Friday, March 31, 2006

Monica Crowley goes national

Monica Crowley, long-time weekend host on WABC, goes syndicated on Westwood One this weekend. The show will be live from Noon to 3 PM Eastern time (remember that this weekend is the start of Daylight Savings Time). The program starts out with about 80 affiliates.

Monica's claim to fame was spending time with Richard Nixon during his final years, and writing two books about Nixon's life. Since 1996, she was with Fox News Channel, and she moved to MSNBC in 2004.

Weekends on Talk Radio have traditionally been about Gardening, Home Repairs, Cars, Investing and most of all - paid programming for miracle health cures.

This program will sort out if there is any market for syndicated political talk on weekends. The other similar program is The Weekend with Mike McConnell, a local host in Cincinnati on WLW during the week.

One of the problems with weekend syndication is that many Talk stations have contracts to broadcast sports. Getting listener loyalty will be difficult if the program is frequently preempted by sports.

Good luck Monica!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Death of College Radio

Sure, there are some exceptions - but while updating the streaming radio directory, it is obvious that most high schools, colleges and universities that hold low power educational FM licenses are letting them go dark - at least the schools are removing any reference to them from their official web sites. Some others are being handed over to their local public radio network to run with syndicated NPR programming.

Some of this may be the result of pressure from other interests (mostly religious broadcasters) who want frequencies to build out their networks. Congress changed the law in the 1990s (Section 73.561) to require an educational station to broadcast 5 hours a day, 6 days a week and at least 36 hours a week in order to retain their license, if challenged. A station that broadcasts less than 12 hours a day may be compelled to "time share" the frequency with another station when not on the air.

Is this change what is pushing colleges out of the radio marketplace? Or is it a general lack of interest and or the lack of future employment prospects in radio?

If Jack FM's (tm) computer plays what it wants 24 hours a day, why would any human want to learn how to operate a radio station? Why work for the college station when you can run your own Shoutcast station with no rules?

Or is there something else going on here?

Over the Air HD is here

Over the Air HD radio has arrived (well almost). Clear Channel is clearly the company leading the movement to bring Over the Air radio into the Digital Age, starting its HD rollout in most major markets.

Just as TV is entering the digital age, radio is now on the edge of the digital age for many of the same reasons:
  • CD quality sound without needing new frequencies or additional bandwidth
  • Better reception with lower power requirements
  • Possibility of programming multiple channels with a single frequency allocation
  • Competition from unlicensed sources (satellite, internet radio)

Back in the 1980s, the radio industry tried to "Save" AM radio by rolling out AM Stereo, but most of the early adopter stations were Talk or News Stations for which Stereo offered no tangible benefit, other than perhaps better reception to the few people that had AM stereo receivers.

Will HD radio (AM and FM) be the magic pill that saves over the air radio, or is it too little too late? What will it take to achieve critical mass? Was the decision to not allocate new digital spectrum but rather to create a US-only standard to allow analog to digital migration over time just a political decision to not make a decision?

The US has a long history of not mandating costly change for technological benefit or global compatibility (ISDN for telephones comes to mind, Digital TV, GSM vs CDMA cellphones, NTSC vs PAL TV) in favor of a demand driven marketplace deciding what changes are important to American consumers.

Is that the right course for the FCC or is "let the marketplace decide" going to leave the US lagging behind the global economy?

Podcasting and local radio

About two weeks ago, WBAL in Baltimore announced it is dropping Rush Limbaugh and replacing his show with local programming. Read about it here.

One of the reasons for Rush's original growth was he was an early adopter of Compuserv (pre-internet) and used it to access Lexis Nexis to do research to locate historical media accounts related to current events. Skillfully using an information service enabled him to leapfrog over the other talkers who merely talked about today's stories in the local newspaper.

Now Rush is distributing his programming with Podcasting and generating his own revenue from paid streaming - bypassing the local radio stations.

Some related questions:

  • Is this WBAL decision a reaction to overt competition from Rush undermining their own "over the air" revenue streams?
  • Is Rush leading the next wave of radio by bypassing the local affiliates entirely?
  • Is the future of radio going to revert to more local programming?
  • Can local programming generate enough revenue to support itself or is "over the air" radio on life support?
  • Didn't we hear the same questions 20 years ago?

So many questions, so little time. Now it is your turn to provide some opinions.

Welcome to the Future of Radio

The purpose of this blog is to provoke discussion about the future of radio. Radio is undergoing significant challenges
  • Deregulation and the industry consolidation
  • The birth of Satellite Radio
  • The coming Analog to Digital conversion
  • Competition from Internet Streaming and Podcasting
  • Personal Media players and internet dissemination of music

The author of this blog is not an "industry insider" - just a lifelong consumer of radio who is interested about the future of radio and how the changes will affect American society.

It is not our intention to "preach from the soapbox", but rather to create a venue for discussion among those interested in radio, either from the industry or consumer perspective.

Comments are enabled. Please keep things civil.