Sunday, April 14, 2019

Bull feathers!

by Don Keith

Here's a post just for my amateur radio friends. I've been enjoying a back-and-forth debate with another ham radio guy who has some very strong--but seriously misguided and misinformed--opinions on our hobby and our national organization, the American Radio Relay League. Here is my latest response to him. I think most amateur radio folks will understand what I'm saying without my having to include the other guy's arguments.

(If you do want to see the ongoing conversation, click HERE and scroll toward the bottom of the thread.)



Regardless the field of endeavor, things have to change to keep up with society, its wants and needs. Yes, ham radio experienced solid growth as baby-boomers were impressed with the almost magical ability to communicate worldwide by radio. Gen-Xers and Millennials are not quite so amazed since they have a device on their belts and in their purses that enable them to do that anytime they wish. We do have to show them all the other aspects of our wonderful hobby if we hope to attract their interest and allegiance, and we have to do that in a landscape in which billions of dollars are being spent and the latest technology employed to accomplish that goal for so many other pursuits and products.

The ARRL is clearly working hard to address the needs and wants of all ages of potential hams. Were you a member, you might be more aware of what they are doing, as well as their recent efforts to better learn what would work and how to deliver that experience to those interested in joining us.

You mention a few things you think the League is wrongly doing or not doing to keep the hobby vibrant and relatable. Sponsoring contests? Well, I'd bet the ARRL has nothing to do with 75% of all contesting. But Sweepstakes, the DX contests, VHF/UHF events, and Field Day are among the most popular out there. And if you don't see how radiosport might be a strong draw for generations that grew up on video games, then I'll probably never be able to change your mind anyway. If contests are not popular, they would go away. They don't. They are more popular than ever, based on number of entries.

Try to help hams overcome CCRs/HOAs or all the hands-free-driving legislation? Again, if you were a League member...or bothered to read any of the independent news services that report on amateur would know about a long, long list of League initiatives as well as a plethora of expensive lobbying and legal maneuvering the ARRL has undertaken in those very areas?

Demonstrate the hobby to young people? Holy cow! Even if your head is stuck in the sand, you have to be aware of the many activities the League sponsors and promotes for youth, including scholarships to college, operating events, and a strong push through affiliated clubs. They are also finally doing research to develop an actionable plan to attract a continuing influx of hams of all ages. And this is at the urging of members, first and foremost, but also to benefit everyone, not just members.

(Loaded question, Robert: What have YOU done to demonstrate the hobby to young people? How have you helped those facing issues with covenants, HOAs, or having a mobile radio? Have you contacted your representatives locally and in Sacramento on these issues? Are you a member of a club out there in The People's Republic of Kalifornia?  If not, why not? Have you thought about starting a club that would do outreach to those you believe would make happy, contributing hams? Or urged the club you belong to to do such since you are of the opinion that the hobby dies when we baby-boomers go SK.)

And once again, you cite the old belief that the ARRL's only effort toward growing the hobby is dumbing down the test so my Labrador retriever can become an Extra Class ham. And even that effort is solely to sign up more members, sell more books, and make more money for the fat cats in Connecticut.

To which I say, "Bull feathers!" I maintain the League has done more to build and promote the hobby since I started typing this response than you and other misguided detractors have done...well...ever! Take a minute and visit Give it a look. See what is going on. Then tell me the only thing that bunch in Newington does is cash checks and smoke expensive cigars.

I have never maintained the ARRL is perfect, that every action is correct, that it should not be improved. Like you, I am aware of the demographics of our hobby and what the new-licensee numbers are. But so is the League. And if you were willing to keep yourself better informed, you would know what they are proposing to do about it. There are some dedicated folks who do a lot, whether paid or not, to make this hobby better and attract every single soul out there who might have an interest in it. That's why I support them by being a member, by communicating with my Section Manager and Division Director and letting them know what my concerns are. Not by blasting all things ARRL in some chat forum.

You say the League should be doing those things you mention INSTEAD OF pushing contests? Or dumbing down the tests? (Have you taken a General or Extra practice exam lately, Robert?  How'd you do? If you aced that Extra one, you may want to go ahead and upgrade from Advanced. There is a ton more of 75 meters you could use if you did.)

Read, listen, and make yourself aware and you will see that not only is it NOT an either/or proposition, but these are things our national organization takes very seriously and is doing every single day...with the guidance of its improve all things for all hams, not just League members. That is, when they take a break from promoting all those contests and coming up with easy exam questions!

Now, excuse me but all this diatribe-swapping is cutting into my on-air time. There may be some contest going on I need to work. Or a new, young ham I would like to welcome to the hobby before curmudgeons like you convince them we're all about to be as rare as sunspots and they'd be better off sticking with their video games and Smartphones.


Don N4KC

Thursday, April 4, 2019

"Radio Days"

By Don Keith

A friend of mine recently sent me an old magazine article that proclaimed that the time before World War II should be declared as "Radio Days." The article went on to say that anything related to the medium after the war was downhill, killed off by television. I agree that the '20s and '30s was a magical time for broadcasting, typified by the Woody Allen movie "Radio Days." 

I actually believe each generation has its own "radio days." For me, it was the top 40 radio of the '60s and album rock of the early '70s. My radios were in the dashboard of my VW bug or a smaller Radio Shack AM/FM portable, battery-powered receiver, but with a speaker big enough I could hear the songs.  I further believe radio had two golden ages, the '20s and '30s, as this article describes, and the 60s and 70s, when top 40 and creative deejays saved radio from the onslaught of TV.

(I wrote an article that ran in the December issue of American Legion Magazine about a big broadcast on Christmas Eve 1943, the first time all four radio networks simulcasted a single entertainment program. Bob Hope hosted and they used shortwave to bring in servicemen at many points around the globe...the most ambitious use of remote broadcasting ever attempted, though to mixed results. It ended with a fireside chat from President Roosevelt. But the point of the article was to show the power of radio at the time, to boost morale on a special day in the midst of a brutal war. You can read the article HERE if you are interested.)

Now, this generation probably won't even know the word "radio," and their source of music and entertainment is an iPhone or Pandora or YouTube. Music is not "presented," curated for them, or delivered in a way in which it is part of a "show" or has a host who was telling listeners why they should hear the song about to play. And it is not put together in such a way that the music flows from one song to another so each song "fits." It's not heard on good radios with big speakers so the music sounds good. Sounds good and can be FELT!

Instead, it is "streamed," one song unrelated to the other, selected for them by a computer algorithm, a formula based on what other songs the person typically listens to, almost certainly eliminating the chance the listener will be introduced to new music and artists he or she might actually enjoy, but is culled by the algorithm.  And unless the listener wants to Google the artist, he or she might hear the song and not even know who sang it, who wrote it, why it was sung or written, who played on the session, what other songs the artist might have written or recorded, how popular it might be with other listeners, or whether or not the artist might be coming to town soon for a live concert. The listener is almost totally detached from the stream, thus rendering it little more than background noise.

That's what I think today's music listeners are missing!  Their "radio days" will be "streamed-music-on-an-iPhone days." And that is sad.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Drinking that free Bubble-Up and eating that rainbow stew

by Don Keith

I know I am supposed to discuss rapid technological change and its effect on media, society and Amateur Radio on this blog. But sometimes I simply have to venture out when something compelling enough grabs my attention.

See, a couple of interesting things landed in my in-box today that I wanted to share. First, there was a story about one of the possible Democratic presidential candidates who promises to give every man, woman and child in America a free $1000 every year, no strings attached. No, not a tax rebate or a welfare plan. 47% of Americans don't pay any income tax anyway, and he does not want them to be left out of that FREE money.

The candidate proposes to pay for that trillion or so dollars a year with a value-added tax on every item sold in the US, theoretically to be paid by those greedy capitalists who suck up all the money and hide it from the rest of us so we can't earn any of it. Never mind that any VAT will be paid by the very consumer that gets that free thousand bucks, not by the manufacturers, importers, creators, or sellers.

Then, moments after I read that ridiculous mess, I got an article that tried to figure out why so many Americans are suddenly becoming infatuated by the lure of free stuff from the federal government...a ploy straight out of the socialism playbook. Yes, it takes a few minutes to read the article, but if you really care about the future of our country (and, what naturally follows, the future of the rest of the planet), then go to all the trouble to read it.

Then, get ready to line up for your free thousand dollars, free cellphone, free internet, free healthcare, free college education, and, as that great poet Merle Haggard says, start "drinking that free Bubble-Up and eating that rainbow stew."

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

It rarely turns out the way we think it will

by Don Keith

First an apology: I have not posted here nearly as often lately as I wanted to. This is not due to the lack of interesting and sometimes frightening developments in the ever-mutating world of rapid technological change. Nor is it because I didn't see plenty of the effects of that change on society, the media and my hobby of choice, amateur radio. Trouble is, much of what I observed and wanted to comment on had blown past and either did not turn out the way I would have predicted or it continues to change and morph before I get the opportunity to even think and post about it.

Final excuse: I have been quite busy lately, what with the release of the movie "Hunter Killer" based on my and George Wallace's book, "Firing Point," now reissued in all forms by the publisher under the title "Hunter Killer." That and at least four film/TV projects I'm neck-deep in. And an exciting new book-publishing venture I'll be announcing soon.

Speaking of which: the article that encouraged me to come up for air long enough to make this long-delayed blog post. Check out this story in "Wired," which states right up front that rapidly changing media don't always turn out the way all the smart prognosticators predict. In fact, it rarely does. And the prime example about which the author writes is the good, old-fashioned book.

Yes, the book!  I'll allow the article to speak for itself, but suffice it to say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sorta.

Best of the New Year to you and yours!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Broadcast radio's cume audience boogaloo

by Don Keith

As traditional over-the-air broadcast radio strives to prove its relevance, I see they continue to cling to any bit of good news there is to stave off people like me who think the medium has chopped its own way to irrelevance.  "Good news" whether it is true or not.

Don't get me wrong.  I love broadcast radio.  Free, over-the-air radio.  I think it is by far the most intimate medium, the one that can be most successful at getting into the heads of listeners, of entertaining, challenging, inspiring, and selling stuff to people who listen.  Especially people who are busy doing something else, like driving a car or working.  People stuck in a traffic jam.  People who are most likely to be approaching an advertiser's establishment.  People who simply want to be able to hit a button and turn up the volume to experience something created by another actual human being.

But thanks to the monster companies that own most stations in America and their myopic attitude that they can somehow cut their way to prosperity, radio is going down the drain in one big hurry.  AM is dead as a hammer.  FM, with its boring streaming-music formats, its band cluttered with low-power non-commercial stations and thousands of supposedly-AM-saving translators, and its impersonal, soulless "personalities," will almost certainly follow.

But radio will continue to grab hold of any seemingly positive news.  Here's some.  It is an article in The Washington Times that quotes a study from the good folks at Nielsen about how old-fashioned, left-for-dead broadcast radio still reaches more people than any other medium.  (Nielsen, the TV ratings giant, bought Arbitron, the company that previously led the way in radio audience estimates--what most of us call ratings.  And in the spirit of full disclosure, I once worked for the Arbitron Company.)  In a day of Facebook, Netflix, Pandora, Instagram, Amazon, XM/Sirius Satellite and so many other choices, this is truly startling but encouraging news for us fans of the medium.


Dig deeper, my friend.  Remember, as Mark Twain so eloquently quoted British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli:  "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

The Washington Times quotes the study from Nielsen (which, I admit, I have not actually seen) as saying, "Each week, more Americans tune to AM/FM radio than any other platform. What’s more, according to Nielsen’s second-quarter 2017 Comparable Metrics Report, 93 percent of U.S. adults 18 and older listen to radio every week — more than those watching television or using a smartphone, TV connected device, tablet or PC.” 

In all, Nielsen breathlessly reports, over-the-air radio reaches 243 million people each month compared to television's paltry 229 million.  The article does not mention if that TV number includes all variations of video programming.  I doubt it since not even the powerful Nielsen folks have yet managed to measure all such viewing.  Nor could it possibly have included, for example, Netflix, who now boasts over 100 million people paying about $10 a month to enjoy their programming.  Netflix does not publish any numbers for how many people are watching at any given time.

(I will also avoid making a big deal of the fact that this fine study is based on data that is now on the verge of being ONE FULL YEAR OLD.  Do you think there have been any changes in media since the second quarter of 2017?  Then you have not been paying attention to this blog!)

It does appear, though, that the rosy AM/FM story is based on what is called "cume audience."  Anyone who takes part in Nielsen's measurement exercise--either having everyone in a household keep a diary of listening for one week or carrying a small meter device that theoretically senses the stations that the participant is capable of hearing--who listens for at least five minutes during a week gets counted as a "cume listener."

Therefore, five minutes in a week gets considered in this study to be someone who "listens to AM/FM" broadcast radio.  This study also appears to add up a month's worth of such reported listening to arrive at the hefty 243-million figure that so impressively beats out that dying medium, TV.  

Sorry.  We should be impressed that 243 million people--or as the study crows, 93% of all people in the U.S. over the age of 17--catch some radio in a given month.  But again, only five minutes of listening by someone on Nielsen's ratings panel is required to be counted as one of those 243 million souls.

Let me say that again:  anyone who participated in the Nielsen listening survey during that month who reported listening to as little as five minutes of any program on any station gets counted as a listener to AM/RM radio.

I wouldn't care but for one thing.  If the people with the keys to all those radio stations really think such a statistical boogaloo means anything, then they might continue to believe that what they are doing with all those AMs and FMs is actually working.  That they still hold sway over 93% of the people who count.  

And further believe that advertisers are actually getting their money's worth when running ads that have to be heard in wherever that magical five minutes of listening happens to occur within the more than 41,000 minutes that make up a typical month.

Yes, Nielsen tells a good story with statistics.  Or damned lies.  

You be the judge.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Okay, time to 'fess up!

by Don Keith

(While watching the Congressional testimony by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the inane questions from our elected representatives, I could not help myself. Now it appears likely that there will be some kind of legislation proposed for restricting social media in a new effort to protect us from ourselves. But can government legislate and keep people from doing dumb stuff?  Can they stop people from believing everything they read on Facebook, see on CNN or Fox News, or read in the National Enquirer while waiting to check out at Publix? 

Maybe the better question is, "Should they?"  Legislate, I mean. At any rate, all this pertains to rapid technological change and how it affects media and society.  Thus my post below.)

Okay, time to 'fess up. Raise your hand if:

- You had no idea that if you put on #Facebook your address, the names of your kids, the place where you are at this very second, or your opinions on the presidential race, your favorite football team, or whether or not you preferred cilantro in your salsa any of the 120 million Facebook users worldwide could see it instantly upon your hitting the POST button.

- You thought all this stuff was free, no strings attached and not only didn't know but didn't care how Facebook, #Instagram#YouTube#LinkedIn and all the others made money to pay for all this web design, expensive computer servers, bandwidth and all that technical stuff.

- You thought it was just a happy coincidence that if you went shopping for a mattress and box springs online that for the next two months, no matter the website you visited, you kept seeing ads for mattresses and box springs.

- You are unable to figure out why, if you printed out a map of and directions to Albuquerque, you suddenly started getting spam email and even actual paper junk mail from every hotel, auto rental agency and pizza parlor in Albuquerque.

- You never considered that if you post on #Facebook a cute picture of your 2-year-old child peeing off the deck onto the azaleas, it will one day show up when he is running for Congress or applying for a job at NASA.

- You always...ALWAYS...check the box declaring you have read and understood the 30,000-word privacy and data-use policy of every web site you have ever joined, every bank home page where you have an account, and every on-line vendor from which you have purchased something, all to facilitate whatever it is that you are trying to get done, and you simply have never had the time to even scroll down so much as a millimeter or read a single word of that legalese novella.

- You click on every link on every piece of email you get--apparently from your bank, your email provider, the IRS, a friend traveling in Ecuador who has been robbed, and even companies with which you have no account at all (just in case there really is something wrong because they wouldn't be emailing you if there wasn't) and happily give your user name, password, checking account and charge card number, Social Security number and blood type, just to make sure your checking won't be closed, your email blocked, your taxes audited, your friend incarcerated, or your vacation to the Bahamas cancelled...even though you have never had an account with those companies, only know the "friend" through Facebook, or never booked a vacation to the Bahamas in your life.

- You thought #Google was a philanthropic organization, providing all that search engine power out of the goodness of their hearts, and even put the very best results at the top and down the side of the listing on the page so you didn't even have to look any farther.

- You see no chance that that picture of you chug-a-lugging that bottle of Jagermeister or forwarding that hilarious ethnic joke will ever become an uncomfortable topic in a job interview.

- You are truly ticked off that this #MarkZuckerberg guy sold information about YOU to companies, surely without asking you first...and surprised that the guy even owns a tie and a dress shirt since you've never seen him in anything before but jeans and a tee shirt.

- You figure you are just unlucky when you buy that computer protection software you saw on some late-night infomercial in order to clean up your virus-ridden computer, laptop, smart phone, or on-line clothes dryer, yet the software is now telling you that you have to send them $59.95 a month for the rest of your natural life if you ever want to use your device again.

- It never occurred to you that if #Alexa or #Siri could hear you and know what you are asking or saying--even when you are not saying it to them--or if you use the free #WiFi at the tattoo parlor, anybody else could hear you or see what you are doing because it is RADIO!

- You spend more time posting pictures of your kids at soccer practice than you spend watching your kids practice soccer because you are so busy taking pictures and posting the pictures at soccer practice.

- You have shared posts with your friends that were so funny or inspirational or thought-provoking that you couldn't even remember sharing them when you got called into the boss' office to explain you are not a racist terrorist or to the principal's office to get expelled.

- You have more friends on Facebook or contacts in your #Linkedin profile than people you actually know by a hundredfold... but if anybody...even a semi-naked person named Zumbezi Gatalayana from South Sudan, who works at Sears in Miami and has an MBA from North Dakota State who just today created a #Facebook account featuring two pictures of herself, one in which she is white and one in which she is black...sends you a friend request, you are by-God going to accept it because she is certainly interested in your soccer pictures, your whereabouts, your recipe for salsa, and your kid peeing off the deck.

So? 'Fess up! Right there on #Facebook or on some other social media site, or share or forward this to everyone on your email or contact list. Only 120 million folks will know what a doofus you are!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Commercials. Are they going the way of the (fill in your own favorite now-defunct technical thing-a-ma-jig)

by Don Keith

I do still try to listen to over-the-air radio sometimes. And there are times when I am forced to watch a TV show or newscast in real time without benefit of commercial-clipping. 

And it hurts. It is painful. It is discouraging.

And you know what it isn't? It isn't effective for the advertiser. I doubt many listeners or viewers pay attention to the incessant wall of commercial content that gets spewed out between precious bits of music, information or entertainment. I got in my truck the other day and tuned in a local news/talk station's PM drivetime show. From the time I started listening until I arrived at my first more than twelve minutes, I promise...I heard nothing but commercials and station promotional announcements (commercials for the station).

One of the more astute observers of trends in media is Mark Ramsey, who has been quoted in this blog often in the past.  Because he IS an astute observer of media trends.  In a recent blog of his, he talked about news that at least one major media outfit was considering cutting back to TWO MINUTES of commercials PER HOUR.  Not twenty minutes. Two!  And the discussion is interesting.

Is it possible?  Can others even think seriously of such a dramatic cut in commercial load when the common wisdom is sell everything you can?

I don't believe it is a question of "can they?"  It is a question of "will they?"  Or will radio and TV wither away as consumers become more and more viewers and listeners to content that has NO commercials? And go away because advertisers finally realize that being the middle spot in a ten-minute commercial break does them absolutely no good?  Or that "BROADcasting" is yesterday's ad medium and they can now target right down to the eyeballs and eardrums they actually want and need to reach, not pay for everybody with a radio or TV set?

I would talk more about this but now, here's a word from our sponsors...