outward from its sources like icebergs from glaciers, melting at rates of their own.

The one exception to that rule is the Internet Archive, which catches as much as it can of all that flow. Huge thanks to Brewster Kahle and friends for giving us that.

Anyway, just wanted to share some thoughts on digital mortality this morning.

As you were. Or weren’t. Or will be. Or not.

Bonus link: Locking the Web open.

wheatAdvertising used to be simple. You knew what it was, and where it came from.

Whether it was an ad you heard on the radio, saw in a magazine or spotted on a billboard, you knew it came straight from the advertiser through that medium. The only intermediary was an advertising agency, if the advertiser bothered with one.

Advertising also wasn’t personal. Two reasons for that.

First, it couldn’t be. A billboard was for everybody who drove past it. A TV ad was for everybody watching the show. Yes, there was targeting, but it was always to populations, not to individuals.

Second, the whole idea behind advertising was to send one message to lots of people, whether or not the people seeing or hearing the ad would ever use the product. The fact that lots of sports-watchers don’t drink beer or drive trucks was beside the point, which was making the brand familiar to everybody.

In their landmark study, “The Waste in Advertising is the Part that Works” (Journal of Advertising Research, December, 2004, pp. 375-390), Tim Ambler and E. Ann Hollier say brand advertising does more than signal a product message; it also gives evidence that the parent company has worth and substance, because it can afford to spend the money. So branding was about sending a strong economic signal along with a strong creative signal.

Plain old brand advertising also paid for the media we enjoyed. Still does, in fact.

But advertising today is also digital. That fact makes advertising much more data-driven, tracking-based and personal. Nearly all the buzz and science in advertising today flies around the data-driven, tracking-based stuff generally called adtech. This form of digital advertising has turned into a massive industry, driven by an assumption that the best advertising is also the most targeted, the most real-time, the most data-driven, the most personal — and that old-fashioned brand advertising is hopelessly retro.

In terms of actual value to the marketplace, however, the old-fashioned stuff is wheat and the new-fashioned stuff is chaff.

To explain why I say that, let’s start with two big value-subtracts of adtech: 1) un-clarity about where any given ad comes from; and 2) un-clarity about whether or not any given ad is personal.

For example, take the one ad that appears for me right now, on my Firefox browser, in this Washington Post story:


What put that ad there?

If I click on the tiny blue button on the upper right corner of the ad (called “Ad Choices,” which I’ll visit later), I get to a linkproof “About Google Ads” page, so I guess Google placed this one. The page mostly pitches Google advertising to potential advertisers, but also says “you may also see ads based on your interests and more.” How do they know my interests? By tracking me, of course. Did I ask for that, or know how the tracking happens? No.

But I also don’t know if this ad is based on tracking. In fact I suspect it is not, because the ad is nowhere near any interest of mine. It was the only ad that got past the tracking blockers I have operating right now on Firefox. Why? Not sure about that either. According to my Ghostery add-on, these entities are following me on the Washington Post site:


Google isn’t one of them. But then, Ghostery doesn’t see, or stop, as many trackers Privacy Badger, which I also have installed. Here’s that list:


Since I’m not currently running an ad blocker (e.g. Adblock Plus) on Firefox, but I am running Ghostery and PrivacyBadger (both of which follow and selectively valve tracking), I can assume that turned-off trackers causes some of the blank white spaces flanking editorial matter, each with the word “Ad” or “Advertisement” in tiny type.

Thus I suppose that the Google/Zulily ad got through because it either wasn’t tracking-based or because I have Ghostery and/or Privacy Badger set to wave it through. But I don’t know, and that’s my point. Or one of them.

Now let’s look at what I’m missing on that page. To do that, I just disabled all tracking and ad blocking on a different browser — Google’s Chrome — and loaded the same Washington Post page there.

It took twenty-seven seconds to load the whole page, including seven ads (which were the last things to load), over a fairly fast home wi-fi connection (35Mbps downstream).

Instead of the Zulily ad I saw in Firefox, there is an ad for the Washington Post’s Wine Club. A space-filler, I guess. Can’t tell.

Only one of the six other ads feature the little blue Ad Choices button. It’s one for the Gap. When I click on it, this comes up:

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 11.01.20 AM

Then, when I then click on “Set your Ad Preferences,” I am sent to Gap Ad Choices, which appears to be a TRUSTe thing. The copy starts,

Interest-based ads are selected for you according to your interests as determined by companies such as ad networks and data aggregators. These companies collect information about your activity – like the pages you visit – and use it to show you ads tailored to your interests; this practice is sometimes referred to as behavioral advertising.

You can prevent our partner companies listed below from showing you targeted ads by submitting opt-outs. Opting-out will prevent you from receiving targeted ads from these companies, but you may continue to see our ads that are not shown through the use of behavioral advertising.

I’ve never heard of any of those companies, or those on the PrivacyBadger list, except for Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and other usual suspects. Nor have you, unless you’re in the business.

These companies are not brands, except inside their B2B sphere, which includes a mess of different breeds: trading desks, SSPs (Supply Side Platforms), DSPs (Demand Side Platforms), ad exchanges, RTB (real time bidding) and other auctions, retargeters, DMPs (Data Management Platforms), tag managers, data aggregators, brokers, resellers, media management systems, ad servers, gamifiers, real time messagers, social tool makers, and many more.

To see how huge this field is, visit Ghostery’s Global Opt-Out page, which companies that “use your data to target ads at you.” I haven’t counted them, but to get to the bottom of the list I had to page down twenty-eight times. And it’s still just a partial list. Lots of other companies, such as real-time auction houses, aren’t there.

If you’re game for more self-torture, check out LUMAscapes such as this one:


Or go to the master Ad Choices page. The headline there says “WILL THE RIGHT ADS FIND YOU?” — as if you want any ads at all. The copy below says,

Welcome to Your AdChoices, where you’re in control of your Internet experience with interest-based advertising—ads that are intended for you, based on what you do online.

The Advertising Option Icon gives you transparency and control for
interest-based ads:

  • Find out when information about your online interests is being gathered or used to customize the Web ads you see.
  • Choose whether to continue to allow this type of advertising.

Watch three short videos to learn how the Icon gives you control of when the right ads find you.

And if you want to go completely bonkers, try watching the videos, which feature the little ad choices icon as the “star” in “your personal ads.”

“Bullshit” is too weak a word for what this is. Because it’s also delusional. Disconnected from reality. Psychotic.

Reality is the marketplace. It’s you and me. And we have no demand for this stuff. In fact our demand, on the whole, is negative, for good reason. According to TRUSTe’s 2015 Privacy Index,

  • 92% of consumers worry about their privacy online. The top cause of concern there: “Companies collecting and sharing my personal information with other companies.”
  • 42% are more worried about their privacy than one year ago.
  • 91% “avoid doing business with companies who I do not believe protect my privacy online.”
  • 77% “have moderated their online activity in the last year due to privacy concerns.”
  • 86% “have taken steps to protect their privacy in the last twelve months.”
  • 63% “deleted cookies
  • 44% “changed privacy settings”
  • 25% “have turned off location tracking”

Ad blocking has also increased. According to PageFair’s latest report,

  • “Globally, the number of people using ad blocking software grew by 41% year over year.” (Q2 2014 to Q2 2015.) In the U.S. the growth rate was 48%. In the U.K. the rate was 82%.
  • In June 2015 “there were 191 million monthly active users for the major browser extensions that block ads.”

I should pause here to add that I use four different browsers on this laptop alone, and make it my business (as the chief instigator of ProjectVRM) to try out many different VRM (vendor relationship management) tools and services, including those for privacy protection, among which are tracking protection and ad blocking systems. These include Abine, Adblock Plus, DisconnectEmmett‘s Web Pal, Ghostery, Mozilla’s Lightbeam, PrivacyFixPrivowny and others you’ll find listed here. I switch these on and off and use them in different combinations to compare results. The one thing I can say for sure, after doing this for years, is that it’s damn near impossible for any human being — even the geekiest — to get their heads around all the things adtech is doing to us, through our browsers and mobile apps, or how all the different approaches to prophylaxis work, especially if more than one is working at the same time in a browser. The easiest thing for everybody is to install (or switch on) a single ad and tracking blocker and be done with it. Which is exactly what we’re seeing in the research above.

Another delusion by the “interest-based advertising” business is the belief that we “trade” our personal data for the goods that advertising pays for. In October 2010 John Battelle wrote, “the choices provided to us as we navigate are increasingly driven by algorithms modeled on the service’s understanding of our identity. We know this, and we’re cool with the deal.” I responded,

In fact we don’t know, we’re not cool with it, and it isn’t a deal.

If we knew, the Wall Street Journal wouldn’t have a reason to clue us in at such length.

We’re cool with it only to the degree that we are uncomplaining about it—so far.

And it isn’t a “deal” because nothing was ever negotiated.

But adtech grew like crazy, rationalized by the faith John summarized. Then, in June of this year, came The Tradeoff Fallacy: How Marketers are Misrepresenting American Consumers and Opening Them Up to Exploiitation, a report from the Annenberg School for Communication of the University of Pennsylvania. In it Joseph Turow, Michael Hennessy and Nora Draper say that’s not the case. Specifically,

…a majority of Americans are resigned to giving up their data—and that is why many appear to be engaging in tradeoffs. Resignation occurs when a person believes an undesirable outcome is inevitable and feels powerless to stop it. Rather than feeling able to make choices, Americans believe it is futile to manage what companies can learn about them. Our study reveals that more than half do not want to lose control over their information but also believe this loss of control has already happened.

And it isn’t just about “giving up” data. It’s about submitting to constant surveillance by unseen entities, and participating, unwillingly, in what Shoshana Zuboff calls surveillance capitalism. This —

…establishes a new form of power in which contract and the rule of law are supplanted by the rewards and punishments of a new kind of invisible hand…

In this new regime, a global architecture of computer mediation turns the electronic text of the bounded organization into an intelligent world-spanning organism that I call Big Other. New possibilities of subjugation are produced as this innovative institutional logic thrives on unexpected and illegible mechanisms of extraction and control that exile persons from their own behavior.

And yet, scary as it is, Big Other is limited by three realities that are now beginning to become clear through the veil of adtech’s delusions.

First is the paradox Don Marti isolates in Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful: “The more targetable that an ad medium is, the less it’s worth…For targeted advertising, it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If it fails, it’s a waste of time. If it works, it’s worse, a violation of the Internet/brain barrier.”

Second is adtech’s belief that we are nothing but consumers, and that all are ready at all times to hear a sales pitch — especially a personalized one.

Third is that this actually works, when most of the time it does not.

For example, I just looked up Mt. Pisgah at In “search nearby” (which Google volunteers as a default search choice, along with a picture of a pizza), Google’s search algorithm assumes that I’m looking, by default, for hotels and restaurants. But what if I’m looking for hiking or biking trails, or something else that costs no money? No luck. Google instead gives me a hotel, a lake and another wilderness area. In fact Google — which one might think knows me well, since I’ve been a user of their services since the beginning, and has me logged in on Chrome  — has no idea why I want to look up that mountain. (In fact it was to illustrate this point, for this essay. Nothing more.)

I just went back through the last seven days of my browser usage on Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera, to see if there is any hint about anything I might have wanted to buy. Out of many hundreds of pages I’ve visited, there is a single hint: a search I did for a replacement remote control for my sister’s Sansui TV. (I didn’t buy it, but I did email her a link.)

Even Amazon, which deals with us mostly when we are in shopping mode, constantly promotes stuff to us that we looked for or bought once and will never buy again. (For years after my grandson had moved past his obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine, Amazon pushed Thomas-like merchandise at me.)

Worse, Amazon constantly mixes wheat and chaff banner ads, so you don’t know whether what you’re seeing is there because Amazon knows you, or because it’s blasting the same promo at everybody.

This has been the case lately with Amazon’s “Home Essentials” banner, “presented by Pure Wow.” If you click on the Pure Wow logo, you get sent to a page that identifies the company as “a women’s lifestyle brand dedicated to finding unique ways to elevate your everyday.” Is Pure Wow a division of Amazon? Is it a company that paid Amazon to place the ad as a branding exercise? Does Amazon think I’m a woman? WTF is actually going on?

Fortunately, it’s possible to tell, by looking at Amazon through a browser uncontaminated by cookies or spyware. (In my case that’s Opera.) This is how I determined that Pure Wow is a simple brand ad, blasted at a population. In other words, wheat. But the fact that it’s hard to tell is itself a huge problem, for Amazon and Pure Wow as well as for the rest of us.

Because marketing is now so totally data-driven, and it is possible for marketing machinery to snarf up personal data constantly and promote at people in real time, the whole business has become obsessed with sales, rather than the rest of what marketing used to be all about. (As taught, for example, by Theodore Levitt and Peter Drucker.)

Nearly the entire commercial Web — the part that’s funded by tracking-based advertising — is so high from smoking its own exhaust that it actually believes that we are buying stuff all the damn time.

These intoxicated marketers completely miss the fact that 100% of the time we are dealing with stuff we’ve already bought, and often need serviced. (Like my sister with the lost remote control.)

Thus we have the strange irony of marketing talking about “brand value,” “loyalty,” and “conversation” while doing almost nothing to serve actual customers who need real help, besides answering complaint tweets and routing inquiries to robots and call centers (which are increasingly the same thing).

My point here is that giant companies — the Big Other — really think homo sapiens is homo consumerus, which is a category error of the first water.

Worse, it’s an illusion. Getting would-be oppressors to assume we are doing nothing but buying stuff all the time is one of the all-time-great examples of misdirection.

And think about what happens when personalized advertising works — for example, when it serves up an ad we can actually use. The actual value of that ad is still compromised by the creepy suspicion that we’re seeing it because we’re being followed, without permission, using who-knows-what, all of it stuck like leeches to our virtual flesh by parties that may not be Google or others who want to point us to the nearest pizza joint when we just want to know what exit to take.

Kapersky Labs calls the who-knows-what “adware.” Specifically, adware is the payload of cookies, programs and other code inserted into your browser, your computer and your mobile device, mostly without your knowledge or permission. The industry and its associations (such as the IAB and the DAA) say adware is all about giving you a better “advertising experience” or whatever. But to the Kaperskys of the world, adware is an attack vector for spreaders of malware and other bad actors — especially those looking to siphon money off an easily gamed system, often by planting hard-to-find bots and other malicious files inside your gear. Kapersky’s 2014 report, for example, is full of arcana that’s hard for civilians to understand, but is worth reading just to get an idea of how very bad this problem is for everybody. Here’s a sample:

Almost half of our TOP 20 programs, including the one in first place, were occupied by AdWare programs. As a rule, these malicious programs arrive on users’ computers alongside legitimate programs if they are downloaded from a software store rather than from the official website of the developer. These legitimate programs might become a carrier for the AdWare-module: once installed on the user’s computer it can add advertising links to browser bookmarks, change the default search engine, add contextual advertising, etc.

Here is one example of one piece of malware at work:

The verdict is also connected to advertising and all sorts of “potentially unwanted” activities. This is how scripts placed on Amazon Cloudfront to redirect users to pages with advertising content are detected. Links to these scripts are inserted by adware and various extensions for browsers, mainly on users’ search pages. The scripts can also redirect users to malicious pages containing recommendations to update Adobe Flash and Java – a popular method of spreading malware.

No wonder security expert T.Rob Wyatt says Online advertising is the new digital cancer. He explains,

I often refer to AdTech as the Research & Development arm of organized cybercrime. The criminals no longer have to spend money inventing new ways of penetrating the mobile device or PC since they can purchase a highly targeted ad for mere pennies instead. Thanks to very effective personalization capabilities delivered by ad networks, the cybercriminals can slice and dice their content and tailor the malware for specific audiences.

There are many ways to personalize content.  For instance, do you ever wonder why we so much email spam is obvious? Spam is often riddled with misspellings, bad grammar, and other glaring clues as to its malicious intent. We think “those must be some really dumb spammers” as we click delete.  Who would fall for that, right?  Actually, that is intentional. People who are so eager for the promised product that they are willing to overlook those obvious clues are self-selecting as the most gullible targets, and therefore the most lucrative. Malvertising relies on a similar filtering mechanism: Anyone NOT using ad blockers is self-selecting into the cybercriminal’s target pool.

There are many names for digital advertising’s chaff. “Interest-based advertising” is the Ad Choices conceit. Inside the business, “adtech” and “programmatic” are two common terms. Kapersky uses “adware.” Don uses “targeted.” I like “tracking-” or “surveillance-based.”

The original name, however, before it began to be called advertising, was direct response marketing. Before that, it was called direct mail, or junk mail.

Direct response marketing has always wanted to get personal, has always been data-driven.

Yes, brand advertising has always been data-driven too, but the data that mattered was how many people were exposed to an ad, not how many clicked on one — or whether you, personally, did anything.

And yes, a lot of brand advertising was annoying, and always will be. But at least we knew it paid for the TV programs we watched and the publications we read.

So now is the time to separate advertising’s wheat from its chaff, in the place where it’s easiest to do, and where it counts most: in our own browsers, apps and devices. It’s much easier to defeat the problem ourselves than by appealing to policy-makers and the industrial giants that rule the commercial Web. And we’re already part way there, thanks to friendly makers of browsers, extensions and add-ons that are already on the case.


An easy solution


All we need is a way to see what’s wheat and what’s chaff, and to separate them as we harvest content off the Web.

In agriculture this is done with a threshing machine. On the Web, so far, it’s done with ad and tracking blockers. All we need to do next is adjust our browsers and/or blockers to allow through the wheat. (Or to continue blocking everything, if that’s our preference. But I think most of us can agree that encouraging wheat production is a good thing.)

For that we need to do just two things:

  1. Label the wheat on the supply side, and
  2. Be able to pass through wheat on the demand side.

This can be done with UI symbols, and with server- and browser-based code.

By now it is beyond obvious that the chaff side of the chaff-obsessed advertising business won’t label its ads except with fatuous nonsense like the Ad Choices button. They can’t help us here.

Nor can attacking problems other than tracking. Not yet, anyway.

This is why well-meaning efforts such as AdBlock Plus‘s Acceptable Ads Manifesto can’t help. While everything the Manifesto addresses (ads that are annoying, disruptive, non-transparent, rude, inappropriate and so on) are real problems, they are beside the point.

As T.Rob puts it in Vendor Entitlement Run Amok, “My main issue with vendors turning us into instrumented data sources isn’t the data so much as the lack of consent.”

If we consent to wheat and block the chaff we solve a world of problems. Simple as that.

And we’re the only ones who can do it.

In her Black Hat 2015 keynote, Stisa Granick says,

Now when I say that the Internet is headed for corporate control, it may sound like I’m blaming corporations. When I say that the Internet is becoming more closed because governments are policing the network, it may sound like I’m blaming the police. I am. But I’m also blaming you. And me. Because the things that people want are helping drive increased centralization, regulation and globalization.

So let’s not just blame ourselves. Let’s fix the problem ourselves too, by working with the browser and ad and tracking blockers to create simple means for labeling the wheat and restricting our advertising diet to it.

And believe me, there are still plenty of creative people left on the old wheat-side advertising business — on Madison Avenue, and in the halls of AdAge and MediaPost — to rally around the idea of labeling the good stuff and letting the bad stuff slide.

By harvesting wheat and threshing out chaff, we also encourage good advertising and re-align it with good editorial (a word I prefer to “content,” which always sounds like packing material to me). We may not like all the ads we see, but at least we’ll know they have real value — to the sites we read, the broadcasts and podcasts we watch and listen to, and to the ad-supported services we depend on.

Then, for those of us who want or welcome certain kinds of tracking, we can also create useful flags for those as well, and consent that’s worthy of the noun.

But let’s start where we can do the most good with the least effort: by threshing apart advertising’s wheat and chaff.

Bonus links:

Right now every FM and TV station in Santa Barbara and San Diego can be heard in both places. Between them lays more than 200 miles of ocean across a curved earth. I’m not there right now, but I see what’s happening remotely over my TV set top box. (Thank you, SlingBox.) But, more importantly, John Harder‘s tropo map tells me so:


Tropo is tropospheric refraction of radio waves across a distance. Atmosphere has refractive properties that don’t matter most of the time. But we can see changes, for example, with mirages ahead of us above a hot road, which causes the air above to refract light at a low angle, essentially reflecting the sky, other cars and landscapes on the horizon. Something like this also happens over land and water.

I see by the map above that tropo is happening in other parts of California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. I also see that it’s starting to happen here in north central North Carolina, where I can already pick up stations in South Carolina:


On 88.1fm, for example, I’m getting WRJA from Sumter, South Carolina, atop WKNC in Raleigh. WRJA is about 160 miles away while WKNC is only 40 miles away. But WRJA is 100,000 watts atop a thousand-foot tower, while WKNC is 25,000 watts on a 260 foot tower. (It’s actually as little as 35% of full power in most directions from the transmitter at NC State. They have a construction permit to change that a bit.) So they’re making a hash of each other here.

Back when I lived in the woods north of Chapel Hill, long before the Internet showed up and made all of this stuff irrelevant for listeners (who can get the same stations on the Net, anywhere), I had a directional Finco FM-5 antenna and a Channel Master Crossfire 3610 antenna (both salvaged from abandoned structures) on a pole next to my 1-story house. I rotated them by hand. If I had the same rig here I could point at either WRJA or WKNC and “null out” the other. I did this on hot summer mornings for fun back then, and eventually logged nearly every FM station from Pennsylvania to Georgia. (It’s a summer thing, and coincidental with heat waves over large areas.)

Here is a whole-country map that shows tropo happening pretty much everywhere:


I would love to have had this kind of resource back in those days. Now that I do, it’s hardly worth the trouble, since nearly all my radio listening is over the Net.

Anyway, if you’re wondering why your local station is being obliterated by a signal coming from a state or two away, or why you’re suddenly getting far-away stations where none were before, tropo is the most likely reason.

The second most likely one is Sporadic E skip, which brings in stations from distances of 800-1200 miles or so away. In that case the E layer of the ionosphere turns into something like a hot road surface, reflecting distant signals, but only at a certain angle. I’ll cover those in a later post when the phenomenon is actually happening. It’s not right now.

Meanwhile, if any of this intrigues you at all, check out William Hepburn’s amazing Worldwide Tropo Forecast Maps. Great eye and brain candy, because it exposes a real-world view of the world that isn’t what you see with your eyes.

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The radio dial here IMG_8116in “upstate” Manhattan and the Bronx is packed with pirate radio signals. Many are smack next to New York’s licensed landmarks. Here’s what I’m getting right now on our kitchen radio…

  • 88.1 “Romantica New York” Spanish announcers, music in English and Spanish. Right next to WBGO (@wbgo), New York’s jazz station (licensed to Newark).
  • 89.3 Spanish. Right next to WFDU and WNYU (@wnyu), the Fairleigh Dickenson and NYU stations that share time on 89.1.
  • 89.7 Spanish. Talk. Call-ins. Right next to WKCR (@wkcrfm), the Columbia University station on 89.9.
  • 91.3 Spanish, as I recall. It just popped off the air. Right next to WNYE on 91.5.
  • 92.1 Spanish, currently playing traditional Mexican (e.g. Mariachi) music and talking up a Mexican restaurant. Right next to 92.3 WBMP “Amp radio” (@923amp) in New York.
  • 94.3 Spanish talk. Not next to any local station, but two notches removed from 94.7 WNSH “Nash” (@nashfm947ny) in New York (licensed to Newark).
  • 95.3 Spanish music. Right next to 95.5 WPLJ (@955plj) in New York. (Note that in the screen shot above, of my kitchen radio, it lights up the ST (stereo) indicator.)
  • 98.9 Spanish talk and music. Right next to 98.7 WEPN-FM (@espnny98_7), ESPN’s flagship station on 98.7.
  • 99.3 Spanish talk. Right next to 99.5 WBAI in New York.
  • 101.7 Spanish music. Right next to 101.9 WFAN-FM (@wfan660) in New York.
  • 102.5 English talk, with a Caribbean accent. Just heard ads for businesses in The Bronx (nail salon) and New Jersey (dentist), massage therapy (50 fremont ave, East Orange, NJ), a reggae music concert, 708-282-8741. Right next to 102.7 WWFS, “Fresh 102.7″ (@fresh1027ny) in New York.
  • 102.9 English talk and music, with a Jamaican accent. I believe this was the same station that earlier today was rebroadcasting a Kingston station, no doubt picked up off the Net. Also right next to WWFS.
  • 105.5 Some kind of Christian pop, I think. It’s not WDHA in Dover, NJ. I just checked that station’s stream online. Totally different.
  • 105.7 Music in English right now. Right next to 105.9 WQXR (@WQXR) in New York.
  • 106.1 English. Reggae dance. Ads: Mizama Apparel Plus, 4735 white plains road. Kings Electronics, 4372 White Plains Road. Jumbo concert in Mt. Vernon… Also right next to WQXR on the dial. All but blows QXR away, in fact. (QXR’s signal radiates from the same master antenna as most other New York stations, on the Empire State Building, but is just 610 watts, while most of the rest are 6000 watts.)
  • 106.9 English music. Caribbean accent. Right next to 106.7 WLTW “Lite FM” (@1067litefm) in New York.

This is a nearly completely different list of pirates than the one I compiled last fall from this same location, in the 10040 area code. (There were pirate signals on 89.3 and 89.7 then, but I’m not sure if these are the same.), None of the pirate signals match anything on this list of all the legitimate licensed signals radiating within 100km (60 miles) of here.

Man, I wish I knew Spanish. If I did, I would dig into as many of these as I could.

All of them, I am sure, are coming from the northern end of Manhattan and the Bronx, though 102.5 has so many ads for New Jersey places that I wonder if it’s actually over there somewhere.

All of them serve some kind of marketplace, I assume. And even though I don’t understand most of what they’re talking about (when they do talk), I’m fascinated by them.

At the same time they are all illegal, and to varying degrees interfere with legitimate licensed stations. If I were any of the legitimate stations listed above, I’d be concerned. Weaker stations (e.g. WKCR, WBGO and WQXR) especially.

There are a few New York pirate radio stories out there (here, here and here, for example); but they’re all thin, stale or old.

This is a real phenomenon with a lot of meat for an enterprising journalist — especially one who speaks Spanish. Any takers?

This is about AM radio stations being worth less than the ground they stand on. Case in point: WMAL-AM in Washington, DC. You can see the problem with this Google Map:


The heart-shaped patch of green between the legs of I-495 and the I-270 spur is populated by four towers radiating the signal of WMAL, a landmark on Washington’s radio dial (at 630am) since 1925. The station’s 75-acre transmitter site is nearly as big as the nearby Bethesda Country Club golf course and the Westfield Montgomery Mall. It also sits deep in the suburbs, surrounded by trees and highways, most of which appeared long after WMAL erected the towers on cheap open land, far from the bustling Capitol, many decades ago. That land is worth a lot more now.

So it’s no surprise to read news (via The Sentinel) that Cumulus Media, which owns WMAL-AM & FM, has put the land up for sale. Says the report, “Local real estate experts estimate the property could be worth hundreds of millions.” I don’t know what WMAL-AM is worth, but I’m guessing it would be a few million, tops. So it makes financial sense to sell off the land. 

But what about the signal? Many AM stations have already “gone dark” (as they say in the business). Will WMAL do the same? In the first comment below, Jon Elbaz, who wrote the Sentinel piece, says Cumulus intends to keep WMAL-AM on the air somehow. But a question is raised: how long can any AM station on desirable land stay on the air? And by what means?

Back in radio’s golden age — when AM ruled the waves — the stations battling for the top of Washington, DC’s ratings heap were WTOP and WMAL. WTOP peaked when it went all-news in the 1960s, and has stayed at the top ever since. It did that by doing great work, and by wisely moving to FM a few years back, taking over the channel (103.5) long occupied by classical WGMS-FM, whose owners by then had unloaded its original 570am signal, which is still on the air as WSPZ. (More about that below.) WMAL also has an FM signal, on 105.9. That one is #9 in Nielsen’s latest figures, while WTOP is #1. WMAL-AM doesn’t show at all.

So I have to wonder about Cumulus commitment to keeping the signal on the air. Finding a new transmitter site is not a cheap undertaking. To explain, I’ll need to get technical.

To transmit, AM radio stations require a substantial sum of real estate. AM waves are hundreds of feet long, and require long radiating antennas. These take the form of towers. If a station has a directional signal, more than one tower is required to create the signal’s pattern. WMAL has two different asymmetrical patterns for use in the day and night. Here is how the four towers are arranged, and the patterns they produce:


Each tower is a quarter wavelength high, which at 630am makes them about 400 feet tall. Surrounding them is also a “ground system” of buried conductors running hundreds of feet in all directions from the towers. This is why WMAL needs those 75 acres. To stay on the air, WMAL will need to find replacement acreage, somewhere that allows the signals you see above (or slightly modified versions of them) to cross as much of the Metro area as possible, meaning it will have to be northwest of town. For that Cumulus will need to either buy land out that way, or co-site with some other station already operating there.

The only two stations with transmitters out there are WTEM (“ESPN 980″) and WSPZ, both sports stations (on 980 and 570 respectively) and owned by Red Zebra Broadcasting (in which the main stakeholders are also those of the Washington Redskins). (Here are aerial views, via Bing, of the WTEM and WSPZ sites.)

Of those, WSPZ’s site looks like it has more room. It’s in Germantown, about 22 miles from downtown Washington, more than twice the distance from downtown Washington as WMAL’s current site. I suspect the signal patterns could be “tightened” to concentrate energy toward Washington, though, and that might help. But ground conductivity — which matters hugely for AM signals — is poor in Maryland and Virginia, which is one reason AM stations there tend to suck in the ratings. (For evidence of how much ground conductivity matters, compare three AM stations, all 5,000 watts, and all on 570am: WSPZ in Washington, WNAX in Yankton, South Dakota and KLIF in Dallas. The latter two cover enormous territories, while WSPZ basically covers the District and bits of adjacent Maryland and Virginia. Ground conductivity in the middle of the country is about 15x better than the area served by WSPZ.)

In fact WSPZ is way out of town today because its owners a few years back did exactly what Cumulus is doing with WMAL today: they sold the land out from under the towers. This topo map shows where the WSPZ towers used to be, when it was still WGMS: a site in Potomac, across the Beltway about three miles from WMAL’s site. Believe me, the old signal from the old site covered the metro a helluva lot better than the new signal from the new site. Expect the same results if WMAL moves there.

So again, why keep WMAL-AM on the air at all?

One argument is that the WMAL-FM signal isn’t a great one. While it’s licensed for 28000 watts, it only hits that max to the northwest and southwest of its transmitter in Merrifield, outside the Beltway on the southwest side of town. Toward the district (northeast of the site) its signal has a huge dent, down to around 1/4 of what it puts out in the other directions:


So getting a bit of help on the AM side might still be worth the trouble.

Still, one wonders… How much time will pass before the land under WSPZ becomes far more valuable than the station — or even WSPZ and WMAL put together?

This kind of question sits in front of many AM station owners’ minds right now. I expect what we’ll have in the long run are AM stations standing on land with little or no market value. The rest will disappear along with their real estate.

[Later…] I also wonder about Cumulus’ commitment to saving the signal. In 2011 it acquired (by merger) KAAY/1090am in Little Rock, Arkansas — a 50,000 watt giant with rich history and a night signal that stretches from Cuba to Canada. Or used to. Wikipedia:

Unfortunately, owners of KAAY in later years allowed the stations famed transmission facilities in Wrightsville, AR to fall into disrepair. Copper thieves stole a large amount of transmission line, degrading the stations signal significantly. Roof damage allowed water to enter the 50,000 watt transmitter – knocking it off the air. Currently, KAAY has reestablished 50000 watt service during the day, but has yet to rebuild the 3 tower directional array, so nighttime service remains under an STA at 1250 watts non directional.

KAAY is the biggest AM station in Arkansas. If Cumulus cared, it would restore the station to full capacity. But the format is “brokered/Christian,” which is tends to be low-cost dial-filler. Only one AM station makes the published ratings for Little Rock, and it’s Cumulus’ KARN/920 “The Sports Animal.” Not KAAY. KARN is also at the bottom of the heap. Higher rated are four other Cumulus stations, all FMs.

So the Company isn’t suffering there. Its portfolio of stations does fine, and that’s what matters, right? If the market won’t miss WMAL-AM, why bother keeping it?

[Later again…] This story features an offer sheet on the property, and says offers need to be in by March 12. I also found this older story, about Cumulus’ plan to sell the land under KABC’s transmitter. I can find no evidence that the land has been sold, or is still on the market. KABC also has no construction permits to move to a new location.

[Later again…] Well, apparently they do think it’s worth the bother. Jonathan O’Connell reported this in a February 13 story in The Washington Post:

When the towers are torn down, it will not affect WMAL, said Cumulus spokesman Collin Jones. Jones said the company would lease transmission facilities elsewhere after the sale closed.

“Listeners will literally have no idea that it happened,” Jones said.

Well, some listeners. Others will. There is no way WMAL can move to another site without compromising the signal in some directions.

[May 5…] A buyer for the land has been found, stories in Bethesda Magazine and Radio World report. In a search on, however, I see no applications or construction permits at a new site, but perhaps Cumulus is still in negotiations for leasing space at other locations.





mutualmusiciansSo I just learned that a Kansas City Jazz station is headed toward existence. If you love any of these musicians, this should be very good news.

The story begins,

By this time next year, Kansas City-style jazz might be bebopping out of a new radio station near you.

The Mutual Musicians Foundation in the 18th and Vine jazz district announced this week it’s been granted a construction permit for a noncommercial, low-power FM radio station. The foundation is hoping the KC jazz station, at 104.7 FM, will be on the air by next January.

It will be called KOJH-LP. LP stands for low power, or what the FCC calls LPFM. Here’s the application for what’s now a granted CP, or Construction Permit.

In fact there is a jazz station called KOJH already — a streaming one in Oklahoma. Though it’s not a licensed radio station, it may have inherited those call letters from one. (I’ve looked, but haven’t been able to tell. Maybe the lazyweb knows.)

Here’s the station’s mission, filed with the FCC.

KOJH will broadcast from the Arts Asylum at Harrison and E. 9th Street. A new tower will go on the building. From there they will radiate a whopping 22 watts at 207 feet above the average terrain, at 104.7fm. It’s a tiny signal that will won’t reach far out of downtown.

Worse, most of Kansas City’s big FM stations have effective radiated powers (what’s concentrated toward the horizon, or populations) of 100,000 watts, and transmit from a collection of towers over 1000 feet tall, just a short distance east of downtown. One of those is KBEQ on 104.3, just two notches down the dial from KOJH. This means you will need a good radio to keep KBEQ from blasting KOJH sideways. Today’s car radios are good enough to keep that from happening. (And will likely get KOJH up to a dozen or more miles away.) Recent-vintage portable and home radios will have a hard time, unless they’re very close to the KOJH transmitter.

(Many manufacturers quit caring decades ago. And now Radio Shack has filed for bankruptcy. Even CEO Can’t Figure Out How RadioShack Still In Business, which ran in The Onion in 2007, has proven prophetic.)

So it is good to know KOJH plans to stream online, because that’s the future of radio.

But there are other stepping stones.

For example, something the Mutual Musicians Foundation might consider doing, while they get underway with KOJH, is buying an AM station that’s dropped out of the ratings. Some possibles, going up the dial:

    • KCCV/760. 6000 watts day, 200 watts night.
    • WHB/810. 50000 watts day, 5000 watts night.
    • KBMZ/980. 5000 watts day and night.
    • KCWJ/1030. 5000 watts day, 500 watts night.
    • KCTO/1160. 5000 watts day, 230 watts night.
    • KYYS/1250. 25000 watts day, 3700 watts night.
    • KDTD/1340. 1000 watts, day and night.
    • KCNW/1380. 2500 watts day, 300 watts night.
    • KKLO/1410. 5000 watts day, 500 watts night.
    • KCZZ/1480. 1000 watts day, 500 watts night.
    • KWOD/1660. 10000 watts day, 1000 watts night.

(Note that wattage is just one variable. Location of the transmitter, efficiency of the towers, directionality of the signal, ground conductivity and frequency all matter too. For example, the lower the station’s frequency, the longer the wavelength, and the better its signal travels along the ground.)

Only three AM stations show up in Kansas City’s latest ratings: KCSP, a sports station at 610am, KCMO, a right-wing talk station at 710am, and KPRT, a gospel music station at 1590am. (With 1000 watts by day and just 50 watts at night, I’m amazed KPRT makes the ratings at all.)

All the un-rated stations listed above put signals across all of KOJH’s coverage area, and then some. Some, such as WHB (a legendary station and signal), may never be for sale. But I’ll bet some others are on the market today, and will only get cheaper.

Music sounds awful on AM, unless the station radiates HD radio encoding. Most engineers I know in broadcasting dislike HD radio and consider it a gimmick. But it does sound quite good on both AM and FM. The difference it makes on AM is amazing.

Loyal listeners of a format will do the work required to get a signal. I’m sure that’s the case with KPRT’s gospel listeners, for example. Now, after stumbling for years, HD radio is picking up with manufacturers. There is a nice list on the HD Radio site. Meanwhile, the market value of AM radio stations, especially ones with no ratings, is crashing to the point where the cost of operating them exceeds their income. (An AM station sucks about twice the wattage off the grid as it radiates from its transmitter.) In coming years many of them will sell for a song.

So those changes — the rise of HD Rado and the decline of also-ran AM station prices — are factors the KOJH folks might want to keep in mind as they fire up their LP signal on FM. Think local, but think big too.

Bonus link.

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:



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.


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