Friday, August 7, 2015

Your blogger featured in Amateur Radio Newsline

by Don Keith N4KC

Thanks to Cheryl K9BIK for the great interview with me in this week's AMATEUR RADIO NEWSLINE, Report #1971, dated August 7, 2015.  The interview talks about the real or perceived obstacles some people encounter getting started in ham radio as well as about my two new books that have just been published.

Hear the interview here: Don Keith N4KC ARN interview audio.

Part one of the interview is contained in this report and the second part airs in the next edition, dated August 14, 2015.

 Amateur Radio Newsline runs interview with N4KC

Cheryl, Don Wilbanks AE5DW, and others have done a wonderful job of keeping this audio news service for amateur radio operators going after the recent untimely death of its founder, Bill Pasternak WA6ITF.  And I say that not just because they did a two-part interview with me.  The news roundup is a wonderful service for hams and others interested in our hobby.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


by Don Keith N4KC

Here we go again.  One of the over-the-air-radio trade publications has yet another (with apologies to Ray Stevens) "Everything is Beautiful" article.  Those who follow this blog know that I--a former broadcaster, audience researcher, and station owner--believe that traditional over-the-air radio is in serious trouble, partly because of rapid technological change that has altered how people get music and news, but also because big radio owners believe they can cut their way to prosperity, or at least to some kind of good news to tell analysts and institutional stockholders so they continue to buy their stock.  And do it while not giving potential listeners compelling content that will keep them listening.  And buying what their sponsors are selling.

So here is the latest pronouncement that makes me red in the face as I go, "Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!"  Under the headline "Radio's Reach Hits an All-time High," INSIDE RADIO proclaims:

Radio’s national audience hit an all-time high for the second year in a row in the second quarter. Some 245 million Americans age 12 and older used radio in a given week during the three months ending June 30, according to Nielsen’s Audio Today report.

Yippee!  Doomsayers such as yours truly are certainly wrong.  More people listened to radio for at least five minutes in a week in Q2 2015 than ever before!  Hurray and hosannah!  Maybe people are not tuning away to all those other audio sources out there, talking and texting on their smart phones instead of listening to "the best of the 80s, 90s and today with fewer commercials on Power 99.5," or simply turning off their radios and watching more video.

Of course, I bet if we had data to prove it, we would also learn that more people changed the oil in their lawnmowers, jaywalked, blew their noses, bought a six-pack of beer, or went to sleep in their recliners watching YouTube.

That's because there are MORE PEOPLE.  Millions more people than there has ever been in the USA.  Certainly millions more in Q2 2015 than in Q2 2014.  Census estimates say we gain about 2.5 million people every year.  We have over 321 million now that we know about, not counting quite a few who are illegal so don't get counted...except by Nielsen.

If fewer people year-over-year listened to radio for at least five minutes in a statistical week, I'd say that would be catastrophic.  But ballyhooing the fact that more folks spent at least five minutes with over-the-air radio is nothing to crow about either.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Statistical smoke and mirrors

by Don Keith

Look, I am not necessarily picking on the radio industry trade Inside Radio again.  Or my old friend, Pierre Bouvard, who is quoted in an article in today's email/website edition of the pub.  But somebody needs to once again question their incessant attempts to find blue sky while ignoring the falling sky in the biz of commercial, over-the-air radio.

Ratings: Radio Stable, While TV Stumbles the headline proclaims. "Stable" based on an analysis of Nielsen ratings for both TV and radio by some outfit called MoffettNathanson. Other than wondering if the space bar is broken on their keyboard, I also have to wonder exactly how they come to that conclusion when comparing two entirely different media with drastically different methodology employed to measure viewership/listenership.

See, Nielsen measures much of the other sources of video that compete directly with over-the-air TV.  Things like cable, satellite TV, and the like.  They don't measure most of the stuff that is pulling precious ears away from Rock 107.  Not Pandora, iTunes, or similar.

Notice, too, that the article uses millions of people to show TV's gargantuan loss to non-broadcast sources while employing rating points for radio's almost infinitesimal drop year-over-year.  Frankly, I don't know how many actual listeners radio lost because I don't know how many listeners there are in Nielsen's 48 markets in which the PPM device is used.  Nor does the article tell us what demographics were down in radio as they did when crowing about TV's landslide.

"Radio suffered no such tumble," they note.  OK, broadcast TV lost 600,000 viewers aged 18 to 49.  How many million did broadcast radio lose in that same age group?

Another article in the same day's email digest is a bit sobering, too.   The typical (median) over-the-air radio station--including all those that boast of being all-news or news/talk--has a news staff of...ready for!  One person!  One human being!  The average of all stations has ONE person on its news staff.  And the study quoted notes that in almost 30% of stations that have a position with the title "news director" the job is not even full-time.

Guess why fewer and fewer people depend on local radio to keep them up to date on breaking news.  The medium has gleefully cut staff and is more than happy to allow local TV and web entities with their news apps (along with Twitter and other social media) to have those potential listeners...on a sliver platter.

Shut up and play the hits!  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Jargon: the great discourager

by Don Keith

Do you ever wonder how many people decide not to not pursue new technology, a different pastime, or other avenue of interest simply because they are stymied by the unique language that has developed around those areas?  Whether on purpose (to block others from entering the "fraternity") or accidentally (just because the newly-developed area is complicated), I firmly believe the jargon that develops among "insiders" is a top deterrent to those who might otherwise adopt or enter.  In too many cases, that is a loss not only for them but for those who are already a member of the particular technological brotherhood.

Prime example: my chosen hobby of Amateur Radio.  Not only has technology evolved in the avocation since it started 100 years ago, creating a brick wall of terminology, but those who have joined the ranks along the way also developed their own gobbledygook, just as most areas of human endeavor do.  It's inevitable.  Ever listened to a couple of fishermen talk?  Or folks devoted to golf?  It is a foreign language!  And a tough one for the newcomer to adopt.  Maybe so tough the potential entrant says, "No, thanks!"

I'm convinced that is one of the reasons many hesitate to jump into a hobby in which they would almost certainly find a great deal of satisfaction and opportunity to learn.  Maybe prepare for a new and exciting career in a related field or simply learn to be a better communicator, a skill that is invaluable in any job or just in life in general.

And it is also why I have written two new books to help them overcome that perceived obstacle...among others.  Still, even I was amazed at how many terms I collected as I compiled one of them, THE Amateur Radio Dictionary.  And equally amazed that nobody had attempted something on this scale before.  Yes, there are some simple, incomplete or poorly-written Amateur Radio glossaries on the Internet.  There are also quite a few electronic dictionaries, but they have far more info than the average new Ham would ever need or the definitions are way too complicated.  Or they are written very badly.

By the time I was ready to publish the first edition of the dictionary, I had collected over 1200 terms and more than 1600 definitions.  Even though I have been a licensed and active Amateur Radio operator for more than 50 years, I ran across quite a few terms with which I was not familiar and others whose definitions were not clear to me.  Now, I am confidently marketing the book as the most complete glossary of Ham Radio terms ever compiled.  I believe I am safe in that claim.  And in using all caps for "THE" in the title.

The other new book, Get on the Air...NOW!, deals not only with overcoming the jargon but also the other discouraging things a newly-licensed Ham might encounter as he takes up the hobby.  Things like putting together a station that will give a reasonably good on-the-air experience.  Erecting antennas that will actually work but not cause the neighbor's garage door to go up and down like the dang thing is on crack.  Or knowing what to say and how to say it in that first on-air contact.

Again, I see these initial complications as a deterrent to so many who would truly enjoy the hobby if they could only get past those initial hurdles.  Even if they are not nearly so daunting as many imagine them to be.  (Note that I handled the jargon part in the second book by including the complete text of THE Amateur Radio Dictionary as part of the Get on the Air...NOW! no additional charge.)

Now if I could just get somebody to do a book on the convoluted verbiage encountered when one tries to set up a home computer network or figure out how to build a web page that doesn't make a smart phone go into hiding.  Or become a scratch golfer or catch enough fish for supper.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Will Apple "Beats" Pandora, Spotify and the Rest?


by Don Keith N4KC

Yessir, the landscape of how people listen to music has just been altered...again.  It's a real skyscraper this time.  One that has been around a while, that already changed everything a couple of times before.  It's Apple.  Uncharacteristically late to the party, Apple has finally unveiled their streaming music service with the clever title of...ready?

Apple Music.  But why?  As mentioned in my last post, the services that everyone assumes are doing wonderfully well are not exactly setting the woods afire, though they have made lots of impact on your granddaddy's way of hearing music, the totally ancient over-the-air broadcast radio.  Google is in the mix, too, and they are a pretty big company with which to contend, wouldn't you say?

So why is Apple jumping into the fray to allow people to listen to music on their little hand-held telephones?  Is there pent-up demand for such a thing?  Are the masses clamoring for a music source that is not currently available to them from multiple streamers?  Will millions of people be willing to pop $9.99 a month onto their credit cards just because Apple is in the (rather bland) name of this new service?

I say no.  Nor can I see anything so far that differentiates Apple Music from anyone else spitting out a continual stream of songs.  Oh, there is one thing.  They will have live deejays who are supposedly curating the music...working their butts off, finding songs YOU want to hear, including new music they believe you NEED to hear.  And according to the video, the whole idea is for that music to be consumed by masses of people who react emotionally to the songs and to the deejays playing them...playing them just for all those folks out there listening to them at that very moment.

Wait.  Isn't that RADIO?  Damn straight it is.  Or was.  Have we, with the help of the geniuses in Cupertino, now done a complete 180?  Your typical radio station with a tower on the hill and a colorful logo and cluttered web site is now streaming music--over the air with 100,000 watts of hit power!- and removing such "negatives" as personalities and songs that don't "test well" because they are too new or too creative for the good of the listener.  And Apple Music--basically a streaming web site--is differentiating itself by adding live personalities, new songs they think you would like (though they still use some of the same algorithms to build individual "playlists" based on your choices, just as the other guys do), and some warmth and humanity that the computers at Pandora and Spotify cannot do.

Or, apparently, your local radio station either.  Even though the guys with the tower and transmitter are in prime position to know YOU, who you are and what you and your neighbors want to hear.  But that is a familiar rant that I won't get into today.

So can Apple sell this concept?  Is the Apple name big enough to convince you that their magic touch can inject some life into spitting out one song after another.  And why are they doing this now?

Cynics say they have to, but may have already fumbled the ball.  Phones dominate their massive profits now.  iTunes is way, way down.  If Apple Music can make iPhones even more in demand then it is a good thing.  If they successfully use those live deejays to tell you about all the other wonderful things Apple is doing for YOU at $795 retail for a telephone, then it may be a good idea for them.  If they can justify the billions they spent to buy Beats by using the technology to extend listening beyond the phones instead of just using the name for their "station."  At the worst, if it loses them a billion or two, nobody but the accountants will notice.

Is it a win for music lovers?  For artists and songwriters?  For the music industry?  Maybe.  We'll see, won't we?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Broadcast TV is screwed already. Radio?

by Don Keith

Regular followers here know how I feel about how rapid technological change is affecting media in general and traditional over-the-air TV and radio in particular.  Basically, it's like an armadillo in the middle of a super-highway.  But traditional media continue to waddle right down  the thoroughfare, doing business just as they always had.  And, like our poor armadillo, ignoring all those other technological innovations that were threatening their very existence.

Somehow radio and TV continue to do the same (or less!) than they did when their only competition for eyeballs and ears were themselves.  How could media who are supposed to be so creative be so utterly lacking in creativity or innovation when their entire business model is in danger of getting splattered by a semi?

But even I have to admit that I'm surprised that Pandora and other commercial-free, web-delivered content have not made an even bigger dent in traditional radio.  Especially in light of data that shows Netflix is gutting network TV at a stunning rate...even if Nielsen, the folks who theoretically measure TV viewing, has no way of measuring the outlet that probably has more eyeballs than any one of the networks.

Now comes an interesting blog post by one of the smartest men in the business, and one of the smartest with whom I have had the pleasure of working.  Pierre Bouvard has some interesting observations based on new data, and if you are interested at all in how tech change is adjusting what you will be watching on that big-screen, take a moment to READ it.

So does this mean radio remains strong and vibrant?  No, it is still an armadillo, creeping across a ten-lane expressway, and the tech world is bearing down on it at well above the speed limit.  What this data Pierre shares might mean is that it is not too late.  That station operators can still find ways to embrace how people expect media to be delivered and paid for.  But it ain't playing "the biggest hits of yesterday and today with fewer commercials."

See, time is running out.  Curling up in a shell and hoping the onslaught misses is not a strategy for saving a medium.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Why is the U.S. economy so stagnant?

by Don Keith

Veering just a bit from the usual rapid-technological-change motif for this post, but not very far if you think about it.  Here's the question:

Why is the U.S. economy so stagnant, so slow to rebound from the last recession?

I think I can give a reason for much of the sluggishness by presenting a single chart:

You don't even have to be able to read the labels to understand the impact of the data that this graph presents.  It shows the page count for the Federal Register, generally considered to be a proxy for the amount of federal regulation being inflicted on the country.

Would it surprise you to know that the country's Gross Domestic Product tracks almost perfectly counter to this particular graph.  The ups and downs of the page count in the Federal Register track almost the opposite of GDP.

Makes perfect sense to me!