Friday, August 26, 2011

1999 is just around the corner


Regular readers know that I often quote media researcher/consultant Mark Ramsey in these musings.  He does about as good a job as anyone in anticipating rapid technological change and how it relates to the future of broadcast media.  In one of his latest posts, he talks about what broadcasters can learn from Steve Jobs (Mark also has a knack for being topical, too).  In the post, one thing jumped out at me when he listed five things radio broadcaster "leaders" continue to believe:

1.This business hiccup is only a passing phase. 1999 is just around the corner.

2.We are the Great and Powerful Radio and can enforce our will on consumers if we run enough promotional announcements to do it

3.Don’t worry about Google and Groupon and Pandora – just sell more commercials

4.Everyone who listens to the radio today consumes as much of it as ever – maybe even more!

5.We can defend our importance among consumers and advertisers even as we trim out all that expensive stuff between the songs

When it comes to the people who run radio these days, there has never been a group with their heads more deeply buried in the sand.  A few are trying.  They really are.  But some think their digital strategy is to compensate their program directors with how many hits the station gets on its web site.  Lord help them!
The time has come--and maybe passed already--when they will have to group together and do some radical things to maintain and grow radio broadcasting as a viable medium.  Individual stations will have a tough time saving the whole concept of "radio broadcasting."
And I know from experience that radio folk are cannibalistic.  Everything they do is designed to take down what they perceive to be their biggest and most "direct competitors," other over-the-air radio stations. 
Is the National Association of Broadcasters the means for doing that, for leading the charge into the future?  I don't think so.
It's not the sand where those guys have their heads stuck!
Don Keith N4KC

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Wall Street Yo Yo

As we sit here, head bobbing, watching the stock market bounce up and down like a yo yo, we should realize that we are seeing yet another example of how rapid technological change has affected an institution that has been around forever.  And that has a direct effect on something as personal to us as our money.

I've been ranting for a while about how technology is now being used by short-term traders who are constantly buying and selling, making pennies on each share but trading automatically at certain trigger levels on such a high volume that they make millions doing it.  And at such a volume that it dramatically affects the market indicators.  That, in turn, leads to emotional over-reaction by us normal folks, which only contributes to the volatility.  Then, today, I see an article about Mark Cuban, a former broadcaster and now NBA-team-owner, who speaks to the same subject and used his opinions to correctly predict the dizzying last few days.

Does this mean we need to return to the days when any order on the NYSE had to be scribbled on a piece of paper and submitted in order for a sale or buy to be accomplished?  A part of me says, "Yeah!"  It will never happen, of course, nor should it.  And though I favor as little government regulation on the free market--including the buying and selling of pieces of companies--another part of me longs for the government to make any such rapid, reactive, pre-programmed trading illegal.

But something has to be done.  Remember the Whammo "Superball?"  The little ball with the super-secret rubber compound material that was supposed to bounce four times as high when you dropped it?  That's what our stock market reminds me of.  If certain key stocks drop a small percent, the SELL programs kick in and it gets pummeled.  It has nothing to do with whether the company is doing well or has a favorable outlook.

It's just that some bit of computer code somewhere is doing exactly what it has been told to do, and logic and common sense be damned.

Don Keith N4KC

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A truly startling realization

I no longer subscribe to many printed magazines but I still always look forward to receiving a couple of my amateur radio publications, QST and CQ magazines, each month.  I really do enjoy reading about our hobby and appreciate the authors who contribute to these publications (for very little money in return). Shoot, I even study the ads, including those that have not changed in decades. (Why do some vendors insist on showing the faces of every radio by every manufacturer, as if we make our purchasing decisions based on those tiny thumbnails? And will MFJ ever change the full-page Hy-Gain rotator ad?)  I always feel good when I open the mailbox and one of the magazines is in there, waiting for me.  It usually lies right there on the hearth next to my recliner where I can pick it up and read an article whenever the mood strikes.

However, as I thumbed through the current edition of CQ, I could not help but notice that the lead article is about all the new gear unveiled this year at the largest amateur radio gathering in the world, the Dayton Hamvention in Dayton, Ohio. The event was in May! And it’s August as I write this. You know, there was a time when we took such delay in a story’s content as the norm. It is, after all, the nature of the magazine publishing biz that there must be considerable lead time for reporting, gathering info, composing the magazine, getting it printed and bound, and putting it in the mail at a rate that the publication can afford, even if it takes a few days to wend its way out to its readers.

But, for example, as I read the short writeup on the exciting new Elecraft KX3 portable transceiver, I recalled that there was a YouTube video posted way back on May 20 featuring Wayne Burdick K6XR giving a very enlightening ten-minute demo of this interesting bit of kit. Posted the same day it happened.  Video.  In full color. With sound. That I could pause, back up, re-run, and go back and look at anytime I wanted to without having to subscribe to and save a magazine or riffle through a bunch of musty, stacked-up old mags to find the one that had the article I wanted to read.  I just went to YouTube and pulled up the video.  It took me all of 20 seconds to find it and get it running.

Is the KX3 story old news in CQ? I’m afraid so.

ARRL recently did a major update on their web site, but though they are trying and it does give us quite a bit of content, it is still clunky and hard to navigate. It does offer some video (welcome to the 21st century) and plenty of archived articles and reviews, all of which is much more current, colorful, and searchable than the magazine could ever be. CQ is also trying, buying World Radio News and offering it as a free PDF download.  However, it is still basically a "print" magazine that can be read on a computer monitor (can ONLY be read there unless you print it out).  It still seems to have many of the same disadvantages as any other printed pub, though.  It just happens to be available on the Internet instead of showing up in the mailbox.

I would hate to lose the printed magazines, though.  I have to worry that the day will come when it is no longer economically feasible to mail me a magazine every month. I still prefer taking that paper-and-stapled thing out on the deck to read on a nice morning.  Or along with me to Subway at lunch to peruse while I enjoy my Black Forest ham sandwich.  And am I the only one that has trouble reading things on a monitor--even a big one--when I have to scroll and click?

Won’t happen, you say? The traditional magazine will never go away. Okay, what was your favorite article in your latest copy of Look or Life? Mind if I borrow your Saturday Evening Post?  There was a time when magazines argued that they could offer more in-depth reporting and analysis than newspapers or radio/TV.  More pretty pictures than you could ever get in a newspaper.  No longer true.  Google "Dayton Hamvention" (146,000 results) or "Elecraft KX3" (13,400 results)  Any publication offering that amount of stuff would not fit into my mailbox!

I rest my case. Truth is, media consumers want their content in a wide variety of ways, and will choose such media on three primary criteria:

1) How easy it is to consume in all those myriad ways,

2) How compelling the content is, and

3) How cheap it is to access. 

We see it happening with books, movies, television, music and more and it amounts to a revolution.  Some media will not fare well unless they figure out how to monetize--the new buzz word for all media--or subsicize some of the old ways of distribution.  As in any revolution, there will be casualties.

I’m afraid that does not bode well for QST and CQ.


Don Keith N4KC