Wednesday, February 3, 2016


by Don Keith

A couple of items to pass along today:

1 - The Federal Communications Commission was inundated by applications for FM translator licenses on the first day of the filing window for AM operators to grab them.  More than 400 applications were accepted with still more coming in on days two and three.  This is all part of the FCC's initiative to "save" AM radio.  This particular move allows AM licensees to get relief by grabbing FM translators, ostensibly to help stations with weak AM signals, restrictive directional patterns, and especially daytime-only stations.

As noted in previous posts, this seems to me to be an odd way to "save" AM allowing them to duplicate their programming on FM.  That, I believe, only gives the AM signal an excuse to stay on the air while most listeners will hear the programming over on FM.  That is already the case with many AM broadcast stations.  Groups have been either buying or leasing dog AMs just to be able to get an FM signal...weak as it might be since translators are very low-power and typically have their antennas much lower on towers.  (Never mind how all these new signals are ruining reception on an already-crowded slice of broadcast spectrum.  Or how many of those "excuse" AM stations often manage to be off the air or operating at far below authorized power while their associated FM translators are pumping out the classic rock or the hits of yesterday and today.)

Next, the FCC will likely relax some technical rules that won't amount to a hill of beans, all in the name of saving a broadcast band that is already, for all intents and purposes, d - e - a - d.  And it is a damn shame!

2 - Lots of talk these days about "cord-cutters" and their more radical brethren "never-cords."  These are folks who cancel cable or satellite TV and get their video entertainment and information via the Internet. Or those who start their adult lives without ever subscribing to Dish or cable. Traditional cable and broadcasters are at a loss to figure out how to stop such a trend.

I may be totally off base, but seems to me the answer is to put programming on their channels that people want to watch and charge what the market will bear to access it.  I'm stuck because I primarily watch live sports on TV.  Until I can get all I want to see via web sites, I'll have to write a check every month to DirecTV.  But networks and cable channels are greedy.  They cut deals to send their precious programming right on over to Hulu, Apple TV, Netflix and the like in order to make more money than they'll ever get from commercials.

I subscribed to HBO for one thing: "The Sopranos."  I'm not into "Game of Thrones" so when Tony and the boys went away, so did my HBO subscription.  I picked up Netflix to watch "House of Cards."  Now I keep it for that show as well as for shows like "Making of a Murderer."

I suspect there are plenty like me who will either cut the cord or keep a limited version of it, depending on what they simply must watch.  So get ready for another term: "a la carte."  Cable/satellite providers will one day be forced to allow you to pick and choose channels or content providers at a reasonable price rather than those so-called "tiers."

If they don't, somebody else will.  And content makers will go with whoever pays them the most attracting the most viewers/subscribers.

Oh, and commercial advertising will play a smaller and smaller part in this equation.  There are no commercials in "House of Cards."

3 - Speaking of "cord cutters," many forget that there is plenty of free TV available, just for the taking.  It is the old-fashioned over-the-air TV stations!  Most have multiple channels of programming since the digital age arrived.  Much of that additional programming is bad, bad, bad, but some might appeal to you.  All you need is your current TV set, assuming you own one, and some kind of antenna.

Well, a friend of mine, Mark Higginbotham, has developed a simple, do-it-yourself outside TV antenna that does a good job of grabbing those free signals and is not an eyesore that might attract the attention of your homeowners' association.  It's called the Pennyloop digital antenna and Mark is selling the plans online at a very reasonable price.

You can learn more at Mark's web site.

Now, where did I put my wire-cutters?

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