Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fun with graphs and charts

Want a really cool way to demonstrate the progress of man over the last few centuries.  Here it is.  And it's fun!

See.  Numbers can be kind of cool.  Plus you can see easily that everything is NOT going to hell in a handbasket!

Don Keith N4KC

Friday, December 10, 2010

A few words about criticism

Someone once said, "If you believe the good reviews, you have to believe the bad ones, too."
I totally agree.  After a long career in broadcasting and now, with over twenty books in print, you can be sure that I have seen my share of both.  When my first novel was published, THE FOREVER SEASON, I could hardly wait for that first round of reviews.  Based on my very experienced editor's feedback, I just knew they would be uniformly glowing.  Not so.  Both Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, the two sources in which those in the publishing industry put the most stock, were awful.  Never mind that few potential readers ever see these--unless the publishing house yanks them out as blurbs when they are positive and puts them on covers and press releases that zoom out to the masses.  And never mind that we got scores of other reviews that were absolutely wonderful and never--to this day--ever received another negative one. 
You see, those two highly subjective reviews caused the sales and publicity staff at St. Martins Press to totally lose interest and move on to other books that were not roasted in PW and LJ.
Now, jump ahead fifteen years.  Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can post reviews on such sites as and  It does not matter if they have read the book or not.  Or whether or not they like the way the author combs his hair.  They can give glowing reviews for no good reason or completely pan an author's work, based on any criteria they want.  And people considering purchasing those books can't really tell which reviews are helpful and which ones are garbage.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
I admit I check travel review sites when I am booking a hotel, and I read the customer reviews and consider their rankings.  In my ham radio hobby, if I am considering a purchase, I go to and scroll through user reviews, and take that into consideration.  I even take time to post reviews on those sites in an effort to be helpful to others, and try my best to remain objective. 
I'm sure hotels, restaurants, and amateur radio equipment manufacturers--among others--have developed thick skins.  I wonder how many even bother to check the reviews they are getting on these sites.
It is a little tougher, though, for folks like authors.  We bleed and sweat to make our works as good as we can make them.  Then, we have some uninformed or prejudiced yahoo call our baby ugly for no good reason!
Hey, I'm a big boy, and I know what I do will not appeal to everyone.  Constructive criticism is always welcomed.  So is fact-correcting.  But when I see "reader comments" that are scathing, based on purely arbitrary opinions, it bothers me.  I have one fellow who has posted lengthy diatribes on several of my World War II submarine books (I have resisted replying to him on the actual sites where they appear because I don't want to legitimize his rants, but I do appreciate others who have commented on his stuff.). If his points were consistent or made any sense, I would accept them and move on, but it appears he has an almost personal axe to grind.  Truth is, he is so far off base, it doesn't hurt my feelings at all.  But the trouble is, I know the comments could negatively impact book sales.  And that does bother me on several levels.
First, he apparently has not read the books since he makes mistakes about names, dates, and many of the facts.  He chides me for not giving more detail and then makes an issue of the amount of detail I give in other areas.  He wants footnotes and sources like a scholarly work, not understanding that these books are not intended to be that at all, but human stories of real people in extraordinary circumstances.  And they are not written as historical record or analysis for scholars, but for people looking for good, real stories that just happen to be true, and may not know much about WWII history or submarines.  I only try to tell enough to put the events and personalities into context.  He rants about my boring style in one sentence then talks about how the good writing style masks a lack of scholarly historical analysis in another.  He also seems to think that my not being a former submariner prohibits me from being able to tell these stories about submariners.
Yes, a few factual errors creep in...some my fault, some a book as full of facts as these are.  It always galls me when a book typesetter or line editor accidentally changes a date or number.  We just corrected a fewof those in the upcoming paperback release of WAR BENEATH THE WAVES. These manuscripts have had many eyes of well-informed people on them, including men who spent a large portion of their lives on submarines did not catch them and others who actually lived through what I write about.  And, by the way, none of them are major flaws at all.  (The one I keep hearing about is a wrong number I gave when converting knots to miles-per-hour when talking about the speed of a Japanese destroyer...and we still don't know where that bogus number in the text came from...I know the formula!)
So I guess my question is, how do we deflect misdirected arrows of criticism when everybody with a keyboard has a quiver full of arrows?  Or should we?  With the hotel and amateur radio gear reviews, the sheer volume of input allows us to quickly cull the outliers--pro or con.  It's the same concept as Wikipedia, where incorrect info is immediately corrected by all the army of people looking at it.  If a ham radio antenna has a 4.8-out-of-5 average rating after 200 reviews, I am probably not going to pay much attention to the one guy who gave it a zero unless he has a darn good reason.  However, on most books with limited sales--like mine--one or two negative reviews carry a lot of weight when Amazon starts adding up the stars. 
Just like Publishers Weekly and Library Journal.
Don Keith N4KC

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Things that are going bye-bye

Got an interesting email today, talking about all the things we take for granted--things most of us assume will always be with us--that will soon be gone, ready or not.  I disagree with a couple of them.  But as change inevitably erases the un-erasable, look for many of these things to soon be gone bye-bye:
  • The Post Office.  (Saw one of the USPS's top bureaucrats on TV the other day justifying his archaic department by talking about how mail carriers check on the elderly and report fires and crime.  Sigh.)
  • The check.  I could add cash money, too.  Both rapidly going away, replaced by plastic and cyber-money.
  • The newspaper.  I've talked about that here before.  No more ink on your hands. News that is 24 hours old?  How twentieth century!
  • The book.  I'm not convinced that the traditional paper book is gone just yet.  Other ways to read?  Sure, and as an author, anything that encourages people to read and makes it easier for them to buy "books" is fine with me.  But I still think enough people like the feel, portability, and ease of use so that they'll still have to print and bind them for a while yet.
  • Land line telephone.  A given.  When cell service is good enough at my house, bye-bye land line.
  • Music.  (?)  The writer says that since nobody exposes good, new music, the entire genre is self-destructing.  I think new ways of exposing are emerging.  Exciting days are coming.
  • Television.  Yes, for over-the-air or cable, and for the big four networks.  No for video.  Our grandkids will not know the difference.  TV is moving pictures on a screen of some kind.  Moving pictures are moving pictures, whether it comes from a tower on a hill or via wireless.
  • Computers with hard drives and data stored on CDs/DVDs.  It's all going to the "cloud."  Everything you would normally keep on your machine will reside out there in the ether, data, pictures.  And you will use myriad devices to access it, not just a desktop computer.
  • Privacy.  'Nuff said.

Don Keith N4KC

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The broadcasting feel-good blurb of the year!

Broadcasters have their hind end so far up their ailementary canal these days it's almost hilarious.  It seems difficult but every day they seem to manage to top the previous day's example of trying to convince themselves everything is rosy.  Here's today's bit of self-massage, from INSIDE RADIO's email newsletter:

The radio industry had its best cost per thousand (CPM) rates in five months in October, according to the SQAD-Inside Radio CMP Tracker. Costs to ad buyers were up by as much as 15% compared to one year ago, the latest data shows.

So, kind reader, glance around and tell me what might cause the rates stations charge for advertising to be higher this October than last year.  Higher ratings?  No.  They continue to tail off (look at rating numbers...percentage of all people out there who listen to a particular station...NOT share...percentage of people listening to any radio who are listening to a particular station).

Better results?  Hardly.  I know it is difficult to measure, but does anyone really believe advertising, especially on radio, is producing better results than last year?

So why would rates be higher, according to SQAD? 

POLITICAL!  Millions and millions of dollars are being dumped into media right now.  Even though broadcasters are required by law to sell political ads at their "lowest unit rate," you can be sure that unit rate was established outside the political window and it is not radically different from what other advertisers have been paying.

So that's why rates and revenues  are up.  Don't delude yourselves, broadcasters.  The holiday season will help, but once all the levers are pulled and the chads have been hung on November 2, reality sets in.

Don Keith

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Simple...but complicated

To most radio listeners and TV viewers out there, the sea change in technology that is radically altering over-the-air broadcasting is little more than a hum.  They still see images flickering on the TV screens...though admittedly now in high def or even 3-D and with a lot more choices...and there are 800 million radios so switching one on and finding some music or people screaming at each other on talk or sports radio is still an option.

It's simple.  Radio and TV are still there, just as they have been since the 1920s for radio and 1940s for TV.  But behind the scenes, it is vastly more complicated, and how broadcasters are handling change is shaping the future of the media for viewers/listeners, advertisers, and station owners in fundamental ways.

Case in point is the ongoing haggle between music licensing entities and radio broadcasters.  Unbeknownst to most listeners, radio stations pay for the privilege of broadcasting music.  That money goes to the people who write and produce the songs we listen to.  The amount each station pays is determined by a formula based on how much revenue the station takes in.

Now the music guys want to change how things work.  With radio stations not only casting out radio signals but also streaming their music programming on the Internet, the music licensing agencies have dollar signs in their eyes.  They want more money for the use of their songs.  This really complicates things.  First, listeners are not aware but the union for voice talent has been lobbying for more royalties for their members because of streaming.  So far, stations have resisted paying that, and that's why, if you listen to your local station's stream, you won't hear the commercials.  They're covered by music, station promos, or other commercials that don't use union talent.  I won't even go into what a hassle that is, or how it effects things like the rates advertisers pay or how it negatively impacts the potential reach and effectiveness of a station's commercials.  Or the fact that stations typically make no money on their streams.  Complicated!

The National Association of Broadcasters has a committee that has been negotiating with music licensing groups, trying to come up with a new formula that would include some payment for Internet music usage.  Broadcasters are in a tough spot.  Audiences are diluted.  Revenue is down.  Wall Street still demands stations' bottom lines increase year-over-year.  Ratings services can't really measure listening on the Internet combined with over-the-air.  Advertisers don't know what they are getting for their money. 

As mentioned, commercials only play over the air, not on the Internet stream.  Stations have not been able to figure a way to make money on the Internet stream, yet they are convinced audiences demand it...whether that is true or not.  So why pay more--for commercial talent and the music you put on the air and the stream--if you are not making more money?  Especially when stations are struggling to make a profit at all.  And don't radio stations help sell music by playing it on the air?  And on the Internet?  There has even been talk of CHARGING record companies and artists to expose their music.  That has not gone very far at all, nor will it.

All this leads up to the announcement yesterday that the NAB committee has proposed a plan in which royalties paid to play music will increase, but not necessarily in response to streaming.  No, it would be tied to penetration of chips in smart phones that would allow the devices to tune broadcast radio.  Not apps.  Chips, inside phones.  The broadcasters have been lobbying for a long time to have the Federal Communications REQUIRE in all phones sold in this country.


First, if broadcasters have not figured out how to make money off streaming existing programming on the web, how do they expect to make money--and pay bigger royalties--based on smart phones being able to get over-the-air broadcasts?  As mentioned, there are 800 million radios already.  Pandora and all those guys who compete for listeners with terrestrial radio don't need chips in phones.  They have 80 million users without it.

Truth is, this chip-in-the-phone thing has been a priority for broadcasters for a while now.  For some reason, they are convinced that having a "radio" built into a cell phone will solve all problems. 

Here's the simple truth: radio is ubiquitous already.  Being able to get a station is not the problem.  There are apps for that already with more on the way.

No, putting something on their air (and Internet stream) that will entice people to listen to them instead of robotic sources like Pandora or satellite niche formats like Sirius/XM is what needs to happen.  Monetize those outlets by learning who listeners are and providing advertisers multiple ways to target and reach those listeners with a compelling message.  Build a loyal tribe of listeners (and viewers, too..."radio" MUST become a visual medium!) who respond to what the station and its sponsors say.  Then work with the people who own the music and who voice commercials for real-world licensing so stations can do what they need to do. 

Oh, and convince music providers that their wagon is hitched to radio's star.  If radio goes away, the plight of record companies and music publishers will be worse.  Make them partners, not enemies.  Tie royalties to broadcaster success, not to government-mandated gizmos in cell phones.

Determining license fees based on penetration of mandated "radio" chips in cell phones is a waste of time and effort.

It is, at best,a solution in search of a problem.

Don Keith N4KC

Friday, October 22, 2010

Yi-Tan...wish I had known!

When I started this blog about rapid technological change, I wish I had known that "yi tan" was Mandarin Chinese for "change."  That would have been so cool!  However, somebody much more linquistically aware than I has jumped on the web with an interesting discussion forum on change and they grabbed that moniker.

They came to my attention through a podcast they hosted that discusses online radio, including who is doing it, who has failed at it, what is going to happen with it, and more.  It's an interesting 45 minutes of so.

When everyone can access the Internet from a device in the dash of their car (sound like a "radio?"), and whether it works by wi-fi, smart-phone technology, satellite or tin-can-and-a-string, it will revolutionize media in a way I think none of us can predict.  Imagine streaming Shrek to the kids in the backseat while mom and dad use Bluetooth earpieces to listen to each person's favorite music or a talk show.  Or maybe one of them is chatting--hands-free, of course--with a friend.  All this while a GPS-like device displays where they are, how far they are from their exit, and what the weather is like along the route.

You know what?  All this is coming, and it is just around the corner.

Don Keith N4KC

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"National Public Radio" no longer exists

It's true.  "National Public Radio" has gone away.  It is no longer in existence.  Note the quotes, though, as you read this from the Washington Post:

NPR says it’s abbreviating the name it has used since its debut in 1971 because it’s more than radio these days. Its news, music and informational programming is heard over a variety of digital devices that aren’t radios.

In case you haven't noticed, rapid technological change has brought us myriad new ways for us to get entertainment, news, commentary, and just plain junk.  "Radio" as we know and love it is no longer a tower on a hill and a 100KW transmitter blowing RF all over the countryside.  "Radio" is not even just audio anymore.

We have a local morning show here in my hometown (Rick and Bubba...look for their new book early next year, partially written by yours truly...and Bubba is actually Bill Bussey KJ4JJ) that plays video clips on a "radio" show.  And simultaneously broadcasts on about fifty over-the-air stations around the country even as they can be found on Sirius-XM from the satellite, on the worldwide web, and on UStream, which carries a video version of the program.

Aren't you noticing how many TV network shows are urging you to be online as you watch so you can see additional material, vote on stuff, or just see more.  NASCAR races offer an abundance of online stuff to go with the TV or radio play-by-play.  Add in blogs, Facebook and Twitter updates, individual web sites, and more and you can see the future of media is here.  Now.

And it is MULTI-media!

Don Keith N4KC

Thursday, October 7, 2010

So many topics, so little time!

Between the day job (in budget meetings all day every day this week), the book projects (working on a wonderful story about one of the most unique characters of World War II, a great story about three old vets returning to Washington to visit the WWII memorial, and a sequel to FINAL BEARING), and some upcoming minor eye surgery, I am having trouble finding time to post here.  And never mind getting on the air on the ham radio!  My poor amp has not even been turned on since Saturday.  She's feeling neglected.

I did want to mention a wonderful editorial in the current issue of CQ Magazine.  Rich Moseson W2VU covers a subject near and dear to my heart: attracting young people to our hobby.  Near and dear because I, like so many of my generation, fell in love with the magic of radio at an early age, got our licenses, and many of us used that interest as a springboard to careers in related fields.  If you ever feel depressed about the upcoming generation--and it seems it is a requirement for us curmudgeons to decry "these damn kids today!"--READ THIS EDITORIAL. CQ has been so kind as to post it on the Web so you can read it without subscribing to the magazine or standing in your local bookstore.

And for my broadcasting buds out there, I have been trying to work this quote into a post and expand upon it.  However, since they are now calling me to yet another all-day budget meeting, I am going to throw it out there.  Feel free to comment until I get the opportunity.  The quote:

“Digital is not about replacing traditional [media], it’s about empowering it." 

It comes from an author and commentator named Rick Mathieson, whose latest book is THE ON-DEMAND BRAND.  Interesting thoughts, and they come at a time when those in traditional media--especially radio--take two stances: head-in-the-sand or "the world is coming to an end!"  Neither is appropriate or the way to survive the rapid technological change we are experiencing in media.

Okay, okay!  I'm coming!  Get the Power Points and the spreadsheets warmed up.  And I'll try to talk about Rick's propositions later.  Meanwhile, comment away!

Don Keith N4KC

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"We are in a perpetual future"

If you have fifty minutes or so, listen to this PODCAST.  It is a program produced by the local NPR station here in Birmingham, Alabama, hosted by a college classmate of mine and friend Greg Bass.  Some other folks I know make appearances on this month's show, too.  That's because the subject is "radio."  Broadcast radio, to be precise.

It takes an interesting look--especially the first twenty minutes or so--at the changes in the medium, nationally as well as right here.  If you are from or spent time in the Birmingham area, you will hear some familiar voices, from Greg himself to Rick Dees to Rick and Bubba.

One very interesting interview is with Vivian Shuler, the CEO of National Public Radio.  She uses one of my favorites I use all the time: "Media has changed...changed since we sat down here to talk."  She emphasizes that by maintaining that "We are in a perpetual future" due to the rapid changes in how people seek and use media.

It's interesting stuff and well worth the listening.  I'd love to hear your comments, too.

(Thanks to my friend Dennis Dease N4NR for forwarding the link to the podcast.)

Don Keith N4KC

Saturday, September 18, 2010



I'm wandering off technology, media and amateur radio just a bit today, but sometimes I can't help myself.  Those who know me well know that I am a staunch conservative on some issues, like size and reach of government, and a raving liberal on others, such as human rights.  On the political spectrum, that means I have no real home, though I probably land closer to "Libertarian" than to any other label.

Someone sent me a quote from Abraham Lincoln that I especially like and, with your indulgence, I will share it here:

You cannot bring prosperity by discouraging thrift.  You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.  You cannot help the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.  You cannot further the brotherhood of man by encouraging class hatred.  You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.  You cannot keep out the trouble by spending more than you earn.  You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and independence.  You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

See why I think these words are especially appropriate for today?  I am no fan of greed and corruption, whether it be government or big business.  As Libertarian as I lean, I think a legitimate function of a federal government is regulation of business--to a point.  Taxation should be only for the true needs of government and the people it represents, not to promote any percieved social or societal benefit, or to punish those who work hard, invest, take risk, hire people, pay wages, and build wealth honestly.  If reasonably regulated, but otherwise left unfettered, free enterprise and the profit motive will greatly improve the status of us all.  Patchwork legislation, redistribution of wealth, or ill-concieved regulation based on hysteria or poor data will only continue to cripple the one thing that has made our country the envy of the world.

And it will only continue to take us down the path of mediocrity.  Man, do we need more of Mr. Lincoln's common sense today!

Don Keith N4KC

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fun with mathematics

First, for the three or four people who actually follow this exercise in egoism, sorry it has been a couple of weeks since the last post.  I had the thrill of being in Cincinnati for the annual submarine veterans' convention, and on VJ Day, I was actually standing there behind a stack of my books talking to guys who helped win that war.  These guys are amazing!  Bitter-sweet time, though.  We had a great breakfast with the sub vets amateur radio group on Friday morning, organized by Jim Flanders, W0OOG.  Then I got word that my friend John Crouse had had a serious heart attack.  John was the manager of the submarine museum at St. Mary's, Georgia, and has been a big help to me on a couple of my WWII books.  Unfortunately, John passed away a couple of days later.  Those who try to preserve this little niche of history have lost a tireless curator.

Now, to the topic.  An article in one of the broadcast media newsletters reports:

Seventy-six percent of American cell phone owners would consider paying a one-time fee of 30 cents to gain access to their local radio stations through a built-in radio chip on their mobile phone, according to a new online survey commissioned by the NAB and conducted by Harris Interactive. Two-thirds (66%) of all adults and 71% of 18-34 year-olds say they would listen to local radio stations on their cell phones if that feature was available.

The newsletter sees this as a positive.  Huh?  A quarter of cell phone users would not even consider adding the ability to listen to radio stations on their phones, even if it only cost 30 cents!  And that amazing number of folks who would say they would only "consider" it.  Of course, if they did not have to do anything at all--the second question in the survey--only 66% of users would even think about taking the trouble.

Then there is the Pew survey that reports:  Fewer people are turning to radio for news and information than at any point in the history of media usage analysis. Remember when radio bragged, "See tonight on TV, read it tomorrow morning in the newspaper, but hear it NOW on radio!"  See, I think radio still has the unique ability to put listeners in the middle of whatever is going on...even better than the Internet.  But that takes talent, equipment, and, unfortunately, imagination.

And friends, that last commodity is in short supply in the scintillating, fast-paced world of radio broadcasting.

Don Keith N4KC

Monday, August 16, 2010

Just when you thought you were ahead of technology...

For those of us who try to stay up to date on the mass of changing technology, here comes word that the stuff we just this minute adopted is already passe.  An article on Yahoo claims the following very, very recent products are way past being the final answer...thanks to the iPhone and the Android.  ("The iPhone and the Android?"  Sounds like the title of some Pixar animated feature!).

The article claims, "The future of technology is integration, something Apple's iPhone and Google's Android products have a better grasp of than, say, Garmin's personal navigation devices or Acer's netbooks. Though there seems to be enough room for everyone -- with the Commerce Department finding last week that American spending on tech items increased 1.8% from 2007 through the first six months of this year while spending on appliances, furniture and clothing declined -- analysts agree that the only thing separating some gadgets from the grave is the size of their displays."

It goes on, "With motion-control gaming, e-books, navigation, mid-range-megapixel cameras and myriad other computing options already included in smartphones, the market space and need for more screens is shrinking. While the iPad is among the devices shrugging it off with more than 14 million sales so far this year, the nearly 4 percentage point growth in the smartphone market so far in 2010 and the $6.2 billion pundits predicts will be spent downloading 4.5 billion mobile applications in app stores this year has navigation devices, netbooks and even Nintendo starting to feel pressure in their numbers."

So what's now virtually worthless, ready for the scrap heap?

  1. Digital cameras
  2. Video game consoles
  3. Navigation devices (such as those manufactured by Garmin)
  4. Netbooks
  5. E-readers
By the way, if you are no longer using any of those devices and have made the transition to doing it all on your iPhone or Android, I'll be happy to take them off your hands, so to speak.  I'll see that they get the proper attention!

Don Keith

Saturday, August 14, 2010

They know where you live...

Did you see THIS?  As it becomes easier to communicate and share thoughts and images with others, we give up more and more of our ability to remain hidden or maintain any semblance of privacy.  As with many things, it is a trade-off.  I love the ability to post pictures of my grandkids, for friends and their family members on the West Coast.  But I must also be aware that anytime I do so, I am posting those images for anyone anywhere on the planet to see.
And you know what?  There are dangerous people out there.
Facebook is facing these issues.  People chat and post and share things on Facebook that they'd hesitate to chat about, post, or share around a table with friends at lunch.
To make an ancient analogy, I remember when the average police scanner could pick up mobile telephone calls.  I had one of the channels programmed in and heard some truly wild conversations.  Did people did not realize they were--in effect--broadcasting?  That anyone with a $30 Radio Shack scanner could eavesdrop on their chats?
But how is that different nowadays?  All you need is a computer, the Internet, and a Facebook account.

Don Keith N4KC

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

545 People

This really has nothing to do with technological change, media or amateur radio.  However, it seems an appropriate time to dust off this evergreen from a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.  The age-old argument is, "My senator or congressman is fine.  It's the other ones that are rotten."  If everybody felt that way, these guys and gals would have office for life, since we have no limits on terms.

It is also an almost insurmountable obstacle, too, when the representatives who are able to bring the most federal taxpayer money back to their districts or states--and brag about how much more they were able to get than was contributed as taxes by their constitutents--are the ones who get re-elected.  Re-elected over and over.

The two big flaws in our representative form of government: 1) From the day he or she is elected, everything a senator or member of Congress does is aimed at getting re-elected, and 2) A seat in Congress gives someone an extremely powerful platform from which to run for the next that a challenger finds very difficult to overcome...even if the incumbent is a total dolt.

I could add a third flaw: I really don't want to vote for anybody who would WANT to run for public office.  Fewer and fewer are willing to do so for a variety of reasons.  And even if one does, and miraculously gets elected, he is corrupted almost immediately.



545 PEOPLE--By Charlie Reese
Politicians are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them.. Have you ever wondered, if both the Democrats and the Republicans are against deficits, WHY do we have deficits?  Have you ever wondered, if all the politicians are against inflation and high taxes, WHY do we have inflation and high taxes?

You and I don't propose a federal budget. The president does.

You and I don't have the Constitutional authority to vote on appropriations. The House of Representatives does.

You and I don't write the tax code, Congress does.

You and I don't set fiscal policy, Congress does.

You and I don't control monetary policy, the Federal Reserve Bank does.

One hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one president, and nine Supreme Court justices equates to 545 human beings out of the 300 million are directly, legally, morally, and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country. I excluded the members of the Federal Reserve Board because that problem was created by the Congress. In 1913, Congress delegated its Constitutional duty to provide a sound currency to a federally chartered, but private, central bank.

I excluded all the special interests and lobbyists for a sound reason. They have no legal authority. They have no ability to coerce a senator, a congressman, or a president to do one cotton-picking thing. I don't care if they offer a politician $1 million dollars in cash. The politician has the power to accept or reject it. No matter what the lobbyist promises, it is the legislator's responsibility to determine how he votes.

Those 545 human beings spend much of their energy convincing you that what they did is not their fault. They cooperate in this common con regardless of party. What separates a politician from a normal human being is an excessive amount of gall. No normal human being would have the gall of a Speaker, who stood up and criticized the President for creating deficits.

The president can only propose a budget. He cannot force the Congress to accept it.

The Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, gives sole responsibility to the House of Representatives for originating and approving appropriations and taxes.

Who is the speaker of the House? Nancy Pelosi. She is the leader of the majority party. She and fellow House members, not the president, can approve any budget they want. If the president vetoes it, they can pass it over his veto if they agree to.

It seems inconceivable to me that a nation of 300 million can not replace 545 people who stand convicted -- by present facts -- of incompetence and irresponsibility. I can't think of a single domestic problem that is not traceable directly to those 545 people. When you fully grasp the plain truth that 545 people exercise the power of the federal government, then it must follow that what exists is what they want to exist.

If the tax code is unfair, it's because they want it unfair.

If the budget is in the red, it's because they want it in the red ..

If the Army & Marines are in IRAQ , it's because they want them in IRAQ.

If they do not receive social security but are on an elite retirement plan not available to the people, it's because they want it that way.

There are no insolvable government problems.

Do not let these 545 people shift the blame to bureaucrats, whom they hire and whose jobs they can abolish; to lobbyists, whose gifts and advice they can reject; to regulators, to whom they give the power to regulate and from whom they can take this power. Above all, do not let them con you into the belief that there exists disembodied mystical forces like "the economy," "inflation," or "politics" that prevent them from doing what they take an oath to do.

Those 545 people, and they alone, are responsible.

They, and they alone, have the power..

They, and they alone, should be held accountable by the people who are their bosses.

Provided the voters have the gumption to manage their own employees...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

This "ham radio" stuff is fun!

I know.  Two amateur radio posts in a row.  But several interesting things lately prompted me to break my "variety" rule.

One was the receipt early this morning of a press release from my friend, fellow ham and writer, Wayne Long K9YNF.  He will be celebrating his golden anniversary in the hobby by operating from Fox Island, Alaska, on August 16 through 20.  He will be using solar power, operating mostly around 14.260 mhz on the 20-meter band and 18.128 on 17 meters.  Wayne maintains a very interesting and entertaining web site at

This comes on the heels of an operating event called Islands on the Air in which amateur radio types get on the air from islands--big and small--all over the world.  I spoke with folks on big islands like Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain, and tiny ones, such as one in Long Island Sound off Norwalk, Connecticutt, and another in the South Cook Islands in the South Pacific.  Great fun and interesting people!

Just this weekend, and in only a few hours available for getting on the air, I have spoken with a trucker as he went from the Texas Panhandle into New Mexico, another very nice fellow who lives in the suburbs of Paris, and a ham in an aircraft over Kansas headed for an air show in Illinois.  I also spoke with what we call a "special events station," on the air from the famous Oshkosh, Wisconsin, airplane fly-in.  I also had brief chats with folks in Greece, Herzogovina, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Finland, and Argentina.

When I flip that "ON" switch, I never know what or where I will hear or who I will meet!

Don Keith N4KC

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Still dying after all these years...

Back to amateur radio for a moment.  Amateur radio and how technology is affecting its growth.  There is a very good editorial in the August issue of CQ MAGAZINE about how ham radio has been dying...for over 60 years.  As with many other things technological, innovation and change is supposed to have been causing eroding interest in the hobby since the so-called glory days of the early 1950s.

See, that was when people were buidling their own gear--because they could, before ICs, surface-mount technology, computers-masquerading-as-radios, and the like--experimenting, learning.  It was also before ubiquitous cell phones brought us the ability to talk without wires around the world, the internet, email, IM, and Facebook. 

Ham radio is dying!  That became the cry from the masses.  And it only got worse when things began to change and the old timers felt their world crumbling beneath their feet.

Hey, I was just getting into the hobby when SSB began replacing AM.  Talk about wars!

Well, all that technology has failed to put a dent in our wonderful hobby.  The numbers are up and, as of right now, we have far more active amateurs than ever before.  Some of CQ's guesses on how to determine who is "active" may be statistically fuzzy, but I think they are about as close as we can get. 

I'll throw one more thing into the mix: I hear people say that the bands are just not as crowded as they once were.  Well, they weren't in the pile-up for the Rwandan dx-pedition the other night!  Truth is, we have more bands now than we had in the '50s.  160, thanks to antenna experimentation and more widely available commercially made gear, is viable.  And many prefer VHF/UHF and FM now and spend more time there.  They were non-starters 60 years ago.

No, CQ's point is right on.  The hobby is healthy and growing, innovating and morphing.  And it's still one heck of a lot of fun!



Don Keith N4KC

Saturday, July 24, 2010

And now for something completely different...

To quote Monty Python...and now for something completely different.  My son and his family are on the final leg of a three-week road trip from Alabama to Oregon and back.  They went by way of Glacier National Park, and then back through Utah and Colorado.  Here are some of the pix they have sent along the way.

That guy in the beard is my son, Gary, along with his wife, Trish, and our grandkids Laci and Alexa.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Old tech, new tech

Some news items:
  • Arbitron announces that they will now go door-to-door in some of their rated markets in attempt to convince certain hard-to-reach demographic representatives to participate in their PPM panel.  Hear that?  Door-to-door.  "Please, please, please carry one of these little devices so we can see what radio stations you listen to."
  • My old friend Alan Burns has conducted a survey that says almost 60% of females 15-24 years old can foresee a day when they won?t need to listen to music on the radio.  That is because they?ll be able to get what they want on their cell phone, iPod or online. Another 24% strongly agree with that prediction.  That, my friend, sounds the death knell for radio.
  • Ad sales have turned the corner for a segment of broadcast radio.  No, not necessarily who you think.  National Public Radio--NON-COMMERICAL RADIO--reports ad sales are pacing as high as 7% above this time last year.  
  • Change is coming rapidly for one of the most archaic of media: the book.  Have you heard of the "amplified edition?"  That is what they are calling Ken Follett's new "book," "Pillars of the Earth."  According to the publisher's press release, it will include “striking video clips, beautiful art and original music from the upcoming, critically acclaimed Starz Originals 8-hour epic television event based on the book.”  It will be available for the iPad, the iPhone, and the iPod and can be continually updated with new material during the time of the airing of the TV mini-series.  Thnik Gutenberg just rolled over in his grave?
Don Keith N4KC

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sorry. I could not help myself.

I promised myself I would not get back on this subject for a while...that I would get back to other rapid tech change topics and amateur radio and leave broadcast radio alone for a while.  However, I thought parts of this interview on Mark Ramsey's blog were so right-on, I couldn't help myself. Some of you know that I've been preaching for a while now that traditional, over-the-air, broadcast radio's whole model is quickly being turned upside-down, that how radio serves listeners and sponsors and how they make money off that service is changing radically.  That is so obvious, yet broadcasters still try to keep the medium locked into 1975.

Mark's interview talks mostly about "social media," but that is mostly a buzz word. What it comes down to are those other buzz words: "content," "interaction," "distribution," "companionship," and "tribe building." Radio, TV, Arbitron, Nielsen, and ad agencies better learn what those mean, and what they mean to their business, or they will go the way of the daily newspaper. It just won't take nearly as long for some of them! I found Brogan's comments on "formats" especially on-target.

Chris Brogan doesn’t do a lot of interviews, and it’s because he is in such strong demand. Chris is a well-known name in digital media circles. He’s a social media advisor and the author of a terrific new book called Social Media 101: Tactics and Tips to Develop Your Business Online and the co-author of the modern classic Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust.

Today, Chris has some lessons in social media for radio and some criticisms over the way radio is currently sold relative to rising digital media. Listen to our entire interview here – or subscribe to all the Mark Ramsey Media podcasts at iTunes.

Chris, when we talk about social media strategy, what are we talking about?

We’re talking about how you use the various social media tools to handle your existing business communication needs. That could be marketing, it could be customer service, it could be sales. We’re talking about how you go down those roads to deliver further business value.

Okay, so if I’m a radio station looking to develop a social media strategy, what are my first steps?

Radio stations are looking for a few things.  They’re looking to keep their audience quite engaged. They’re looking to show some value back to their sponsors (that’s really the basic business model there). Radio stations get paid when sponsors feel like they’re having some kind of impact using the station.

So the strategy begins with using listening tools to find out who’s who in your local target audience. If you’re a digital radio station, you can search and find who’s talking about the various topics you cover on the web. If you Google the phrase “grow bigger ears,” I walk you through how they do that in a blog post.

After you’ve listened and you find where your audience is, the question is how can you drive a little more value for your various sponsors?

For example, if you’ve got a sponsor selling golf club memberships and you’re local to this particular country club, then you might start looking for golfers who are talking about being in your area or visiting the area where your audience and your sponsor is. You can start actually targeting and making conversations happen. And if the audience is amenable to it, then of course you’ve done a bit of service to your sponsors. And it’s a lot more two-way.

I think there’s a lot of opportunity to do more two-way conversation, because if you think about your typical on-air persona, it doesn’t allow for back-and-forth but you can easily do it online.

Chris, that brings to mind another question: To a great degree, radio broadcasters view the social media tools as extensions of their marketing and promotional capability, and this type of marketing (unless we’re talking about contesting) typically isn’t two-way. How can they think differently about this and view it as something bigger than simply another way to promote their wares?

First off, listening applies here. You can actually listen at the point of need. You can find people who are open to the opportunities you’re selling.  So as opposed to just blurting out that “we’re sponsored by Buffalo Trace Whiskey,” it would be great to be watching people talk on the social web or talk in blog posts about using or consuming that kind of a product, and then you can actually jump into the conversation, talk to them about what they’re interested in and “oh by the way, I happen to be sponsored by Buffalo Trace Whiskey. Have you ever tried that? Do you like that?” etc. So there are a lot of opportunities for that sort of a thing as well.

What do you say to broadcasters who say this sounds great, but there are two problems: First, the numbers seem really small compared to the world of broadcasting. And second, advertisers pay us for the number of ears we reach, and with that smaller audience, it messes up our business model?

To be honest, the numbers that are getting quoted a lot by most of the ratings services are all sort of back-of-the-envelope guesses. There’s a whole lot of extrapolation that comes from the mainstream marketing machine as far as how many people are listening to any given station.  There’s not a lot of reality between what the quoted circulation is and real consumption.  The online opportunity is to say we can track exactly who takes an action. Otherwise, it’s what I call the “shiny store syndrome.” If I have a video on YouTube and I get 10 million views of that video but I get four more sales, is that a real success or not?

So what I tend to do is look for ways to measure on the dollar sign because that’s really the opportunity that’s going to move the needle somewhere.  What I tell clients is don’t look at the numbers and simply how much you spend; look at whether or not you can actually track uptake in sales based on the execution.

When you say “on the dollar sign,” you’re saying measure the end result that one is trying to achieve, not the number of ears one gets along the way, right?

Exactly. Because, again, I just don’t think that the “ear” numbers that we’re getting in mainstream media or “eyes” in television are actually accurate anymore. And it’s time for a change.

I had a conversation with another author who used to be with P&G, and he said in terms of the mass amount of reach, those numbers are generally discounted by advertisers anyway because they’re so far from the sale. That relates to the point you’re making.

Right. What I’m saying is who really gives a rat’s a** if you say my audience is 65,000 strong. If you don’t make four more sales after buying some advertising space on that particular show, then who cares?  I would spend a lot of my time using the social tools to build relationships, build community around the would-be sponsors that you have; not necessarily about your content, but about the kinds of people who would need to consume that content with whom you’re actually placing your advertising relationships, and then see if you can actually move the needle.

Especially with the social website tools, you can have tracking, you can have links and actually measure the success of those links, and then you can show it to the advertisers and say “you know what, I got you 125 clicks and I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but look how many of those converted to a sale?” If you say 40, then I had a 30-something percent success rate on anyone who looked at your sales material and actually took an action. And of my 65,000 listeners, a 100-and-something came.

That’s the real percentage. That’s the real number, and I can show it to you on a graph. As opposed to “here are some people I think might be listening to the station sometimes, and here’s how old they are because that’s what they said in a survey, etc.”

You’re not arguing that broadcasters face diminishing prospects, are you?

No. Actually, I keep thinking that there’s a lot more opportunity in things like broadcast radio as well as satellite, but I think we have to rid ourselves of this whole mystique about it being one thing and the social web being another thing.  I think a lot of these stations are starting to falter. So many programming formats don’t work the way they used to. I think the opportunity is to really get in there and shake it up.

As I’m watching some stations decline, I have seen two come up in the Boston market where I’m based, and I think about it with my wallet and say: Could I spend a little differently if I had access to the air? And I think the answer is “yes.”  I think too many broadcasters used to say “I have this money now. I’m just not going to jump to this other thing,” and then they were saying, “I lost some of that money, but I’m still not going to jump because at least I have some of it.” Instead, they should be saying “I’m ready to make some investments and I know it’s going to be smaller yields in the short term, but it’s going to grow.”

Here’s what I think: There’s no such thing as radio per se anymore – or television or advertising agencies – it all falls under the same banner called “media” which includes social media as part of its tapestry. And if you’re a broadcaster reaching zillions of ears, your job is to give those ears something to do and someplace to go whether or not it’s to a website devoted to your radio station. True or not?

Way back in the 1990s, we were saying “come to this website because I’ll have a whole bunch of ads around it and you can click on something, and hopefully I’ll make some money if you do that.”  The new way we do it is we go where the people are – we fish where the fish are – and we build opportunities to make more impressions.

I think there are a lot of more interesting opportunities today, but it’s going to be more of it’s a blended thing. If I were a guy holding on to a bunch of radio stations, I would hold on to them, but I would really reconsider my programming, and I would definitely create a home-based “outpost strategy” where there’s main content, and then there’s a lot of effort devoted to going out to where the fish are – to bring some presence and relationship in there.

So, what you’re talking about is not more “impressions” but more impression?

Yes, absolutely. That’s a really great way to say it. I think that there’s so much more opportunity to get ahead of people and make relationships happen, but it’s going to be a model where you’ve got to get to where they are. Don’t expect them to come to you.

Don Keith

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A true hero

Want to meet a true hero?  Charley Odom is one of the key characters in my book WAR BENEATH THE WAVES.  The local TV station in his hometown did a profile on Charley this week, and I believe it is well worth watching.

That is not because they feature several pictures of my book (though I am thrilled to hear that Charley loved the book and recommends it to everyone he meets).

No, it is the simple fact that we are losing a thousand WWII veterans every day.  I'm on a mission to not let their stories die with them.  And it was an honor to be able to keep Charley's heroic night in the Makassar Strait--as well as all the other things he did on our behalf--in front of people.

Click HERE to see the TV profile.

Don Keith N4KC

Jumping around...

Several things on my mind this morning, so indulge me as I jump from one blog-related (more or less) topic to another:

Defending Microsoft
Why do I find myself continually defending Bill Gates and Microsoft, as if they need my help?  I know it is popular to pick on them because of their size, wealth, power and oft-times obtuse behavior.  But I wonder where computers would be today if Bill had not semi-swiped that first OS code and made it possible for the average guy to put truly amazing computing power on his desktop.  Yes, someone else would have done it if he had not.  And people would have hated him, too.

Need I remind folks again that Windows has to work on an almost infinite array of hardware, and perform with an unbelieveably large number of software apps?  And that there is a massive sub-culture out there bent on finding holes in the system and ways to break it?  Trying to stay ahead of that bunch of inglorious bastards is one reason Microsoft has to continue upgrading, fixing holes, making things more complicated for us law-abiding users.

(And you self-righteous Apple bigots: Apple is hardware.  They only have to write and upgrade an OS that works on their hardware.  Developers write apps for their hardware and OS, not something that has to work with an almost infinite variation of hardware.  Where are the SOBs who want to go after the smugness and self-importnce of Apple?  I don't understand.  They are rich and powerful, too.  Just not as rich and powerful as Bill and his little software company.)

Heat affecting FM radio
The latest excuse coming from broadcasters to explain why ratings are diminishing?  It's too hot!  Yes, the heat wave on the East Coast has caused listeners to have a harder time pulling in the FM stations.  Somehow, the heat is sapping the signals.

Huh?  First I have heard of this phenomenon.  Stations in Arizona and Florida have never--to my knowledge--noticed such a thing.  No, it is more likely that the heat has kept people inside more, not in their cars, where traditional terrestrial radio still has an advantage over other media.

Can anyone enlighten me?  Can a temperature 10 degrees above normal affect FM broadcast radio signals enough to keep someone from being able to listen to a station?

Every vote counts--for a hundred thousand people
As the good folks at Arbitron continue to give value to their expensive ratings, they are allowing subscribers to carve up their data thinner and thinner.  When interfaced with the Selector music scheduling system, program directors can see exactly what happened to their "audience" when a particular song played at a specific time of day, down to the minute.

Beautiful!  You play the latest Lady Gaga and the numbers dive.  You drop the song and play something else that showed a healthy spike the last time you played it.  Everybody's happy, right?

How goofy is that?  When you carve up the ratings so fine, you are depending on a very, very small sample base.  See, Arbitron relies on a panel of people who have agreed to carry their portable people meter, which can tell what radio station the volunteer is listening to at any moment.  In a city the size of Birmingham, Alabama, there may be only 800 people participating as panel members.  That means every person is representing almost 1,300 people's radio listening.

But in some very narrow demo groups (say, African-American women, 18 to 24 years old) one person could represent a far larger percentage of the group.  If that one person stops listening when the Lady Gaga song comes on, the needle dips and the program director panics.  Never mind that the one meter-carrier actually loves the song but arrived at work, or had to turn own the radio because she was at the drive-through at Wendy's.  But based on her actions, neither she nor all the others who like the song will hear it again on that station.

I'm a data guy.  Research is a wonderful thing.  But this is just plain goofy!


Don Keith N4KC

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

If you had to give up...

There's a column in the current issue of POPULAR COMMUNICATIONS magazine that does some mean speculating.  It is based on the old premise of if you were stranded on a desert island, what food -- music -- books -- whatever -- would you want to have with you.  Well, it turns out that my old friends at Arbitron and Edison Research have done a similar study, asking people what medium they would prefer giving up if forced to choose, television or the Internet.

Does it surprise anyone that the answers break out neatly along generational lines?  Those born from 1945 to about 1965 don't even hesitate.  The Internet is gone baby gone.  Those born after 1965, and who came of age with the advent of the web, would kick the TV set to the curb in a heartbeat.

It would be very interesting to give respondents more choices.  How many, if required to do so, would keep their cell phones to the exclusion of everything else?  Their satellite TV?  Their wi-fi?

How many of them would choose radio?  No, don't answer that!

As I watch how quickly new technology like smart phones is assimilated by younger people today, I wonder just how quickly the pace of technological and communications advances will accelerate.  Companies depend on creating buyers for ever-changing products.  Unlike dishwashing detergent or ketchup, we have a generation that not only wants something new all the time but that demands it.  They are quick to abandon anyone who does not innovate...or at least give the appearance of being out there, leading the pack.

Have these companies created a beast they will have trouble feeding?  Or is there room--technologically and economically--for ever-growing advancement?  That is, if there are enough visionaries to keep coming up with ideas, enough venture capitalists to stoke the furnace, and enough potential buyers to make it rewarding.

Don Keith N4KC

Saturday, July 3, 2010

"Facing" Technology

In the face of rapid technological innovation--when there are more and more gimmicks and gadgets to capture our imagination and dollars--we sometimes forget what that technology is supposed to do.  What it means to real people doing real things in a real world.

Here is an example.  The iPhone is a cell phone, right?  It is a gadget, and people migrate to it and line up to buy new versions of it--even if the antenna doesn't work right sometimes.  But the people at Apple realize something very important.  No matter how many Gs it accesses or what the data bit transfer rate is or how easily it can acquire a cell site, it is far more to their customers than a telephone/game device/camera/GPS.  Watch this video, and than I want to compare this to another technology that is near and dear to my heart:

Now, let's talk about broadcasting.  And by that, I mean traditional, over-the-air radio and TV.  How do the guys who have the keys to these stations reach to the heart of their customers, their listeners and viewers?  By playing "the best of the 70s, 80s, 90s and today?"  By "playing more of your favorites without commercials?"  By running promos with "The Night Team" out on the street (where they NEVER are!), coatless, tie undone, shoving a microphone into the face of a firefighter?

When has radio truly offered companionship, a shared experience?  When has your local TV station done something that met a real need for a significant number of its potential viewers?  When have broadcasters truly done something that reached the hearts of the people they purport to serve?

When have they done what Apple is doing and used their technology to do anything more than try to jack the ratings?

Don Keith

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

When American business led the world

There was a time when America was the envy of the world when it came to technology, manufacturing, entertainment and about every other category.  We still are, to some extent, but I can point to many industries where that is not even remotely true.  Look at automobile manufacturing.  GM and
Ford have long since been surpassed by Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes Benz.  And now that particular business has come almost full circle and are now building cars in major plants in the US...many of them within a few hours' drive of where I live.
Here's another example that is near and dear to my heart.  I remember when American radio broadcasting was undeniably the leader in the world.  Our free-enterprise system--as opposed to government ownership of media so prevalent in most other countries--led to creativity and innovation.  If, for a second, you think it is still that way, then click HERE and watch the interview linked in the middle of the page. 
I had the pleasure of traveling to Australia several years ago and visiting with many Australian broadcasters.  They were full of questions about media in the USA, how we did it, what we thought the future held. 
Based on the linked interview with an exec from Austereo, a large broadcaster in Australia, it appears we should be full of questions for THEM!
Don Keith

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hodge podge post

Necessarily a hodge podge of a post again to catch up on a couple of topics. Anybody excited about the new Apple iPhone? Sure got lots of press (including the problems getting their wi-fi to work at the debut event!), and early adopters are saying it gives Apple a good year's lead over anybody else out there.

Radio laments that it does not include an FM tuner, much less a digital radio capability. The fact that a cloud-computing hookup to iTunes is imminent further gives broadcasters the shakes. The time is coming when, if your only goal is to listen to the songs you want to hear, all you need is a telephone. A telephone that can be hooked to your computer, your home audio system, or your car stereo. And you can either buy or "rent" the songs. How can radio trump this? By touting "the biggest variety of your favorites?" Bigger variety than, well, infinity?

I still wonder how long the exclusivity with iPhone and ATT will last. ATT's customer service continues to be about as popular as BP. I think the continued pushing of the envelope by iPhone is only shoving other manufacturers to do more and more.

How much longer do we continue to call these things "telephones?"

Another topic: considerable debate in amateur radio circles about whether the guys who use Morse code decoders to receive and interpret CW, and keyboards instead of "bugs" or paddles to send it, are really "doing Morse code." An article in the latest ARRL Contest Bulletin points out that the very first Morse code was actually "read" on a machine before it occurred to anyone that the human being was capable of hearing and interpreting the dots and dashes.

That revelation does not settle the controversy, of course. I say, what does it matter. I enjoy the mode very much, primarily because it enables us to make contacts that might not otherwise be made.

Oh, and it is fun!

Don Keith N4KC (website update in the works...standby!)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Catching up

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

TOPIC 1 -- Radio ratings are killing radio

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

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

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

TOPIC 2: New Kenwood radio

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

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

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

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

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

And that is a very good thing.

Don Keith

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Interesting times

I don't do much politics here, preferring to deal with technological change, and especially as it applies to media and amateur radio. But I received the following link from my friend Dennis Dease N4NR:

It sort of got me going. First, let me say again, I was absolutely thrilled when America finally reached the 21st century and elected a black man as president. This was a far-too-long delayed milestone. I only wish it had not been this particular black man. It should not surprise anyone that the most liberal senator is now our most liberal president in decades. And with a Congress now controlled by the most liberal leadership in my lifetime, it should come as no surprise that we are seeing more and more proposals that shock my Libertarian soul to its core. See, I think less government is best government. It is not the role of government--and especially a federally centered government--to make sure everyone is shielded from any bad stuff from cradle to grave, regardless their own choices in life. I'm not radical about it. I think collectively as a nation we should have systems in place to take care of those who, through no fault of their own, need asssitance.

But look at "The War on Poverty." How many billions of our taxpayer dollars have been thrown down that rat hole and more people are living in poverty than ever? Look at government education. Despite billions of our taxpayer dollars and an astoundingly massive bureaucracy, test scores continue to go down.

Now they want to re-work our individually controlled retirement savings accounts so they can "take care of us," and, by the way, do it with OUR money. I've always been amazed that the government created and allows us to "get away with" anything that makes as much sense as IRAs and 401Ks. I bet the way they go about this will be that they will dredge up some poor souls who lost everything in their 401Ks during the big downturn and are now surviving on dog food and Cheetos. Never mind those pitiful so-and-sos got greedy and put all their IRA money into stock in Fly-by-night Platinum Mining Company in East Timor.

"See, this kind of individual-funded retirement account does not work," they'll say. "People who don't know what they are doing are losing their nest eggs. Poor things! We--the kind and benevolent government--will now take charge of these accounts and assure old folks are taken care of, with no risk or danger whatsover."

And I'm sure the government will do just as swell a job with my IRA and 401K as they have done with Social Security, AMTRAK, and the U.S. Post Office.