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Community Broadcaster: Underwriting’s Murder Hornet

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 19:43

The author is membership program director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. NFCB commentaries are featured regularly at

Earlier this month a news cycle was filled with stories of the U.S. appearance of the “murder hornet,” a superbug that seemed like yet another stress in an already tense period. Public media’s murder hornet may have arrived as well.

For nonprofit radio and television, revenue comes via underwriting. Underwriting is already pressed by COVID-19. So, when a murder hornet of a case — one that seems altogether different and dangerous — shakes up underwriting, community media must take notice.

A recent complaint to the FCC involving underwriting thus should be a particular concern, and a reminder that caution as well as courage is a must.

Community Broadcaster: #GivingTuesday and Radio

Current reports WUNC, based at the University of North Carolina in Raleigh, N.C., was the target of a filing in Washington. The FCC complaint alleges the station broke commission rules on underwriting language for spots by Duke Energy. According to Jim Warren, the complainant, the underwriter’s tagline is not value neutral, and generally promotional in nature. Warren cites FCC rules in claiming the announcements are misleading.

As FCC complaints go, this is fairly standard stuff. Where this story gets interesting is what’s not in the complaint.

It turns out Warren is a frequent public opponent of the underwriter, blaming the business for Hurricane Florence, among other alleged misdeeds. Although one certainly must accept at face value worries in the complaint about underwriting integrity, it may also be fair to wonder if this focus on a particular underwriter is selective.

UNC President Connie Walker told Current the spots follow FCC rules. At stake are thousands of dollars in fines the station would absorb during a pandemic, when few stations are in a good position to do so.

Here is where caution and courage come into play.

Language and underwriting have been on the FCC’s radar over the last 12 months. Most famously, the University of Arkansas admitted mistakes in underwriting copy, but several stations have been penalized for announcements that veered into commercial territory. Every community radio station should exercise care when crafting underwriting scripts. Calls to action, qualitative phrases and other prohibited terms are well established. There are also many items that are completely permissible. No station should be careless when airing underwriting spots. That urgency is only heightened if your station has an instance where someone has a disagreement with an underwriter and wants to take it to a higher power, namely the FCC.

Within community radio, differences over underwriting are not new. As a former program director, I fielded calls about bars, nonprofits and various for-profit businesses listeners took issue with. I expect most stations do not have to try hard to find listeners who disagree with any number of businesses. Many of us simply stay the course, knowing we are serving our audiences with the news, information and music they appreciate. if your station chooses to ride out pushback against your underwriting or editorial choices, you’ll find wisdom, compassion and commitment to media access are your best repellent.

Pew Research remarks we live in polarized times. Amid social distancing, community radio stations will be asked to be conveners of diverse listeners, their employers and many others. Our ability to unite everyone hinges on trust in following the rules and providing the best programming we can.

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Digital Alert Systems Launches Software Assurance Plan

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 16:49

Digital Alert Systems is now offering a Software Assurance Plan for its line of emergency alert system devices. This plan will allow customers to ensure they are in compliance with current requirements via automatic notifications when new software is available.

[Check Out More Products at Radio World’s Products Section]

The Software Assurance Plan is available to all customers running Version 4.0 software. With the plan, customers can immediately update to Version 4.1, with strengthened EAS/CAP security and compliance management, as well as new features in line with FCC compliance requirements. Future software releases will be automatically provided at no extra charge, including Version 4.2, which is expected to be available upon the release of Software Assurance Plan.

Additionally, Software Assurance Plan members will be able to receive discounts on repairs and additional software license keys. If a member’s current hardware is no longer supported, Digital Alert Systems says it will replace the hardware at a discount.



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iHeart Offers Programmatic “COVID Recovery Program”

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 14:07

With an eye on a reopening economy, iHeartMedia rolled out a suite of programmatic offerings for advertisers that it dubs the SmartAudio COVID Recovery Program.

 SmartAudio is the company’s programmatic platform. The announcement of offerings targeting a recovering consumer economy was made by President of Revenue and Data Operations Brian Kaminsky.

[Read: Grace Broadcast Is Selling Self-Care Audio Clips]

The suite includes the “SmartAudio COVID Community Recovery Index,” which incorporates location-based marketing. “With different communities recovering at different times and at different paces, it’s important for brands to be able to adjust their messaging based on whether their community is still under a stay-at-home order, beginning to reopen local businesses or have already established their new way of conducting business post COVID-19,” iHeart stated in the announcement.

So the index “dynamically optimizes a brand’s creative to deliver the right message at the right time to the right community by using location-based mobility data to gauge the number of people out of home for recreation, shopping or headed to work.”

The new programmatic offerings also include “SmartAudio Brand Loyalists,” which targets a business’ customers who listen to broadcast radio, and “SmartAudio Unlimited.” The latter lets brands take the audience data used to create SmartAudio broadcast radio campaigns and apply it to marketing efforts on mobile, the internet and smart speakers via iHeartRadio. You can read the announcement here.


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Large Groups Wave a Caution Flag on Geo-Targeting

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 13:40

Four of the most prominent radio groups in the United States say more research is necessary before the FCC can seriously consider allowing zoned FM broadcasting.

Their filing comes as something of a reality check after several other organizations have expressed general support for the idea. The four groups are worried about a zoned system causing confusion among FM listeners as well as the risk of “self-interference,” which would harm FM’s standing with consumers. GBS has been vocal about the potential benefits to FM broadcasters.

The companies — iHeartMedia, Cumulus, Entercom and Beasley — wrote, “Technologies that are not yet widely proven which could cause interference to the primary signal, as well as confusion among radio listeners as the primary signal is handed off to a localized signal, should not prematurely be adopted as a default standard without more real-world experience gathered with experimental authorizations.”

[Read: Let’s Investigate Geo-Targeting, NAB Tells FCC]

They commented on the petition from GeoBroadcast Solutions, which wants the FCC to allow FM boosters to insert programming different from that carried by the booster’s primary station. This would allow GBS to deploy its ZoneCasting product and let FM broadcasters send unique ads and program content to very localized listeners.

“While this, or similar technologies to provide for zoned broadcasting by FM booster facilities, may ultimately prove valuable,” the groups wrote, the FCC first needs to develop a record of the feasibility of the technology based on further experimental authorizations.

“Automatically authorizing such an unproven technology … is particularly premature given the proponent’s acknowledgment that listeners will experience some degree of ‘self-interference,’ as the booster signal is handed off from the primary programming to the zone programming,” they wrote.

They acknowledged that GBS referenced several studies of its ZoneCasting technology but said there has only been one “real-world” experimental test of the current iteration. “That is a slim basis for the commission to proceed with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to change the booster rule to allow automatic use of a barely-tested technology system with known downsides.”

They said that by moving to an NPRM as GBS has requested, the FCC would essentially endorse ZoneCasting “without the need for implementers to report back to the commission on the benefits, problems and/or weaknesses of the system.”

[Read: Stations Groups Push for Translators to Originate Content]

They said third parties should be able to “formulate legitimate comments based on either direct experience with the technology, or grounded in widespread experimentation in varied locations.”

Among their concerns is that the technology might generate confusion as listeners cross transition zones, particularly when driving through alternate programming zones while listening to FM radio in their vehicles. In that case, “Independent parties will need to study whether the end result could be to drive listeners to leave the medium, which could harm all broadcasters seeking to serve listeners via over-the-air FM transmission.”

They asked the FCC to allow more experimental authorizations and reporting, as it has done for other technologies like Single Sideband Suppressed Carrier Modulation, all-digital on AM, Modulation Dependent Carrier Level controls and HD Radio. “The commission also typically conditions continuance of the experimental authority on the lack of objectionable interference.”

The groups concluded by saying that zoned broadcasting “may ultimately be a promising technology” and that with a real-world record, the commission could consider rule changes.


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Absolute Radio 40s to Commemorate VE Day

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 02:00

LONDON — The United Kingdom’s Absolute Radio is adding to its line-up of “decades” stations with Absolute Radio 40s, a pop-up service to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day.

Absolute 40s marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day.

The station, which will be entirely dedicated to the 1940s, will broadcast for one day on Friday May 8 and will play an uplifting mix of songs from artists including Billie Holliday, The Andrews Sisters, Judy Garland, Glenn Miller and Bing Crosby.


Absolute Radio 40s will also include special news bulletins charting events as they unfolded on the day in 1945. Presenters from the main Absolute Radio service such as Dave Berry, Jason Manford, Leona Graham and Claire Sturgess will also be featured on the special station.

Paul Sylvester is Absolute Radio’s content director.

The pop-up service will take over Absolute Radio’s 1215AM frequency across the U.K. for 24 hours, and also be broadcast on DAB+ in London and online. Some of the station’s programs will be beamed to British armed forces around the world on BFBS Radio 2, and will also be made available to hospital radio stations across the U.K.

Absolute Radio’s Content Director Paul Sylvester explained the idea behind the station: “The 75th anniversary of VE Day is a momentous event in our history, and it’s tragic that celebrations have had to be rightly curtailed because of the Coronavirus. Taking the Absolute Radio decade strategy and creating this unique pop-up station for 24 hours is the simplest way that we can pay our own very small tribute.”

“The incredible music and compelling stories you’ll hear on Absolute Radio 40s will bring comfort and entertainment to those older listeners in self-isolation and remind the rest of us of the importance of this day,” added Sylvester.

The project is a co-production with TBI Media and has been made possible by a grant from the U.K. Government’s Audio Content Fund, which supports public service broadcasting on commercial and community radio.

Phil Critchlow is CEO and founding director of TBI Media.

TBI Media’s CEO and Founding Director Phil Critchlow explained the challenge they’ve had to overcome to create content for the station during lockdown: “Like everyone we’ve learnt a huge amount about recording and broadcasting remotely over the last eight weeks — much of that is being applied to this project. Alongside almost 80 pieces of music across the four hours of content, we have four separate presenters, and probably another 25 voices that need to be captured one way or another,” he said.


“In every case it’s about quickly making the best of the equipment available to each contributor,” Critchlow added. “We always briefly ask what resources are available — you’ll be surprised how many people have a mic they use with GarageBand — but not pushing things too far, where the way a voice is captured begins to get in the way of a contributor’s thought process.”

Critchlow explained his current technical set-up: “Where broadcast is concerned, we’re using Comrex devices, with a broadcast quality mic attached for anything that’s going live. For pre-records, the best option is a Zoom or similar call with contributor recording locally to a WAV recorder via a quality broadcast mic and sending the content for syncing afterward.”

He said the best results for microphones come from a tight cardioid polar pattern mic. “These can often be much more forgiving in a reflective domestic setting than a more expensive studio capacitor mic — so a dynamic mic like a Beyer M201 is great, providing you use a pop shield. Where time allows, we’ve actually been posting mics and WAV recorders to contributors, with return-to-sender pre-paid packaging enclosed.”

Critchlow advised that for remote recording, the biggest difference that can be made is talking to the contributor about where they are in their house.

He explained: “The objective is to avoid any reflective surfaces that create a reverberant “roomy” sound — so moving them out of the kitchen into a room with plenty of soft furnishings. Asking for curtains to be closed, and a blanket or duvet to be put on the table they’re sitting at, can make a huge difference. Also suggesting that electrical appliances that may be running close by are switched off — it’s surprise how a washing machine in the next room isn’t heard by a contributor but is heard by their mic!”

“For post-production we’re now using Reaper almost exclusively,” said Critchlow. “We’ve come up with a process of sharing all content and edit project files on Dropbox. This allows, in this case, four people doing the editing at various stages to quickly pick up, make changes to and pass on a Reaper file for others to finalize and add to the master program. The masters can also then be passed around as an edit desk before finalization.”

Critchlow said: “Absolute 40s is a huge team effort across TBI Media and Absolute Radio. While these are uncertain and challenging times, it continues to be a huge privilege to be creating content that can make a real difference to people — particularly in this case where some of the audience is likely to be older and potentially isolated from their friends and family.”

The post Absolute Radio 40s to Commemorate VE Day appeared first on Radio World.

Telos Highlights Virtual Showcase

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 13:09

The Telos Alliance will stream a series of four webinars this month, in lieu of the spring NAB Show.

The first focuses on what’s new with Omnia, including putting processing in the cloud with Omnia.9 PTN, as well as products including Volt and Omnia.11.

Subsequent webinars will cover Telos Infinity IP Intercom; an exploration of the new Axia Quasar flagship console; and tools for Next Gen TV, where the company’s Linear Acoustic and Minnetonka Audio products have application.

The four-day series starts May 18. Find information here.


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Kim Guthrie Departs Cox Media Group

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 12:34

Kim Guthrie will leave Cox Media Group, the company announced.

Guthrie is president and CEO and has been with Cox for 22 years, but it was only in December that she was named president and CEO of this new iteration of Cox, so her tenure in this role was short.

[Read: Cox Assesses Radio Listening]

Late last year Cox Enterprises completed the sale of its radio and TV stations, along with other assets, to the new media company Cox Media Group, majority owned by private equity funds, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

The decision to leave was hers, according to today’s announcement.

Executive Chairman Steve Pruett, who came aboard in December, becomes interim CEO until a permanent leader is appointed. The company said “Guthrie will work with Pruett on an orderly transition.”

Cox owns 54 radio stations in 10 markets, among its other media holdings.


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FCC Chairman Will Participate in NAB Show Express

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 11:52

The NAB Show may have gone virtual this year, but the flesh-and-blood chairman of the Federal Communications Commission will still participate online.

The National Association of Broadcasters announced that Chairman Ajit Pai will take part in a “keynote conversation” with NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith on Wednesday, May 13 during the NAB Show Express Welcome event.

[Read: “Welton Is More Than Just Tips n Tricks,” interview with award recipient Jeff Welton]

“The industry’s top regulator and the head of NAB will discuss communications policy issues before the FCC, including spectrum policy and media ownership,” NAB announced.

The opening session will be streamed on at noon Eastern on May 13 and available on-demand following its conclusion.

Smith will also deliver his annual “State of the Broadcast Industry” address and present several awards including the Engineering Achievement Awards and Crystal Radio Awards.


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Station Groups Push for Translators to Originate Content

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 15:35

FM translators would be allowed to originate some programming content for the first time, if two dozen radio companies get their way.

The group of licensees, under the joint name “Broadcasters for Limited Program Origination,” told the FCC in a filing that “to serve the public interest with increased program diversity,” both FM boosters and translators should be allowed to originate programming for up to 80 hours a week.

Translators and boosters currently rebroadcast only the primary station’s programming. Boosters, which operate on the frequency of their primary station, have been in the news because they are the subject of a separate proposal from GeoBroadcast Solutions. It wants the FCC to allow limited unique programming on synchronized boosters to allow a new geo-targeted or “zoned” capability. The FCC has been taking comments on that.

But the filing by the group of 24 licenses takes the idea much farther.

Allowing FM translators to originate any local programming at all would be a big change, particularly now that so many stations have them in the wake of the AM revitalization effort. AM stations with FM translators would be included under the proposal.

[Read: Let’s Investigate Geo-Targeting, NAB Tells FCC]

“The Broadcasters for Limited Program Origination seek a uniform FCC rule change for both FM boosters and FM translators to allow each to originate programming content provided that the primary station is retransmitted for no fewer than 40 hours in any calendar week,” they wrote.

“Further, rather than restrict new uses of FM booster stations to the GeoBroadcast Solutions content-specific programming, an FM booster or translator should be able to split off programming whenever such split programming content serves its listening audience, provided the primary station continues to be rebroadcast on the FM booster no fewer than 40 hours in any calendar week.”

The proposal was filed by attorney John Garziglia of Womble Bond Dickinson. The 24 licensees own 108 full-service stations and 85 FM translators.

The stations believe the FCC should not concern itself with restricting which kinds of content should be allowed.

“As with FM booster stations, the FCC should not restrict FM translator licensees in their programming content decisions,” they wrote. “Some radio stations may choose to broadcast different localized advertisements. Others may broadcast localized city council meetings for two or more communities in their coverage areas. The broadcast of multiple localized high school sports games may be what serves a particular station’s listeners. Another station may broadcast two different kinds of ethnic entertainment programming at certain times of the day.”

While this filing was made in response to the GBS proposal, it is a much different beast.

Indeed, the group of licensees said they “take no position as to whether the GeoBroadcast Solutions technical proposal … is wise as a radio listener reception matter. Such concurrent broadcasting of different content on the same frequency within the same service area may be an interference disaster.” Rather, they wrote, their goal is “to provide diverse programming over FM translator and booster radio facilities without the FCC’s heavy thumb restricting their choice of content.”

If the GBS concept of originating limited separate programming on same-channel booster stations is acceptable “as a regulatory matter,” then so should be the origination of limited separate programming on FM translators.

The companies also argue that, because the commission’s new translator interference rules “have redefined the coverage contours of FM stations,” the extended coverage contours out to the greater of the 45 dBμ contour or a 25-mile radius from the translator site should now apply to what is regarded as a fill-in station for the purposes of the FM translator rules.

And further marking this proposal as a potential big change, the group would like the commission to designate four-letter call signs with the suffix “-FX” for translators that originate limited programming content. “FM translators originating programming will be serving listening audiences just like any other broadcast station,” they wrote.

The broadcasters in the filing are Miller Communications/Kaskaskia Broadcasting; the Cromwell Group of Illinois and Hancock Communications; TBE LLC; SSR Communications; Port Broadcasting; the Fingerlakes Radio Group and Chadwick Bay Broadcasting; Blackbelt Broadcasting; Mazur LLC; The Original Company, Old Northwest Broadcasting and The Innovation Center; Virden Broadcasting; Lovcom Inc.; Genesee Media Corp.; Viper Communications; Mountain Top Media; Eastern Shore Radio; and MTN Broadcasting and Eldora Broadcasting.

Among familiar broadcaster names on the proposal are Randal Miller, Bud Walters, Terry Barber, Mark Lange, Matt Wesolowski and Cindy May Johnson.


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NAB’s Dennis Wharton Retiring After 24 Years

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 14:24
Dennis Wharton

Dennis Wharton has been spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters longer than anyone in its history. But he’ll retire from that role come July.

Wharton, executive vice president of communications, has been with the association for 24 years. Ann Marie Cumming will become the association’s primary spokesperson, and Wharton will continue to serve as a senior advisor, according to President/CEO Gordon Smith.

In an email to the NAB Board of Directors, Wharton described his tenure at NAB as “the privilege of my professional life,” noting he had been “in the catbird seat for countless moments in broadcast history,” including the launch of HDTV, radio performance royalty fights, “wardrobe malfunctions, and media consolidation battles. According the NAB announcement, he’s is most proud of the unparalleled public service of local broadcast stations, on prominent display during the COVID-19 crisis.

[Read: NAB Campaign Targets Coronavirus Aid, Federal Ads for Local Stations]

Smith called Wharton “a fervent advocate for local broadcasting” and made special note of his enthusiasm and good humor. “We wish Dennis all the best and are fortunate to have him stay on as an adviser to NAB.”

In Wharton’s letter, he praised the NAB board, his co-workers, local broadcasters, state broadcast association executives and reporters who covered NAB through the years. He reserved special gratitude for colleagues on the NAB communications team, which he has overseen for more than two decades.

Wharton joined NAB in 1996 as vice president, Media Relations, and subsequently was promoted to senior vice president in 1997 and executive vice president in 2006. He has overseen NAB departments that include media relations, research and public service. Wharton joined NAB after a 16-year journalism career in Ohio and as Washington bureau chief for Variety, where he covered legislative and regulatory issues related to broadcasting, cable and Hollywood movie studios.

[Read: COVID-19 Response Toolkit Now Available From NAB]

Michelle Lehman

NAB also announced it will merge the association’s communications and marketing departments into a new Public Affairs department, led by NAB’s Michelle Lehman, executive vice president of marketing. In her new role, Lehman will be responsible for NAB’s media relations, public service and research divisions.
She also spearheads the “We Are Broadcasters” campaign and directs marketing campaigns to promote NAB events and activities, overseeing the association’s brand, messaging and digital strategy.

Lehman began her career in Washington, on Capitol Hill serving as press secretary for former Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and then for the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee, under the leadership of former Ranking Member Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn). She also served as associate director of technology policy for a boutique public relations firm, as well as vice president of public affairs and chief spokesperson for the National Beer Wholesalers Association before joining NAB.

Lehman has tapped Ann Marie Cumming, senior vice president of communications, to serve as the primary spokesperson of the organization. In this role, she will be assisted by Zamir Ahmed, vice president of media relations, who has been with NAB since 2011. Cumming, who joined NAB in 1994, will oversee media relations and the research division led by Vice President of Research Dan McDonald.

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FCC Waives an EEO Requirement for Rehires

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 14:21

The FCC has announced a partial waiver of an EEO rule to help facilitate the rehiring of people who lost jobs in the coronavirus crisis.

Its Media Bureau waived the “broad outreach” requirements of Equal Employment Opportunity recruitment rules in certain circumstances. The rules ordinarily require broadcast stations employing five or more full-time employees to engage in broad recruitment outreach for all full-time job vacancies.

[Read: FCC Eliminates Its Own Engineering Division]

“The Bureau finds good cause to waive this requirement to allow affected broadcast licensees … to return operations to full strength once circumstances permit the re-hiring of released employees,” it announced.

“Specifically, broadcast licensees and MVPDs may rehire full-time employees who were laid off due to circumstances related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic without first conducting broad recruitment outreach, if they rehire such employees within nine months after the date they were laid off.”

It emphasized that this partial waiver pertains only to employees who were released due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It cited the “challenging economic conditions directly resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, including significant layoffs and workforce reductions in the media industry.”

The FCC believes this waiver “will not have a material adverse impact on the commission’s goals of ensuring equal employment opportunity and nondiscrimination.”


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On Its 70th Anniversary, EBU Maintains Initial Vision

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 02:00

The author is head of radio for the European Broadcasting Union.

GENEVA — As a medium, radio is perfectly adapted to cross national borders indeed, it does so quite naturally.

Graham Dixon. All photos courtesy of the EBU.

Likewise, using the power of radio to bring people together, sharing output and appreciating a shared experience, is a quality of radio, which has been recognized from the earliest days.

If ever radio should have a patron saint, who realized its potential, it should be Oskar Czeija, intendant of Austrian Radio from 1924–38.

He travelled Europe, meeting the directors of other radio broadcasters, and established the sharing of cultural material, including the Salzburg Festival. It was his strong belief that sharing across national frontiers would bring the world together and develop mutual understanding.


One of the key factors of radio is bringing to its listeners a sense of time and place, connecting them to their own communities, but it can also provide a wide window on the outside world, bringing them in contact with ideas, cultures and events which they could not otherwise access. Czeija’s vision still holds good today for the European Broadcasting Union, allowing listeners to access unique material.

The Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953. It was the first event to be broadcast live internationally.

But content was not always king. When the EBU was founded after the Second World War — at a hotel in Torquay, England, in 1950 — the primary preoccupations were around technical and legal issues, establishing the framework for effective operation. In the first meeting, television was not mentioned, though it was soon to come on the scene.

Content, and therefore some sense of audience focus, soon followed, for with the second meeting of the EBU, it was proposed that some exchange of television programs take place. In words which would not sound out of place in today’s straitened times, the EBU President Sir Ian Jacob, responded, “Nobody should feel discouraged from taking any initiative which was thought in the interest of broadcasting provided that such activities did not lead to other tasks being neglected or to demands being made for extra staff or financial resources.”

Technician Fritz Zvacek is pictured with headphones.

It was an early example of “more with less.” Consequently, there was an experimental link between England and France later in 1950, and then the television medium came into its own with the shared transmission of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Two years ago, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of a regular EBU concert series, which has since blossomed into the EBU Music Exchange, the world’s largest concert hall, with around 5,000 hours of output being exchanged across all musical genres. This service, available to members and associates around the world, enhances the schedules of broadcasters with unique and attractive material, from the New Year’s Day Concert from Vienna, to the Metropolitan Opera, the Last Night of the Proms, and — in 2019 — rare archive material from Oasis and a live performance from Coldplay.


Across the summer, all the major European classical festivals are visited on a regular basis, and special topical events are regularly organized, such as a celebration of women in music and, for 2020, extensive Beethoven events.

The history of the growth of DAB radio remains to be written, but it is already clear that it has provided broadcasters in many countries with the freedom to develop new channels, often serving more hard-to-reach audiences of specific interest groups.

The radio industry has been able to move beyond the limitations of FM, and the EBU has played a major part in bringing about the standards, which now constitute DAB. Likewise, at the moment, close attention is being paid to supporting the ongoing presence of radio in cars, and issues around radio reception on new platforms, including voice-activated devices. The recent lobbying with the European Parliament has successfully led to digital radio receivers becoming obligatory in vehicles from the end of 2020.

In defining its strategy for the fast transforming media environment, the EBU has defined four key areas of activity. These are providing members with unique material, particularly for music, news and sport; promoting knowledge-sharing and networking; supporting members by functioning as a hub of expertise; and finally, establishing beneficial partnerships on behalf of members, for instance, with the U.S. tech giants.

The media world has developed in ways that the EBU’s founders would never have imagined, and their thinking  formed in a monopolistic world would not have answered today’s challenges. What does not change is the sense that as broadcasters, working together solely to serve the public, we are stronger together. We are stronger together when dealing with third parties, but also stronger together when making the case for public media.


The first international television link between France and the United Kingdom took place in 1950.

As I write, the world is concerned with coronavirus, and social media is full of opinions. Under such circumstances, who can we trust to give us rational, reliable information, with expert opinion, debate and analysis?

And once we have consumed sufficient news, where can we find entertainment and music, compiled and curated with sensitivity toward how listeners are feeling in different communities? EBU Members are dedicated to responding to these demands for the benefit of the public.

A document from Radio Vienna in 1931 with a photo of Oskar Czeija, intendant of Austrian Radio from 1924–38.

When radio came into being and defined its public purposes, it was agreed that these centered around informing, educating and entertaining. All three still stand and provide a sense of direction for the EBU Members. However, I would add a fourth purpose, namely, connecting.

In a world where people can become isolated, where they need to feel a connection with others who share their interests and humanity, providing universal services, which bring people together is a vital societal contribution. The commitment to togetherness across the EBU to achieve these common aims has endured for 70 years.

Whatever devices enter the market in the coming decades, the human and societal imperatives will remain unchanged.

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FCC Deletes Call Signs of Two California FM Stations

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 18:57

The Federal Communications Commission took a decisive step this week when it deleted the call signs of two California FM stations and ordered them to immediately cease operations.

The decision came down to a question of character and the ripple of consequences that come from breaking commission rules.

In the case of KAAX(FM) and KYAF(FM), the story started rather benignly when Avenal Education Services and Central Valley Educational Services requested to modify the authorization of their stations from noncommercial educational status (NCE) to commercial stations. A seemingly simple loophole stymied that request: Avenal and Central Valley were not incorporated prior to filing their station operations.

[Read: Alleged Deception Costs FM Broadcasters Their License]

But it was the details revealed in a previous proceeding that contained the bite that lost owner William Zawila his modification requests.

The FCC looked closely at the findings from a hearing in which the permits and licenses of three other FM stations were revoked after Zawila and two other groups were accused of disingenuous stonewalling and various misrepresentations in their dealings with the commission.

In a proceeding that included six stations (including KAAX and KYAF) questions were raised about misrepresentation, failure to maintain a public file and various technical rule violations against both Avenal, Central Valley and Zawila. During that hearing the Enforcement Bureau found that Avenal and Central Valley were not legally formed nonprofit entities that were qualified for a construction permit for an NCE station. Although the two companies filed their applications in 1988 and 1989, they were not incorporated until 1999 and 2001.

But Avenal and Central Valley answered, no, they actually were in the right and were free to attempt to convert KAAX and KYAF — two stations that are located amongst vast agricultural fields in Central California — to commercial stations by merely by notifying the FCC that they were hoping to have that conversation take place. Zawila challenged the FCC chief administrative law judge’s findings in that earlier proceeding. But the commission ruled against him based on lack of evidence.

Now jumping ahead to May 2020, the FCC again found that Avenal’s and Central Valley’s initial applications for construction permits were flawed because neither applicant was incorporated at the time of filing. And neither can fix the situation by simply applying to convert from NCE to commercial status.

Keep in mind that the FCC is watching closely when it comes not only to character but to the willingness to follow FCC rules. In its findings, the commission found that these two entities cannot attempt to correct their initial errors by attempting a conversion to commercial status. Nor can the two hide the fact that the Avenal company that was incorporated in 1999 has since been dissolved, and that the versions of that corporation incorporated in 2003 and 2015 are currently suspended. Same with the Central Valley Educational Services: the company incorporated in 2001 and the version incorporated in 2015 are also suspended.

The final nail in the coffin for the two entities: as of the date of the FCC’s decision on May 1, 2020, Avenal and Central Valley are still not valid California corporations.

All this led the commission to dismiss the construction permit request and the request to modify from NCE to commercial status, to revoke the stations’ ability to broadcast going forward, and to delete the two station’s call signs.

In an-all-caps demand in its letter to the two entities, the FCC said both KAAX and KYAF must cease broadcast operations immediately. But Zawila and company cannot walk away entirely. Until their towers are dismantled, Zawila and the companies are on the hook for keeping the lights on.


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Let’s Investigate Geo-Targeting, NAB Tells FCC

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 18:36

The National Association of Broadcasters is giving qualified support to the idea of allowing U.S. FM radio stations to “geo-target” programming using boosters.

It commented to the FCC about a proposal by GeoBroadcast Solutions, which wants the commission to allow FM booster stations to originate programming on a limited basis.

On the plus side, NAB said, “Enabling radio broadcasters to use boosters to location target announcements and other programming would benefit listeners with more relevant, tailored content, including emergency news and announcements. Geo-targeting could also open important new revenue streams for FM broadcasters in the markets for targeted advertising and smaller, local commercial advertisers.”

NAB said zoned broadcasting may facilitate radio advertising by businesses that were previously priced out of advertising on radio or “found that buying spots that cover an entire radio market was not financially sensible.”

[Read: Tech Company Asks FCC to Allow Geo-Targeted Programming]

But the association also told the FCC that the GBS proposal “is not entirely free of potential concerns.”

It expressed a worry about potential interference that, even if confined to a station’s booster cluster, could cause listeners to change channels or reflect poorly on the FM service. GBS has said its field tests showed no “harmful interference” and that the technology can be managed to minimize disruption.

NAB continued, “We also observe potential concerns that GBS’ system currently works only with analog FM service, which could undermine the continued expansion of digital audio broadcasting (DAB, also called HD Radio). There may be potential disruption to DAB in the targeted zones. This issue is not addressed in the petition.”

NAB noted that GBS is working on implementing its system to be compatible with HD Radio and that GBS says it supports digital radio. “NAB strongly encourages GBS to continue pursuit of a remedy for this issue.” But it said that the existing policy permitting digital translator and booster stations “not be extended to include location targeted programming until there is sufficient experience to demonstrate, at a minimum, that harmful interference to other DAB stations is unlikely to occur.”

[Read: ZoneCasting Will Level the Playing Field for Radio, GBS Says]

On balance, though, NAB said the FCC should go ahead with a rulemaking proceeding “to fully vet the technical issues” and provide input on costs and benefits of geo-targeting generally, and GBS’ specific proposal.

“If GBS’ request for a rule change is approved, NAB has no doubt that broadcasters will carefully weigh all the relevant factors in deciding whether to implement zoned broadcasting, and that market forces will ultimately determine the success of geo-targeting and GBS’ approach.”


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Nationwide Radio Hunger Fundraiser Generates Half a Million Dollars

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 13:15

Last week’s Radio Cares radiothon to help fight the hunger crisis brought in a half million dollars to benefit Feeding America, the largest hunger relief organization in the United States. Organizers hope to make it an annual event.

“The funds raised will provide five million meals for Americans living with hunger,” they announced in a press release Monday.

[Read: Alabama FM Seeks Power Increase to Deal With Changes Due to Coronavirus]

The initiative was led by Ron Stone, president/CEO of Adams Radio Group, and Brian Philips, EVP, Content & Audience, at Cumulus Media/Westwood One. Stone expressed gratitude to stations that participated. “Together we accomplished something that had never been done before in our 100+ years, a nationwide radio event to raise money to help those who truly need our help. It is my sincere hope that this is the first of many annual events to come.”

 Donations were made through the official event website, and by texting “Feed” to 95819.

A $20,000 donation from Scott and Sandi Borchetta and Big Machine Label Group put the tally over the half million mark.

Companies that participated are listed at Major sponsors and organizers included Benztown, Vipology, Gen Media Partners, Marketron, McVay Media, LeadsRX and Dollinger Strategic Communication.


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AETA Adds Features

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 10:00

AETA Audio Systems has announced recent upgrades and new features for its entire product line.

Enhancements include Remote Access Portal, a service that allows technicians to control all AETA products remotely from wherever they are. This tool gives users global visibility to their total pool of AETA codecs.


In addition, AETA’s new Bonding capability allows AETA clients to manage streams by splitting the audio signal on two different networks. It’s meant for users who want to transmit high-quality IP audio, even in crowded areas where networks are overloaded.

Finally, VoLTE [a voice over LTE solution] lets reporters benefit from a mobile operator’s high-definition voice service (like a standard phone call) without having to depend on a 3G network.

With this system, the audio quality may not be as crisp as an AoIP connection, explains AETA, but it does ensure staff makes the most of an operator’s “quality of service.” VoLTE safeguards the link, adds the firm, so it’s less exposed to the “hick ups” that are often associated with IP audio technology.

All AETA Audio systems codecs are compatible with AES67/Ravenna and Dante.

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Do We Need Community Radio?

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 06:56

The author is chairman of Digital Radio Mondiale.

During these strange times of Coronavirus there are many old contradictions coming to light and new ones being formed daily.

Ruxandra Obreja

According to UNICEF spokesman James Elder, simple as it sounds, it’s still difficult to get information out to people in the most remote areas or to people who are not online. But we are not only speaking of remote areas on the African continent or areas of the Pacific. According to an article published in the Guardian on April 23, fewer than three out of 15 families in New South Wales, a developed area of Australia, enjoy broadband, making digital classrooms unviable.


So, teachers have been hand-delivering lessons to Aboriginal students at home because families do not have reliable access to the internet, and many do not have computers for their children to work on. This doesn’t apply to most Australian students, but the worldwide statistics are staggering, nevertheless.

It’s estimated that globally there are roughly 1.5 billion students learning from home today. About half of these have no internet access. What’s more, there are 250 million fewer women online than men worldwide.

But even in these conditions, there is still one platform that “does the trick every time.” And that’s radio, asserts Elder. And this doesn’t refer to distance learning alone. In times of need radio rises to the plate and not just as a virtual teacher but as a valuable source of trusted information, company and fun, too.

One of the contradictions is that, while a lot of the industries have seen buyers and users fall to almost nil (tourism, entertainment etc.), media, and especially radio consumption, has increased significantly.

Some of the big commercial networks are doing very well. Even public broadcasting, under threat recently, has now been acknowledged and appreciated for its valuable public role and place.

Reception of an extended DRM multiplex on a car radio with NXP chipset.

A recent survey conducted by organizations in the United States like Radio Advertising Bureau, Westwood One and Nielsen have confirmed what is evident: Listeners are tuning in massively. They want coronavirus updates but not in excess, while continuing to appreciate the voice of presenters who are introducing their favorite music.


In other parts of the world such as India, where most community stations are struggling financially, local radio remains one of the only sources of credible information and familiar entertainment.

It’s therefore no surprise that U.S. survey found radio to be even more appreciated for its link to local communities. The term “local stations” covers a multitude of stations, some of whom are small but commercial, others purely community stations, university radio stations etc.

And here comes another contradiction: While local and community stations have, in general, recently increased their number of listeners, their funds — often based on local advertising — have decreased considerably.

In the U.S., the National Association of Broadcasters is encouraging a campaign to help local broadcasters obtain government funds directly or via government advertising.

In the United Kingdom, the chairman of local broadcasting association CMA, foresees the possible failure of one-third of some 300 community stations if they don’t receive help from the state.

For now, the organization has short-term goals. These include convincing the government to treat local stations like local papers and pay for public health messages and acquiring a grant and then a fund to support the production of programs centered on public health content.

While many of these stations should receive the financial aid they need soon, what will they do when we get back to some kind of normalcy?


Beyond the Coronavirus pandemic, local stations must reassess their role, technology and content based on the changing habits of their audience. Some local broadcasters have already begun gathering data for their new strategic direction.

Digital plays an important role in achieving success for many of these stations. Money will always be tight so why not use the same analog frequency and have two or three digital DRM programs, maybe in different languages or dialects, while saving on energy?

Or why not use the same transmitter, same antenna and same combiner system to provide more than three channels. This is possible by using the spectrum situated to the left and right of the analog signal (600 kHz) and allows for up to 12–18 DRM channels.

More program choice from one broadcaster or more channels shared by different broadcasters, each paying only a share of the already reduced operational and energy costs, while remaining in control of their individual content.

This leaves more money for producing new, more local digital content or simply a better one with less repeats and with higher production values.

But there’s an ultimate contradiction. While local and community stations are “the radio that leaves no one behind,” they need to follow what the larger players are doing in order to survive.

These small stations, with much less spending power, also need to implement a strong strategy, advanced technological solutions and adapt to the new environment.

Today nobody is immune to change and, with the help of DRM digital radio, local broadcasting can plot a tactic to help them guarantee survival.

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Are You Prepared for the Worst?

Sun, 05/03/2020 - 06:21
Many stations have auxiliary antennas on their towers, but what good does one do when the whole tower comes down?

In the mid-1990s, I was in the middle of a new 50 kW AM construction project in Denver. The 50-acre site was just north of what is now Denver International Airport. 

The four towers had just been completed, the ground system was plowed in and the tower crew had departed, leaving just me and the folks helping me with the transmitter and antenna project.

One day, I and a couple of others on the crew were at one of the tower bases installing the antenna tuning unit when we heard the drone of a reciprocating engine overhead — close! We looked up, and there was a little yellow airplane just a couple of hundred feet above the ground about to fly right into the antenna field!

Just north and east of the site, about three miles away, was a little residential airport that had been there for decades. The folks who lived there had hangars adjacent to their houses and could fly in and out, a pretty sweet arrangement if you ask me. 

Evidently, the pilot of the little yellow airplane was completely unaware that over the past couple of weeks, four 365-foot towers had gone up nearby, although they were clearly shown on the aeronautical charts.

There was a moment of panic as the plane got closer and closer to the towers. We started to run … but which way? If the plane hit a tower or a guy wire, a tower was sure to come down, and one falling tower would probably cause another to fall … and another, like dominos. And then there would be the wreckage of the plane; where would it go?

So after a few steps, we stopped and just watched, knowing in that moment that running was pointless. 

At the last second, the pilot must have spotted the four big red-and-white striped steel structures and turned sharply away, and we all breathed a big sigh of relief. If that pilot’s heart was pounding as hard as mine was, he might have needed a few minutes to calm down before heading into the landing strip.


I was reminded of this episode recently as I was considering vulnerabilities and contingencies within our radio station facilities. 

We do our best to plan for problems, failures and catastrophes, but it’s hard to know which way to run. Even putting aside, say, the occasional global pandemic, we can’t possibly anticipate every direction from which business threats will come, or how it will impact the operation.

We plan for power failures, and that’s a good place to start. Commercial power will fail on occasion — that’s as sure as death and taxes — and we are wise to plan for it with generators and UPSes to keep our equipment powered during the inevitable outages.

We plan for transmitter problems. The most reliable of transmitters do eventually fail, or they need to go down for maintenance, and in preparation for that, we install auxiliary transmitters and some means to switch between transmitters.

Often, we plan for antenna problems. If it’s not lightning blowing a hole in an antenna bay, it’s ice loading up the antenna and making it (temporarily) unusable. Or we must remove excitation from an antenna while workers are in the vicinity of the antenna during maintenance or repair work. In anticipation of that, many stations have auxiliary antennas fed with auxiliary transmission lines ready to go on a moment’s notice.

But once in a while, something comes out of left field that we did not anticipate, and we find ourselves ill-prepared to deal with it. 

We’ve all heard stories and seen news accounts of towers coming down in ice storms or as a result of severe weather. Not many stations can afford a spare tower. Or even if a station does have an off-site auxiliary, what happens when there is an area-wide catastrophe, such a tornado outbreak or an earthquake, that impacts both main and auxiliary sites?

Occasionally we hear about a station that is put off the air because of a fire at the studio or transmitter site. That kind of catastrophe usually results in even backup equipment being damaged, by water or fire retardant if not fire and smoke, leaving the station with no way to get back on the air. How do you plan for that?

Radio station transmitter sites are often a target for thieves. One of my sites was recently burglarized. The alarm alerted the chief engineer and the police, and police were on site before the CE arrived. The thief got away with nothing of significance, but oh … what could have happened! We have on occasion had thieves hack their way through walls at some of our facilities. There is only so much you can do to harden a site against theft. How do you plan for the damage and loss of a break-in?


And then there is the stuff nobody thinks about. Here in my office, the building maintenance people were testing the fire standpipe that goes from ground level to the roof. In the process, they pushed several hundred gallons of water through the pipe and dumped it on the roof all at once, where it should have drained away through a network of roof drains and piping connected to the city storm sewer system. 

During the test, however, the volume of water draining through that network was so great that it completely filled the horizontal run of the cast iron drain pipe … and it found a large crack in the top of the pipe, flooding my office! Thankfully my office is at the opposite end of the building from the studio and engineering spaces, but what if … 

Or what if a fire sprinkler head failed, spraying water all over servers, switches, computers and other critical equipment? Who thinks about that? Which way do we run?

There is no way we can plan for every possible failure or catastrophe. We might as well accept that. But that doesn’t mean that we should be resigned to being off the air should the worst happen.

At my company, I periodically ask our chief engineers and engineering managers to take a hard look at every part of their facilities searching for vulnerabilities. Is there a piece of equipment that would, should it fail, take one or more stations off the air? What can be done to plug that hole?

Disaster recovery is big business in this day and age, and a lot of folks have gotten on that bandwagon. Our company has contracted with a nationwide provider that will respond quickly with whatever we need — temporary office/studio space, computers, servers, internet/telephone service, generators, fuel. It’s comforting to have that in our hip pocket. 

Within the broadcast equipment and digital media realms, we are seeing a lot of disaster recovery pitches being made, most using some form of “cloud” hosting to provide backup or even primary service. This removes the “all eggs in one basket” scenario, spreading out the risk across multiple platforms and facilities. At the same time, it unavoidably adds some vulnerabilities, and that has to be considered as part of the risk/reward equation.

The point of all this is that we, as broadcast engineers, have a responsibility to be prepared for just about anything. It requires critical thought, careful analysis and clear communication to those who make the financial decisions. 

Often, it may mean repurposing or repositioning of certain pieces of equipment. For example, in one market, I had a spare but working transmitter that I chose to reposition to a site some 50 miles away, leaving it disconnected but ready, so that should a wide-area catastrophe occur, I would have a working transmitter on which I could lay my hands and use to get one station back on the air.

It’s all about contingency plans, looking for vulnerabilities, considering the possibilities of what could happen, prioritizing based on what is most likely to happen, and coming up with short-term solutions that can be implemented quickly. 

So … which way will you run? How ready are you for the unimaginable?


When I wrote the above column, the world was still right-side up. The Coronavirus was overseas news, and while of some concern, it was certainly not affecting the everyday lives of Americans. “The worst” was a tower falling over. A lot has changed since then; “the worst” has a whole new meaning.

Need drives development of technology, which is another way of stating the old adage, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” We have, in the past weeks, run headlong into a high wall of necessity. Thankfully, many broadcast facilities were, to some degree at least, prepared. 

Internet connectivity, VNC and other remote operating applications, and studio/transmitter infrastructures that permit remote operation and facility management are at the core of such facilities. Imagine how we might have gotten through a similar lockout crisis just a few years ago before such technology and infrastructure were in place.

Tune through the frequencies in most markets and it sounds like business as usual. The hits keep on playing, familiar voices keep us company and paid programs keep airing. Look behind the curtain, however, and you will likely find that nobody is present at the studios in a lot of cases.

It is during crises that we learn. I think back to 9/11, to Katrina, Irene and countless other regional disasters and remember how broadcasters got the job done. COVID-19 is no hurricane. It is an entirely different kind of storm. But it is teaching us a lot of things, and broadcast engineers are earning their pay as never before. 

As we emerge from this crisis – and we will – things are going to be different in a lot of ways. We’ll address that in future editions and in an upcoming ebook. For now, keep giving it your best, and above all else, stay well!

Cris Alexander, CPBE, AMD, DRB, is director of engineering of Crawford Broadcasting Co. and technical editor of RW Engineering Extra. Email him at

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Radioline Launches Hybrid Radio on Android Automotive OS

Sun, 05/03/2020 - 04:00

Radioline’s Hybrid Radio application is now compatible with Android Automotive OS. The company says the system is the result of close collaboration with Panasonic Automotive Systems Europe.

The scalable Android Automotive OS enables access to on-board apps and services, including Google Assistant, Google Maps and Google Play Store. Radioline says its Hybrid Radio app integrates into this environment to offer a “seamless experience” between FM, DAB+, HD Radio, IP stations and podcasts.

This means users can now access international and local programs, via catalogs and a search engine. They can also locate stations, shows or podcasts saved in their “favorites” list. In addition, the content displays EPG and metadata, offering information like names of shows, presenters and albums.

“This is very exciting opportunity for Panasonic Automotive to demonstrate our competencies in leading edge tuner performance on Android Automotive OS,” said Yoshi Nakao, President Panasonic Automotive Systems Europe.

Radioline has also developed a Full IP radio app (IP content only) that’ll be available in the Google Play Store for Android Automotive OS-powered vehicles. It says some 90,000 radios and podcasts from 130 countries are available on the service.

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Tips for Good Due Diligence

Sat, 05/02/2020 - 06:53
Close examination of the technical spaces of the studio facility is at the heart of a good due diligence inspection.

The only constant is change; and our industry has had more than its fair share. But through recurring cycles of contraction and expansion, broadcast properties continue to be bought and sold. “Due diligence” — the process of establishing and evaluating suitability and worth — remains a necessary exercise.

Consulting engineers provide a wide breadth of services, which often include plain and simple guidance, a determination of the best path to proceed. We research, inspect, evaluate and then filter all this through our lifetimes of experience, ultimately lining up the decision chain so that our clients can determine whether they want to put ink on the check or pass. 

Conversely, our due diligence for ownership establishes a defensible asking or listing price when a station is offered for sale. 

Few buyers or sellers use their own funds; so almost without exception, this extensive effort is distilled into a written report for many, many parties to review. Ownership, management, capital sources, risk managers, insurers, key staff members, caterers (kidding) … 

Do an inventory of studio equipment and include a good narrative about the condition of each item.

But your report will go farther and wider than you could ever imagine. The broadcast industry may not be as porous with leaks as Washington politics are; but you will be surprised at the number of people, intended and unintended, who will read your erudite prose.

As nothing is ever really lost on the internet, these reports can have eternal life. If your name is on such documents, they must be factual; and if your opinions or judgment are annotated, they should be identified clearly. 

For the sake of your reputation, they should also be as well-executed as you can make them. Think “crisp report writing” as if you’re sending these pages from the battlefield or the daily log of Joe Friday, “Just the facts, ma’am.” 

Even before you leave the office on your field inspection, you should have:

  • Reviewed the current station license(s) of the instant property … these are the ones that matter
  • Reviewed the technical and ownership history of the station and, if the station is old enough, the PDF file cards from the FCC records.
  • Reviewed the online FCC public file.
  • Done a social media sweep for surprises, such as a lawsuit, collection effort, problems or kudos regards programming as well as public perception (including signal) that goes directly to “goodwill.”
  • Gathered the asset documents, such as the property maps and titles for the station’s facilities.
  • Reviewed the lease and contracts related to technical operations. Will the site lease be lost in a year or two, do they own the dirt under their ground system, or do they just have an easement on someone else’s property?
  • Read the documents pertaining to rented or leased site facilities. Same with any interference codicils and site-share fees, not to mention terms, lease renewal bonuses, etc., which can have a huge impact on operations.
  • Reviewed utility bills. What are the forward going liabilities? Is the plant technically and energy efficient?
  • Inspected coverage maps, both claimed and calculated, with population and demographic overlays.
  • Reviewed interference calculations and spacing if applicable.
  • Reviewed the asset inventory and noted any items that demand a hands-on inspection. Where is that Cadillac Esplanade or Range Rover that supposedly is used exclusively by the CE, or is it really parked in the GM’s driveway for the spouse’s use?
  • Gathered contact information and made appointments with knowledgeable parties to obtain ready access to the facilities. I once made a 1,200-mile trip and then was told that I should have made an advance security appointment — cost $300 — to get onto the roof of a skyscraper to inspect the transmitter plant and antenna
  • Packed two cameras: a video camera for general sweeping information intake and a still camera for details. Think something like a slow video pan of the transmitter room and a close-up still of the “rat’s nest” of wiring in the equipment racks as amplification. Double up on visuals to CYA in the event of camera failure.
Inventory your transmitter equipment carefully. Check for condition and proper operation within licensed parameters.

Every station is different, usually reflecting the personality of management. So when you prepare to visit the facility, have a specific plan of inspection with goals to gather the needed information. 

Above all, be logical and ready to bring back factual notes, not just impressions or recollections. Everyone has an opinion; your business is to gather as many facts as you can.


Now we’re at the station, so let’s begin:

  • Start your inspection by gathering up exact names, positions and latest contact numbers of responsible personnel, including their FCC attorneys in case you have to reach back for clarifications, etc. Quite often, you have to attribute a statement to a particular party, and you always want to correctly identify these folks. 
  • Review with management the assembled material you have, especially any questionable material and circumstances around that material to double-check the accuracy of these issues. 
  • Inspecting the physical studio/office is akin to a house inspection, so we won’t enlarge on this effort, but important points that must be addressed include safety issues, space per employee (does it comply with local codes?) and efficient work arrangement.
  • We could devote a series of articles to the efficient and qualitative aspects of air/production facilities; this evaluation is a major component of technical due diligence to answer the biggest of all questions: Can the facility function effectively and if not, what’s wrong?  
  • Do an inventory of the actual capital equipment at the transmitter(s). There have been some big surprises in my work: a missing, nearly brand-new top-end processor (it had been loaned to another station, which then loaned it to another one of their stations in a different market) … and in another case, a totally different main transmitter “borrowed” from another station because it sounded better.  
  • At the transmitter plant, liabilities and capital expenditures have big numbers attached to them, and therein lies information that is most often needed. Can this facility do its job, and how long until the next big investment event? What looms next, and what is your vision of the plan at the two poles — “just sufficient (or barely adequate)” vs. what is “optimal”?
  • Possibly the most overlooked concern is how facilities are interconnected for programming and control: STLs, ICRs, internet, satellite, RPU, ISDN, telco copper, tin-cans with string, whatever. And how reliable, effective and hardened with redundancy is this infrastructure? Connection should be 100% reliable, not 99.9%. (One pragmatic CE using the internet for distribution casually mentioned, “We get a few audio hits each day, where we lose programming feed for seconds at a time!”) Silence is the kiss of death on radio, especially when inexplicable and abrupt; the “next-station” button is right there on our steering wheels.

(As an aside, take good care of yourself on these jaunts. Drink plenty of water, eat regularly and well. Don’t overextend yourself. More stations are out there for you to see, and there is always tomorrow.)

BACK AT HOME A good due diligence process takes into account tower paint, lighting and the condition of antennas and transmission lines. A drone and someone with a license to fly it will help.

Unless you’re under the tightest deadline, when you return to the office, write the report Jesuit style: just begin and let it flow, covering the inspection either chronologically or by section. Then go back through, checking your notes to confirm actual numbers. (Was the power supply to the plant 480-volt three-phase, or was it 208?) Polish up your organization, grammar and tense — add what you missed on the first pass. 

Reports of this nature are built essentially on two kinds of sentence: declarative and interrogatory.

For example, let’s discuss the business office part of the acquisition. First, a declarative statement: “Business and sales space is on the second floor, and the usable space (subtracting washrooms, corridors, vestibules, etc.) is 1,200 square feet for 15 cubicles that are approximately 8 by 8 feet, for a total of about 1,000 of that 1,200 square feet.” 

Then, as an interrogative, we pose the question: “Will that be enough if you consolidate business and sales from other stations to this location?” 

You can see where the yin and yang of these reports are built on the two sides of the seesaw.

Once this first effort is completed to your satisfaction and missing information collected and inculcated into the text, your organization has been optimized and your prose falls upon the eyes like a perfect dawn (I think I’m quoting Steinbeck here), let it sit for at least 24 hours.  

Do your final touchup after your head has really cleared. Make a final pass, channeling first your client and their goals, and then a dispassionate reader looking for a document that will allow a considered decision based on factual data and an honest, independent appraisal. 


Some final general comments about these reports. 

Speculation not based on facts is neither helpful nor appreciated. Without a factual motivation, do not stray from the goals that you were charged with (what are you being paid for). 

Occasionally, you may have cause to include some details you’d discovered beyond the focus of your inspection. The most egregious circumstance I’ve encountered happened after removing a service cover that seemed to have had an awful lot of use (screw heads nearly paint free compared to the rest of the gear). Inside was a notable stash of drugs and weed (very illegal at the time). I put the cover back on and provided a verbal report covering that one point to the prospective buyer.  

Your final filter of review should parallel advice I was given in the military.

For some reason that remains a mystery to me, when my time was up the army really wanted me to stay; and the incentives were great. To show their confidence in me and dangle potential promotion, I was sent to command school. Ordinarily, that set of briefings is for colonels who are candidates for general grade officer. 

So who teaches potential generals what being a general is like but serving generals!  Each of these august and accomplished folks presented an intense 45 minutes on a germane topic. One of these, a fellow who looked like he had been sent over from central casting to play a general, talked about work at a Pentagon level.

At that echelon in making command decisions, “No one is interested in what you think. Everyone has thoughts and ideas. The person in charge, all the people involved in the mission need to know what you know … for certain. Your thinking should focus directly on what do we need to know to make the best decision, and if lacking, what is missing, and how do we find that missing item?”

That experience made for a very interesting two days. It became quite clear to me why these people were generals.

Your final pass should focus on the facts, just as theirs would in your situation.

My word processor here in the office has every deluxe feature you could imagine — spell check, grammar check, word repeat check, composition check. The only thing it does not have is thought check! That’s up to you and me. When the project is complete and if you put out the effort, your best job will be there in the print; and everyone will be well served.

Charles “Buc” Fitch, P.E. is a registered professional consultant engineer, senior member of the SBE, lifetime CPBE with AMD, licensed electrical contractor, former station owner and former director of engineering.

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