Sunday, April 26, 2009

People Gotta Be Free

A Romanian amateur radio operator named Francisc Grunberg (YO4PX) posted a fascinating article on the website about how dictatorships around the world have prevented any amateur activity in their countries. Even if you have no interest in ham radio, I would highly recommend you read Francisc's words. They come from a man who was once denied not only the freedom to mess up TV sets with his radio set, but denied most other basic freedom we take for granted.

I hope everyone is aware that we are in the midst of a global revolution, fueled by technology and the ready availability of information. It will become more and more difficult for dictators to keep the people of their countries ignorant, in the dark, exposed to only their way of thinking, numbed by a constant barrage of propaganda.

China will be an interesting one to watch. Now, with the Internet, cellular technology, international travel and trade, and more...yes, including amateur will be impossible for that country's government to continue to deny its people knowledge and exposure to free, diverse opinion. And a knowledgeable populace will not remain oppressed for long. Even the people of North Korea and other Dark Ages countries will soon be informed to the point that they will no longer accept totalitarian rule.

Can there be too much information available? Is much of the information today biased or incorrect? Is there a danger when anyone can anonymously post complete blather and instantly have a worldwide audience? Certainly, but the freer the flow of opinion and knowledge, the more accurate and diverse it will become. Even wrong-headed opinions serve a good purpose if they encourage open and reasoned debate. The real danger is when only the government is allowed to have an opinion or decide what is and what isn't "accurate" news.

Though we fuss about the opinions posted in various forums like this forum, we should salute their willingness and ability to express them, just as we enjoy the freedom to try to convince them otherwise.

Thank you, Francisc, for the wonderful article. We are thrilled that you now have freedom to write it and post it...and talk about it on the airwaves...just the way every free man and woman should be able to.

And every man and woman should be free.

Don Keith N4KC

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Nine major media trends...scary stuff if you own stock in "broadcasting" companies!

People who regularly follow this exercise in egotism must think I have an unhealthy man-crush on media consultant and researcher Mark Ramsey. I don't, but I do have a powerful crush on his ideas. He has posted a video on his website of a presentation he recently gave to the Gospel Music Association that is as clear and concise look at the state of "broadcasting" these days, and some pithy comments from Mark and some other very smart people about where things are going. Just the demo of a forthcoming app for the iPhone should be enough to scare the bejesus out of anybody whose future is tied to over-the-air media...a business we once called "broadcasting." (I will henceforth and forevermore put that word in quotes because there is no longer such a thing as "broadcasting," regardless of what Arbitron, Nielsen and media outlets try to tell you. Listeners/viewers are now "tribes." Advertisers want "tribes" who seek their product or service, not a mass of disconnected and dissimilar eyes/ears. Doubt it? Ask magazine publishers, major daily newspapers, and network TV!)

If the video is no longer on Mark's main website page, just look in the archives for a post titled 9 SECRETS TO RADIO'S DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION. The video is toward the end of the post and takes about 45 minutes to view. But if you care about where media is going, if you don't understand that "broadcasting" is now "tribal management," if you have the keys to a "broadcasting" facility, then you simply must hit "Play" and sit back and watch.

Not since Todd Storz had a revelation--watching people in a diner spending money to play their favorite songs over and over on a jukebox--and invented Top 40 radio has "broadcasting" been so much in need of re-invention. If we continue to allow cost accountants and Wall Street analysts to dictate what it takes to run media outlets, then those who are so heavily invested in them are about to take a long, hard fall.

Frankly, it is difficult to feel sorry for them.


Friday, April 17, 2009

AM vs. SSB -- retro battle or much ado about nothing?

For those who don't know, the amateur radio world is abuzz over a recent positive change. International treaties recently required that shortwave broadcasters who have filled up a good portion of the 40-meter amateur radio band to move to a new allocation...above the ham band and out of our passbands! The newly vacated bit of spectrum is wonderful. Propagation--especially at night--is interesting and promising. Many hams in foreign countries are now being allowed to operate above 7.125, so we can talk to each without having to use split frequencies. But the really great thing is we don't have to listen to all those squealing, squalling AM signals and their tinkly splatter

All is right with the world! Almost.

Some amateurs who enjoy operating AM instead of SSB have chosen the vicinity of 7.160 in the pristine newly quiet band to talk to each other. You would have thought somebody dropped a cow patty into the punch bowl! The amateur discussion forums teem with people who want to lynch anybody who dares to insert carrier and un-suppress that other sideband and sully up that nice, new bunch of frequencies.

Never mind that many of the guys who decry the spectrum taken up by AMers are dyed-in-the-wool DXers. And DXers still work a ton of split-frequency, thus taking twice the bandwidth a simplex QSO requires. That's roughly the same slab of spectrum the AM guys use. Others seem unable to make a simple adjustment to their receive bandwidth or move up or down a few kilohertz, only to be completely outraged by even the hint of a heterodyne way up or down the band. And all of them forget that SSB ops are typically causing the AM guys far more QRM than the AM folks could ever cause them.

It reminds me so much of the SSB vs. AM wars way back in the late-50s/early-60s, except this squabble is 180 degrees out of phase with that one. I was there for the end of that, when guys who clung to AM cussed the "Slop Bucket Boys" and tuned up on top of them for hours to demonstrate their disdain. It got ugly, but for the very reason cited above--who gets the worst of the QRM--it eventually was won by SSB (Yes, there were other reasons...SSB is simply a better mode, more efficient).

I maintain that hearing an occasional heterodyne is a small price to pay for the freedom of being able to operate using whatever legal mode that interests you and that you want to. If we say, "No dang AM on my band!" then how long is it before somebody else says, "Yeah, and no SSTV, either?" Or "Get rid of those digital modes so I can work CW there!"

It is that old "if you don't like what I like then what you like is wrong!" mentality.

Most every radio has a VFO. Use it. There is plenty of spectrum for everybody to be able to enjoy their favorite activity or mode.

What do you say?


Don N4KC

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Customer Rules!

I apologize. I've been harping (or harpooning) the media lately in these ramblings to the exclusion of other types of rapid technological change or amateur radio. But there has been a deluge of good info the past few weeks on the subject of how media usage--by both types of customers: viewers/listeners/readers as well as advertisers--is evolving so rapidly. Take yesterday's Radio Business Report, which carried a surprisingly candid article about how customers now control media, a portion of which reads:

By customer-controlled, we simply mean the traditional era of dominant media systems — one in which media organizations accumulated audiences based on content development and availability, and then sold advertisers time or space to access those audiences — is no longer the principal marketplace format. Instead, consumers now access and accept (or ignore) a multitude of media forms and formats, based on their own needs, desires, wishes and capabilities. Thus, the control of the media marketplace has clearly shifted. Consumers, as they always have, control the media forms they choose to use. The primary difference is that the alternatives available to them have increased exponentially.

The traditional methods of media planning, allocation and measurement are essentially obsolete, particularly in the United States and perhaps around the world. There is little question that the historical approaches developed and used over the past 40 or so years were effective in their time, namely, when mass media was the primary communication tool of the marketing organization and consumers aggregated to consume those media forms in large numbers. Major changes have occurred over the past four years, which make those tools and techniques questionable and perhaps even irrelevant.

Well said. Well said.

Don Keith N4KC

Friday, April 10, 2009

Whew! All is well with radio broadcasting!

Man, this is a relief! Just when we had all these naysayers proclaiming the death of radio broadcasting, here comes the good news in one of the daily trade pubs:

More than half (55%) of those surveyed by American Media Services listen to about the same amount of radio than in the past. Nearly one in five (18%) have increased their listening. When commercials come on -- a majority (56%) say they keep listening to the station.

Never mind the grammatical error in the first sentence ("same amount...than in the past"), this should cue the hosannas. I'm sure the survey was a representative sample, that there were no artifacts in how the question was worded or presented, and that the results were properly gathered and interpreted.

And that there is no bias, considering American Media Services bills itself on its web site as "a leading radio brokerage and developmental engineering firm with clients nationwide." A "radio brokerage" firm would have no vested interest in radio listening being protrayed as "stable," would it?

Am I wearing my incredulity on my sleeve?

Don Keith

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Pasta fagioli and media prognostication

Had a most pleasant and interesting lunch yesterday with an old friend at a cool restaurant called Nabeel's. They have some of the best pasta fagioli in the world, but the really good thing about the meal was visiting with Greg Bass. We knew each other at the University of Alabama, then he and partner-in-crime Courtney Haden volunteered to write and record a regular comedy bit called "4th Avenue Carwash" on my morning show on K-99 FM way back in the 70s. Well, they went on to have a very successful and long-running morning show in Birmingham, even as they worked at Boutwell Recording Studios...a venture they now run. Greg also does some very creative things for the local Public Radio station.

Our primary topic...besides "wasn't it cool back in the old days before monolithic corporations ruined radio"...was about how media is changing and what both advertisers and creative types can do to ride the wave instead of getting washed away. I hope it is a dialogue we will be able to continue...and as often as possible over a big bowl of Nabeel's pasta fagioli.

The timing was perfect for receipt this morning of yet another pithy article from the oft-quoted Mark Ramsey that closely mirrors Greg and my discussion yesterday. He presents a quote from Jack Griffin, head guy at Meredith Publishing, one of the more successful print entities out there. Griffin says it quite succinctly:

More than just demographics, [advertisers] want to connect with their target audiences in measurable environments that can drive a consumer response; they want to be able to use the media that make the most sense for the target consumers and their brands, whether it's print, video, online, or an event. And a media company, if it wants to compete, needs to provide all these services in addition to great content and great brands.

Here, here!

See Mark's full article at: or click HERE. Better still, subscribe to Mark's blog and see why I think he is the best commentator there is on the current media/advertiser scene.

If you disagree with him, me, or the others who decry the "head in the sand" attitude of many in the media, then comment here, there, or somewhere.

But what's going to happen is going to happen either way. Some prosper from change. Others become overwhelmed by it.

Thus it has always been and thus it shall always be.

Don Keith
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Friday, April 3, 2009

40 meters...heterodyne free!

You non-hams who frequent this little blog may feel free to ignore this post. In the short time that I have become once again active in this wonderful hobby, I have been fortunate enough to witness two major changes in our bands. First there was the rather extensive readjustment of the 80/75 and 40 meter SSB allotments for those holding the Amateur Extra class license. I was on the first night, making contacts all the way down to 3.6 mHz and 7.125 mHz. I even had a nice chat on 80 with N4KZ up in Kentucky, a very good amateur op whose exploits I follow because of the similarities in our callsigns.

It was exhilirating! Even today, about two years later, vast areas of those two bands that are now available to SSBers is still open and uncrowded. It's a pleasure to operate there, and one can almost always conjure up a nice conversation by simply calling CQ.

There was one problem on 40, though. That section of band newly opened to voice operations was dominated in the western hemisphere by shortwave broadcasters, running vast amounts of power into extensive antenna systems. It was necessary to try to find an open spot amid the screaming heterodynes and tinkly splatter. Most simply gave up, especially after the sun went down. It just was not worth the headache, even though propagation can be quite exciting on 40. I stayed down on CW to take advantage of the friendly bounces of the ionosphere. Or listened to all the Europeans chatting with Canadians below that big, hairy shortwave broadcaster roaring away on 7.125.

That changed March 29. By international agreement, broadcasters were required to vacate the frequencies from 7.100 to 7.200, effective that date. The CQ WPX contest was in full bore that night so it was hard to tell exactly how different that 100 kilohertz sounded. I did work quite a few European stations, most on the first call.

On Sunday night, though, I tuned up and down the band and heard several strong signals and quite a few QSOs in progress. The band was wonderfully quiet, and offered a variety of propagation. I only took the time to work KI4NKA down in Jacksonville, Florida. He was in a camper with a dipole thrown over a tree limb, running 100 watts, but we had a solid half-hour chat. (I only run about 500 watts on 40 SSB to either a vertical, a horizontal loop, a G5RV, or a ladder-line-fed dipole...the dipole or vertical usually work best.)

Then tonight, with just a few minutes to play, I dropped down to 40 and listened to a few folks talking. Again, the band was very quiet. Then I happened upon what sounded like a pileup at about 7.150, another frequency that used to be occupied by a strong broadcast station. Everyone was trying to work A61AB in the United Arab Emirates, way over yonder in the Middle East. Many were calling and Hissam was not really very strong, but I joined the fray anyway. I got him on the second call and he gave me a "57."


Truth is, there would have been no way for me to have even heard A61AB if the broadcasters had still been there, much less had a brief but pleasant exchange. This could be my new favorite band!

There will be more and more changes to how the limited radio spectrum is divvied up and assigned. I can only hope those are as pleasant as the latest two developments.

73 (and see you on 40 meters!)

Don N4KC

Thursday, April 2, 2009

How dare they?

The ABC name will no longer be part of radio as ABC Radio Networks rebrand itself as Citadel Media. The network says the name reflects not only its current owner, but an evolution to target audiences and advertisers across all media platforms.

So they are throwing away 50 years of brand awareness and the goodwill they get from ABC-TV to “reflect its current owner” and as “an evolution to target audiences and advertisers across all media platforms.”

Not to mention that they are adopting a brand name that 99% of listeners don't even know. And the 1% that does probably knows that their stock is worth pennies...down from the $10 range only a couple of years ago. That they are being delisted by NASDAQ because of that. That they and their CEO are known throughout the radio industry as the type company that cuts to the bone, to the detriment of their on-air product.

Please, somebody tell me. How does jettisoning that name make it easier to target audiences and advertisers. Well, since Citadel has pretty much eviscerated the former ABC radio stations and network, it only makes sense to hang their name on them now.

Paul Harvey’s spinning in his grave!

Don Keith N4KC