Saturday, April 25, 2015

I be bloggin'

by Don Keith

I have had the pleasure of doing a couple of blog appearances in the past week.  One will be released in June as part of a brand new World War II blog series done by the History Network in Great Britain.  Angus Wallace did a great job on the interview, and I will try to remember to update this post with a link when it is available.  We are, of course, discussing the USS Neosho and my book about what happened to her--THE SHIP THAT WOULDN'T DIE--at the Battle of the Coral Sea.



I was also honored to be a part of the podcast series from QSO TODAY, a web site belonging to Eric Guth 4Z1UG, who interviewed me from Jerusalem, in Israel.  We discuss amateur radio, how the hobby can enhance a person's education and career, my ham radio book, RIDING THE SHORTWAVES: EXPLORING THE MAGIC OF AMATEUR RADIO, and also about my other books.  Eric does a good job with the podcast but also includes "show notes" that add a great deal to the audio, including numerous appropriate links and even pictures of some of the things we talk about.

You can see the show notes page and listen to the podcast from the QSO TODAY site by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Another promotional blog post from Don Keith N4KC...using that rapidly-changing technology

By Don Keith

You have to admit that I rarely use this forum for self-promotion for my World War II (WWII, WW2, World War 2, #WWII, #WW2) just to get all the keywords in there), amateur radio (ham radio, #hamradio, #amateurradio), submarine, Alabama (Crimson Tide) football, or other books.  But right up front, let me warn you this is one.
The latest Don Keith book, The Ship that Wouldn't Die, a remarkable true story of WWII

While we are at it, are you noticing that most articles you run across on the web...regardless the source...are loaded with both keywords and language designed to put the content at the top of Google, Bing, and other search engines.  Click bait!  It is becoming less and less about what is said and how it is said and more about how Google, Bing, and the rest find and index what is being published.  And so it shall be from now on, I suspect.  And, as best as I can, this article is being written more for Google than for you nice folks who follow the Don Keith N4KC Rapidly Changing Technology blog.  For that I apologize.  But it is what it is.  I feed my family by writing WWII (World War II, World War 2, WW2), amateur radio (ham radio), submarine, and Alabama (Crimson Tide) books.

Well, maybe you are interested that my new book, "The Ship that Wouldn't Die", has now been released and, even before it officially shipped, landed on several Amazon.com (Amazon) bestseller lists.  Amazon.com (Amazon) being the top seller of books these days, that is a positive sign for struggling book writers.  The book tells the story of a WWII (World War 2, World War II, WW2) ship that was attacked and left for dead at the Battle of the Coral Sea (#Coral_Sea) and the remarkable efforts of her crew to keep her afloat until rescue ships arrived.

Ship that Wouldn't Die by Don Keith audio book cover for World War II Coral Sea storyI also just got a copy of the audio book (#audio_book) and the fellow who read it, Arthur Morey, did a very good job.

If you like remarkable true stories of average men placed in desperate circumstances who do remarkable things, you will enjoy "The Ship that Wouldn't Die".

And I don't think there is a single potential search term in that last sentence.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Massive tech change in media means...classic rock still top radio format?

by Don Keith

Counter-intuitive, ain't it?  Despite all the rapid technological change in society and its effect on all media...and especially broadcast radio...a format that plays music forty years old is still among tops with listeners.  At least, that is true if you believe Nielsen ratings and this article from our friends at INSIDE RADIO:

Why Classic Rock Refuses to Die.
Despite classics by Led Zeppelin remaining in rotation for decades, a new online survey from researcher Mark Kassoff shows their extraordinary resiliency. Two-thirds of classic rock radio listeners say the music sounds every bit as good now as it did decades ago.

OK, first let me punch a hole in Mr. Kassof's survey.  According to the article:

Asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “Classic rock sounds every bit as good now as it did decades ago,” two-thirds of the 320 survey respondents who listen to classic rock radio strongly agreed.

Well, if you ask 320 people who eat chocolate cake if chocolate cake tastes good to them, I'd expect even more than two-thirds to say it did!

Then why does Nielsen (formerly Arbitron) surveys show classic rock stations to still be among the most popular in most radio markets?  Because of a strange--but purely self-serving--quirk in how radio ratings are gathered and presented.  And because of the nature of today's over-the-air listener.

If I sit at a desk all day and my only choice for background atmosphere is local radio, I probably prefer something familiar, unobtrusive, and non-distracting.  I probably also need something that will not drive fellow cubicle-mates bonkers.  Country gets on the nerves of some people.  Rap certainly does.  Adult contemporary is often a choice.  But almost everyone can tolerate classic rock, and especially if they are over 40 (as the article admits) and grew up listening to this music when it was new.  So, if I happen to be keeping a diary or toting a personal people meter (PPM) for the Nielsen folks, I can tally a whole bunch of listening to Classic Rock 105.5 or whoever.

Secondly, as mentioned in previous rants. radio is careful to yell and scream about its SHARE, not its RATING.  SHARE is the percentage of people listening at any given time to broadcast radio.  RATING is the percentage of every person in the survey area, including those who listen to no radio at all.

SHARE is how big a slice of the radio listening pie your station gets.  RATING is how big a slice you get of the "everybody" pie.  The former...SHARE...is from a pie whose size is shrinking rapidly.  Fewer and fewer people are listening to over-the-air radio because there are so many other audio sources for them to choose.  Me, sitting at my desk, might listen to Pandora instead of Classic Rock 105.5 if my company's IT department doesn't mind my use of the bandwidth.  But as long as we are talking about a PERCENTAGE of the pie...the SHARE...it will continue to look impressive.

But when figuring SHARE, all that other listening is ignored.  Only over-the-air stations count.  (Yes, new efforts are being made to measure things like radio station streaming and other sources, but we ain't there yet, and share still does not reflect it.)  Even if a station has a big SHARE, it could still be far fewer actual sets of ears than it used to be.  Today's (let's say) 12 SHARE is a lot less human beings than it was a decade ago but SHARES...percentages...are still the same.

Oh, and I can think of one other reason classic rock might still remain a "strong" choice for radio listeners.  Note this sentence in the article:

Nearly 30 years after it emerged as a rock splinter format, classic rock shattered its PPM ratings record in February, underlining the timeless nature of the music.

 Could it be that people who still listen to broadcast radio...and who are willing to keep a listening diary or carry a meter for Nielsen...are not very active listeners in the first place?  That they are not seeking new music or more active formats?  That just want something familiar, safe, and non-threatening?  Something not perceived to be noise?  Could that also be why the most successful classic rock stations have practically no personalities (live deejays) on the air?

Could it be that today's over-the-air radio listeners--far fewer of them, remember...actually only want non-distracting background noise?  Is that where you want your commercials, Mr. Advertiser?  

In the background?
    
    

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Shameless promotional post

by Don Keith

A couple of positive things lately regarding my books and...though only marginally...they do sort of fit into the "rapidly changing technology" subject of this blog.

First is the posting on YouTube of the short promotional video for my newest book, THE SHIP THAT WOULDN'T DIE.  Yes, it is now impossible (or at least inadvisable) to publish a book without some kind of video to accompany it.  So here's mine.  The hope is that it will make someone actually want to invest in buying and reading it.  Or at least make them look it up on Amazon and see what it is all about.

Of course, the real reason is to give my name and the book more ooomph! when people look for it on Google.  It's all about the views, hits, and likes, you know.

Second bit of news is about casting for the Relativity Media movie HUNTER KILLER, based on the book by myself (Don Keith) and George Wallace, titled FIRING POINT.  Gerard Butler, Billy Bob Thornton, and the actor/rapper/composer Comfort have reportedly been cast for the principal production, set to begin in July in New Orleans.

More to follow...

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bear Bryant Certainly Had a Way With Words

(Note: the following post has nothing to do with rapidly changing technology.  It is a short blog post I wrote for the web site of one of my publishers and I thought followers here might enjoy it.)



Legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant probably gets credit for many more philosophical statements than he ever actually uttered.  Still, having just passed another anniversary of his death in January 1983, I’m reminded once again just how succinct and powerful the college coach’s actual words and winning philosophy were.  And how easily they could be applied to success in life as well as to winning football as played by his beloved Crimson Tide.

In my book THE BEAR: THE LEGENDARY LIFE OF COACH PAUL “BEAR” BRYANT, I give several examples of Coach Bryant’s insistence that preparation and hard work were the real keys to success.  One maxim that stood out—and one I know he actually said—was, “It is not the will to win that leads to success.  It is the will to prepare to win.”

I believe it is especially important to the current generation to realize that success is not necessarily something that comes through good fortune or because of a desire for it to happen.  Yes, you may win the Power Ball millions, but consider the odds against you.  You may desperately want to be the next “American Idol,” but wanting to be is not enough.  Everyone wants to win and be successful.  Not everybody is willing to do what it takes.  As Coach Bryant says, you have a much better chance to succeed if you work hard, learn, practice, and excel.  That is, you are willing to do the hard work to prepare to be a winner rather than sit back and wish and hope.

Near the end of THE BEAR: THE LEGENDARY LIFE OF COACH PAUL “BEAR” BRYANT I talk about a conversation the Alabama football coach had with a sports reporter.  Bear admitted that he was sick and no longer able to continue the brutal coaching schedule he had followed most of his adult life. 

“When I give up coaching I’ll probably croak within a month,” he told the writer.  What he was actually saying was that once he was physically incapable of the hard work he knew he needed to do to assure the football success of the Crimson Tide, he would quit the only job he ever wanted.  “I ain’t never been nothing but a winner,” he said.  Once that was no longer possible, it was time for him to step down.  That was exactly what he did.
Bear Bryant’s comments proved to be prophetic.  He suffered a fatal heart attack only a few weeks after his last game as football coach at the University of Alabama.

Don Keith is author of THE BEAR: THE LEGENDARY LIFE OF COACH PAUL “BEAR” BRYANT and more than two dozen other books, fiction and non-fiction, on subjects ranging from sports to history to broadcasting.  His web site is www.donkeith.com.



Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Can the FCC save AM broadcast radio -- Part Dos




by Don Keith

My recent post about the FCC's futile and short-sighted ideas for saving the already comatose AM broadcast band generated many interesting posts, both on my blog (http://n4kc.blogspot.com) and on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/donkeith).  Comments seemed to fall into three basic camps:
Radio broadcasting
1) "But I love AM radio!  I like to drive for miles and miles and listen to some station from Cincinnati."  Response: Fine.  Some of my best friends are AM DXers and enjoy capturing skywave signals.  However, neither you nor they mean squat to that station in Cincinnati when the station's staff tries to sell commercials on their air.  There is little to no interest in saving the band for DXers.  Nor is that a valid reason to keep the band as it is today.  Sorry.

2)  "You are right, Don.  But if they could just clean up the signals and maybe give them more power, it would fix everything."  No.  No, I don't think so.  First, today's station owners are not interested in investing anything at all into their plants.  Secondly, we now have--thanks to those owners--a generation of people who not only don't know or care what AM radio is but likely couldn't figure out how to get it on their car radios if they did.  Lack of something worth listening to!  That is one of the big problems.  And the FCC is not going to solve that one.  Nor should they.  That is the responsibility of those who hold licenses.

3)  Those who actually offer some possible solutions.  Best among those came via my friend Dave Barnes WB4KDI who forwarded me a link to a filing in the FCC's inquiry on the subject.  If you are interested, you can read it at http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7521066938.  The trouble with most of these suggestions is, as expressed in 2) above, most broadcasters will be unwilling to spend much money chasing a dramatically fragmented listenership.  Plus anything that depends on those listeners to buy new hardware, install antennas, or do too much futzing around to try to hear those new-technology "AM" stations won't work either.

Won't work unless there is something in the way of programming content on those new-technology "AM" stations worth seeking out.  Not when you can drop your smart phone into the slot or easily hook up Bluetooth and have a vast array of free audio anywhere on the planet you want it.

I don't want to be too pessimistic here.  I love radio, including AM broadcast.  I wish there was a practical solution.  I still think it has the potential to be not only the most compelling medium there is but also the one that can do the most for advertisers.  But not if the only programming choices are pablum.  Or wall warts and other noisy switching power supplies pollute the spectrum so badly listeners can only hear a buzz.

Though sometimes I think that buzz is more entertaining and informative than what most AM stations (and FM, too) have on their air these days.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Can the Federal Communications Commission save AM broadcast radio"

by Don Keith

Darn good question up there in the headline!  The article in today's INSIDE RADIO quotes one FCC commissioner as saying he is committed to revitalizing the AM broadcast band.  You remember AM radio, right?  That noisy slice of spectrum from 540 to 1700 kilohertz, filled with static, come-and-go signals, strange-sounding ethnic stations, and hollering preachers.)  The article also notes that less than 20% of all radio listening nowadays is to AM stations.  I'd bet if you look outside the top ten markets, that number would be less than 5%.

OK, so AM broadcasting is in serious trouble. I'm already predicting it will be an amateur radio band within ten years.  What does Commissioner Ajit Pai propose doing?  What high-tech gimmickry does he suggest?  What incentives to broadcast licensees in the AM realm will the FCC develop to save the band?

1) Easier-to-get FM translators.  2) Modification of the so-called ratchet rule.

That's it.

Ratchet rule first: that was a complicated set of regs designed to reduce night-time interference between AM stations, passed in an era when most people still listened to AM and thought FM was only good for classical and elevator music.  I'm not sure what changes they make at this late date--any big alteration would be costly for cash-strapped AMs to accomplish anyway--and frankly, I think it's way past possible to suddenly create excitement among listeners for AM radio by reducing the interference protection for Station A over Station B by 1 mV.  Huh?

Can't wait to hear that promotional announcement:  "WAAA-AM 970, now with a slightly better antenna array pattern so all six of you who listen to us at night can now hear us better by 1 micro-volt!"

Besides, if the trend continues, as AM stations turn in their licenses because the real estate where their towers are located is worth more than the station itself, then this "ratchet rule" issue will settle itself.  There will be so few stations, nobody will interfere with anybody else!

Now, about FM translators.  You can hear this phenomenon already in whatever market you live in.  Listen to that new station that just popped up on the dial out of nowhere.  You know, the one that keeps fading in and out on your car radio and that you can't even get at your desk in the office.  (You try because they play a bunch of music with no...and I mean NO...commercials.)

Listen to its legal station identification, usually occurring near the top of the hour.  "97 Rock is WAAA-AM W375962 Yourtown!"  That is a translator station, a low power transmitter assigned to an AM station to rebroadcast its signal on FM.  That is also why--if you still know how to flip your radio over to AM--you suddenly hear a rock-and-roll AM station among the mostly sports talk, Hispanic, and gospel stations that make up most of the AM dial now.

(You will also hear station identification that sounds like, "This is 97 Rock, WFFF-FM HD2, Yourtown!"  That is a translator that re-broadcasts the sub-channel of an existing FM station.  You didn't know your local stations had such so-called "high-definition" sub-channels?  They do, but few use them for any other purpose than to supply audio for a separately-branded translator transmitter.  That's because practically no one has an HD radio capable of hearing the sub-channel itself.  And if they do, they likely are not even aware they have it or which stations in their town--if any--have programming on that HD channel.)

Now, tell me.  How does allowing AM stations to broadcast their programming (or the programming on the AM station's HD sub-channel...yes, a few have that capability, too) on a low-power transmitter with limited antenna height help keep people listening to the AM band?  How can the AM stations convince advertisers that a commercial on the AM station--that nobody...NOBODY listens to--will somehow suddenly attract enough listeners on that weak FM signal to bring them any customers?

No, what the translator-ization of the FM band--along with the introduction of literally thousands of non-commercial low-power FM stations--has done is make it even tougher for over-the-air broadcasting in general at a time when they are in enough troubles already.  Here's how:

1) The band is already so cluttered in most markets that interference is becoming a real problem.  Why should I try to hear my favorite morning deejay on 97.3 FM when he keeps getting wiped out by some local (albeit low-power) church station just down the dial when I go behind a hill or between buildings?

2) All those new signals, bad as they are, further dilute the listenership to over-the-air stations.  Radio ratings--which stations use to sell and price their commercials--are fractured beyond belief already.  Radio survived for years by selling ratings based on the percentage of people listening to radio at any given time.  That is called "share."  Share of people listening to over-the-air radio.  Now agencies and advertisers are waking up.  They want to see and pay for the percentage of people listening to a station in their target demographic based on the total number of people in the market who are in the demo.  That is called "rating."  A station may well have a "12 share" in women aged 25 to 49.  That is 12% of all women aged 25 to 49 WHO ARE LISTENING TO THE RADIO in an average quarter hour of the day.  Wow!  A commercial on the "Sonny and Goofball Morning Mayhem Show" reaches 12% of the folks a grocery store wants to talk to.  But if you look at RATING...a percentage of women 25 to 49 in the general population, whether they are listening to radio or not, that station may have a 2.  2%.  Hard to get the same dollars for a commercial if a rating shows 84% fewer ears.

See, all those translators are diluting SHARES, but not increasing RATINGS.  They are not increasing listening much at all, just dividing it up more.  Each station has fewer listeners.  Fewer listeners means less money per commercial.

At the same time, listeners have so many, many more places to get audio entertainment, news, information and companionship than over-the-air radio.  The obvious are satellite radio, Pandora and the like.  But with ubiquitous cell phone usage now, millions are not even listening to anything at all but whoever they are talking to on the phone as they commute.

So, the very limited help Commissioner Pai proposes will not help AM broadcasters at all.  It will actually hurt them as their FM translators pry the last few listeners they have managed to hang onto over to a weak FM signal somewhere amid the 100,000-watt guys there already.

And that gesture from the FCC will also continue to hurt existing FM owners at a time when they are already struggling to maintain audience as rapid technological change gives us all myriad choices beyond "The Sonny and Goofball Morning Mayhem Show."  A thousand new signals on the FM band, regardless of their light-bulb-sized transmitter power, is not good for FM.  Unless they bring millions of new listeners.  And they won't.

(And the morning mayhem show, by the way, is probably syndicated out of Dallas and its talent and producers have no idea what I'm facing on my own commute this morning or what topics are of interest to me and my local listeners beyond last night's "Idol" elimination and Kanye's most recent statue swipe.  But that is a rant for another day.)