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