Filling the “White Spaces”

 I found the phrase “white spaces” interesting when it was announced yesterday that the FCC has allowed conditional unlicensed use of “white spacestelevision spectrum. In an attempt to avoid getting bogged down in tech speak. This is the radio spectrum that is now available as a result of TV’s switch to digital.

Once the FCC found that the issue of interference with existing radio signals could be overcome through technology that shuts down any device using the “white space” once it senses another signal, granting access was a slam dunk.

Companies like Google and Microsoft herald the decision as a way to allow widespread mobile adoption. On the other hand, broadcast companies (seeing yet another reason to claim “everybody is out to get us”) and the likes of Verizon (already hot to charge more for services) are less than thrilled.

As I have said previously, I personally am thrilled with anything that allows the growth and spread of mobile access if it leads us closer to parity with other countries (Luxembourg for God’s sake) in services offered wirelessly. I am also concerned as a radio fan. This magic sensing thing-a-ma-bob that prevents interference with existing frequencies sure better work. The last thing any “channel” needs is a return to the “party line” annoyance of too many on a channel. Ick!

“White spaces”  also triggered in me another use of that term. A use that I see benefitting many media channels. As of late yesterday the flood of political advertising stopped…I’ll pause as you jump up and down with joy and do a couple of Tiger Woods arm pumps…done? This sudden loss of “content” in itself reveals a whole lot of “white space”.

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Virtual Aircheck Is a Virtual Mystery

 At first blush, this may look like a post that is of interest only to radio people. In reality, though it caught my attention as a ‘radio guy’, it highlights lessons that can be learned by any business on the web.

Because of my love of radio, especially as it could be, and through my active participation with The Conclave, I’m always looking out for new resources that can lead to improving content and the talent that produces it. Hence my interest in checking out a new service called

For those not caught up in the broadcast vernacular the “aircheck” is simply a sample of on-air work like a DJ’s show or an on-air program of some kind. The practice of “airchecking” usually refers to a talent sitting down with their boss or talent coach and reviewing the recorded sample looking for ways to improve the content moving forward. I’m sorry to say, this is something that happens less and less frequently as Program Directors become responsible for an ever increasing list of duties they can no longer delegate…because those to delegate to are being “downsized”.

Anyway, offers a service for talent to upload their 7 minute aircheck to the site. It is then reviewed by “a panel of PD’s with over 70 years of combined experience.” and a complete report is then sent back to the talent with comments and coaching tips. This is all done for the low, low price of $24.95…and up. On the face of it, this is a very solid idea.

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NAB, You’re Suppose to Help Radio

(*Updated info follows this post.) Sometimes you have to say, “WTF?” when it comes to the National Association of Broadcasters.

Just as Pandora and all of web radio became optimistic about a passage of a bill that would lead to a manageable royalty and fee structure, the NAB stands up and throws a wrench in the whole thing on the premise that they are trying to protect radio. Maybe radio as it was not as it will be.

Here’s the skinny. As reported by many outlets yesterday including Kurt Hanson’s Radio and Internet Newsletter, the “Webcaster Settlement Act of 2008 (H.R. 7084)“ authorizes SoundExchange, on behalf of copyright owners and performers, to negotiate an alternative royalty agreement before the end of the year with any Internet radio service, for a term beginning in 2005 and extending for as long as 11 years.”

As recently as Friday afternoon, rumors had surfaced that the NAB was trying to block it. Prompting a call to action by Pandora founder Tim Westergren.

“After a yearlong negotiation, Pandora, artists and
record companies are finally optimistic about reaching an agreement on
royalties that would save Pandora and Internet radio. But just as we’ve
gotten close, large traditional broadcast radio companies have launched
a covert lobbying campaign to sabotage our progress.

I’ve never made a secret that I love broadcast radio, but it’s hard not to agree with statements like “This is a blatant attempt by large radio companies to suffocate
the webcasting industry that is just beginning to offer an alternative
to their monopoly of the airwaves.
“, In fact, Kurt Hanson’s blog post echos the dismay of many real radio people in his bog post. It is truly “astounding”.

It’s time to learn, every time radio or rather, those that say they represent it’s interests, seek to impede the growth of online outlets, they are stopping radio from benefiting from what it can do best! Provide content and drive an audience to it.

For the zillionth time; Radio is changing. Much of what radio has done well in the past can help it do well in the future on multiple platforms…platforms that are in their infancy. Stop trying to kill the baby in the crib while operating under some delusion that you are protecting the industry.

I have to make a phone all. Do you?

Central congressional switchboard-(202) 225 3121 or look up your state’s House Representative.

*Cooler heads have prevailed. According to CNet,
the NAB dropped their efforts to eliminate the bill after a Saturday
night meeting with Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) that addressed some of
the groups concerns.  When NAB’s efforts stopped, the bill was able to pass
unanimously through the House.

The NAB has
expressed that they will not oppose the bill when it moves to the
Senate. This due to Berman’s agreement to extend the NAB’s own negotiation window with SoundExhcange until Feb 15.

Congress is expected to adjourn on Monday, and the Webcaster Settlement
Act enables Internet radio stations to reach an agreement with the
music industry while Congress is out of session.

Pandora…Who Cares? You!

There has been a flurry of press about the online music service Pandora in the last few days. The buzz was generated by founder Tim Westergren  when he told the Washington Post that the company is “approaching a pull-the-plug kind of decision” because of royalty increases that will begin to take hold. In fact, $17 million of a projected $25 million in revenue for this year will go toward royalties.

Yes, I’m a Pandora fan, though not a heavy user, and I also have some strong feelings as they apply to royalties and fees, including my post on SoundExchange. What interests me most is perhaps summed up in a question posed by Harve Alan who blogs on the subject of radio: Maybe we should befriend Pandora?

Maybe? No ifs, ands, or buts about it, Harve is the master of understatement. While he is speaking to the terrestrial broadcast community, he is also speaking to every medium, service, company, or individual who showcases music. I’m talking from good ol’ radio to the local club owner to you the listener.

Of course there is a business model that is at work here. But, in Pandora we have a service that was created by a musician and music lover with wants to tailor a listening experience to an individuals taste while at the same time exposing them to new music by a group of artists who for years, never received any kind of “national” exposure, a service (along with the likes of Last.FM, Imeem, etc) that answers so many of the complaints listeners and artists have expressed for years and we have to wonder who should care?

Radio, you should care because, like it or not, the web is where people have gone to discover music and you will, eventually I hope, follow them. What happens to Pandora will happen to your online initiatives. There’s too much ad money being spent online for you to allow that to happen.

Music Industry, you should care. Yeah, the traditional business model is hosed and, though the ultimate answer has yet to be found, being a party to targeting those providing ears to hear your product and charging them out of business sure as hell isn’t the way to do it.

Artists, you should care. Not only will revenue go away, but so will fans because if they can’t hear you, how in the hell can they be a fan.

Club owners, you should care. Sure you can sling beers at people who happen to show up when a band is playing. But you can do much better serving those fans, and their friends, that come out in droves to see the act that they heard online or on air.

Listeners, you should care because choice is what you’ve always wanted and you deserve nothing less.

Even if we never listen to them…we all should befriend Pandora.

My, hasn’t the FCC been busy…

Wow, the FCC turned up in the news allot over the past 10 days. This could lead to displacing the latest news from Brangelina…nah! The impact will be felt across all media. Well, maybe not print…but they have enough to worry about.

Satellite Radio.
Big surprise, they approved the merger of XM and Sirius with very few stipulations attached. Much to the chagrin of the NAB, MPR, NPR, PRI, and many other letters of the alphabet except MEL. Mel Karmazin has successfully gotten his wish and, once he fights off the inevitable appeals, will oversee one unprofitable satellite radio service instead of two. So far the only way this business has made any money at all is from investors who keep hoping that the promises made to them that “it will be profitable” actually come true.

To be fair, this was inevitable. To deploy that many birds, maintain studios and staff, keep up with operating expenses, pay content fees and royalties, as well as create new content while patiently waiting for enough subscribers to make it all profitable is no simple task for one company, let alone two.

In it’s July 20th Notice of Proposed Rulemaking the FCC is looking to mandate filters “That filters or blocks images and text that constitute obscenity or pornography…” on free broadband. It’s a bit of a slippery slope, especially when you come across the infamous “as measured by contemporary community standards” line. This has to do with the new spectrum that the FCC is auctioning off known as the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) Spectrum. Does this start us down the road of censorship of internet content? Take note: this talks about filtering services that make internet content available to the public for free, not the removal of content from the internet. Like I said a slippery slope. Info here and here.

I remember distinctly the day Janet Jackson’s nipple became half-time entertainment because of that “wardrobe malfunction”. I’m still trying to figure out if the way I explained it to my kids was even close to effective. I also remember the half million dollar fine the FCC threw at CBS for airing it. Keep in mind a 30 second ad costs 2.7 million clams so really, the fine was chump change. No matter, it all got overturned on July 21. Look for more nipples coming soon to half-time shows near you. Now if we can get somebody to tell the N(nipple)FL to lighten up on the use of the words Super Bowl. C’mon guys, don’t make everyone in media say “the big game.” For the love of Pete…why would you want to limit someone from using your brand by name. Find something else for your lawyers to do. But I digress…

Radio. All of the above.

The Baby Picture That Changed Rock

You know the “album”, or CD cover…actually both, at least if you have any interest in rock music. It’s the baby floating towards a dollar bill. Ring a bell? It’s from Nirvana’s Nevermind release, the one that yielded Smells Like Teen Spirit.

According to a story by NPR that “baby” is one Spencer Elden, and he just turned 17…gulp! Yeah, it was 1991 when the “grunge” sound took the world by storm. Young Spencer who is just really getting used to the smell of teen spirit himself gets to lay claim to sharing his baby photos and his “junk” to more than just immediate family or a new girl friend who’s just meeting the folks. According to Spencer, “Quite a few people in the world have seen my penis, so that’s kinda cool. (ya gotta like this kid) He goes on to say,“I’m just a normal kid living it up and doing the best I can while I’m here.

While doing so, I hope that he has found his soundtrack like so many his age found in 1991. I’m not sure he’s “living it up” in the same musical climate. He himself says his friends spend time, “playing Rock Band on Xbox, like, that’s not a real band! That’s the difference between the ’90s and kids nowadays; kids in the ’90s would actually go out and make a [real] band!”

I was programming rock radio in ‘91 and I can still remember the first time I heard the music and I’ll admit it, after years of Zeppelin, Bad Company and plenty of 80’s hair, I didn’t ‘get it’ out of the box. But the younger audience sure as hell got it! They ate it up! And frankly, it’s the last time I recall when there was a real game changing sound on the radio. For a few years grunge proliferated and dominated rock stations. You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting another group or artist wearing a flannel shirt and singing about their angst.

Beyond making me feel just a little bit old…Holy crap! No kidding that was 17 years ago?…Spencer’s birthday makes me wonder, why there hasn’t been such a sea change in music since then? Events like the British invasion, the summer of love, disco, hair bands all stand out. What since grunge has impacted music like that? Hip-hop? Not really, that was more a product of the 80’s. Thrash metal? Nope. Ska? Nah.

Perhaps the music is out there and it just hasn’t migrated from the many different sources from which music is now available. Maybe it’s the challenge of playing the hits in a “long tail” world. Maybe it’s traditional radio’s obsessions with catering to everyone over the age of 35. But it sure would be great to see a “sound” much less an album make a mark like that. Hopefully Spencer and his friends will take a break from Rock Band and get started on it.

Public Radio Goes to Camp

A unique collaboration to benefit public radio, MPR and maybe all of media for that matter took place at the studios of the Minnesota Public Radio on Saturday July 12th.

The PublicRadioCamp was organized by Dan Grigsby and those behind Minnebar and Minnedemo here in the Twin Cities along with MPR. The “camp” was positioned as “a new community event” and the purpose was to examine “the tons of really interesting content, data, audio, meta-data and feeds.” and to spend the time “collaboratively remixing and mashing up these goodies.”

The designers, bloggers, journalists, internet types, and plenty of MPR representatives (about one for every non-MPR attendee), assembled in the deluxe UBS Forum. The space had been lined with work areas complete with large whiteboards indicating there wouldn’t be much observing and plenty of brainstorming. Within minutes the group divided into what resulted in four groups; Data Access, User Generated Content, News Visualization, and Nuevo Radio. My time was spent in the Nuevo Radio group, a name I gave it as a spicier take on radio. Besides nouveau seems so snooty. The results of it and the other collaborations are briefly reviewed below.

Data Access API-One glance at this group and you knew the developers were hard at work with plenty of tech talk and activity. As described on the Public Radio Camp wiki this group felt it would be really useful for users, developers, media and MPR itself if there were one universally accessible source (API) for searching all MPR content by location, time, keyword and article. It appears they are already hard at work to bring this to fruition.

User-generated Content-This group addressed helping people build news stories and their content, possibly to be used by MPR through the use of a how-to guide that could be posted online. They looked carefully at the process of developing a story and where collaboration could occur. They indentified ways the public could address everything from interviewing to writing, editing and producing. The real potential for such an idea is following up those stories that have a shorter on-air shelf life.

Nuevo Radio-The group sought ways to keep relevant to its listeners. User-generation was a focal point as well. Where the group described above focused on an online play, this group built on the idea of a “civic journalism center” or even coffee shop concept. A location where people that are inclined to be more participatory could gather as well as have access to the necessary tools and resources to build content. The idea of merging this plan with public libraries was also discussed. Other ideas included shuffling the on-air programming schedule on a regular basis to showcase the offering available online to be heard at the listener’s convenience and using HD channels to provide raw interviews and video to accompany on-air content.


(Photo Courtesy of Bob Collins)

News Visualization-This group looked to give visual life to the content of news stories produced and heard. Similar to a category cloud familiar to many who read or produce blogs regularly, the result of running an RSS feed through Wordle was “art” that would highlight the topics and words that dominated within the stories. (Example at left.) Of course this would change throughout the day. As noted by MPR’s Bob Collins, someone commented that this is a new version of the “weather ball.”

Clearly the afternoon will bear fruit for MPR as they continue to enlist the talents of this, as MPR’s Julia Schrenkler noted, “enthusiastic” group. Hopefully it will lead to not only allowing those in this group to derive satisfaction and perhaps compensation for these ideas but that radio broadcasters beyond MPR will act on what is being learned and attempted.

MPR has discovered the power of enlisting “the crowd” to build it’s product. Merging old and new media, technology, and people is a noble effort and has every chance of elevating the quality of journalism as well as the expectations of radio consumers.

The Point Is…Concerns of a Music Loving Radio Fan

 One of the most highly anticipated sessions at the Conclave Learning Conference this past week was the Friday Royalties and Performance Fees for terrestrial radio discussion. This one had all the signs of being highly combustible, and for the most part it did produce some great sound bites.

A quick bit of history. One of our players, incorporated in 2003, Sound Exchange is designated by the U.S. Copyright Office to collect and distribute digital performance royalties for featured recording artists and sound recording copyright owners (usually a record label) when their sound recordings are performed on digital cable and satellite television music, internet and satellite radio. SoundExchange currently represents over 3,500 record labels and over 31,000 featured artists and whose members include both signed and unsigned recording artists; small, medium and large independent record companies; and major label groups and artist-owned labels.

The other of our players is the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). The National Association of Broadcasters is a trade association that advocates on behalf of more than 8,300 free, local radio and television stations and also broadcast networks before Congress, the Federal Communications Commission and the Courts

The current debate and the reason for the session at the Conclave Learning Conference centers on pending legislation that would require terrestrial radio broadcasters pay a performance fee. This performance fee is designed to pay performers of the music on a per play basis and is already paid by online, satellite and cable stations. In short, this is a new fee, or “tax” as the NAB’s David Rehr likes to say, to broadcasters. (Radio, like digital media, currently pays royalties to writers via BMI, ASCAP and SESAC.) Broadcasters and the NAB feel that due to the promotional nature of the medium, they should be exempt from the fee. Sound Exchange disagrees and, that like other entities including online and satellite, radio should pony up. Those are the facts in a very small nutshell. (More can be found here and here.)

The session produced some brief volleys between the two sides inspiring
quotes like David Rehr’s “I’d rather cut my own throat than negotiate”
for a performance royalty. In actuality, there was very little actual
discussion or debate between the opposing sides. Both sides, with a few
exceptions chose to make statements to the audience instead.

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It’s Time For Radio to Get Social…Again.

The time I spent at the Conclave Learning Conference this past week was filled with many highlights. The most obvious was the fact that radio needs to get social. By “get” I mean broadcast has to understand the social media space and it needs to become active in it. And I contend “being” social is nothing new to radio.

First and foremost, it became quite apparent to me during a few sessions that the talk of social media applications and marketing tools (Twitter, blogging, streaming, podcasting) was foreign to many in attendance. Congratulations to those that made the trip to Minneapolis and the Learning Conference. It is no longer foreign to you. To my radio brethren that haven’t made the commitment to learn I say, “I know you’re busy, but you need to find time to understand and be part of social media.” Not being hip to this will kick you in the butt.

Second, I want to encourage radio as a whole to remember that you are part of what could be the original social medium. Remember when we reached out to the community? Remember when we asked for callers to give us input and requests? Remember when we asked listeners to join us at “remotes”…back when we made them events. Yes, we were doing “social” long before Facebook. Then we got safe. Then we started to be so inwardly focused the social aspect of radio became something we just did and not something we were involved in.

Here’s a quick side note and a way to get social instantly. Don’t ask for a request unless you intend to play it within minutes of receiving it. Be honest 95% of radio stations don’t really play requests.  If you are part of that majority, don’t lead your listeners to think you will play one. Figure out some other way to get the phone to ring. Your audience will appreciate your honesty.

Finally, what I want to emphasize more than anything to everyone in all forms of social media is this; don’t over emphasize the “media” in the term social media. Media is just the conduit to get the act of being social to your audience. Being social requires involvement. It’s about building a relationship. If you don’t get that you must really be involved with your audience or customer or you don’t want to take the time to do it, the medium by which you reach them is of no consequence.

I dig the crap out of everything from Twitter to Friendfeed to Facebook to Ning but they are really only as good as the message and my level of involvement.

More from the Conclave Learning Conference tomorrow…

At the Crossroads with the Conclave

I’ll be spending the next 4 days at the Conclave Learning Conference in downtown Minneapolis. This 33rdConclave08atthecrossr_medium2

annual event has nothing to do with electing the Pope and everything to do with educating broadcasters.

The agenda committee has adopted a “track” agenda focusing on Promotion, Management & Programming, Formatics, Life Skills and Tech. I’m looking forward to many sessions including those in Tech from Jerry Del Colliano, Richard Rene, and Lee Abrams. These folks are among those broadcasters who are greeting the opportunities to connect with audience that new and social media offers.   

I’m also really interested to hear from the NAB’s David Rehr about what the radio lobby is doing these days…clearly, it hasn’t been convincing Steve Jobs to include a radio receiver on the iPod. The session addressing performance royalties and licensing fees pitting both sides against…um…I mean…featuring representatives from the radio industry, Sound Exchange and NARAS is also on my list. The debate should produce some interesting comments, if not a high body count.

See the agenda here and look for my comments on Twitter over the weekend and, of course, a post or two next week.

Of course, the weekend won’t be complete without me and my radio buds getting together and to eat an entire cow at Lindey’s in Arden Hills. Mooo!

Now You Know…ACT!

A great post from Mark Ramsey today at Hear2.0. Mark is brilliant and has always lead the way in giving a collective smack on the backside of the broadcast industry to stay on top of changing communication. In fact, to be honest, I sometime worry about how much he smacks them. The fact is though…he’s right. Be sure and listen to his presentation here.

Now that you’ve listened, act! Broadcast, The New Radio is out there waiting, but you can’t get there on the cheap and you can’t do it by making your “stick” a second thought. There needs to be understanding, a strategy, resources, real people to make it all work, and above all, a relationship with your clients…both listeners/users and clients.

On-air to On-line

I caught the live meeting online from Arbitron and Edison Media Research. The title; The Infinite Dial 2008: Radio’s Digital Future.  The topic: AM/FM, Online, Satellite, HD Radio, Podcasting, and a splash of social media.

Tom Webster, the presenter, is someone I count as a friend and I always look forward to whatever he has to say. At the appointed hour, after the attendee count climbed past 1000, he did not disappoint…me anyway. Others in radio…not so much. You can see and hear the presentation for yourself here. A few of my takeaways…

  1. Broadband access is proliferating. 8 in 10 Americans have access to the net with 76% of them having broadband service. So how about we ditch the mp3 and use a larger file (WAV) for audio. We have the bandwidth now.
  2. As far as the age breakout of online listeners, it’s fairly well distributed and surprisingly, the 35-44 year olds make up 27% of the audience. Take that you whacky millennials.
  3. Satellite Radio, which shows similar demographics as online radio, has leveled off in growth. Something you might expect in light of the XM-Sirius merger and the consumer uncertainty that goes with it. In addition, with no big talent “gets” or development of some other press worthy announcements, the word of mouth is not helping in the marketing efforts for either service. There are only so many Howard Sterns out there.

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