Monday, December 21, 2009

Everyone loses

Typically and philosophically, I am opposed to any more government regulation than it takes to keep order and maintain a level playing field. That is primarily because I have seen big government regulate good industries right into the ground. Take broadcasting. Specifically radio broadcasting.

Some regulation is absolutely necessary. If anyone could go buy a transmitter and start broadcasting, the airwaves would be chaos. See "Citizens' Band." But when the Federal Communications Commission deemed it wise to allow an owner to buy many, many signals in a single market, they condoned commoditization of limited spectrum space and effectively shut out good, creative--but not so wealthy--owners. Sure some of those small owners made out like bandits (assuming they got cash and are not holding paper!). See those big guys had to buy every available signal to fill out their portfolios--whether they were a viable station or not--all to assure stockholders, boards of directors, and Wall Street analysts that they were poised to grow.

I'm not the only one who thinks that kind of deregulation is destructive. Many who were forced out of radio by the cost-cutting weasels and their slash-costs-until-you-are-profitable mentality agree, as you might expect. Shareholders of such hollow "media companies" as Citadel should be complaining the loudest. Those geniuses have managed to take a decent lineup of radio stations and fly them nose first into the ground. (They declared bankruptcy over the weekend. That's right. Over the weekend! That is so typical as to be stereotypical!).

Here--from a broadcasting trade report today--is another lone voice in the wilderness:

“The fruits of deregulation are now clear – everyone loses”, says Connecticut station owner Dennis Jackson. He says “the big story of 2009 is the ultimate comeuppance of impending bankruptcy being earned by the big three plundering conglomerators. These folks, with our NAB as their mouthpiece, persuaded Congress to require the FCC to deregulate radio ownership using the ruse that the new Docket 80-90 FMs were not otherwise economically viable, just as PC-based automation was making it possible to run a station on a shoestring. The fruits of deregulation are now clear - Everyone loses. That’s the listening public, investors, lenders, advertisers, and thousands of broadcasters who once made radio great and were fired from jobs to which they were dedicated. For the most part, corporate radio is a hollow, bloodless shell replacing a medium that listeners once cared deeply about. Perhaps 2010 will be the year when real broadcasters are let back into their stations and we can begin to turn our medium around before it's too late.”

I have a one-word response.


Don Keith

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Catching up

A few items in the "technology change" bucket the last few days:

  • Bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate that would require TV stations to keep the audio level on commercials the same as regular programming. The sponsors claim significantly higher audio levels on the ads is not in the public interest. Once again, I am thankful our representatives are concentrating on important, life-changing issues. Next I would like to see them deal with billboards with scantily-clad young ladies, direct mail pieces with compelling messages that make them stand out from the bills in the mailbox, and songs I don't especially like getting played on the radio.

  • There is a report in the broadcasting trades about a study that shows consumers are weary of all the technology that has invaded their media world. Tired of having music everywhere, instant connectivity, news at the tips of their fingers and such, they are likely to revert to ancient broadcast radio. I say it again: finding solace in such studies is nothing more than whistling past the graveyard. Adapt, revise, innovate...and most importantly, be creative!..or, well, die.

  • A study by Duke University says advertising spending will begin to recover this coming year to the tune of a 1.1% increase. But the bulk of that will be in on-line marketing (9.9%). Traditional advertising will decline by 1.1%. For anyone in the ad biz, this is no surprise at all. Ads go where the customers are. And more so than ever, where the accountability is. If the advertiser is able to target potential customers down to the nth degree, and only pay for those who actually become customers, why would he continue to spend most of his budget on media that sell exposure, not customers? And that are measured by rudimentary methodology?

Your thoughts?

Don Keith

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Oh, Lord! Nothing has happened!

So it has been over a month since I breathlessly bemoaned some major technological brouhaha and how it would upset this little applecart we call "life as we know it." Does that mean nothing at all has happened since?

No! Stuff has happened since I started typing this post. Big stuff. But it will have to wait. I've been busy traveling and promoting a couple of books I wrote under the pseudonym Jeffery Addison. And doing final edits on WAR BENEATH THE WAVES, my new non-fiction book that will be out in early April 2010. And starting a novel that has been rattling around in my head for a while yet. And checking on a movie project on one of my books that will--please!--be announced early next year. And squeezing in some ham radio activity when I can. And, of course, trying to stay ahead of the behemoth that is my day job at Education Corporation of America.

There are topics I want to address as I sit here and listen to the lifeless "all-Christmas-music" radio stations. Or learn more about the radio ratings head-butting between Arbitron and Nielsen. Or read of several medical breakthroughs...still anticipating one that will make life much better for someone I love very much, just as her newly-discovered meds are already doing.

But that will have to wait. I've got commercials to produce, collateral to design, books to write, and fellow amateur radio operators in exotic countries to talk with.

But if I don't talk to you in the meantime, have some especially great holidays. That's an order!

Don Keith N4KC

Monday, November 2, 2009

DVR--good news or bad news for TV advertisers?

It is the sort of story I usually see in the TV trades, the rags that are required to find a silver lining in every media cloud if they hope to hang onto their subscriber base. But this one comes from the New York Times, who have no reason to pump up TV. The article talks about how TV owners and advertisers once saw the DVR--TiVo and the like--as the worst possible thing that could happen. People would record expensive primetime programming and watch it later. Sometimes weeks later. And the stations would not get the benefit of the ratings.

Well, Nielsen will now count that viewing if it occurs within about three weeks from the original airing, so the stations get the ratings that they can sell to advertisers. And who cares when people watch a show so long as they watch it? A good show, pitted in the same time slot as an established hit on another network, now has the ability to find a sizeable audience...albeit one that is delayed in viewing. That does seem like a good thing. "House" and "The Office" are mentioned as big beneficiaries of time-delayed viewing.

That same research also gets credit in the Times article for more good news about the devilish DVR: people are actually not skipping commercials when they finally get around to watching that recorded programming. In fact, the article crows, 46% of the valuable 18-49-year-olds say they do not fast-forward through the commercial breaks. 46%!

That reminds me of those casinos who claim "97% payout on our slot machines!" That just means that for every dollar you feed the little monster, 3 cents goes into the coffers of the casino. Three dollars out of every Benjamin. That adds up when you sit there all day, feeding the slot dollar bills.

And if 46% are not fast-forwarding past those high-priced ads, 54% are. Does that mean the networks are going to start charging advertisers 54% less for those commercials?

Right now, they are simply fast-forwarding past that question.

Don Keith N4KC

Friday, October 30, 2009

Pandora's box

I know regular readers of this self-indulgent waste of bandwidth suspect I have an unnatural man-love for consultant/marketer/blogger Mark Ramsey. Not true. I do have an unnatural respect for many of his well-spoken opinions about the state of media in general and radio (still my first love!) in particular.

One of his latest posts revolves around the Pandora on-line radio service. And in that post, he refers to an article in the radio trade news service INSIDE RADIO:

Pandora is pushing its way into the car. The pure play webcaster that allows users to create and customize their own radio stations has its eye on the auto market and home appliance integrations. Pandora VP of business development Jessica Steel tells eMarketer that many of its 30 million registered users stream the service in their car via mobile apps. “We’re definitely looking at ways to make that experience more seamless — basically making all the core user interactions of Pandora integrated into the vehicle, so that you don’t have to fumble around with your iPhone to skip or rate a song.” Pandora has partnered with Sony to be included on Blu-Ray players and other devices. Echoing a refrain often heard in the over-the-air radio industry, Steel says: “Success for my team looks like Pandora being available on pretty much any connected entertainment device.”

You see that? 30 million registered users are already streaming their own customized "radio station" into their cars! 30 million! Add to the in-car listening sources such ubiquity-busters as satellite radio, people talking away on their cell phones, DVD players in the back seat, other people bringing "radio" into their ears using the cell phone, and you see why fewer and fewer are listening to traditional, over-the-air broadcasting RF from that tower on the hill. Radio broadcasters are losing critical mass at a stunning rate!

How do you counter that? Simple answer: put something on the air that people really want to hear and can't get anywhere else and offer it to them on a wide variety of platforms, not just from the roto-tiller antenna on the side of that tower on the mountain.

But, as you guessed, it's not that easy. Most stations are automated, voice-tracked, and syndicated, pulling music from a hard disk and personality from somewhere far, far away. Walk through your typical "cluster" facility. Nobody there! A receptionist. A gaggle of eager salespeople first thing in the morning and at COB. Maybe a GM or a "program director." They may or may not stream from a web site...many don't because they have not figured out how to make money on it or how to measure its reach...but otherwise, you got to have a radio to hear them. (I can actually show you stations who have to stop the occasional salesperson in the hall to voice a commercial. There are no announcers left except maybe the "production director," and he is already on 90% of the locally produced commercials.)

And when Arbitron (and now Nielsen) measures radio listening, everything is based on "share." Share of people who are listening to over-the-air radio who is listening to a particular station during a particular daypart. Oh, the research companies publish "rating" numbers, too--the percent of ALL people in the market who listen to a particular station, not just of those who are listening to ANY station. Shares are still showing in the 20s for some stations. But ratings are quickly ducking below 1, and you can bet salespeople for The Q and Classic Rock 100 Point 5 are not touting those numbers, regardless of where their stations rank. ("Rank" is an especially appropriate word to describe a list of stations, lined up according to their "share" numbers from three months ago.)

See, the day is coming when one lucky station will have a share of 100. The one person left still listening to traditional radio station will write down those call letters in his diary.

Everybody else will be "0."

Don Keith

Friday, October 9, 2009

Radio waves from hallowed ground

Let me digress from the usual for a short post about an upcoming event that will have absolutely no significance to most of you. It will, though,be near and dear to the hearts of my fellow amateur radio operators, and especially those of us who enjoy communicating with groups who set up in remote locales for what we call "dx-peditions."

But there is another reason I am excited about this particular operation. Using the call sign K4M, the "hams" will be set up and communicating from Midway Island in the middle--thus the name--of the Pacific between San Francisco and Tokyo. Some--though not nearly enough--also know it as the spot where one of the key battles in naval history was fought in 1942. Many feel the course of the war, and thus of history, was altered just a few wavelengths away from where the hams and the gooney birds--the islands only permanent residents now--will share sand the next few weeks.
Now, for those who don't know, I have written several books about the exploits of U.S. submarines in the Pacific during World War II. That little atoll somewhere northwest of Hawaii played a huge role in the success those submarines...more correctly, those submariners...had in doing more than their share of winning the war.

One of the most remarkable things that I wrote about was a former submarine who gave up his commission because he thought he was not being effective enough. That gentleman actually won a submarine command back in a poker game. He was the XO at the sub base on Midway when, one night in a heated card game, he made a daring move and took a huge pot. The base commander was one of the players at the table who lost, but he was duly impressed with how Commander Joe Enright played his hand.

"Joe, if you ran a submarine the way you played that hand, I'd give you the next boat that comes in," he said. And he did.

Enright ended up as skipper of USS Archerfish. All he and his brave crew did on that first patrol was sink the biggest ship that has ever been sunk by a submarine--the Shinano, a massive, "unsinkable" aircraft carrier caught emerging from Tokyo Bay on her maiden voyage.

What an amazing story! If you are interested, take a look at Gallant Lady on my web site.

But now you see why I am especially excited about talking to guys who will be set up on that hallowed ground, contacting fellow amateur radio ops around the world. It will be a new tally mark in my "Countries contacted" column. But I will also be proud to talk to that gooney-bird covered sliver of sand in the Pacific because of the brave men who stopped over there more than sixty years ago.

Don Keith N4KC

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Old People and Change

I think noted media researcher Larry Rosin has it exactly right when he talks about how the people who run radio--and other traditional media--are getting pretty long in the tooth, and is doing nothing to bring in young, creative talent to keep media relavant. Read his post HERE and come on back.

He's not saying, and neither am I, that us old guys can't and don't have ideas and relevancy. With age comes wisdom. Our experience has great value (though radio in particular has lost many of its true geniuses to other endeavors, but that is another post). But there must also be a constant influx of new talent and ideas, whether the industry is radio, TV and print, or car-making or widget-building. Larry is exactly right when he talks about today's younger creative folks wanting nothing to do with a moribund medium like radio, and industry that has shut its doors to them for a couple of decades now in the name of cost-savings, control, and that old bugaboo "risk aversion."

The smartest, most creative radio personalities worked out their chops at 3 AM on a little AM station in Keokuk. That station today is either dark or running ESPN Radio off the satellite twenty-four hours a day.
And that creative young guy is creating web apps for iPhones.

Don Keith N4KC

Friday, September 18, 2009

Another multi-number Flash movie

There seems to be an abundance of Flash movies out there that show us just how dramatically things are changing in the world of communications, advertising and media. HERE is another one.

Again, I don't know if the numbers presented (a bit fast for my tired old eyeballs) are accurate or not, but the story they tell is certainly true. It can be astounding for those of us who remember three TV channels, four or five radio stations...most of which we couldn't hear after the sun went down and we had to tune for WLS in Chicago or some other station that played our music...and, of course, no cell phone, Internet, or Facebook.

Heck, a blog was some other word misspelled.

And I'm not talking about going back to the '50s. As the video points out, change causes change, and it causes the whole thing to speed up.

Accept it? You may as well. It has its own momentum and there is nothing you can do to slow it down. And certainly not stop it.

The challenge is to help guide it in a positive way if you can. Or make the most of it for your own purposes. These are marvelous times for some, frightening as hell for others. Some fight it, ignore it, pray about it, or merely hide. But a couple of things are for certain.

It is inevitable. And the revolution has already begun.

Don Keith N4KC

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Exponential times

Change begets change. As one development appears, more follow in a geometric progression. Here's a video I'd highly recommend. I don't know if all the facts are absolutely correct (was there even an "internet" in the 1980s?), but I think they are close enough to make the potentially frightening least to some.

Things is changing!

Is that a good or a bad thing? I think the answer is, "Yes."

What do you think?

Don Keith N4KC

Friday, September 4, 2009

Electromagnetic soup

Have you ever considered how much radio frequency energy is swirling around us like an invisible fog? And whether or not it has any effect on our fragile bodies? I admit, all those years I sat and spun records within fifty feet of a 50KW AM transmitter, I did wonder what vital organ all that stuff might be cooking. Far as I know, I suffered no ill effects, though my family and friends might consider it an explanation for many things they previously could not understand about me.

All this popped up again with the ubiquity of the cellular telephone--which is, don't forget, simply a radio transceiver--and most people began spending far more time with that little device clamped to the sides of their heads. They work in a frequency range that does show some evidence of doing some serious cellular rearrangement. But all studies seem to indicate that at the low power levels used by most such devices, there is no real danger. Until people suddenly start bleeding from the eyes and turn into something out of the movie I Am Legend. Or brain cancer is as common as sunburn.

Here's a humorous example of what can actually happen. We hams know all too well how a stray bit of RF getting into a poorly designed device can build mightly walls between neighbors.

What do you think? With the massive increase in the numbers of devices using radio frequencies, from wi-fi to cell phones to broadband over power lines, do you wonder if you will suddenly grow a horn in the middle of your head and start speaking in Martian?

Or start getting the SyFy Channel on your bridgework?

Don Keith N4KC

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Morse Code Limerick

Okay, enough ranting and raving for now. This is fun. My friend, Jim Carpenter, N4PAI, sent me the following. You have to know Morse code to appreciate it:






The author is Bill Munsil, K1ATV, from Flagstaff, Arizona. Am I a geek because I think this is hilarious?

Don Keith N4KC

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The World's 4th Largest Country

I had occasion to attend an interesting conference today. An assortment of folks gave presentations about new interactive media, social media, email marketing, and the like. All interesting and enlightening stuff. These speakers were smart, and I learned quite a bit. But I came away thinking--and I'm convinced every one of them would agree--that nobody really has a handle on this sort of thing.

See, for the first time in the history of marketing and advertising, the customer is in control, not the marketer or advertiser. For the first time, the people we are trying to sell is more in control of our message than we are. A couple of generations who have been sold, sold, sold are perfectly willing to tell us to take our sales pitch and put it where the sun don't shine--sideways. That's hard for some staid, set-in-their-ways marketers to understand.

Traditional media are already hurting. Newspapers, TV, radio. Oh, they'll blame it all on the recession, but the boat had sprung a sizeable leak long before that storm blew up. (There is a stunningly accurate essay on researcher Mark Ramsey's blog that talks about the reluctance of radio station owners to change their ways. It's long but worth the read HERE)

If nothing else, the sheer size of it all should be enough to strike terror into the hearts of the Luddites in the ad game. There are 200 million blogs out there. YouTube posts videos so fast, you would not have time to watch them all without getting behind. The Krispy Kreme doughnut Facebook page has 20,000 followers.

If Facebook was a country, its "population" would make it the fourth largest on the planet.

A Chinese web site similar to Facebook is even larger.

I think I need to lie down for a while.

Don Keith

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Whatever happened to, "I wanna see the manager?"

Ever been miffed by the tatted-and-studded person at the drive-thru at the Burger Doodle? Got a potato-crunch-grease-patty in your sack instead of the fried doughnut stick you actually ordered. You probably demanded to talk with the manager, who turned out to be a slightly older tatted-and-studded person, and who promised you a free chocolate-covered simulated frozen milk wad on your next visit to make up for it.

Well, you've been going about it the wrong way. Technology has evolved to the point that, if you are creative enough, you can bring the whole chain to its knees:

Don Keith N4KC

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cool stuff that fits this blog

Always on the lookout for cool stuff that deals with the subject matter of this blog.

If you doubt that Facebook, Twitter and other "social media" are fundamentally changing society, look at this:

Hey, want to send your name to Mars? Free? Simply follow this link, enter your name, and hit "Submit" and your name will be encoded on a chip that is going to Mars in 2011:

So much going on out there in the cyber-world, so little time...

Don Keith N4KC

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The silly season

It must be the heat. What did the Indians say about the British colonialists in their country? "Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out into the mid-day sun." Must be plenty of mad dogs and Englishmen in the media, advertising and regulatory realm these days.

  1. Some radio stations are refusing to air ads for those who would raise radio's royalty payments to writers and publishers. And some are refusing to play songs by artists who are speaking out, saying radio should pay more. This is getting ugly. Music royalties are dwindling because folks are not buying records/CDs. Records and CDs with a bunch of songs they don't really want, but for which the writers and publishers got their penny or penny-and-a-half simply for being on the same album with the song they do. No more. People download the MP3 of just the song they desire to own. Record stores are shuttering their doors (though I saw an intersting story on NBC Nightly News about how people are starting to buy vinyl albums again, mainly just because it's suddenly retro and cool). So how do writers and music publishers make up that lost income from folks who bought their songs without really wanting to? Charge radio more for the privilege of playing their music on the air. Radio yelps, "Whoa!" They say if they did not play those songs on their air, nobody would know about them and would not even know to go download them. (Weak argument since most stations play very little new music..."the best of the 70's, 80's and 90's!") And besides, radio is hurting just as badly as the music industry. If they have to pay much more money for the right to play songs on their air, they may just have to pull the big switch and send their licenses back to Washington. Complicating the deal: stations typically pay based on their revenue. Radio revenue is down. Songwriters and music publishers are starving.

  2. The stand-off finally attracted the attention of "Big Brother." The Federal Communications Commission (the agency that grants broadcasters their license to transmit) suddenly decided this week to wade in and take a look at the situation. August or not, that sent a chill up the spines of broadcasters. But can the FCC tell radio stations which songs they can and cannot play? Or which advertising they have to run and which they don't? Well, they already do when it comes to political ads, but could car dealers suddenly pop up and say radio is refusing to run ads for the revenue-strapped auto industry unless the poor dealers are willing to pay the ad rates the stations demand? "They're hurting," the FCC might say. "Give them lower rates. After all, we...the federal government...own a share of some of those carmakers, so let's give them a break." Brrrrr. Shiver!

  3. Minority radio station owners apparently think nobody feels their pain. They have complained long and hard and sought FCC intervention in their spat with Arbitron, the company that measures radio station listenership. Arbitron has new technology, you see, that is supposed to be much more accurate in determining who is listening to what station, when, how long, and such. But when they began using the device in some markets, hip hop, urban, and Latino stations saw their ratings drop. "It ain't right!" they shrieked. Never mind that the ancient measurement device used before was suspect (The diary! A #2 pencil and a little paper booklet! People were asked to keep a diary of what they listened to! To write down the stations they punched in on the radio on the way to work during rush hour traffic! Billions of dollars have been spent for advertising based on who people remembered to write down in a diary over a week's time!). The old diaries showed those type stations had more listeners than they probably really had for a number of reasons beyond the scope of this rant. Nobody wants to hear, "Put something on your air that more people want to listen to, why don't you?" No, the minority broadcasters first went to state attorneys general, and they got sympathetic ears in New York and Florida. But those guys have no jurisdiction at all and can only create a lot of smoke and fire. That despite the fact that Arbitron blinked in New York and made a few concessions they were probably going to make anyway. Next, the broadcasters went to the FCC. There are still rumblings there, but if anybody can figure out what that agency's realm has to do with a publisher of copyrighted, syndicated data, then please enlighten me. Data that are universally accepted as the currency of buying and selling advertising on the radio by advertisers, ad agencies, and 95% of the radio stations in measured markets. Now, the wounded broadcasters are appealing to President Obama. That's right. They are asking the leader of the free world--a man who has a few things on his mind, like the economy, healthcare, wars in Irag and Afghanistan, global terror--to intervene because their ratings are lower when listening is more accurately measured. Silly!

  4. And now, maybe the silliest of all. The little device Arbitron now uses in many markets is called the Portable People Meter, or PPM. They ship them to families who agree to carry them for a period of time and they are able to quite accurately tell which radio or TV station, or other source of audio such as Internet streaming, they are exposed to. (Note I did not say "listening to." That's a whole other can of worms, and it's just too dang hot.) So what happened was that several of the devices didn't make it to the intended panel members' home and ended up for sale on eBay. Yes, you, too, could have bought your own PPM to amaze your family and friends. But somebody beat you to them. A guy named Randy Kabrich, a radio consultant who has been uber-critical of Arbitron and the PPM since day one...sometimes justifiably so, sometimes not. He says, since he owns them now, he is going to dismantle the devices and see if they work as well as Arbitron claims. See, Arbitron has not been very forthcoming about their technology...for several reasons. First, of course, they don't want any competitors (and they suddenly have a very big one in Nielsen, the TV folks, who are moving into radio) to know too much about how the gizmo works. But who knows? Maybe there is something inside the little case that gives Kabrich and the black and Latino station owners ground to stand on. It's shaping up as a big PR problem for Arbitron (who let their long-time and very, very good PR guy go last year) and its new CEO. Silly as the "eBay PPM" incident is, it will be interesting to watch through the haze and humidity of the Dog Days of August.

Gracious me! Note that all this silliness relates to technological change. How people get their music. Who makes money on the songs that are written, performed, sold, played on the radio. Whether stations can play what they want for whatever reason and sell advertising to whomever they damn well please. How audiences are measured. Whether the FCC or state attorneys general or President Obama have any reason at all to even consider getting involved in all this heated, sunbaked mess.

Pass me another cold beer and I'll sit back and watch all this play out. It's better than any re-run sit-com you might catch on TV right now!

Don Keith N4KC

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What's in a name?

I understand giving up some brand equity to reflect a stronger, more defensible brand. I really do. But on what basis does Radio Shack decide to drop the "Radio" from its name and become...are you ready?...The Shack?

Huh? Company chief marketing officer Lee Applbaum says the change was simply adopting the name most customers and employees called the electronics store anyway. I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone call it "The Shack." Have you? And I've been a customer for 40 years. "Rat Shack," maybe. Lots of times. But I wouldn't recommend using that name either.

I guess Rude Counter Person Who Does Not Know Jack was taken already. Or maybe didn't test well in focus groups.

Incidentally, I first heard about this in one of the radio industry trades, and their position was that The Shack no longer wants to be associated with radio. Does that mean the Rockettes will soon be hoofing in the City Music Hall? That kids will be riding in Flyer wagons? That the Queen song will forever be renamed, simply, "Ga Ga?" And our beloved hobby will become "amateur?" Or, worse, "ham?"

Christian Science Monitor reporter Matthew Shaer has some cogent cognition on the subject in his blog HERE. There is a funny blog post on this topic HERE.

Sad thing is, Radio Shack (I know it was officially one word, but I can't make myself do it) was once a good source of various parts, cables and tools electronic hobbyists required. Or had people manning the store who could explain to the unitiated how to hook up a set of speakers or program a scanner. Need a couple of BNC connectors and a short piece of coax at 8 PM? Run down to the mall. They sold quite a bit of amateur radio gear for a while, too. Heck, I bought my first computer, a TRS-80, from The Shack (grrrrrrrrr).

Truth is, they lost their image a long time ago, carrying everything from cell phones to CB radio antennas. Yes, they once had the image as a haven for nerds, but at least they had an image an were a haven for somebody with money to spend.

Oh, well. I guess it is true, what I read the other day. You know a company's dying when it reaches for that last straw, "re-branding."

Don Keith N4KC

Saturday, August 1, 2009

What do people want?--part II

Along the same lines as yesterday's blog comes an interesting article on the CNN/Fortune web site about Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix. There is also an interesting video interview with him at the bottom of the article.

Key and very cogent point: though he and his company have built an amazingly strong business mailing DVDs to customers, do you think he plans to do that forever? No, of course not. He knows that technology is coming quickly that will allow him to provide movies to customers in myriad other ways.

Reed is NOT in the DVD movie mailing business. He is in the "giving customers a way to watch video entertainment economically and conveniently" business.

So I ask the question, are radio and TV companies in the radio or TV business? No. A million times no.

Don Keith N4KC

(Click HERE to read the article and see the interview.)

Friday, July 31, 2009

What do people want?

OK, back from the beach and ready to pontificate and pronounce! I've done some reading lately, especially on a couple of blogs I follow, and there is still much thought devoted to what people really want from media. Yes, I'm an old radio guy. And yes, it pains me to see the attitude of those with keys to radio stations who say, "Hey, I got a license from the FCC and I got a 100,000-watt blowtorch with a tower on a hill and everybody...EVERYBODY...has a radio in his or her car, so how can I possibly lose the battle for those ears?"

They are partally correct. Terrestrial broadcast radio is still likely the most ubiquitous medium. But when everybody...and I mean EVERYBODY...has a smart-phone on his or her hip, and that will plug into the dashboard of their car and their TV set at home and the computer at work, that will no longer be even remotely true. That development alone means audio and video anytime the user wants it. With true wi-fi available across vast reaches of the fruited plain, from your car, your phone, myriad devices, then none of us will be more than a button push away from all the audio and video and messaging we might want, spewed out by a dizzying number of devices and media.

What does that mean when we consider what people want from all this wonderful connectivity? When news, talk and music is always available, whether in the car, at the work desk, hiking Mt. Wayupthere, on the beach...ummmmm....allow me to remember last week for a moment. OK, back to the rant...wherever? It means broadcasters (to use an anachronistic term! I prefer the rather bland but more accurate "content providers") have to give people more than the same old music and news and talk.

What's that we have to give them, you ask?

Companionship. Humanity. A feeling of belonging to something. A source of stuff where the content provider is not streaming over-researched and way-too-familiar-but-"safe" music, or bland "personalities" talking TO the audience. A source where the user is a part of what is going on, is interacting with it. They become a member of the coolest club around, a special "tribe" where they feel comfortable and welcomed. And all they have to do to join this wonderful tribe is access it on the radio dial, on the cell phone, on a podcast download, on a website...through a vast array of ways. That's ubiquity!

But it is risky. It costs money. It is currently impossible for Arbitron or Nielsen to accurately measure it. Ads have to be sold based on results, and probably priced based on performance. It takes creative, thinking people, not only to come up with content but to sell it to advertisers. The club has to be big enough and active enough that it has value to enough advertisers to make money. It has to be broad enough to do that yet exclusive and targeted enough to be different from anything else available through any medium. You would compete with content from all over the world, but have the unique ability to localize it, if that is where your target exists. It has to be compelling and sellable.
Now do you see why owners don't even want to think about such a thing when they can play songs on a jukebox relatively cheaply, have no personnel worries, and still bring in a few coins?

I'd love to take one of these stations pulling a 1.0 share and do a little research and provide content that would attract a sizeable enough "tribe" so it is a viable block of ears for advertisers to have interest in reaching them. Reach that "tribe" not just with RF from a mountaintop but through any other means available. Empower the "tribe" to be a part of what we are doing through feedback, public meetings, events just for them, communication in the truest sense of the word, not just one-way "broadcasting." Leverage all this emerging technology in new ways none of us have even thought of yet...but could.

Truth is, nobody wants to take the plunge, so that 1.0 share station will just sit there, streaming music to a silent, non-responsive few. The owners would rather rock along breaking even or losing money, hoping another signal or two in the "cluster" covers the loss. (A friend of mine says there is only one other word goes with "cluster" and it starts with an "f.") Be safe rather than risk going to a lot of trouble and possibly losing more than the other couple of signals can cover. Even if there is a chance of doing much, much better with the 1.0. Why try to anticipate further change?
Heck, things have changed in media since breakfast! Don't try to anticipate it. Let it happen and trail behind, picking up the crumbs. That's the safe thing to do.

I may be self-delusional, but I know it can work. I've done it before when the only way of reaching people was with an FM signal. I know what it is like to put a music-and-personality mix on the air and have people respond to it. And the station does not have to be top-3 in Arbitron to have a sellable "tribe" with true value to advertisers.

Oh, if I were only 35 again!

Why give people what they want--companionship, membership in a cool club--when it is easier and safer to do the same things the mega-station owners were doing five years ago?

Because it is not really safer. Putting all your money under the mattress appears to be the safest investment option these days. But is it really, when you lose 3% a year in value to inflaction?

Not changing, not adapting, are almost certainly the most risky actions of them all.

Don Keith

Thursday, July 23, 2009

V - A - C - A - T - I - O - N

So I'm at the beach this week with most of the family, and man! we are having a great time. I had planned to be prolific and profound and post pithy blog entries on some truly fascinating things going on with rapid technology changes.

Didn't happen. Nor did I write a word on the new novel I've started. Or work on the book proposal I owe my agent. Or edit a couple of spec scripts we're pitching. Or do a couple of day job things I wanted to get out of the way before reporting back to the office Monday.

But you know what? My grandaughter, Alexa, and I raced each other all over the pool. Laci...our some great photos of the beach. They and their dad got a kite way, way up there and went crabbing (caught a couple and released them). Our daughter got to stay four days and our oldest son has been here all week, along with his bootleg, low-power radio station with a format that puts the commercial broadcasters to shame. Charlene and I have loved watching all of them have a great time (Just wish the daughter- and son-in-law could have been here, too.). We've had some wonderful meals--inside and out--and slept in, stayed up too late, ate too much junk, and spent hours just watching sunsets and pelicans, and talking.

So to heck with this blog. At least until next week.

Don Keith N4KC

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Power of Pop

Seeing the pictures of Paul McCartney performing on the marquee of the Ed Sullivan Theater for David Letterman's show got me to thinking. And I caught a bit of a McCartney concert on one of the HDTV networks and the lovable long-haired lad from Liverpool sounded absolutely horrible...flat, off key, hoarse. And then I got a press release about the research below done by an outfit called Rapleaf:

** Prior to Michael Jackson's death, The Beatles had more online fans than Michael Jackson, Elvis, and Madonna combined. After his death and the social media flurry that followed, Michael Jackson topped The Beatles in popularity

** Even though Madonna has the most-recent career, Michael Jackson has the youngest fan base, followed by The Beatles (Elvis has the oldest fan base).

No kidding! But I mention this because there was a time when everything was about the popular, likeable/unlikeable, recognizable and other similar criteria a personality was. Those scores were a prime factor when casting a movie or getting a guest on a network talk show. I remember when the TV networks circulated lists with personalities ranked in tiers, mostly based on Q-Scores. If a producer was trying to sell a special to the networks, he had to have at least two out of the first tier, one or two from the second. If all your "stars" were in tier three or below, forget it!

I wonder if that is still the case? And especially in a day when FaceBook or Twitter can--if they wish--accumulate data on how many times a celebrity gets a mention on their sites. Whether those mentions are positive or negative. Within days, we know if Conan is cutting it. If President Obama is up or down. If Oprah counts anymore. How Steve McNair rates in recognizability now as compared to a couple of weeks ago.

I'm just not sure I would want to do what it apparently takes to really score on this list.


Don Keith

Friday, July 10, 2009

How do you measure "engagement?"

Those companies that measure media audiences--and those who make their livings based on those data--are struggling to keep up with new technologies that are rapidly changing the landscape of advertising, marketing and media. "Rapidly" as in "the speed of light." It's tough keeping up! And the new CEO at Arbitron (radio ratings), Michael Skarzynski, is paddling as fast as he can. While testifying to a government hearing, he let slip that his company (and MY old company) is pulling a rabbit out of a hat. The story, quickly:

PPM tracks exposure to stations, but Arbitron says it's cracked the code to measuring listener engagement. CEO Michael Skarzynski says they've developed a prototype which "couples" exposure to engagement. The development may be a way to quiet PPM critics. Some Black and Hispanic broadcasters believe the drop in ethnic station rankings is a measurement of exposure -- not station affinity. Skarzynski told the House Judiciary Committee yesterday they'll release the new engagement tool later this month.

PPM, by the way, is a passive device carried by panel members recruited by Arbitron. It "listens" and logs encoded audio from stations and web sites so the device knows what the panel member is hearing. Not necessarily what they are "listening to," but still it is about as close to real audience listening measurement we have seen yet.

Fly in the ointment: the PPM is showing dramatically lower listening to ethnic stations than did previous methodology. Some claim the other forms of measurement--keeping a listening diary, doing random telephone calls--allowed ethnic groups to "vote" for "their" stations, not to necessarily accurately report their true listening. There is no "voting" with the PPM. It can only hear what the panel member is hearing.

I cannot imagine what Arbitron has up its sleeve. But here is why YOU should care.

Electronic media has almost always been priced on ratings. So many dollars per rating point (one percent of the population) and the like. But as media becomes more and more diffused, the value of an audience is not in its numbers but in its makeup, its tendencies, its propensity to do certain things predictably. And in the media’s ability to make them do those things for the benefit of advertisers. If my radio station can deliver 3,000 people who will likely eat at a particular restaurant, it has far more value than another station that can deliver 50,000 people, none of whom will ever eat there. Using the old model, the station with 50,000 sets of ears could command the highest rates for its commercials and probably got the bulk of the advertising.

Now, if we could just deliver data about “predictable propensity,” and the software to make a compelling case, we’d have something. But it has to be as compelling as “lowest cost per point” once was.

How does this affect YOU? Advertisers support programming and media and stations that move widgets down at the store. If media effectiveness is not measured properly, ad money goes to the wrong media or station or programming. And those media, stations, and programming stay around, even though they are not necessarily what you or your peers want to read, watch or listen to. And the "good" ones go away because the "power" of their audiences--if not their numbers--are not getting reported accurately.

It impacts you in many, many more ways, too, but this is a blog, not a doctoral thesis.

But Lord help us all if Arbitron does some statistical mumbo jumbo, like weighting ethnic listeners higher than the rest of us, just to appease those who claim the PPM is somehow being unfair to stations that serve them. Nielsen is facing the same criticism, primarily from Hispanic TV stations, and could be forced into the same sort of audience measurement witchcraft.

If it ain't accurate, it can't be believed. And if it can't be believed, data have no value. So why bother?

Don Keith

Friday, July 3, 2009

Somebody please explain it to me

I heard a writer yesterday make the statement that, “In World War II, we had the greatest increase in government spending in history…spending far more than we had coming in…and things worked out just fine.” That is absolutely true, but my wife and son thought I was crazy when I screamed at the TV like a lunatic.

“Yes, but that spending went for stuff!” I screeched.

And that is the point, one I hope I can make rationally and without screaming at the keyboard.

The point that government spending during World War II built tanks, airplanes, ships, submarines, uniforms, rifles, things that blow up, all to support the war effort. And those things were made in honest-go-goodness factories that hired people and bought steel, rubber, oil, and other raw materials to create something tangible. The money went to pay salaries and bought things that other factories created...factories that paid people to design it, make it, or mine it and then to ship it. And it went for transportation providers who hired drivers and pilots and rail engineers and ship crews and built or leased warehouses built by others and who bought ships and airplanes and trucks and trains that had to be manufactured by factories that paid wages to people.

Now I am not advocating starting a world war to stoke the economy. I'm just saying the reason the government spent all the money it could print in the 1940s and things actually got better was that the money went for SOMETHING. I make the same argument about the space program. The money does not end up buried in a big hole on the moon. It goes for things that are created--tangible things that go for wages at many levels down the chain and that gets recirculated. The guy who works the machine on the production line that stamps out o-rings for the rocket ship has a job and makes more money so he buys a house, a TV, a car and sends his kids to college, all of which keeps the money circulating. Or he invests some of it in stocks, bonds, mutual funds or CDs so the money gets reinvested to modernize a factory or add equipment or open a new plant somewhere so more people can be hired.

It's a wonderful thing! Wonderful when government helps the economy by spending on things that are needed and stays out of the way of commerce except to enforce reasonable laws that make the whole thing fair for everybody, and avoids taking away the incentive to work and invest by levying too many taxes. Every dollar goes to work to make more dollars. More dollars and more tax revenue. More tax revenue so less taxes are needed. It's like all those "beget" statements in the Bible!

That begs the question: Where is this new spending going?

Really, somebody explain it to me. Where do all these billions the government is spending now end up and, other than make us feel like something is being done, how does it really help in the long run? It has to be going somewhere. Somebody is getting it. How many wages are those "somebodys" paying and how many more people will they hire? How many factories will they build? How many warehouses or railroads or machinery for other people who are making something? What other parts, supplies or raw materials will they invest in with that taxpayer money so it goes around and around?

What in hell are they creating with this wealth? What are they making that can be sold, transported, and used to make something else that creates jobs and wages…or used to fight a war?

Yes, some of it went to the automakers who have factories producing something tangible, made by people who earn wages, but it will likely be used to pay down debt, modernize plants so fewer workers will be needed to make cars that consumers have already proved they don’t want to buy. To buy advertising to try to convince us we want that dog car. To meet pension obligations so those retirees who left after 20 years of age 40...won't have to go back to work, God forbid.

And I know there was talk that this dough would be used to repair our infrastructure...highways, bridges, airports. What happened to that plan? That would do double duty. Companies would have to expand, hire people, buy bulldozers, trucks, and cranes, contract for concrete, rebar, asphalt, engineering, and more. And all those people would pay taxes...payroll/income, sales, etc. Of course, my cynical side says most of the infrastructure that got improved would be in the districts of those Congressmen with the most power and influence. That bridges would be built to nowhere and perfectly adequate airports would become super-airports, just so the Congressman could crow about all the money and jobs he brought back to his state or district.

Believe me, too, that I am not advocating the government spending us out of the recession or that it is even government's role to create jobs by tapping into the treasury. But the infrastructure needs some work. And World War II needed to be won. I'm just saying, if we are going to spend trillions, let's spend it on something that needs to be done, and something that would create wages, tax revenues, and stuff that is tangible.

And if someone can tell me where all this money is going, who is going to get the most benefit out of it, please tell me so I can invest there.

Man, I am glad I live in a country that has a bottomless treasury. Otherwise, I'd be really worried.

Don Keith

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

King of Pop and Technological Change

So what does the untimely death of Michael Jackson have to do with rapid technological change? Well, to talk about it, I have to crowbar it onto the topic somehow, don't I?

And then there is this statement I read the other day: "Michael Jackson will be one of the last pop music superstars." By "superstars," the speaker was talking about Elvis, Michael, and the Beatles. And he was alluding to the fact than nobody will ever capture such a broad music audience, or sell anything near as many albums.

Albums? You remember those, right? Vinyl discs with ten or twelve songs on them, the music etched into the vinyl material in a continuous spiral that wound in from the outside of the disc to near the middle. You reproduced the sound by dragging a needle along the spiral groove. It vibrated in relationship to the material carved into the groove and was amplified so we could hear it.

How primitive! remember CDs, right...made those obsolete. But they also took away some of the "soul" that was captured in those vinyl discs.

Elvis sold records with starring roles in mediocre movies, but with plots that allowed him to flash that grin, wiggle those hips, and sing enough songs to fill an album. And remember when the Beatles released an album that didn't have silence between the various songs? It just flowed from one song to another, and the songs seemed to be related to each other. "Sgt. Pepper." The album covers were great. Pieces of art. Information about the songs and more. It was a package. And Michael Jackson sold albums by dancing his way through 20-minute-long music videos that MTV made a big deal of debuting and showing every hour on the hour. You remember music videos, right? And MTV?

Albums. Nobody wants to buy an album anymore. Forget the cover art and the information. Save money and don't do a 20-minute-long music video, even if your artist happened to be pretty and charismatic enough to pull it off. Record companies and artists got greedy. Of the ten or twelve songs on the album, only a couple were hits. Or songs anybody wanted.

But when the 45 RPM remember the 45 RPM single, right?...went away, if you wanted the song, you bought the whole album. When MTV quit playing music videos, we were exposed to fewer total stars...people who could sing and dance and look good. And radio went into a shell and stuck with "proven, tested songs," not taking a chance on actually introducing its audience to a new superstar, unwilling to take any risks whatsoever.

Now you buy the songs individually, if you even decide you want to possess them. And music as well as the places to get it is fragmented. You can get songs in myriad places. Just the song you want. Often for free. Or for a buck if you are honest. You don't have to own the entire album to get the songs you want. You don't have to care about or know anything about the artist or group. You just want the song. For a little while. Then you delete it from your iPod and put something else in there.

So with all that music out there and so cheap, the day of the superstar pop artist...the kind like Elvis, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson...will be no more. There'll be big stars. Coldplay. Green Day. Kenny Chesney. But put those names in the same paragraph with the real pop stars and I think you see what the commentator was saying.

Nobody will ever dominate music like those guys did. And technology is one of the big reasons.


Don Keith N4KC

Friday, June 26, 2009

Everything you know is wrong

I know. This was supposed to be a blog about technological change across a broad front, but the media just keep providing me with fodder for these rants. Two things crossed my monitor today that left me stunned and amazed. I guess I'm wrong about all the stuff I thought I knew about how media was changing so rapidly. Apparently it is all just peachy for the traditional guys--TV and radio.

First, apparently teenagers are NOT deserting traditional over-the-air radio at all. Quite the opposite! According to INSIDE RADIO--which is owned by a company that owns a whole bunch of radio stations, by the way--the medium has no worries about losing teens--now and forever:

Study shows teens not "totally lost." Nearly four-in-ten teenagers say an iPod or MP3 player is their primary method of consuming music. But Nielsen's report says radio is still the first choice for a sizable number. According to the study, radio is still the "primary source" of music consumption for 16% of teens and a secondary source for another 21%.

So tell me. If this survey had been done ten years ago, reckon how many teens would have said radio was their primary source of music? Even with MTV still playing music videos? I'd bet about anything it was somewhere north of 50%. 16% is good news? 40% have ear buds attached to an MP3 player instead of a transistor radio? Gawd!

So then I get a look at the entire survey referenced in this dreamy news story. And I get a gander at some interesting data. It claims a typical teenager--A TYPICAL TEENAGER, right?--spends 52 minutes a day with a computer. 6 minutes a day using mobile voice. 23 minutes on the Internet. But also almost 3.5 hours a day with that old reliable medium TV. And an amazing 92% of their video was consumed watching regular, old TV.

I have one question: who the hell was this "typical" teenager? Has he not heard of YouTube? That exciting new device, the cellular telephone? Or is he/she so totally unimpressed with the Internet that only 23 minutes a day are wasted there while they spend the rest of their time doing homework, helping clean the house, and doing good deeds for the elderly people in the neighborhood? Oh, and watching TV.

OK, Nielsen should know a thing or two about gathering and interpreting data. And I know it is a slippery slope when we question data just because it does not back up our beliefs or theories. But I cannot see any basis in reality in this stuff.

And I think the true slippery slope is if TV and radio broadcasters really--in their heart of hearts--believe most teenagers are not watching video or getting their music elsewhere.

Don Keith

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Too hot? Not!

Man, it is just too hot to blog anymore. Dang, it's hot! Summer just officially started this past weekend and it's already sweltering down here. Luckily I have a nice air conditioning vent just above my writing/computer/amateur radio desk in the basement office, and with no windows, I can sometimes pretend that it is mid-October, the humidity is 40% and the temperature outside is in the 70s.

Then I see the weather gadget over on the computer monitor, reminding me it's 95...feels like 101. Thanks, technology!

There are some things going on, though, heatwave or not. Arbitron announced they will begin measuring "out of home" television viewing, using their Portable People Meter. That includes restaurants, bars, hotel rooms, and more. The big news is not that they are doing "out of home TV viewing" (which is in desperate need of better measurement than Nielsen's lame diary methodology) but that the company is going back into the TV business at all.

ARB furloughed 5,000 people one lovely day in the mid-90s when they left the TV ratings business and it has been ingrained in the company ever since that they would stay out of that Nielsen-dominated world. Even as PPM--a true multi-media measurement device/methodology--was in development, it was always going to be used in partnership with Nielsen, not to compete with that behemoth.

I'd guess that Nielsen's toe in the radio waters has spurred the new management at Arbitron to re-think that. Having their wagon totally hitched to radio's rapidly dimming star may be another factor. We'll see. From an advertiser's point of view, I can only say the more measurement we have and the more it reflects real TV viewership, the better. It's best for consumers and viewers, too, but I'll save the reasons why for some day when I can't fry a beer-battered shrimp on the sidewalk.

TOTALLY DIFFERENT SUBJECT: I had a blast last Friday afternoon. When I got home about 2200Z, I saw a couple of European stations spotted on 10 meters, a band that typically does not offer up such delicacies in this stubbornly disappointing sunspot cycle. Even though I was nursing a terrible summer cold, I hopped on, but did not bother turning on the amplifier--too dang hot!--and promptly talked with four or five stations on both CW and SSB. Easy!

Then there was a fellow in Spain spotted on 12 meters. Sure. That band NEVER has any signals on it. But there he was, with a good, strong signal. I got him on the first call with my powerful, pulsating 100 watts. Though he was dispensing 459 and 559 to others, he gave me 599 and said I was very strong.

17 meters sometimes offers some late afternoon propagation and sure enough, there was a station on the island of Crete in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, loud and strong on sideband. One call and we were in QSO, each hearing the other 100%, even with my 100 watts.

Next, down to 20 meters where there are typically some Europeans on throughout the day--and lately even into the evenings--but it usually takes the amp to get through. Well, what the heck? Still without the amp, I gave a call to a station in Bosnia just as he was wrapping up with another station and he came right back. We had a nice, pleasant chat, and he apparently heard me just fine.

So I had made contacts into Europe on 10, 12, 17 and 20 meters, all within a little over an hour, and all with 100 watts of power. And most of them came back to me on the very first call. Not bad on a day when the solar flux was reportedly below 70 and the propagation prediction sites all said "Bad" for the bands where I accomplished this feat.

My only regrets are that I did not call CQ some on 15 (there were NO signals on the band at all but it "sounded" open. Old Timers know what I mean about a band "sounding open.") or that I did not take a look on 30, just to keep the string going. I doubt, with all the static on 40 and 80/75 that I could have heard Europe through the din, so I did not even try.

See, to me that sort of thing is fun, and just one of the reasons amateur radio is such a fantastic hobby.

Even when it's 95, feels like 101, outside.

Don Keith N4KC

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Arbitron - "Great Satan" or "Good Guys?"

Most who drop by this blog probably don't give a hoot about Arbitron, or even know who, exactly, they are. Well, they are the biggest publisher of radio station ratings information in the world. Bigger than the next nearest competitor by many, many dimensions. At least for right now. And how radio stations are programmed and how advertisers spend their money for commercials on those stations are based almost totally on the numbers that Arbitron produces. That is many millions of dollars there!

A recent article by Lindsay Wood Davis has some interesting takes on recent changes at Arbitron--rapid changes in a company that has always been very, very slow to do anything:

Customer relations with Arbitron often felt as if it was based on the famous Seinfeld episode about the Soup Nazi. Do it EXACTLY their way or, “No soup for you!” At anything less than the very top, it often didn’t seem to matter who you were dealing with, either. Somewhere in the great Arbitron training and indoctrination process there must be a secret blood-oath ceremony where one swears to always look for the hardest way, the more difficult course, the path of greatest resistance.

Are there exceptions to this? Oh, of course there are. Arbitron has (and has always had) many great employees. And most of them are fully aware that they work (or worked) for a company whose arrogance fit it like a patent-leather cat woman suit.

So it comes as more than a bit of surprise to find that things appear to actually be changing at Arbitron, and that those changes seem to be very much for the better. New CEO Michael Skarzynski is employing the ancient management dictum that, “a new broom sweeps clean” as he blows out position after position, and replaces the departed with dreaded “outsiders.”

Thank the Good Lord. There is at least a chance that these new people won’t have taken the blood oath (at least not yet). In spite of the loss of a number of good souls who would be a credit to any company, no organization anywhere near as important to Radio needs a thorough cultural housecleaning as badly as Arbitron.

Once I got past that image of some of the folks I once worked with in a "patent-leather cat woman suit," I started to think about this change at what some radio stations still call "The Great Satan." I was with those guys for four years and always felt like an “outsider.” So did everybody else who came over to Arbitron from the company they bought--Tapscan--primarily because we were dexterious, nimble, and quick to meet customer needs with our technology. Yes, all the stuff Arbirtron was alledgedly devoid of. The internal code name for our purchase and due diligence phase was "Magic." That was what they thought we were. And of course, they immediately began changing things, ignoring our guys, indoctrinating us into the Arbitron "way." Only a few former Tapscan folks are still Arbitroids.

I actually think it was the “we are smarter than everybody else” syndrome that was the cause of all that arrogance and stubbornness, and the reason they bought us for our "magic" and promptly sapped it out of us. They honestly felt that they knew better than anybody else how to do what they did, and they often looked down on their radio customers as a bunch of doofuses who should keep their mouths shut and drink the Kool Aid. Doofuses who wrote large checks that allowed for lavish sales meetings and generous stock options.

I doubt the “new attitude” is totally due to any sweeping changes from the guy with all the consonants in his name. I think they feel the threats, finally, from a plethora of sources: the general malaise in the radio biz, Nielsen entering the radio-audience-measuring business, inadequate internal technology, lukewarm acceptance of the PPM, and more.

I hope they make it, though, and not just because I still have some friends there. Accurate research benefits everybody except bad radio stations. Research from multiple sources using different methodology will give different results. The “man with two watches” thing. But I still think the PPM is as close to accurate as anything we are likely to get anytime soon. And it has the capability of measuring anything that makes a noise.

We need it to work. And, whether you know it or not, YOU need it to work.

Don Keith

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Your own radio station--programmed just for YOU

So I pick up my copy of The Birmingham News, my local daily paper (just beating the German shepherd next door to it...he devours my newspaper almost every day...I mean literally devours it!). There, in their cleverly titled Tech Know section, is a story about how easy and cheap it is to subscribe to music on your cell phone.

Music that you can download from sources that "learn" what kind of music you like and serves you up your own personal mix. It's easy to plug that phone into your car's existing sound system. And you really have to listen to it a ton to incur additional usage fees, according to the article.

How the heck can traditional radio--or even satellite radio--compete against something like that? Well, the reporter noted one thing that bothered him. Yes, he was getting music he liked, in good quality with no glitches or dropouts, and only briefly interrupted by commercial announcements. But there was one element he actually missed.

The dee jay. The guy who told you who that was singing and playing. What album it was from. When the group or artist would be coming to a venue near you. Whether it was a brand new song or something you missed a decade ago. Why you should listen to other songs by this artist. Who else he or she may have recorded with. Who wrote the dang song. Who that was doing that neat guitar riff in the bridge.

I suspect he was missing one other thing, too. Companionship. A warm voice in the night. A real human being, playing those songs picked just for him.

Am I the only other one who sees the need for some glue to hold those songs together?
NOTE: the reporter's blog in which he talks about this article is HERE.

Don Keith

Friday, June 5, 2009

Move over satellite radio...there's something new in the "Old Wheezer!"

Actually a couple of interesting items to report on today. One gets big play in the radio trade publications:

AT&T teams with RaySat Broadcasting to launch CruiseCast, a $28 per month rear-seat entertainment system that gives subscribers 20 satellite radio channels and 22 TV channels. The service launches as car sales are at their lowest point in decades and consumers are looking for ways to cut expenses.

NOTE: that last sentence is the usual radio-industry spin this particular publication puts on all stories. You know, I don't have any idea if this is something consumers are clamoring for or not. If it were audio only, I'd say it's dead out of the gate, but having TV right there in the back seat for the kids gives it some oomph.

The wild card is how long it will be before wi-fi is ubiquitous and you can have almost unlimited in-vehicle audio, video, games, and more right off the Internet, having 22 TV channels ain't such a big deal.

The other media-related item is about the demise of the long-standing radio trade paper, Radio & Records. For years, having a record "number one with a bullet" on the R&R charts was the epitome of success. It did a wonderful job of keeping up with industry news and trends and its gossip and personality-following made it a must-read every Friday.

Two things killed the paper, though. First, like all newspapers, it had to be composed, printed, and mailed. That meant any news was old, old, old by the time you got the ink all over your fingers trying to read it. And its primary advertiser base was record labels. The only industry sicker than automobile manufacturers and broadcast radio is the music biz.

I had many good friends who worked there, including their publisher and CEO for a while, Erica Farber. They all brought a passion for radio to the paper that has been sorely lacking since Nielsen's parent company, VNU, bought them a while back. Still, it was inevitable that they went the way of many other print media.

Change is a bulldozer. Either hop aboard and help steer or get tread marks on your bum.

Don N4KC

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hex blog? Yep.

Those ham ops among ye may have read my raves about my homebrew hexagonal beam. I even did an article on about it. Well, one of my buds, Ron Mott W4RDM has started a blog devoted to this animal.

It's at, and I recommend those interested in the antenna drop by.

I have several posts I want to do but I've been on the road all week and my daughter is getting married this Sunday, so pardon me if I'm preoccupied.

Thanks for checking in, though.

Don Keith N4KC

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The marketers want your five bucks

Have you been to one of those so-called iMax theaters--just another room in the multi-screen complex down at the mall? What is happening is the theaters are giving up a few rows of seats at the front (that none of us want to sit in anyway) so they can hang a bigger screen. Then they use a newer digital projection system to screen what they are advertising as--and that the iMax people authorize them to do--an iMax movie.

It ain't.

But you willingly pay $5 more for the "experience." Truth is, theater owners are facing increased competition from digital home sources that look really, really good, like Blu-ray, and easy-to-obtain films such as via Netflix. I have to admit, unless it is something really spectacular, like the recent Star-Trek feature, I would rather see it on my 48-inch hi-def screen in Blu-ray format, with my store-bought popcorn and dressed in my shorts and t-shirt with no shoes.

But lying to me? Telling me I can see an iMax film when the only real extra I'm getting is a bigger screen? Foul!

See critic Roger Ebert's take on this at his blog. It's interesting reading.

Two notes: one is I disagree with Roger that the new technology--48 frames-per-second--has any chance of catching on. Most people are very happy with the digital projection systems now being used. And it's cheaper for distributors, too. The digital ship has sailed. 70mm film is NOT the future.

And speaking of iMax, how many of you know that the sound system for iMax was invented right here in my hometown of Birmingham? One of the folks involved was Jim Cawthon, who is also a ham radio operator.

Don N4KC

Twitter: don_keith

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Let's pick on radio again

I know. I should quit picking on a medium I really and truly love. And one that fed my family for 22 years. But gosh, things just keep on getting sillier. Here's a blurb from INSIDE RADIO, one of the trade pubs that is more a mouthpiece for the big owners than anything else:

Radio’s reign as king of in-car listening may not be over, but there’s a new threat. Autonet Mobile has begun selling Wi-Fi for the car at more than 3,300 stores nationwide, including Best Buy. But a Jacobs Media survey finds just 6% want Wi-Fi in their next car. Most prefer an iPod connection.

I'd love to see the specs on the Jacobs Media study. That 6% does not include the folks I hang around with who break out in hives if they have less than five bars on the signal strength from the wi-fi.

And maybe somebody can tell me why preferring an iPod connection is any better than them glomming onto wi-fi as they zoom down the freeway.

Anything that siphons off ears is a bad thing for radio. And especially if those ears are part of a tribe that advertisers value.

Read previous posts re: wi-fi in the car. When it becomes as ubiquitous as over-the-air radio -- or even close, because there are plenty of other things competing for the attention of the folks in their cars...cell phones, satellites, etc. -- then over-the-air radio is dead. Quite dead. Comatose. Expired.

To quote Monty Python.


Twitter: don_keith