Saturday, March 29, 2008

Have things really changed so much?

My nephew, Bob Jones, sent me the two photos here under the title of "Where have I seen this before?" I had to look at them for a moment to see his point. Here you have an Old Pilot TV-37-U vintage TV set with its 3'' picture – circa 1948. On the right is a docking station for a video iPod, circa 2008.

So, we're back to 3" screens, I guess!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Where will we get our entertainment in 2013 -- Part II

Some of the topics we have been discussing on this blog are not merely areas of curiosity or mild interest to many folks out there in the real world. It directly affects how they make a living and where their nest-egg investment is going. And it also affects how billions or people get their entertainment and information. There is currently a big debate raging among commercial radio broadcasters about how their particular “mass” medium fits into the picture nowadays.

Stations have cut personnel and spending about as much as they can in order to continue to show the kind of cash flow Wall Street analysts demand. Unfortunately, a great deal of that cutting has been at the expense of the on-air product they offer their listeners. Cookie-cutter formats (my term), piped-in voice-tracked personalities who are doing their thing for scores of stations all over the country (my very big pet peeve), and watered-down music aimed more at not offending anyone than at actually entertaining or enlightening someone—these are all steps station owners have begun taking to try to maintain a positive EBITDA.

Of course, what those owners have done is abdicate their role as the most personal, immediate, and intimate medium. Anyone can program his iPod with a better custom-selected musical playlist than a radio station, trying to cover all bases to get a “mass” audience, could ever manage. News, traffic, weather, and talk are available anywhere instantly, on demand, from the Internet. Satellite radio offers a huge selection of format variations to its subscribers. No one knows how many niche Internet radio stations there are out there. Any kid with a computer and an Internet hosting account can put a “station” “on the air,” broadcasting to the entire planet, and with no need to show a profit or even a measureable audience.

Radio’s ubiquity—there’s a receiver in every car sold and the average household in America owns five radios—has always been one of its big strengths. But with wi-fi spreading so fast and cell phone “radio” imminent, the time is rapidly approaching when there will be a computer in your dash instead and you can dial in “radio stations” from a staggering number of available options. Or watch movies or check your email or (hopefully from the passenger seat) work on the Power Point or Excel spreadsheet with your team back at the office, preparing for tomorrow's meeting.

Some argue that the only way to save radio broadcasting is for stations to stop emphasizing their tower on the hill and over-the-air signal. Instead, they should become “content providers,” developing compelling programming that audiences will continue to seek them out to hear. They will have to make that content available not only on the FCC-assigned frequency via RF, but also on the web, via podcasts, and by any other means that people now comfortably use to get their music, news, and companionship. They will have to use the term "broadcasting" in the context of its meaning TODAY, not in 1934.

If you would like to read more, check out this article about a recent conference in Silicon Valley addressing this very topic.

Before radio completely loses its legacy of providing ad hoc, spur-of-the-moment programming, it needs to reinvest in the content it offers it listeners. It must find new ways of captivating an audience and pricing that sudience for advertisers. That is the only way stations will be able to attract a large enough group of listeners to be able to sell those ears to advertisers.

Since the medium is rapidly losing its ubiquity, it simply must concentrate on its other strengths—its ability to entertain, to inform, to take people to a different place, whether it be in reality or via “theater of the mind,” and to provide precious, personal companionship, a voice that whispers in the ear or shouts in the faces of its listeners.

Don N4KC

Friday, March 7, 2008

Special Events Station -- Update

As previously mentioned, I'll be participating in a special-event amateur radio station operation from the vicinity of the USS Nautilus and the Navy Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Connecticut, in August. The special-events station will be on the air, operating in observance of the 50th anniversary of the Pacific-to-Atlantic transit--through the North Pole--by Nautilus in 1958. That amazing accomplishment was front-page news all over the world, and as recently as 2001, it was named by Time Books as one of mankind's greatest adventures.

Good news is we have been given the names and contact info for the proper folks in charge, thanks to Al Charette, who not only is a volunteer docent at the submarine, but was the navigator aboard on Nautilus when she made that historic journey to the Pole. If you have had the pleasure of visiting the ship, there is a good chance Al showed you around. We have every reason to think those in charge will allow us to set up and operate the stations in a place where visitors will be able to observe what is going on. Not only will such an operation help to raise awareness of the significant anniversary, but it will also be an opportunity to give hundreds--maybe thousands--a glimpse of ham radio.

I am also delighted that Chuck Motes, K1DFS/NNN0HAL, and the Navy Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS) group from the area have agreed to help me pull this thing off the right way. We anticipate having two well-equipped stations with capabilities for operating on several bands with good antennas and some power. Thanks to Chuck and his crew, we should make many hams around the world aware of the magnificent accomplishment of the men aboard that wondrous nuclear submarine. We will also be offering stations to whom we talk the chance to get a QSL card (confirmation of contact).

In writing THE ICE DIARIES, I have come to know several of the crewmembers, and that only gives me more determination to do this event the best we can. If you are a "ham," be sure to look for N9N (for "Nautilus 90 north") on August 2 and 3, 2008.

UPDATE OF ANOTHER KIND: If you read my previous post on the recent rapid changes in the music industry and in how people get their music nowadays, you might also be interested in the comments of a marketing guru named Seth Godin. He published these thoughts in his blog and also made them available in a PDF that can be read HERE. I could not agree more with his points. Though they are a bit long, I think you will find them fascinating...and right on target!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Where will we get our entertainment in 2013?

I’m of a generation that got its musical entertainment from the radio or from an assortment of changing media that included records, eight-track tapes, cassettes, and then CDs. When we liked a song or album well enough, we went to a mom-and-pop record store or Woolworth’s and bought it. In my little hometown, the hardware store sold records! Later, most of those places were replaced with chain record stores like MusicLand, Sam Goody’s, or Oz.

Clearly things have changed rapidly the last few years. My grown kids think it is only natural that they download songs from the Internet and play them back on their computers or iPods. Many kids don't know what a vinyl record is and fewer and fewer are familiar with CDs. My daughter managed several Sam Goody’s stores…until they all closed. She changed careers. She’s a nurse now.

I ran across some interesting research this week. Last year, one million fewer consumers bought a CD than in 2006. Many of those who quit buying their music on disks were teenagers. Almost half of all teenagers failed to purchase a single CD last year, and that age group has traditionally been the most consistent buyers of recorded music. That was a whopping 10% fewer teen CD buyers than the year before. At this pace, teens will no longer buy CDs at all by 2013.

On a related note, can you name the largest seller of pre-recorded music? It’s WalMart. But a solid number two is iTunes. Here’s an interesting fact: iTunes sold more than 20 million songs on Christmas Day 2007! Not an album or CD among them! 20 million individual tracks!

Overall music spending last year dropped 10%, and that’s a very sour note for the music business. Peer-to-peer music sharing is obviously taking a big bite out of music sales, but there is another reason numbers are down and I've already alluded to it. When we went to MusicLand and bought music, we bought an ALBUM. It contained ten or twelve songs, most of which we didn’t really care for, but if we simply had to have those two or three tracks we liked, we had no choice. Now you only download the tracks you want, a la carte, and only pay for the music you really desire. What if we get used to only buying the entertainment we want and no longer have to pay for what we don't?

There is already rumbling in Congress about forcing cable systems and satellite TV providers to allow customers to choose and pay for only the channels they want to receive. Would you continue to pay for Univision and Brigham Young University TV to get HBO on DirecTV if you didn’t have to? Or cough up money for all six HBO channels just to get the main one?
I suppose the big question is can the cable companies and DirecTV/Dish stay in business without their tiered-pricing business model? Or will they go the way of Sam Goody’s and MusicLand? After all, we will soon be able to order up whatever movie or TV show we want to watch on the Internet, piped directly to our HDTVs. And we can already watch many episodes of our favorite shows on our computers, mostly without commercial interruption, and do it anytime we want, not just when the network shoots it down to the affiliates.

Who needs the cable guy anymore?

Don N4KC