Friday, December 20, 2013

Tech point to ponder during the yuletide credit-card-swiping season

by Don Keith N4KC

So word comes that there has been a security breach and anyone who scanned a debit or credit card at Target over several months could well find their info being used by scurrilous bastards.  Count me among the millions whose accounts are now laid bare and naked and available for use by these hackers.

My first thought was, "Oh, my!"  And to run and check to see if a new Mercedes might have gotten charged to my AmEx card.  Then two bits of common sense hit me.  If millions of card numbers and passwords were lifted, the odds of mine being used were pretty low.  And nowadays, thanks to technology, I can easily see each day anything that might get charged without my knowledge.  I'm even prone to get a call from the card folks asking me if I am attempting to purchase a $60,000 diamond necklace...something decidedly different from the spending profile they have on me.

Once upon a time thieves took money.  Or checkbooks.  Or even better, your entire wallet or purse.  Then, using your ID (which only has had a picture on it in recent times), they could use up your checks and spend your cash all over town.  And it might be the end of the month, when you finally got your bank statement in the mail, before you realized you had financed some jerk's spending spree.

There is also a third bit of common sense here, too.  The credit card companies are on the hook for these ill-gotten gains, should my card come up in the swiped-to-get-swiped lotto.  I just need to log onto my account--as I do regularly anyway--and look for the charge for a pair of tickets to Tahiti or for that 60-inch TV.

So, even though it is now possible for one cad to steal millions of people's credit card info, it is also easier for us to keep an eye out and see if they actually use ours.  And for the credit card companies to manage their losses.  And, I suspect, for law-enforcement to track down and catch whoever did the deed.

Technology triumphs again!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Is this good news for traditional broadcast radio?

By Don Keith N4KC

Mark Twain popularized the expression: "There are three kinds of lies.  Lies, damned lies, and statistics."  The meaning is obvious.  People often use stats and research to bolster otherwise weak arguments.  The radio trade publication INSIDE RADIO is, in my opinion, one of the biggest offenders at this sort of thing.

In today's online edition, they crow in a big headline:  "Dashboard’s hottest device remains the radio."  

And therein they boast that 88% of respondents in a survey indicate that they use the radio while they are in their cars.  88%?  Is that really good news for broadcasters?

 Especially if the survey question was asked as it is quoted in the article...did these folks "use" their radios while in their cars?  Ever?

If that same question had been asked ten years ago, would it not have approached 100%?  I firmly believe it would have.  And is that 12% who NEVER use the radio in their cars growing each day?  I also firmly believe that is the case.

And if the question had been, "Do you use the radio in your car less now than you once did?" would it not have given a truly startling result?

But that would only have been a statistic.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My new book IS pertinent to the theme of this blog!

By Don Keith

MATTIE C.'s BOY is the remarkable true story of a man who overcame a horrible childhood, dominated by family violence (he witnessed his father murdering his mother at age five), racism, and more to become a successful businessman, a true inspiration to millions, and a powerful leader during the human rights movement in the 1960s.  So what does Shelley Stewart's story have to do with technological change and its effect on society and media?

Everything!  Shelley was a hugely popular broadcast personality.  He used that influence on the radio to help rally the school children of Birmingham to stage the Children's March of 1963...the few days of demonstrations that resulted in the famous images of police dogs and fire hoses that led directly to the end of harsh Jim Crow laws in the country's most segregated city.

The power of radio.  The power of one man, using a microphone and turntables, to change the course of history.  Just think what brave, creative people could do with today's technology.

We're doing some of that with old technology: the printed book.  But it is also available in e-book.  And even if I am the author, trust me when I tell you that Shelley Stewart's story will inspire you, no matter how you read it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Is it worth the effort to try to save AM broadcast radio?

First, let me admit right up front that--even though I worked in broadcasting and was a personality on the AM radio band for many years--I am on record as predicting that the current 550-through-1700 kilohertz  portion of the spectrum will be an amateur radio band in less than ten years.

Well, now comes news that a current member of the Federal Communications Commission has mounted a crusade to try to save the AM broadcast band.  You remember what AM radio is, right?  There is probably a button on your car radio that says "AM."  The one you never push unless you live in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles.

HERE IS an article in the New York Times about Commissioner Pai and his hopes for keeping AM radio viable in the face of rapidly changing technology.  And, more importantly, in the face of consumer desires and preferences.  The article does a good job of refuting the ideas the commissioner has so I won't repeat them here.

For many reasons, I hope he is successful.  My heart says it is worth the fight.

My head, however, says, "Go find some other windmill to joust."

AM radio is dead.  Kaput.  Deceased.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Whether they know it or not, technology puts authors in the driver's seat

By Don Keith N4KC

Rapid technological change has affected few industries any more dramatically than book publishing.  Granted, it has remained an archaic business until very recently.  However, with the blurring of media such as I discussed in the previous post, it has had the effect of actually putting the book-writer, formerly the most abused and disadvantaged of all media-content producers, in a much better position.

Since I am a published author with some modicum of success, I get plenty of email from would-be writers who want me to give them the magic key to breaking through, to getting their books published, gain millions of fawning readers, and make millions.  Well, good luck with that!  However, now more than ever, authors have some leverage thanks to the technology, even if, as noted below, the big publishing houses have yet to realize it.  But I do reply to them, have a short article with advice on my web site, and have even written and published a short, inexpensive e-book on the subject.

Below is a recent reply to one person who wanted some ideas and guidance, and one whose expectations seemed realistic.  This is what I told him:

Well, as you have noted, writing a book is plenty of work, blood, sweat and tears (but I am happy to see you have a positive feeling after getting it done…many don’t) but let me warn you.  Getting it published is even tougher.  And that is even truer in the last few years.  Traditional publishers are becoming more and more restrictive on what books they will buy because today’s publishing “battlefield” is more treacherous than ever.  They are very much afraid of making a mistake and don’t have the luxury of having a few bestsellers to cover bad decisions they might make, simply because best-sellers do not make the kind of revenue for them that they once did.  There are fewer brick-and-mortar bookstores, too, and online retailers are discounting works to a minimum since they don’t have storefronts or warehouses to keep up.  Also, publishing houses still do not totally understand the advent of the e-book and the myriad e-book readers now on the market.  It goes contrary to their business models on many levels and, frankly, has turned the business upside-down.

On the other hand, authors now have many more options to see their works in print and be available for sale.  This, too, takes some of the leverage away from the big traditional publishing houses, even if they don’t yet admit it. 

First, let me suggest that you visit my web site at  There is a tab there labeled “On Writing.”  The short article there and the inexpensive e-book that expands on it will show you where I think most would-be authors should go and how you can do it.  I talk at length about the mine fields new writers might encounter along the way, and there are plenty of them.

Despite all the change, I still believe the best plan for getting your book published and in front of readers is to use a traditional publishing house—one that buys the rights to your book, publishes it, and pays you an advance-against-royalties (maybe), then pays royalties on each copy they sell.  None will charge you money up front.  However, to sell a book to most legitimate publishers, you will need to have a literary agent to represent you to the major houses.  Most legitimate publishing houses (and NONE of the big ones) will read submissions that come directly from authors.  I give suggestions for locating an agent in the article linked above.  It ain’t easy!  But it is worth it.  Note, too, that agents work with a limited number of potential publishers.  If an agent rejects your book, it does not necessarily mean it is a bad book or not marketable.  It simply means the agent does not readily know of an editor/publisher with whom he or she works who is looking for a book like yours at the time.  Or that the agent does not represent books like yours. 

Agents are becoming more and more specialized.  When my old agent retired last year, I went looking for a new one.  I could not find anyone who wanted to represent the broad array of book types that I write.  Now, I have settled on one who does my military thriller novels and another who does my historical non-fiction.  I am still looking for someone to handle my commercial and/or literary fiction.

Another option is to self-publish.  This method of getting your book out there has changed dramatically in the last few years.  Before, you would contract with a so-called “vanity press” to print your book and get it into the usual distribution channels.  You would, of course, pay for those services, as well as any additional so-called “marketing” they offered, which usually turns out to be minimal and decidedly ineffective.  In practically all cases, the author ends up with boxes of books in the basement, sizeable invoices from the vanity press, and nothing else.  If those phone calls you are getting are from companies like this, I would suggest you politely tell them to go elsewhere.

Now, though, it is possible for authors to publish through various on-line vendors.  You can not only do a paperback version of your book but various formats of e-books as well.  The major vendors include Kindle Direct Publishing (e-books for Amazon’s Kindle reader and other formats), CreateSpace (print-on-demand paper books) and SmashWords (e-books for other e-reader formats, including Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the Apple Store, and more).  You can actually make your book available through these vendors with no cost to you whatsoever.  CreateSpace charges a one-time $25 fee if you want to put your paper book into what it calls “Expanded Distribution.”  This means the book will be in the catalogs of the major book distributors and can be ordered by any bookstore or library.  It also means the book will show up on and can be ordered from the web sites of Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and other online sellers. 

The only other cost would be anything you decided to pay to a book designer or artist to format your book and do a cover.  You can do that yourself if you are handy with the computer, PhotoShop, or other design software but the vendors maintain lists of people who can do this for you for quite reasonable rates.

Note that if you use CreateSpace, you can order books for your own use and sale much more cheaply than you can get books from some vanity press, or even from a traditional publisher that might publish it.  Example:  I can buy copies of my books published by Penguin/NAL—a major publishing house—for a 40% discount.  However, with my self-published books, I can order at a better than 60% discount off cover price.  That is because the books are printed-on-demand.  If someone orders a copy of my self-published novel THE SPIN today from, and if he pays for overnight delivery, that book can be printed, shipped and delivered to arrive tomorrow.  In my case, if I order books for an event, such as copies of my amateur radio book, I not only get them cheaper than any vanity press would print them, but there is no minimum order, and I can almost always get them in a week without paying a bunch for expedited shipping.  (In the spirit of full disclosure, if I want to, I can return books to Penguin/NAL for credit.  If I buy books from CreateSpace, I can't.  I own those until I sell them...if I can sell them.  But remember--no minimum order, so I can order as needed and don't have to keep a big supply in the basement.)

Now you see why the big publishing houses are a tad concerned!  Still, though, I believe for now they are the best avenue to get your book in front of the largest potential audience.  But you need an agent.

Incidentally, whether you self-publish through a vanity press or the online vendors or even if you sell your book to Random House or Simon & Schuster, you will still have to do much of your own marketing, including publicity, making readers aware of your book.  That is a whole other subject, and there are many books available if you go to Amazon and search for “marketing books.”  Again, I would avoid unknown companies who want to charge you an arm and a leg to “publicize” your book, or who promise placement in People Magazine or a guest spot on The Tonight Show.  There are many, many snakes lying in wait for you in that grass!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Blur-r-r-r-r-ing of "Media"

By Don Keith N4KC

Are you ready for the continued blurring of media?  Do you have any idea what I'm talking about?

Have you seen the onrush of interest in Google's Chromecast dongle?  Have you actually tried to buy one and, as have I, found them out of stock everywhere you try?  Have you considered what effect that little device--along with AppleTV, Roku, and the like--will have on how you and everyone else on the planet view "television?"

The truth is television is radio is Internet is smartphone is tablet is movies is newspapers, etc.  Soon there will be NO "television," "radio," "web," or, for sure, "newspapers."  There will be no "video" or "audio" or "print," either, for that matter.  The lines between one medium and another have blurred and the continuation of that blurring is only going to speed up exponentially as we go.  

I can think of no other area in society in which technological change is having a greater effect than what we are now seeing with people consume audio, video, and the written word.  Even now, as we stubbornly continue to call media by their traditional names, how we are actually using them has already changed a staggering amount.

What we are actually doing now is consuming "content."  And that "content" is more and more being consumed by you and everyone else the way you want to consume it.  Sure, there will be a football game, broadcast on a TV network that primarily feeds over-the-air TV stations.  But that game will also be available on the Internet and can be viewed on a computer monitor, a tablet, or a smartphone.  But there will also be different views of that game that you can see (think NASCAR racing's feeds now that actually put you inside the race car with the driver), a separate feed that offers commentary and analysis from an expert, and maybe even a delayed feed of the coaching staffs' communications with each other from the sidelines and press box.  Would you pay an extra $100 a season for something like that or put up with the occasional commercial?

Think, too, about all the sideshows we saw in the last few weeks around the premiere of the final season of AMC's series Breaking Bad.  You had to try hard to avoid podcasts, Q&As, discussion groups and other events with fans, critics, actors and creators of the show.  The time is here already in which a big media event without all the ancillary content is rare.  Or in which a sporting event or major news story does not also come with a true multimedia (or "blur-r-r-red" media) blitz.

Here's a final example.  Researcher Mark Ramsey recently hosted a great forum that brought together key players discussing the continual blurring of media and how, in the case of his company, such radical change affects broadcast radio.  Here is one session that talks about Google+ and Google's new service, Hangout, and how media outlets can use them to give consumers what they want.

And what they want is far more than a continual stream of music with a big-voiced announcer occasionally telling us that we have just heard "Carry On My Wayward Son" by Kansas one more time.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Is over-the-air radio "special?"

By Don Keith N4KC

Some in the radio biz would have you believe that their medium is somehow "special," immune to the same forces that have radically changed every other mass medium there is.

Ain't so!

If you are in the over-the-air radio business--or if you care about what is happening to it--then take just 20 minutes and watch this presentation on the subject.  It is the best summation of the situation I have seen so far.  Congrats, Mark Ramsey, on the insight and the perfectly-staged presentation!

Change is inevitable.  Rapid change can be painful and frightening.  But keeping an open mind, being creative and, at the same time, smart, and being willing to take some risks and maybe even fail a time or two...all these things help people and companies take advantage of change, not get steamrolled by them!

Note: if the link above does not work, copy this URL into your browser:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How the world's largest broadcasting company thinks

By Don Keith N4KC

All Access ran the second part of their interview with Clear Channel Communication’s Chairman and CEO, Bob Pittman, today.  (If the name is familiar, he is the same Bob Pittman who once programmed some darn good radio stations, started MTV, and was CEO at AOL, Six Flags, and Century 21 Real Estate.)  

In the first part, he talked a lot about technology and little about programming content.  He also talked about how CC has top-notch talent on the air, even in their smallest markets.  They do that by having big-market talent voice-track shows on other stations.  I think regular followers here know how I feel about that.  If they were truly doing more than just "That was Fleetwood Mac and this is Journey on Rock 107" then I might agree that was a good thing to do.  

They aren't.  And it ain't.

There was nothing too pithy or incendiary in the second installment, either, but his final answer sort of made me see red.

JD: And finally Bob, what are your biggest goals for the next five years?
BP: First of all, our goals are to bring money to the radio sector. We have to do that. Then we have to continue to embrace technology and make it work for us. And, we have to continue to develop new products and services that help our advertisers make better use of radio and help us deliver more for them than we have in the past.

Did I miss something or was there nary a word about improving the over-the-air product…unless that vague third goal includes putting something on the air that nobody else has and that people would be excited enough about to seek it out on whatever technological platform on which they could find it?

I would hope that the man who controls more radio stations than anybody else on the planet would realize that trying to compete with Pandora, iRadio, Spotify and other pure music streaming services by streaming music over the air is a dead end.

I applaud Bob's comments about showing advertisers that their commercials worked, and to work harder to develop a plan that helps advertisers sell widgets.  But I would also hope that someone who has been so visionary in the past would have a plan to do something revolutionary that assures that the brand equity that many traditional broadcasters still have can be leveraged in new and exciting ways.

"Broadcast-speak" warning!  Pittman and others in the biz MUST start thinking beyond smart-phone apps for FM, 30-and-60-second commercials, time sold based on average-quarter-hour share-of-listening estimates from Arbitron, and playing "the most and best hits of the 80s, 90s, and today!"

There is talent and music and other content out there that can bring people to the FM band (maybe even the AM band, but I now believe that is a lost cause) as well as a plethora of other ways of distributing it.  Listeners want more than a constant stream of music.  They also want companionship, empathy, two-way communication, and to be part of a tribe of other folks just like them.  Radio still has the power to provide all that.

I just hope Bob Pittman and his peers know that and are willing to take the chances necessary to provide it.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Is "traditional" book publishing going the way of buggy-whip makers?

By Don Keith N4KC

I came across an interesting blog post talking about whether traditional book publishers were doomed or not..

Well, it is the age-old question, isn't it? Yes, traditional publishing--as is ALL media--is changing rapidly, mostly based on evolving technology.  However, the needs and wants of readers (read: book buyers) are evolving as well.  Those who regularly follow this blog know that I don't limit the rapid technological change and its effect to only a few media or industries.  It is everywhere!  And it ain't gonna stop!  Those who cannot accept rapid change are almost certainly miserable right about now.

Evolution is inevitable.  Sometimes it is not pretty (See; platypus.)  But is always interesting and, to some of us, damned exciting!

Consumers today want media delivered on a variety of platforms.  And they want it when they want it...e-book, audio, and, yes, old-fashioned sheets of paper bound at the spine.  Can you visually read a book--whether it be paper or e-book--while driving in rush hour traffic?  Ever tried to read a book on an iPad or other tablet screen on the beach?  Can you really store a few thousand paper books on a shelf the size of a smart phone, or locate the book on that shelf you want in a few seconds searching by keyword?  Can you hold an e-book or audio book in your hands before purchasing it, thumb through it, read any segment you want, feel the heft of it or get that visceral reaction to the full package?

The traditional publishers that truly understand what their customers want and need will thrive.  That implies that the publisher learns to employ creativity in all aspects of marketing: formats, pricing, distribution, and more.

That also includes offering the creators of all that content that traditional publishers hope to sell...authors...a compensation package that makes sense.  Make it more attractive for creators of content, like me, to allow publishers to purchase rights from us than it would be for us to go do-it-yourself.  That, too, is part of good marketing: the purchase of raw materials that makes growers, miners, or, in our case, the creators a successful part of the whole operation.  Too many traditional publishers try to skimp on or still don't understand this part of marketing, based on all the centuries when they controlled the channels of distribution exclusively. For the first time in history, creators of content may finally be gaining the upper hand because we do have options for selling our raw material, so long as it is not too "raw."

Other media are going through the same paroxysms.  The music industry was slow to evolve and look what happened to them.  (How many record stores do you see in your local mall?)  Daily newspapers hardly have a pulse.  Big magazines are barely avoiding flat-lining.  (See Newsweek, Life, Look, The Saturday Evening Post.)  Network TV and over-the-air radio are facing the same fate if they don't react more quickly and intelligently. (A prime-time number one network show recently reached fewer than a million homes, and that was the first time this has happened since the '50s.) Pick up any movie trade pub and look at all the angst that medium is experiencing.

It is an exciting time.  It is a frightening time.  But as with any rapid societal change, smart, innovative people will prosper.  Those with their heads in the sand, opting for denial and stone-walling, will fall to the wayside.  Evolution is an inevitable and brutal thing.

The answer to the question in the headline will only come when--and if--traditional publishing is no longer referred to as "traditional."  Or when "traditional" is universally accepted as referring to those publishers that produce content for users across all platforms, including those that have not even been thought of yet.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Movie-making...same paroxysms as other media

By Don Keith N4KC

One of the better directors working today, in my opinion, is Steven Soderbergh.  I don't think he has made the same movie twice, and whether you like every single film or not, you can appreciate the thought, care and creativity each exhibits.  Here is a link to a speech he gave recently in which he assesses the current state of the film biz, and why, in his opinion, things are going the way they are, for better or worse.

As I read his comments, I also thought how much they apply to other media as well, especially the parts about picking talented people and letting them do what they do so well, and the marketing vs. research issues.

Soderbergh's opinions are not strictly about technological change--though that is certainly part of it--but I really enjoyed the benefit of his insight.

Here is the link:

Friday, April 26, 2013

Drive-by, self-serving post

By Don Keith N4KC

On the run these days, finishing up the editing process on my next book...and one about which I am extremely excited.  I'll have more on that--what I consider to be an IMPORTANT book, and especially for this particular year in Birmingham, Alabama--later.

For now, I just wanted to invite you all to take a listen to my interview about the ham radio book, RIDING THE SHORTWAVES: EXPLORING THE MAGIC OF AMATEUR RADIO, that is now available for listening or as a podcast download.  It was conducted by Hap Holly KC9RP for "The Radio Amateur Information Network."

Hap did a good job, though to edit down my loud mouth to a 20-minute show required that it sounds like I never take a breath!  (BTW, Hap is a remarkable guy who has overcome a disability to do wonderful things.  Read his bio on the site.)

I also promise I will talk a bit more about my trip coming up soon to the world's largest amateur radio gathering, the Hamvention in Dayton, Ohio.  I will be doing signing events for the ham radio book and some of the other ones as well.  Plus I will get a chance to see up close some of the changing technology that will be affecting our hobby...and lots of other aspects of our lives.

Now, back to editing that new book!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Would-be Howard Stern jocks hit new low

By Don Keith N4KC

In yet another attempt by a team of morning radio hosts to attract audiences by shocking them to a greater extent than others like them who are trying to do the same thing, a new low may have been achieved.  Here is an excerpt from one trade publication:

ENTERCOM Active Rock KRXQ (98 ROCK)/SACRAMENTO has pulled locally-based syndicated  morning show ROB, ARNIE AND DAWN off the air for the rest of the week after they aired a bit WEDNESDAY (4/17) in which the hosts spoke about making a "top 5" list of reasons to hate BOSTON.
The hiatus follows criticism from crosstown CBS RADIO Sports KHTK-A (CBS SPORTS RADIO 1140)/SACRAMENTO morning host DON GERONIMO, who ripped the trio for the bit and for spending some of TUESDAY's show asking whether it was too soon to joke about BOSTON.

While 98 ROCK stuck with music in the show's absence, GERONIMO opened THURSDAY's show by playing clips of WEDNESDAY's ROB, ARNIE AND DAWN show, including joking about the "top 5 list" (with ROB saying that "that's how we express our solidarity with the people of BOSTON" and adding that he'd never been to BOSTON, and ARNIE claiming he could come up with nine things), discussing how a man whose legs were blown off while watching his girlfriend run could "hold that over her head forever," and asking whether it was too soon for jokes about BOSTON (with one of the three saying "no" while DAWN said "yes").
The hosts were also heard criticizing the NEW YORK YANKEES for playing "Sweet Caroline" ("that's disgusting") and OAKLAND A's fans for chanting "let's go BOSTON" in support of the stricken city (ROB saying "I'd have been standing with my hands in my pockets saying 'really?'") and PHILLIES centerfielder BEN REVERE for taping the words "Pray for BOSTON" on his glove.
Of course, the accused morning show team--on their web site-- defended their garbage-like attempt at humor and, instead, attacked the guy at the sports-talk station who took them to task in the first place.  They say, "The Nature (sic) of our show demands honest, noble, and real discussions and, at times, irreverence."  I guess I'm missing the "noble" part of this mess.
Ever since Howard Stern gained fame and fortune as a so-called "shock jock," others have been trying to do the same.  The only difference is that Stern is a talented man who actually knows what he can do, what is funny, and what is out of bounds.  Others--I dub them "amateurs" but they are most certainly not to be confused with "amateur radio operator" hobbyists--decidedly don't.
Chalk it up to desperation.  Stations put people on the air who try to be funny and topical, all to attract people who are either keeping a listening diary or carrying a personal people meter for Arbitron...individuals who will each statistically represent several thousand other people in their communities.  What they end up with are talent-less wannabes who are insulting, crass and embarrassing.  
I haven't heard this particular show.  And yet, I have.  I'd bet it sounds like so many others of the same ilk.  And very little like Howard Stern.

Sometimes such programming works.  If enough diary-keepers/PPM-toters get the word that, "Hey, you ought to hear what those jerks over on 98 Rock just said about Boston," then they get a temporary ratings spike.  It only takes a few Arbitron reporters to make a difference.  But don't the radio station programmers, personalities, and owners realize that spike is only temporary?  The morning team either goes bland and boring to cut down on the controversy and keep their jobs or they have to get even farther out there, becoming even more disgusting to try to hit a new level of "shock" and keep their "edge."  That's because they don't know how to be topical and funny any other way.  (Note that I see the same thing in TV shows, movies, and stand-up comedy.  I'm no prude.  I have no issues with pushing the envelope.  But crass-for-crass's-sake is not entertaining, nor is it taking the art form to any new, exciting places.  I enjoy Louis CK, Daniel Tosh, the "Bachelor Party" movies, and the like.)
Regardless, neither route is good for listeners and the sponsors who pay the bills.  
And it damn sure is not good for the medium of radio.

Monday, April 15, 2013

News release


Don Keith N4KC is not only a long-time and active amateur radio operator.  He is also a prolific best-selling and award-winning author with more than 26 published books to his credit.  His latest novel, FIRING POINT, a submarine thriller, has been optioned for and is in pre-production as a major motion picture and his next book, a stirring biography of one of the key players in the 1963 civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama, will be published in September 2013.

Keith also recently published a book about his hobby of choice, ham radio.  RIDING THE SHORTWAVES: EXPLORING THE MAGIC OF AMATEUR RADIO includes material of special interest to newcomers, including easy-to-understand chapters on antennas, choosing a first station, and a tour of the amateur radio high-frequency bands.  There are also short fictional and satirical pieces that use humor or drama to show the various facets of the hobby.  The book counters the notion that Facebook, the web, Twitter, smart phones and other new technology have made amateur radio obsolete.  On the contrary, the author maintains, in its 100th year, the hobby is more vibrant and exciting than ever.

“I aimed the book at four different groups,” N4KC says.  “First are those who have an interest in learning more about getting into the hobby.  Second are those who are recently licensed and wondering which direction they want to go.  I also wanted to talk to folks who may have gotten a license a while ago but either never got serious or have lost the spark somehow.  And finally, I saw the need for a book that old-timers would not only enjoy reading but could use to pass along to others and do a little evangelizing about the hobby to friends and family.”

For those who truly want to help spread the word about ham radio, “Explore the Magic” and “Ride the Shortwaves” apparel and other items are available online at
In its review of RIDING THE SHORTWAVES, QST Magazine calls the book, "...entertaining and informative...eminently readable by youth or adult, it covers the waterfront from why amateur radio, at 100 years of age, remains fun and relevant...and more to the point, what you need to enjoy and explore ham radio's magic."

The book has been available as a traditional paperback at all traditional and online booksellers (including the American Radio Relay League’s online bookstore) and as an e-book for Kindle users.  Now, it is also available in a digital edition for all e-reading devices, including Nook, Apple iPad, and Adobe Digital Editions, as well as in various formats for reading directly on computer screens.  Keith is also happy to give permission to ham radio clubs to excerpt a chapter of the book for inclusion in their newsletters.  Contact N4KC at to request the okay to re-print.
For more on RIDING THE SHORTWAVES, visit:

NOTE: Don Keith N4KC will be signing RIDING THE SHORTWAVES at the Dayton Hamvention.  He will be at the QRP ARCI “Four Days in May” event hotel, the Holiday Inn in Fairborn, OH, on Thursday, May 16, during the day.  Then he will be in the ARRL booth at times to be determined.  The book will be available for sale at the League’s booth throughout Hamvention.  Visit for updates.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Books and e-readers and coffee mugs

by Don Keith N4KC

So, using modern technology, I am now a web entrepreneur.  Here's the path that has led me on this wayward journey into online capitalism:
A while back, I compiled some of the amateur radio articles I had written for the web site and my own amateur radio web site and added quite a few more into a book I titled "Riding the Shortwaves: Exploring the Magic of Amateur Radio."  I believed (and have now had it confirmed) that there is a need for a book such as this one.  I talk about how the hobby--once thought obsolete in the face of the web, smart phones, Facebook, Twitter and the like--is not yet comatose.  In fact, amateur radio is enjoying a healthy boom, with more people licensed now than ever before, and lots of interest in combining modern technology with a hobby that actually led the way for commercial broadcasting, satellites, computers, and much of the modern tech stuff that is theoretically killing it.

Well, the truth is that most publishers have little interest in a book like this one.  Not even the American Radio Relay League, the amateur radio national organization.  They prefer only doing more technical books.  (I understand and am happy to report that they have ordered and sold a number of copies of my book in their online bookstore.  Thank you ARRL!  And they have invited me to do a "meet the author" event in May at the world's largest ham radio convention in Dayton, Ohio.  Thank you again, ARRL!)

As I have done with some other of my out-of-print and couldn't-find-a-publishing-home books, I published it myself as a traditional paperback through Amazon's CreateSpace service, which puts it on and also means it is available through just about all online booksellers.  It can also be ordered through the major book distributors by any bookstore or library.  Way cool!

OK, that takes care of the traditional paper book.  It's easily available if somebody wants to buy it.  But as you all know, e-books are rapidly taking over, with theoretically more digital copies of books being sold nowadays than paper.  Well, I also made "Riding the Shortwaves" available as an e-book through Kindle Direct Publishing.  The only drawback is that you can only buy the e-book through and only for their Kindle and a few other e-readers.  (Yes, there are programs out there like Calibre that enables you to convert a book from one format to the other, but how many people want or know how to do that?)

Enter Smashwords.  These guys can take a book and make it available in a variety of formats, including for Kindle, Nook, Apple iPad, Adobe Digital Editions (a free download for computers and smart phones), and even as a RTF, PDF or text file for reading directly on computers.  They have the whole deal set up so they handle the money end of things.

I spent most of yesterday formatting "Riding the Shortwaves" for Smashwords uploading, and wow!  Within five minutes of uploading the file, it was converted and available for purchase in all those varied formats.  They are a bit picky and keep hounding me to make modification in my book so it can become part of their "Premium Catalog," but again, I understand.  They work with Apple and some other big boys and, as noted, convert to a bunch of different formats, so they have to make sure the book fits their criteria.  At any rate, it is there and can now be purchased by anyone, regardless what device they use to read it.

So that gave me another thought.  Part of the idea of the book is to be evangelical about our hobby of ham radio.  What better way to show our excitement than with some premium items, based on the message of "Riding the Shortwaves."  So hello Cafe Press!

Yes, I know.  These guys have been around for a while, but it really is easy to set up a store and offer merchandise with logos, messages, or whatever.  Frankly, I couldn't even go and have stuff made just for me to wear as inexpensively as these guys do it.  The prices are just a tad high for most items, but I ordered some things before advertising them to make sure the quality was there.  It was!  The logos and screen print look fine and the clothing items I ordered for myself are first-rate.

Do I want to be in the tee shirt biz?  No!  I'm a writer.  But today, if you are a writer who wants to be read, you have to be your own promoter and publicist, too.  And if I can have people walking around at the big hamfests with my book cover and web site on their backs, and if we can all help promote ham radio, then I'm all for it.  Especially if I can do it at minimal cost and time.

And that is exactly what these types of vendors allow me to do.  Thank you, CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords, and Cafe Press.  I hope this rapidly changing technology can continue to make things better for authors, publishers, readers, and whatever causes we all espouse.

Oh, and just for drill, here's the ad that is going up on my web site.  It will be fed by an animated GIF ad on the web site where some of the articles first appeared:

Move over eBay and Amazon!  I'm a web entrepreneur! 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

OLD technology shows us a thing or two about NEW technology

By Don Keith N4KC

Leave it to a prime example of old technology to bring us an example of rapidly changing new technology.  Now don't get me wrong.  USA TODAY was pretty innovative in its time.  No one believed there could be a national daily printed newspaper that could include breaking news and sports updates from surprisingly late the night before...and do it with color!  But those guys did, and so far have been successful with it.  We'll see how long that lasts.

But that is not the subject of this post.  I just thought it was ironic that USA TODAY did an article and a video about how the car dashboard entertainment system is changing.  See it here: 

This confirms what I have been preaching here for a long time.  When broadcast radio is minimized on the auto dashboard, it is in some serious trouble.  Yes, I know that AM/FM will still be a choice.  But unless traditional broadcasters start putting something on their air that can compete with all the other possibilities now available, people are going to be much less likely to hit that icon.

Eventually advertisers will notice that ratings (not shares...share of people listening to broadcast radio has been the Holy Grail of broadcasters when selling ads...ratings are the percentage of all people...shares will remain what they are but ratings will plummet) are dropping and will find more efficient ways of advertising.

The dashboard is traditional radio's last bastion.  It is in serious danger of falling.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Daily printed newspaper VS. digital editions

By Don Keith

Well, it has now been since October that I have discussed in this forum the major changes in my hometown's daily printed newspaper.  If it has not happened where you live, wait, it will.  I do hope the implementation is better for you.

What happened was THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS decided to stop publishing a daily "paper" newspaper.  We now get a thin bundle of newsprint thrown in our driveways (or, in my case, far beneath the crepe myrtle bush down a steep, ivy-covered embankment) three mornings a week--Wednesday (grocery ads), Friday (car ads), and Sunday (lots of inserts but not many other ads or classifieds anymore).

The same thing happened with co-owned papers in Mobile and Huntsville, both in Alabama, which are owned by the same folks.  We were promised much more in-depth coverage in those three editions while immediate news coverage would be handled by the commonly owned web site AL.COM.  Another part of the promise was that the site could be customized, would feature the same reporters and columnists from the old tree-killing paper, would provide video and audio, and would be much faster with updates.

OK, sounds good to me.  Now, how do I think they have done after half a year?  I should confess that one impetus for this post was a recent multi-column article in a Sunday edition.  It was written by Kevin Wendt, the "vice president of content" (lower case theirs) for Alabama Media Group, the company's name after all the changes.  The article was headlined, "An update on our progress."  How do they think they have done?  I can save you the trouble of looking it up.  The gist is "pretty damn good!"  Wendt writes, "Digital growth has been explosive, circulation exceeded our expectations, our commitment to quality journalism and serving our communities remains steadfast, and Alabama Media Group's first-quarter business performance met our objectives."

Hey, I am merely a subscriber, but I can only say, "Well, whoop-de-doo!"

Frankly, I see the printed edition dwindling in size.  I am apparently missing all that expanded content.  I know they furloughed just about anybody who had a pulse at THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS.  They are pooling coverage among the few remaining journalists at all three papers.  Then they are expected to not only write a story but blog and update incessantly.  All without benefit of editing, apparently.  Typos and grammar errors abound!  Yes, abound!

By the time I get a paper, I have already seen or had the opportunity to see on the web site at least 50% of what is printed .  The paper sometimes seems to try to be slow so I have to go to AL.COM to get updates on stories.

Example: there was a story in a Wednesday morning paper about a spectacular accident the previous Sunday--SUNDAY--in Birmingham's eastern section in which a car ended up inside a store.  The story cryptically told us the driver "appeared to be injured and was taken away by ambulance."  There was no name, no condition of the victim, no mention of how the accident happened.  Just a picture.  Surely between Sunday and deadline Tuesday night, somebody could have followed up!

And sports scores.  Deadline must be about sunset.  If Alabama or Auburn play a game that ends after about 9 PM, forget about seeing a story or, usually, a score in a paper the next day.

Now to AL.COM.  What a mess!  I know user interface is subjective.  And this subject hates AL.COM.

First, it is about the most cluttered site out there, with all those peel-downs and dancing ads.  When I make my first visit there each day, it takes my computer a good 30 seconds just to bring up the page.  But even more disconcerting is the fact that it locks the whole thing up for that entire half minute as it flings untold scores of tracking cookies and junk onto my hard drive.  And before you say to upgrade my machine or web connection, let me make it clear that this is the ONLY web site I ever visit that treats me this way.

Try finding what you want to see on AL.COM.  Yes, I could probably personalize it some and filter out some of the out-of-town stuff.  But then I don't know what I'm missing.  Use the "Search" feature.  I may as well be typing in URLs at random.  If I get results, I could still be searching for hours, scrolling through miles and miles of totally unrelated and cryptic headlines, just to find the one I was looking for.  And I still have to click on it to see if it even  remotely resembles what I was looking for.

Forget following links that show up in the printed paper.  They are often wrong or take you to a general page on which you still have to scroll and scroll to find what you want.  Example: they do a neat little music feature in which a local artist or band records a video in a little travel trailer parked  behind a local club.  The paper does a short article on the group and refers you to AL.COM/entertainment to watch the video.  I swear that is the URL in its entirety.  Good damn luck!  Every time I've tried to find the video, I still end up having to search for the band by name, and that often takes me far, far afield from the video I'm seeking.

Those email updates.  OK, at their urging, I subscribed to a series of emails with links to updated stories on AL.COM.  First thing I noticed was that they often had the same story linked in both the left and right columns of the email.  Trying to make it look as if there is more content than there actually is?  That's my guess.  (Hey, the printed paper even does this.  They still have those huge weird-looking blank white spaces at the bottoms of pages that could hold at least one more story and picture...if they had one.)

The links from the emails usually work, thank goodness, so I can at least find the stories. Quite often, they are poorly edited and sometimes go days without being updated.  But why send me a link to the morning traffic 9:10 AM?!?  That's when I receive that one each day.  That wreck on Highway 280 at 6:20 AM is almost certainly gone by then.

Sports?  You really need to watch some of their sports videos.  Most appear to have been done with a cell phone.  Their features on things like recruiting or spring practice, with a "host" and a couple of guest "journalists" are the most amateurish productions you will ever see.  So are their audio podcasts.  Frankly, they are unwatchable and unlistenable and rarely informative.  That is especially the case when there are feeble attempts at humor.  These seem more like high school media students' work, not that of competent, professional journalists.  And certainly not those adept at audio and video.  Maybe they are high school or college students.  I don't know.

Okay, I'm getting nit-picky now, I guess, so I'll quit.  But despite Mr. Wendt's gushing update, I'm afraid that this one media observer/subscriber is not nearly as happy with how things are going as he and his company apparently are.  Maybe they are trying their best.  Maybe it will improve.  But man, it has to.  Could it be the simple fact that we have no other newspaper choice be the reason business is so good?  And that they are so gosh-darned happy about their early results?

(PS: I know and you know a lot of people lost their jobs in this transition.  Yet almost immediately, a big ad starting appearing in the Classifieds under "Employment" saying "We are hiring!"  It's easy to see it since classified ads have almost disappeared from the printed paper.  Yet, if you go the site they direct you to, there are practically no jobs listed as being open.  At least that was the case last time I went there.  What's the purpose of advertising jobs that don't exist?  Are we supposed to think, "Wow, these guys are doing great if they are continually hiring new folks?"  I dunno.  Maybe Mr. Wendt can explain that.  Or maybe the same folks do their employment pages that do the rest of AL.COM and I have to jump through some other hoops to see open positions.  No thanks.  My hoop-jumping days are over.)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Self-pleasuring at its purest

By Don Keith N4KC

Well, if that post heading doesn't get your attention, nothing will!  I'm back, once again poking fun at the folks at INSIDE RADIO, one of those trade email pubs that caters to radio broadcasters.  They seem on a mission to find any tidbits of good news they can report, or slivers of bad news they can spin positively, all about the medium of over-the-air radio.  Here's the headline that caught my eye this week:

Survey: Traditional media still tops for reach

My first reaction:  "Well, whoop-de-do!"

This one falls into the "So, Mrs. Lincoln, otherwise how did you enjoy the play?" category.  Look, advertisers and marketers know that sometimes there is still value in reaching as many people as you can with your message.  That is especially true if you're advertising the BRAND and seeking plain, old-fashioned awareness.  Or if your product or service is geared to every-damn-body with a pulse.  Then yeah, reach and its cousin, frequency, mean something.

On the other hand, advertisers and marketers in the 20-teens are more interested in reaching potential customers, and doing so more efficiently, effectively and measurably than ever before in history.  And despite INSIDE RADIO's attempt at feel-good self-pleasuring, people who sell goods and services have the mechanism to do it now. That means search, pay-per-lead, pay-per-click, SEO, social media, smartphones, and exotic terms that scream for what broadcast radio insists on calling "non-traditional media."  It's not even necessarily social media, though that can certainly be a part of it.

Shoot, my old college alma mater changed the name of their "communications" school from "Broadcast and Film Communication" (what it was when I was there before the Internet was a gleam in Al Goes's eye)  to several other things before settling on "Telecommunications and Film" a long time ago.  Telecommunications!  No mention of radio, TV, magazines, newspaper.  When academia leads industry, industry is moving way, way too slowly.

Radio, TV and newspapers--in their traditional blast-to-the-masses form--can never be as efficient or as measurable in reaching somebody who is searching Google for which specific Toyota model and accessories they want and which dealership has the best deal on one.  Wonder why you see fewer car dealer ads in the newspaper?  And, believe it or not, fewer on radio and TV.

Not when that potential Toyota buyer can hone right in on what he/she wants to see, build the car on-line right down to carpet color, compare all dealers' stock, pricing, financing and more, see reviews of dealerships and cars by actual customers, have other makes and models suggested, get ads served anytime he/she is online looking at other stuff that encourages the searcher to look at something new from Toyota, a competing brand, or a dealer, all specifically targeted to where and at what that person has been looking, and a bunch of other info only the web knows about him/her.  And sign up for a text when a specifically-equipped car comes in or there's a special price or financing deal available.  Plus, the dealer likely doesn't pay a dime for all the advertising unless someone who is a prospect clicks on something or signs up for something.

Try doing all that in a 30-second ad in a five-minute spot break between a bunch of "the most and best music with fewer commercials" on Q97.4...even if that potential Toyota customer is part of that station's marvelous "reach."  And only charge the advertiser for the ad if someone actually calls up the dealership.  Or charge a bit more if that person test drives a car.

You want to see a radio station owner's heart stop, mention that sort of sacrilege in his presence.  No, they prefer self-pleasuring.  Look how great and effective we were as an advertising medium in 1972.  Hell, look at our reach!

In case you didn't click on the link from the headline above, here's the gist of the article:

Digital may be the darling of Madison Avenue, but at least for the time being traditional media is still the best way to reach Americans.  A survey by KPMG International shows television and radio score best for reach.  The study found 74% of those surveyed reported listening to radio in the previous month, and 88% said they’d watched television.

Let me do some coaching from the bleachers and tear this paragraph apart.  First, digital is not necessarily the darling of Madison Avenue.  At least not just yet.  Many advertising agencies--and especially those in mid-size markets--are still too lazy or simply don't understand digital/search and continue to buy radio and TV the way they have for almost a century.  Why?  Reach is one.  Big numbers--like 74% or 88%--impress advertisers.  But the main reason is that it is easy.  They can show a client that they bought 150 gross rating points for $100 per point with women 25-44.


That means they are plugging numbers into a computer program and negotiating with the stations to hit some arbitrary reach, frequency and cost per 1% of people watching TV.  Or percent of people listening to radio.  Based on "estimates" of audience purchased from Nielsen or Arbitron.

Self pleasuring!  And they do this while doing less than an efficient job of helping the client move widgets in the stores.  Media buying is a science, they say.  Use the numbers.  Make clever ads.  Show the client how many awards you have won.  Then go drum up another client when that one somehow fails to sell any widgets regardless the reach and frequency the computer showed he got.

How many of those 1% of people watching TV are planning on buying a car?  Shopping for a Camry?  Narrowing choices to the two dealers with the best deal using the web or a smartphone app?

And those "impressive" numbers from KPMG's survey?  In the last month, 74% of respondents listened to the radio and 88% watched TV.  I'm shocked it was not 100% for each.  Is there anyone who doesn't flip on a radio or TV sometime during a month?  Who did KPMG survey here?  Cave dwellers?  An Amish enclave in Ohio?

The INSIDE RADIO article quotes another survey--in an effort to be balanced, perhaps--that marketers will put considerably less focus on radio, TV and print this year.  And they end the article with the shocking pronouncement:

Marketers say they’ll spend more time figuring out how to make online, mobile, and social media work for them.

Well, welcome to 2013!  Did these duds who responded to the survey go to sleep in 1990 with the alarm set for the 21st century?

It's time somebody in media stepped up and broke some rules.  They'll take some knocks and get bruised, but that will be the only way for them to survive rapid technological change that has changed everything these guys know.  And no amount of "wow, look how many eyes and ears we reach!" will pull them out of the morass they have waded into blindly.

I call that self-pleasuring.  Whoop-de-do!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A medium with a death wish

 By Don Keith 

Regular readers of this blog know that I often castigate broadcast radio and the gutless corporations that now hold the keys to those tower-on-a-hill facilities.  At a time when rapid technological change and the way consumers expect to access media offers traditional broadcasting so many possibilities for creativity and momentum, those dunderheads are stuck in low gear.  As a successful former broadcaster for 22 years, and a guy who either marketed to radio owners or bought advertising from them for the next 22, I continue to be amazed at how these guys remain stuck in 1998.  When they most need to do bold things, they stick to the tried-and-failed.

Here is what inspired this latest fit of pique. Cumulus Broadcasting, the second-largest group operator by number of stations owned (behind behemoth Clear Channel) purchased an FM signal in New York City.  Over the last few days, they employed the oldest trick in the book to try to create attention: the "Wheel of Formats."  Back in the day, we called that old saw "stunting," trying to drum up excitement as people heard all different kinds of music and talk programming presented on the station's air.  Listeners were supposed to work themselves into a frenzy trying to guess what the station's new "format" would be.  

Here is what it sounded like.

Of course, most radio listeners don't have a clue what a "format" is.  Nor do they really give a damn.  Only radio geeks pay any attention to things like this.  It is so inside-radio.  People like what they like and have no trouble finding it--be it music or talk--in an unprecedented variety of places.  Places that don't live and die by Arbitron ratings.  That includes the FM radio band (AM radio is dead and rigor mortis has long since set in, all because of the same thick-headedness that is now destroying the FM band).  But oh, are there so many more choices now than there were back in 1974 when this sort of junk actually worked!  

That includes the Internet (Pandora, iTunes), iPods, tablets, XM/Sirius, computers, smart phones.  In some of those places, users can even pick and choose which songs they want to hear, and the source will learn their tastes and add in other songs the computers think the listener will like.  Radio stations will never be able to do that!  So what do they do?  They play the same 400 songs that "fit the format" over and over until what listeners that remain vomit and give up.  

People can hear any kind of music they want to hear free, usually without commercials, screaming promotional announcements about how cool the radio station is and how many songs they play between those dreaded commercials, blathering disk jockeys who read the same insipid slogans over and over, try to be funny when they are not, and insist on telling you that was Kansas singing "Carry On My Wayward Son" for the umpteenth time--all the junk that makes broadcast radio almost unlistenable.

This was a chance to some things right in the nation's most major market.

For a day and a half, though, the new NYC country station's Internet-stream web page did not even list the names of the artists and song titles.  A city without country music radio for so long may not know who Little Big Town or Billy Cunningham are, or why they should care that a spot on the FM dial was now playing a kind of music that was previously available to them on over-the-air radio.  Same thing, though, on the air.  See, there is still no human being conversing with all those potential new listeners between the songs.  Instead they have those irritating produced promotional things that they are jammed in between each song played.

No warm, welcoming voice, telling Staten Island or the Bronx who these singers, musicians, and songwriters are or why New Yawkuhs should care that Nash 94.7 is on the air.

I doubt the music mix is customized for New Yawk, let alone individual New Yawkuhs.  No, if they are sticking to form, Cumulus is playing the country songs that are getting the most "spins" on all the other country radio stations around the USA.  That is the ultimate tail-wagging-the-dog.  And probably the top 200 oldies that people most want to hear according to tests that are done in hotel ballrooms around America.  Tests in which a hundred folks are recruited, paid $20, and sit for an hour or two, listening to 10-second bits from mostly the same 400 songs each time and asked to rate them.

Look, it has been a long, long time since I programmed a radio station and plenty has changed since then.  But I maintain that the medium is about to become an afterthought.  Mark my words: FM will follow AM to total darkness.  

That is simply because radio insists on taking what they deem to be the safe path.  Put on some tested-to-death tunes, eliminate everything that has ever been considered an irritating tune-out, do only what has researched well in the past, remove any risk, use a pat and constantly-repeated slogan, play one song after the other, and tell listeners over and over--beneath a wooshing cacophony of electronic sounds and using an emotionless but deep-voiced announcer--just how great and wonderful Nash 94.7 is.  Not what makes it different.  Not what makes it worth their attention and time.  Not what makes the station any better than all the other places they can find the exact same music on a multitude of listening devices.  Not what should make them run, not walk, to Facebook and Twitter to tell friends about the new station and how great it is.

They play songs sung by Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood?  So?

For God's sake, let's not give Wall Street analysts or stockholders any reason to suspect we are doing something risky.  So what if we become just more background noise, right along with Pandora, XM/Sirius, or iPods.  No, we can't beat all those other sources of streaming music, so let's just stream it ourselves and keep convincing advertisers that our 10 share in Arbitron is still the same number of actual warm-blooded listeners today as it was in 1998.  And that those listeners are as involved in our station--and our station in their lives--as they were in 1968.  Tell them enough how great we are with those over-produced things between the songs and they will believe it.  Heaven forbid that we even try to be creative, other than having some poor production sap in Atlanta put together that 10-minute montage Nash 94.7 ran for the switch to country yesterday morning.  The switch that occurred at 9:47 AM.  See, we are being clever!  And bless him for splicing together all those country stars saying their names out loud.  You know, I bet any country singer alive, with the knowledge that an FM station in the nation's largest radio market was about to begin playing country music, would have popped into a studio somewhere and recorded a custom bit, welcoming Nash 94,7, giving a shout-out to Queens and Manhattan, the Nets, and the Yankees.  But somebody would have had to ask.  And collect all that digital audio.  Too much trouble.

But no.  A chance is missed.  You don't get a second chance at a first impression.  A chance to do something creative and compelling right there in the midst of Big Media, Madison Avenue, and 8.5 million souls who have not heard good radio in 20 years.

We don't get to meet--right out of the chute--the warm, human personalities who will introduce the Big Apple listeners to what's happening in country music.  That and otherwise brighten their days from now on, not only with the music they play just for them, but with the human interaction that made radio such a personal medium from its very start.  No, Cumulus did all that insider-radio "stunting," screamed incessantly about "formats," and ran the grandiose and overproduced transition "stager" that some poor guy in Atlanta had to produce (and you can bet will be played in its entirety on all of the other 86 Cumulus country stations around the nation as they transition cookie-cutter-like to the "Nash" branding).  They chose to insert those irritating recorded "drops" between every single song, telling us how special it is that NYC has a real, live country music radio station, even if those who preferred that brand of music had myriad places to find it even before Cumulus gifted them with Nash 94.7.

Oh, they will run commercial-free for the next little while, too, further reinforcing in the minds of listeners that commercials originate from Satan.  And when they do begin to run them, I'll bet you they have at least a quarter of every hour filled with those commercial announcements, assuring any listeners they may have attracted will go running back to all those other sources of streaming music that is still right there at their fingertips.

I will also bet that when actual human personalities do begin "interrupting" the music, except for the morning show (which will play only minimal music but will bust their guts to be topical, edgy, and funny), will be done by pleasant-voiced people who reside far, far from NYC--I'd guess Atlanta--who record those inserts and digitally zap them up to the robots in Manhattan the day before they are to air.  Will they know the Nets won a close one last night, that sewers are backed up in Times Square, or even that Travis Tritt is playing at a little club in SoHo?  Will Travis drop by and tell a few stories on the air while he's in town?  Can they break "format" and play just the perfect set of songs for a dark, gray, snowy day?

How ironic it is that the same day I heard the Nash 94.7 stream and the stunting-to-new-format mess on YouTube I also saw the cover of the new issue of ALABAMA HERITAGE magazine.  There is an article in this issue about the late radio personality Joe Rumore, a fixture in Birmingham radio in the '50s and into the early '70s.  Most nowadays would consider his shtick corny but he knew his audience.  And his audience knew him and loved him.  He got fan mail from all over the country.  One Christmas, he received 40,000 Christmas cards from his listeners.  He sold goods and services for his advertisers.  He was an integral part of so many peoples' lives, their friend, and they felt they knew him even if they never met him.  They forgave him if he played a song or two they didn't like.  Or if he talked about something that didn't interest them because whatever else he said or did would be entertaining and/or endearing.

Joe wasn't the only one.  There were so many others that I call "wizards of the wind."  They were the glue between the songs, the voices in the night that provided companionship and friendship to go along with the music.  (I wrote a novel about them:  WIZARD OF THE WIND.)  That warmth and interaction is, I believe, the only way over-the-air radio broadcasting can continue to be a factor, the only way the medium can hope to prosper in the wake of rapid technological change that is so rapidly rendering broadcasting obsolete.

The answer certainly is not format "stunting," long-distance voice-tracking, and streaming the very same songs people can get in so many other ways without all the dumb hype and cold delivery.

But there is some risk involved.  Personalities get sick, want to be paid, and can cross the street and take listeners with them.  Playing music that might not fit some consultant's definition of a "format" can cause listeners to wander.  Why take a chance?  Why not just do it the way Nash 94.7 is doing it?

Because the damn medium itself will be an after-thought in a New York minute if somebody doesn't step out of his comfort zone and try something creative and innovative.  And make the investment to deliver it to consumers in every way possible, not just from a transmitter on the mountain and a half-assed web site and off-air music stream.

I hope I'm wrong on this one.  But I don't think I am.  And that is a crying shame.