12 September 2006
We'll keep you advised, kinda sorta

Frosty Troy (The Oklahoma Observer, 10 September) quotes an unnamed "former TV reporter":

To run a bulletin or even a crawl on a grass fire is sufficient. Instead, I stood out for three hours doing cut-ins for non-stop live coverage. God knows what the helicopter cost.

Frosty's been harping on this for at least twenty years; I sent him a particularly heinous example of non-news from Los Angeles back in 1988. Things have not improved a great deal.

And another thing:

KOSU-FM [at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater] and OKC's KTOK are the only radio stations with full-time Capitol correspondents.

That's scary, if nobody in Tulsa, where there's more serious news/talk competition than there is in Oklahoma City, bothers to position a reporter at the Capitol.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:14 AM)
No Times left for you

The New York Times Company will sell its nine television stations and refocus on its print and Internet properties.

The official company statement:

"These are well-managed and profitable stations that generate substantial cash flows and are located in attractive markets," Janet L. Robinson, the company’s president and chief executive, said in a statement.

But, she added, "We believe a divestiture would allow us to sharpen our focus on developing our newspaper and rapidly growing digital businesses, and the synergies between them, thereby increasing the value of our company for our shareholders."

And they've been expressing concerns to investors:

Our network-affiliated broadcast stations face significant competition. Several developments could cause further fragmentation of the television viewing audience and therefore increase competition, including:
  • system upgrades and technological advances resulting in increased channel capacities on cable and direct broadcast satellite systems,
  • the entry of telephone companies into the video distribution market,
  • the emergence of new portable video distribution platforms, and
  • the availability of network programming on the Internet and through video-on-demand services.

This fragmentation may adversely affect our television stations' ability to sell advertising.

Even allowing for the fact that all such statements to investors are primarily intended as CYA devices, it's no particular secret that NYT Class A stock has been tanking for almost a year, and the divestiture would put some cash in the company coffers while investors are staying away.

NYT operates television stations in eight mostly middle-sized markets, all of them solo operations except in Oklahoma City, where the company owns KFOR-TV (an affiliate of NBC) and KAUT (an affiliate of MyNetworkTV). There is no indication so far as to whether the stations will be dealt as a group or sold off to individual buyers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:07 PM)
14 September 2006
Or you can just call them "alternative"

Stories are circulating that leftish radio network Air America Radio is flirting (in a nonsexist manner, of course) with bankruptcy; if they do in fact go under, their affiliates might find themselves scrambling for new programming.

The following formats might draw comparable, or even higher, audience numbers:

  1. All Def Leppard, All The Time
  2. The British Invasion: Songs of the War of 1812
  3. American Idol Rejects
  4. Emergency Alert System tests
  5. Disco Karachi (live from Pakistan)
  6. The Expurgated Howard Stern *
  7. Radio NASCAR
  8. Pat Buchanan's All-American Radio Xenophobe
  9. The Golf Channel
  10. Paul Harvey saying "Good day!" every twenty seconds

* At an estimated fourteen minutes per day, this alone would not be sufficient to fill a daily schedule.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
15 September 2006
Balancing local and yokel

News Item:

The Federal Communications Commission ordered its staff to destroy all copies of a draft study that suggested greater concentration of media ownership would hurt local TV news coverage, a former lawyer at the agency says.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is "dismayed":

In a letter sent to [FCC Chairman Kevin] Martin Wednesday, Boxer said she was "dismayed that this report, which was done at taxpayer expense more than two years ago, and which concluded that localism is beneficial to the public, was shoved in a drawer."

Martin said he was not aware of the existence of the report, nor was his staff. His office indicated it had not received Boxer's letter as of midafternoon Thursday.

I can appreciate Boxer's dismay: whatever the alleged benefits of media consolidation, they are, I think, outweighed by the inevitably higher level of media homogenization that results.

The report claims that locally-owned stations put on more news:

The analysis showed local ownership of television stations adds almost five and one-half minutes of total news to broadcasts and more than three minutes of "on-location" news. The conclusion is at odds with FCC arguments made when it voted in 2003 to increase the number of television stations a company could own in a single market. It was part of a broader decision liberalizing ownership rules.

Of the major-network affiliates in Oklahoma City, only one can be construed as "local": KWTV, the CBS outlet, owned by Griffin Communications LLC, whose holdings include two other stations, both in Tulsa. I avoid watching TV news as a general rule — bad for my dyspepsia — but if there's any indication that News 9 (or Tulsa's The News on 6) actually put on more news than their competitors, I'd like to hear about it. (And if there isn't, I'd like to hear about that too.)

(Disclosure: Yours truly was once interviewed by News 9. Good thing it wasn't twice.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:08 PM)
16 September 2006
Jacking points

Now that I think about it, it's a perfectly legitimate question:

"Can they put Jack FM on AM?"

Apparently, they did, for a while anyway. Lou Pickney's VarietyHits.com, which tracks Jack and Bob and Sam and all those other characters, reports:

On August 1, 2004, Michael Radio Group's 870 KJMP (yes, an AM station) began simulcasting [KJAC Denver]. This was a surprising move, since KJMP was a 1,200 watt daytime/300 watt nighttime station in Ft. Collins which didn't cover any territory that KJAC didn't reach.

The Northeast Broadcasting Company acquired KJMP on February 15, 2006. On July 17, 2006, KJMP dropped its simulcast of Jack and become a simulcast of Oldies 104.9 KRRR in Cheyenne (also owned by Northeast.) Besides the notion of Jack FM on the AM dial being strange, KJMP fell entirely within the broadcast radius of KJAC, rendering it pointless except to those with AM-only radios.

I mention in passing that KJAC was the first Jack FM station in the US, following a successful launch in Canada.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:48 AM)
15 October 2006
Mourning Sedition

The crack young staff of The Hatemonger's Quarterly have thought about the Air America Radio bankruptcy filing, and have decided that it's the government's fault:

Well, allow us to be more specific: We believe that the publicly-funded festival of upper-middle class leftism known as National Public Radio (a.k.a. National Palestinian Radio) had more than a little to do with the Air America belly flop. So, if our rabid left-wing pals, irate over Air America's manifest failure, want to point the finger of blame at anyone, perhaps they should tilt it in the direction of Uncle Sam. Or, at least, Garrison Keillor.

If you ask us, it's a very simple matter. "Progressive" radio will inevitably have a tough time winning fans thanks to the popularity of NPR in left-liberal circles. Apparently, there are only so many tote bags you can own, only so many soporific radio personalities you can stomach.

There are a couple of obviously-pickable nits here:

Still, the Hatemongers' point seems valid: there is only so much audience for any given radio format. NPR is the 800-pound gorilla in the left-of-political-center marketplace; farther to the left, there are a handful of community stations and the Pacifica network, and that's about it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:47 AM)
22 October 2006
Just try and find us now

Tomorrow, WWLS-FM, the FM side of the Sports Animal, will move to 97.9, displacing KKWD, the erstwhile Wild 97.9, which will set up shop at the vacated 104.9 spot.

Precisely why this is being done is unclear to me: both of these are 6-kw facilities with essentially identical coverage areas. KKWD is promoting the arrival of HD Radio at the new frequency, which is all very well and good, since according to Ibiquity, the 104.9 spot is already set up for HD. But this invites the question: why couldn't Citadel add HD Radio at 97.9?

The answer, I'm guessing, has to do with adjacent-channel interference. Apparently the digital component of an HD Radio signal, while fitting within the assigned spectrum space, can leak over a channel (or two) in lower-quality receivers, which is most of them.

But I have other reservations about this entire digital-ish radio scheme. Robert Conrad heads up WCLV in Cleveland (coincidentally, at 104.9), and he's not thrilled with it at all:

The initial appeal to the consumer was to be improved quality of sound. But, frankly, the difference between a high quality analog signal, such as WCLV's classical music programming, and the HD signal is minimal. And with highly processed rock programming, you can't tell any difference.

So what will be the appeal of HD? The answer is the additional programming channels on the HD2 and HD3 channels. However, there is a serious flaw. We were told back in the beginning that the HD coverage would be equal to the analog signal. Unfortunately, the industry is now finding out this is not the case, that the HD coverage is considerably less, something like 60% of the analog coverage. We've also found that even in a strong HD signal area, a dipole antenna is required.

We were also told that the HD would lessen interference with adjacent channel signals. That also appears not to be the case.

This is really very discouraging and is leading us to wonder why we should bother to promote HD. To do so will only disappoint, and, perhaps, antagonize a significant segment of the audience who finds that the system doesn't deliver.

No Oklahoma City station is using the HD2/HD3 channels for alternate programming, so far as I know. (Clear Channel's Tulsa FMs are.)

And if you thought HD in radio meant the same thing as HD in television, think again:

"Quite honestly, it doesn't stand for anything," said Peter Ferrera, president and CEO of the HD Digital Radio Alliance. "The concept was somewhat of a steal from HD television, where viewers know it means better quality."

I will, of course, keep one preset for the Sports Animal: on AM, at 640.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:12 PM)
28 October 2006
Widescream

I don't watch too much TV — practically none this time of year, what with the deluge of noxious political spots — so I probably won't be an early HDTV adopter.

And if I were going to be, Matt Deatherage would have talked me out of it:

I've had HDTV capabilities for two years now, and I don't advise anyone here to make the investment in it yet.

Why? Because the local stations and providers screw it up all the time (and yes, Mike, I almost literally mean that).

All five major networks broadcast in HDTV in Oklahoma City, but honest to God, they just don't take it very seriously, and there are strong indications that the management of most of these stations just doesn't give a damn. Cox OKC's digital cable refuses to carry either the Fox or ABC local HD affiliates (KOKH-DT for Fox, KOCO-DT for ABC) because the station owners (Sinclair Broadcasting and Hearst/Argyle of Ohio/Oklahoma, respectively) demand extra payments to carry their digital stations and Cox refuses to pay it. DirecTV will start carrying them in MPEG-4 by the end of the year (so you can only get them with DirecTV's own HD receivers and recorders, not the TiVo one), but like all HD over satellite, it will be far, far more compressed than the picture over the air — and will cost you more money.

Cox dropped KOCO-DT on October 1 after the previous contract expired, which meant Cox customers did not get the OU-Texas game in HD unless they had an over-the-air (OTA) antenna. The very next day, on Sunday, KOCO decided it needed to do "some work" on its digital transmitter — so it went dark for two days. It is unimaginable that a commercial network TV affiliate would take its signal off the air for two days, but that's just what they did for the digital signal — if you didn't have analog OTA capabilities (and I don't), ABC was just gone for two days.

Not one of the OKC stations has spent the money on the technology necessary to superimpose graphics over an HD signal, nor can they even record or rebroadcast HD signals. If they don't pass along the network HD feed as it's being broadcast nationally, it won't be in HD here. KFOR-DT can't show Jeopardy in HD, just as KOCO-DT can't show Wheel of Fortune in HD, even though both shows are broadcast that way as of this season.

And it goes on and on. Color me unsold on the concept for now.

(A plug here for HDTV in Oklahoma, which covers issues of this sort, and to which Mr Deatherage is a contributor.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 PM)
6 November 2006
Off Point

Former Sinclair Broadcast Group vice-president Mark Hyman, who has been delivering daily commentaries on Sinclair stations' news broadcasts, is giving up his slot at the end of the month, saying that he's "exhausted" and wants "to focus more on family activities."

Hyman's "The Point" was a regular feature of Sinclair's NewsCentral offerings, and was regularly applauded and/or excoriated for its distinct right-wing flavor. (Modest excoriation here.)

Sinclair CEO David Smith said that "The Point" has "invoked thoughtful discussions on many topics and across all demographics."

My own take, from January 2004:

Hyman leans decidedly right, which doesn't bother me; however, he has that patented Fox News snarkier-than-thou smirk, which does. (Note to television executives: If you're gonna rip off the Fox News Channel, rip off its most appealing feature: news babes in outfits that seem scantier than they really are.) I'm not sure how well this will play in markets less conservative than Oklahoma City, which is, well, almost all of them.

"The Point" airs locally on KOKH, a Fox affiliate.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:00 AM)
23 November 2006
What about Bob?

In the last couple of weeks, KQOB, aka Bob FM, has revamped its morning show and gone to Christmas music 24/7. The Rumor Mill™ seized upon this as an indication that there's a format change coming around the first of the year.

I'll throw a few cups of kerosene on the fire:

  • After a steady 3.5-to-5 share for some time, Bob dropped to a 2.9 in the summer ratings book.
  • The Bob format, as played here, sort of splits the difference between classic rock and Jack FM, and this is a particularly strong classic-rock market — just ask the guys at KRXO, who have run this format for nineteen years.
  • Bob is the odd duck in the local Citadel Broadcasting portfolio, since they don't actually own it: they program it under an agreement with the real owner, Chisholm Trail Broadcasting of Enid.
  • Bob is licensed to Enid/Oklahoma City; its tower is located near Crescent, and its signal vanishes quickly south of Oklahoma City, creating openings for Jack FM (KOJK Blanchard) and Kool 105.5 (KWCO Chickasha), both of which vend some variation on the Variety Hits theme.

According to Lou Pickney, who keeps track of these matters, the Next Big Thing is "Movin", a sort of Rhythmic Adult Contemporary format that targets women 25-44. The rationale makes sense:

The Movin™ target is that segment of 28-40 year-old women who feel too old for hip-hop, but are bored with rock-based Hot AC and not ready for traditional AC.

I can certainly understand someone being bored with rock-based Hot AC, like Citadel's KYIS (KISS) FM.

What is Bob to do? The reflexive action is to go see what's happening in a hipper town, which some of us may define as "a place where the top two radio stations aren't both country," and rip them off follow their example. The nearest generally-acknowledged hotbed of hipness is Austin, Texas, and — whoops: the top two radio stations are both country and, what's more, both owned by Clear Channel. (If you were wondering why CC doesn't flip either KXY or the Twister, now you know.)

There are three possible options I could sort of endorse, none of which I expect to take place:

  1. Bring back smooth jazz. (It's failed here once.)
  2. Switch to Triple A. (Of the three, this is the one I prefer, but the least likely.)
  3. Move the regional-Mexican "La Indomable" to Bob's slot, rename it WKY-FM to match the AM, and bring back the Spy on 105.3.

(Disclosure: Arbitron, the firm which produces the standard industry ratings, has been pestering me for two weeks to start keeping a diary as part of their local survey. I have declined.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:05 PM)
1 December 2006
Is this the future of radio?

With everybody defecting to satellite or shuffling their iPods, allegedly there's no audience left for good old FM, let alone even-older AM.

But wait:

I've been told, more than once, that the way around the copyright hassles involved with podcasts (basically, you can't play music from the big record companies — namely, most music you know — without [jumping through legal hoops] that are very much not in the lightweight-labor ad-hocky nature of what podcasters do) is to get a real (FCC licensed) radio station to play your podcast. Because they're allowed to play that music and you're not.

So, if you can get a friendly station to run your 'cast at 3am on a Sunday or whatever, you're set.

True?

San Francisco-based KYOU ("Open Source Radio") says that's exactly what they do:

If you’ve got a podcast that contains copyrighted music and a radio station decides to play it, it can be rebroadcast and, providing all DMCA rules are adhered to, it can be streamed as well. Since stations that play music pay all licensing fees (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC & SoundExchange) those fees will cover the music in the podcast.

This does not necessarily have anything to do with the fact that I finally got around to replacing my 31-year-old microphone last week.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 AM)
26 December 2006
The Top 250 in Hell

Radio is ruled these days by research, and research indicates that this batch of craptacular tune-like objects scored highest among microcephalics surveyed listeners this past year.

In other words, if you own a station and you have one of these formats, you are expected to set those specific tracks at the very heart of your rotation, because the hope of hearing them is what keeps the audience from pushing the Scan button during your string of twelve consecutive spots at 44 minutes after the hour.

Aside to Apple: This list, all by itself, should sell a few thousand iPods to an audience increasingly gruntled by these discs.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:21 PM)
8 January 2007
4 warned

The New York Times is on its way out of the television business, having dealt its Broadcast Media Group to Oak Hill Capital Partners, a diversified investment firm with lots of holdings, none of them in broadcast. The Times retains its two New York radio stations, WQXR (classical) and WQEW (Radio Disney under a local marketing agreement).

So what happens to KFOR and KAUT, the two Oklahoma City stations that were sold? Nothing, at least at first. Oak Hill has given no indication that it plans to sell off any of the stations they're buying.

Oak Hill was founded by Fort Worth billionaire Robert Bass; among the partners are Phil Knight of Nike and Microsoft's Bill Gates.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:18 AM)
28 January 2007
"Negroes in the News"

That's the title of a radio program developed by Abram Ross in 1948, and it's mentioned in a retrospective of black radio in Oklahoma in this morning's Oklahoman, compiled by Oklahoma Historical Society columnist Max Nichols. One of the more disheartening aspects of it all was the fact that there was this tremendous music scene in Deep Deuce in the 1920s and 1930s that wasn't even slightly reflected by Oklahoma City radio. (Current OKC bands will sigh and go "So what else is new?)

In the late 1940s, things started to change, albeit slowly. Black churches got their services on the air; station KBYE, founded in 1946, began adding programs aimed at the African-American audience. The legendary Ben Tipton, later a fixture at KOCO-TV and eventually an Oklahoma City Councilman — just in case you thought Mick Cornett did it first — was arguably the first black radio star in these parts. (Tipton's last radio gig, if I remember correctly, was at the much-missed KAEZ, a black-owned station that broadcast from on top of a hill at 23rd and Coltrane.) KBYE, which later added an FM service, sustained its audience into the 1970s, the AM side concentrating on gospel, the FM on popular soul music. The go-to guy in "urban" radio these days, of course, is Russell M. Perry, publisher of the Black Chronicle, who started with one AM daytimer and now owns fourteen stations, including KRMP/KVSP in Oklahoma City.

All this is to herald an Historical Society production, scheduled for the 10th of February, titled "History of African Americans in Oklahoma Radio Broadcasting."

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:19 AM)
2 March 2007
Get to the point

It was Billy Joel, I think, who addressed the issue most directly:

It was a beautiful song but it ran too long
If you're gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit
So they cut it down to 3:05.

But that was 1974; in this era of InstaEverything, even 3:05 is an eternity. I once put together a compilation CD with no songs over two minutes, which if nothing else makes for rather more variety: 42 tracks in just under 80 minutes. Radio wouldn't dare do this.

Well, actually, they would. Enter Radio SASS (Short Attention Span System), which unapologetically edits your standard classic-rock tracks down to the essential stuff. Purists, of course, will be horrified. Stations, they say, should be delighted:

Records that were 2:00 — 3:00 minutes long have been replaced by repetitive epics. It's not unusual for today's recordings to regularly cross the four or five minute mark. The immediacy of radio has ground to a musical dawdle. While TV, newspapers, movies and other media have sped up, radio has fallen out of pace with today's rapid lifestyle. Button pushing listeners and competition from new media is fierce. TSL is down.

A return to shorter songs is essential. Will listeners object? The answer is no. Several focus groups conducted by Harker Research show that most people don't even notice. When a song begins, the average radio listeners pays attention to the beginning then makes a snap judgment. Do I know this? Do I like it? Then it's punch or play. They seldom reflect on the song as it ends. Most people use radio as wallpaper, a background to their daily activity.

I sampled some SASS, and I think I'd notice that they'd boiled down Manfred Mann's take on Springsteen's "Blinded by the Light," which runs around 7:05 in its LP incarnation and 3:48 as a single, to a startling 1:45 — but it would take probably half a minute for it to sink in, and by then they're a third of the way through the next song.

So I'm inclined to think this would work better than you'd think. Try to imagine Iron Butterfly's infamous psychotrope "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida" in two minutes flat. I did.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:06 AM)
7 March 2007
Beethoven rolls over the dial

There was media rumble at the end of February about country music returning to the Los Angeles FM radio dial after a six-month absence, and it didn't occur to me to ask what it had replaced.

Now I know:

[T]he Los Angeles commercial classical music station KMZT-FM (105.1) — "K-Mozart" — switched its format to country music, bringing the latter genre back to FM radio in the Los Angeles-Orange County market.

The Los Angeles Times reports that KMZT (formerly 105.1 FM) has swapped names and formats with sister station KKGO (formerly 1260 AM) — billed as "Go Country."

The paper quotes owner Saul Levine, president of their parent company, Mt. Wilson FM Broadcasters, as saying, "After 18 years of programming classical music, which I love, it's been an agonizing thing, something we haven't done on the spur of the moment. I really hope the classical music audience will be understanding. I sympathize with those who will be upset."

Two college stations will continue with classical formats on FM: KCSN (Cal State Northridge) and KUSC (University of Southern California).

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:14 AM)
23 May 2007
Not to be confused with Hilda Doolittle

Much to my amazement, I now have HD. Sort of.

Monday I ordered this little LCD HDTV set for not a whole lot of money, and it arrived today in entirely too pretty a box.

In fact, that may be the whole issue with this set: it's too pretty. Functionality is there, mostly, but you have to look for it, and my capacity for finding such seems to be on the wane of late.

For instance: this set seemed perfect, at a mere 15 lb, for the articulated arm that sticks out of the bedroom wall to accommodate a television set. And indeed t