Saturday, May 29, 2010

Catching up

Couple of topics on my mind this thundery morning in the to do with media and another related to ham radio.

TOPIC 1 -- Radio ratings are killing radio

The oft-quoted Mark Ramsey has a great video on his blog this morning on this topic, and Mark flatly states that is the case, that ratings are killing radio broadcasting. Even if you are not into media, it is a thought-provoking commentary, even if Mark does look a little like he has been working on the piece all dang night!

Here, with some elaboration, was my comment on his piece posted to his blog. Ratings are a tool. An RF ammeter in a radio station's transmission line is a tool to make sure the station does not break FCC rules. The computer and software package a radio station uses to keep track of billings and to send out invoices each month are tools to help the station do business. Ratings are a tool to help a station estimate what its listenership is, to help make programming decisions, and to help market the station to potential advertisers.

If the station uses a slight deflection in the meter readings to decide that, since it is reading incorrectly, they will arbitrarily double the power to make up for it, is that appropriate? If the station determines that the billing software has an error and it is charging customers 15% too much, do they simply keep going and not fix it?
Same with ratings data. So long as rating estimates are not the sole reason for making decisions, or the only benefit a station can present to a potential sponsor, then they are well worth the money invested. It is when the tail wags the dog -- when everything we do, every decision we make, is to try to squeeze out another tenth of a share point--that we get into trouble.
I posit that is part of the angst with PPM, Arbitron's new methodology for gathering audience info using data encoding on transmitted signals measured by devices hanging on recruited panel members. (Disclaimer: I was an executive with Arbitron during the early development of this technology and am convinced it is the best method yet for measuring radio listening.) It is more and more difficult for radio stations to "game" the numbers. PPM carriers are listening or they are not. No rubber clocks (giving incorrect time so diarykeepers would write down longer periods of listening) or hyped contests all aimed at getting diarykeepers to write down our station, whether they are listening or not.
Radio programmers nowadays have no idea how to make people listen to their stations. They only know how to make them write down their station in their diaries. PPM carriers write nothing down. If they listen, it is recorded. If they don't, the station gets no credit.
I still cringe when I hear about stations interfacing music scheduling software with PPM data and making major song choices based on a precious few "meters" who "tune out" during the song. Or using dangerously narrow demo/daypart/geo data to make crucial choices in programming and personnel.
The ability to get near-immediate multi-media single-source listening data that is gathered as impassively as PPM does is a wonderful thing. The danger of reading too much into those data could be another nail in the coffin of a medium we all love so much.

TOPIC 2: New Kenwood radio

Lots of commentary since the Dayton Hamvention about the prototype Kenwood TS-590 transceiver displayed there. It looks almost exactly like the prototype at the Tokyo show last August, and the Kenwood reps were saying the same things they said there and when I talked with them at the Huntsville Hamfest, also last August.

Two things are sparking this interest in just another HF/6-meter radio:

1) Kenwood has been relatively dormant in the amateur radio HF market for a while. The TS-2000 (Disclaimer: a rig I own and love!) is, well, 10 years old now with practically no changes in design or firmware. The TS-480 is their other primary HF radio, and, as I hear, a good one, but hardly groundbreaking or a major challenger to Yaesu or Icom and their very full range of gear. Is Kenwood--and especially since their sale a few years ago to a massive electronics conglomerate--going to remain in the ham radio business? If this rig is as robust as some hope, it is a good sign that they are.

2) I was told in Huntsville that the new radio would have a receiver the equivalent of the Elecraft K-3, a very fine little radio indeed. Some commenters have proclaimed Kenwood has declared war on the K-3. I doubt that is their intent, but if they do have a competitive receiver to go along with Kenwood's excellent user interface, transmit audio, and other features, they could have a winner with the 590.

Why should we hams care? The more competition the better. And the more manufacturers stretch the capabilities of their products, the greater performance for the dollar for us.

And that is a very good thing.

Don Keith

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