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College Radio Watch: Fall News Round-up

Fri, 11/08/2019 - 07:33

Welcome to a super-sized college radio news round-up, covering more than a month’s worth of college radio news. Before launching into this massive list of stories, I have to comment on a fascinating, hyperbolic quote about college radio history.

An AP News story in the Washington Post recounts nominees for the Songwriters Hall of Fame, stating:

R.E.M. shook up the music world with its experimental, edgy sound and then earned multiplatinum success and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The group got its start in Athens, Georgia, coming out of the region’s flourishing indie-rock scene. The band was credited for helping launch college radio with songs such as ‘Radio Free Europe.’

Who knew that R.E.M. helped launch college radio? While it has become a bit of a 1980s college radio cliche to talk about bands like R.E.M. that got their start over the college radio airwaves; this moment was by no means the “launch” of college radio. As Radio Survivor readers know, college radio dates back to at least the 1920s.

Certainly the 1980s are heralded as a strong period of college radio’s influence on the music industry, which is perhaps what this odd phrasing (“helping launch college radio”) is alluding to. Or it could also have been referencing the birth of “alternative” and “college rock” as music genres. The mainstreaming of “alternative” led to changes in the airsound of commercial radio stations, which starting playing bands that used to live on the left side of the dial on college radio.

College Radio in the Movies

Speaking of the 1980s, for those of you interested in films that portray college radio DJs, I just learned of another one. Girls Nite Out is a 1982 slasher film that has recurring scenes and themes related to a college radio DJ.

More College Radio News Station Profiles Infrastructure Profiles of DJs and Staff + Impact of Station on Students College Radio in Art and Popular Culture Events Anniversaries/History College Radio Day College Radio and Music Culture Programming
Alumni Awards and Accolades

The post College Radio Watch: Fall News Round-up appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Can We Save AM Radio by Killing It? Considering All-Digital AM Radio

Fri, 11/08/2019 - 00:52

Can you save AM Radio by killing it?

The original broadcast band gets little love as it prepares to celebrate its 100th birthday. Plagued by electromagnetic interference from wi-fi routers, LED lights and all sorts of other modern electronics, and dominated by tired right-wing and sports talk programming targeting a shrinking demographic, there’s not much love for AM radio these days.

While the FCC has talked about revitalizing the AM band for something close to a decade, all that’s resulted is letting AM broadcasters have translator repeater stations on the FM dial. That’s not so much AM revitalization as welfare for AM broadcasters.

Another idea that’s been floating in the ether is taking the band all-digital. Just like the FM band, there are digital HD Radio stations on AM right now. Because AM stations have just a fraction of the bandwidth of FM channels, they don’t feature additional channels, like FM’s HD–2 and HD–3. Instead HD Radio stations on AM just have a digital channel accompanying the analog one which offers audio that is stereo and markedly free of noise and static, provided you have an HD Radio tuner and are in range of the lower-powered digital signal.

The idea behind an all-digital AM band is that stations would drop their analog signals altogether in favor of a digital HD Radio signal. The supposed benefit is that the new digital signals would be higher fidelity, free of noise, and somewhat more resistant to interference. The downside would be that they would be unreceivable by the hundreds of millions of analog AM radios in use around the country. Only HD Radio equipped car radios and the much-rarer home receivers would get the broadcasts.

As of now, approximately 50% of new cars are HD-capable. Taking into account that the average vehicle on the road is nearly 12 years old, a much lower percentage of all vehicles have the capability, meaning the majority of radio listeners still can’t hear HD Radio signals.

Nevertheless, for the first time this month the FCC is officially taking up the idea of letting AM stations go all-digital. The proposal, docket 19–311, wouldn’t force stations to go HD Radio. Instead, if approved, it would allow stations to choose this route.

Arguing All-Digital AM

To understand the motivations for this, we can look to a Radio World editorial, in which the petitioner behind this proposal, radio group GM Ben Downs, argues for the sonic advantages of HD Radio on AM. I admit that on its own the fidelity argument is hard to find fault with. But there are many more significant nits to pic. He takes up several common objections.

To the argument, “there aren’t enough [HD] radios,” he answers: “And if we broadcasters don’t step up, there won’t be any listeners either. Every year more and more HD Radios are hitting the market. Can we say the same about AM listeners?”

I think what he’s saying is that listeners are fleeing AM because of the noise and interference, but a growing segment of them are using HD-capable receivers that would relieve them of the sound constraints. I’m not certain there’s much evidence for this. Fidelity is not much of an issue for listening to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or endless listener calls debating NFL stats. Audiences interested in anything else naturally turn to FM.

Downs anticipates this critique, writing, “There are always people who say poor programming damaged AM. I suppose that’s possible, but those choices were forced on us by radios that had such poor performance we were embarrassed to try to compete against FM music stations with what we had to work with.”

That seems a selective view of the past, at best, and ahistorical at worst. FM music radio became predominant in the early 1980s, way before the AM dial became so noisy. Moreover, I’m not sure when this mythical time of wide-spread high fidelity AM receivers was, but that’s one I wished I’d lived in (and I was a radio listener in the early 80s).

He also takes up the argument that, “I’ll lose listeners when I switch [to all-digital],” answering: “The beauty of the AM revitalization process was that it allowed us to pair our AM stations with FM translators. Your translator can carry the audience load while the audience becomes accustomed to all-digital AM.”

I find this just as paradoxical as the idea of FM signals for AM broadcasters representing any kind of “revitalization” for the band. My question is: if listeners have to hear your station on the FM dial, why would they ever go back to find it on AM? Would they even know to do so?

While much of radio listening has moved to the car, and HD Radio is far more prevalent in vehicle dashboards than in home receivers, my own experience is that most listeners are relatively unaware of HD Radio. Their tuners may bring in the signal, but since it sounds roughly identical to the analog one, it’s all in the background. I don’t think most seek it out. This is evidenced by the fact that there are no HD–2 or HD–3 stations – only receivable with an HD capable receiver – at or towards the top of the ratings for any U.S. market.

Now, I agree that the fidelity difference on AM is more pronounced and noticeable. But I’m still not sure that listeners really notice the difference as their radios shift between analog and digital signals. Any AM listener is accustomed to the signal strengthening and fading as they travel, and the analog to digital shift doesn’t really sound all that different.

Importantly, we’re only talking about listeners in vehicles here. AM stations that switch to all-digital will most certainly lose nearly all their listeners outside of a car. No doubt there are nerds like me who own HD Radio home receivers, or some die-hard fans who will go out to buy one of the handful of HD-capable models when it becomes necessary. But the vast majority will just listen to something else.

I have a hard time seeing how going all-digital will save stations. More likely, it will just alienate listeners, and make those stations even more niche and less viable.

The Problem Isn’t Digital Radio, Per Se

I do want to be clear that, despite my cynicism, I don’t actually wish for stations to fail, nor do I think digital radio is a bad idea. I think it would be good for the U.S. to have a truly viable digital radio service. However, it would be better as an additional service, rather than a replacement for analog radio. Something more like the DAB service prevalent outside the US.

Even with its limitations, there are significant advantages to analog AM radio. It’s a proven technology that has lasted a century, and there are millions upon millions of receivers out there. Heck, it’s so simple that you can build a crystal set receiver that doesn’t even require electricity. Moreover, AM signals can easily travel hundreds to thousands of miles.

All of this means that AM is an efficient want to broadcast to large groups of people over a large area. That is particularly important during emergencies, natural disasters or other times when communications by cellular phone or internet is compromised.

Who Loses When Stations Go All-Digital?

What I’d hate to see during a wildfire, hurricane or earthquake thousands of people resorting to their emergency radios, only to find that where there used to be a reliable source of local information there is only digital hash.

Though I have doubts that all-digital AM broadcasting will be any more successful, nor as sustainable as analog, I certainly prefer it to be optional rather than mandatory. On the one hand I suppose it’s not terrible to let station owners to make their bets and choose their own fates.

On the other hand, these consequences are not borne only by stations alone. Communities continue to depend on broadcasters, and there is still something of a remnant public service obligation in exchange for the monopoly license to use a frequency on the public airwaves. If going all-digital ends up driving a station out of business, what’s the likelihood that another one will take over the license and take its place?

I honestly don’t doubt the sincerity of many all-digital AM proponents, that they honestly would like to see a higher fidelity, “improved” service on the dial. However, they may be naïve.

Is This Even About Radio?

A more suspicious take would be that a drive to all-digital AM has nothing to do with radio as an audio service. Rather it’s an effort to turn the band into a data service, with audio as a justification, but more of an afterthought. That’s not unlike the required, but mostly useless video signal of channel 6 low-power TV stations, that mostly serve as “Franken FM” radio stations sneaking onto the FM dial at 87.7 FM. Think of all-digital AM as a cheap way to send traffic, weather and other commercialized data to in-car receivers without the need for mobile internet.

That said, I also have doubts about how many broadcasters would take advantage of all-digital operation. I have difficulty seeing top rated big-city AMs dump the millions of analog listeners that keep advertisers coming back just to gain a little bit of fidelity for a minority of the in-car audience.

The question becomes: Is all-digital AM Radio actually AM Radio? If we’re being pedantic, no, it isn’t. AM means Amplitude Modulation, which is an inherently analog technology. If all the stations on the AM dial were to go digital, that would in fact mean the death of AM broadcasting in the U.S., along with the death of many of the technology’s advantages.

It’s possible this wouldn’t be as tragic as I predict. Maybe analog FM and more robust internet technologies would pick up the slack. Maybe even such a transition would stimulate the production and sales of more HD Radio receivers.

I’m not committed to being a luddite, and I wouldn’t mind being wrong. I just won’t bet on it.

The post Can We Save AM Radio by Killing It? Considering All-Digital AM Radio appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast # 218: Archiving Public Media

Thu, 11/07/2019 - 16:49

On this week’s episode, Karen Cariani, the David O. Ives Executive Director of the WGBH Media Library and Archives, joins us to talk about the work of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB).

A collaboration between the Library of Congress and WGBH, the AAPB not only archives public radio and television; but it also makes material searchable and accessible through its website.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast # 218: Archiving Public Media appeared first on Radio Survivor.

The Eton Mini Grundig Edition Is My New Travel Companion

Thu, 11/07/2019 - 00:26

One of life’s little pleasures is tuning around the radio dial late at night before drifting off to slumber. I especially enjoy this while traveling, touring foreign radio dials, encountering strange and distant signals.

This means that a small portable radio is my constant traveling companion. I prefer to travel light, so said radio must also be as tiny as practical. In the last couple of years the Tivdio V–115 has been my choice, given its small size, AM, FM and shortwave tuning, reasonable sensitivity and ability to record air checks to a microSD card. I’ll refer you to my YouTube review for more details.

Even so, my ears are always wandering, urging my eyes to admire other receiver suitors. About a month ago the Eton Mini Grundig Edition caught my attention, and at a sale price of less than $25 delivered. Grundig is a venerable name in radios, and the Mini has received decent reviews, so I bit.

Small and Capable

The radio lives up to its name, measuring up to about the same size as an iPhone SE, including a decent speaker and retractable antenna. It comes with a nice nylon case to help protect it in your bag.

Though the Mini includes shortwave, the coverage is more limited than my Tivdio, only covering two bands, from 5 – 10 MHz and 11.65 – 18 MHz. That said, shortwave is more of a “nice to have” than a necessity for my travel radio, so this limitation is fine with me.

Taking it along for an extended trip to New York City and northern New Jersey, I was impressed at how well it pulled in FM stations inside my Midtown Manhattan hotel. It was no problem tuning in public radio WNYC, along with college radio from NYU, Columbia University and Fordham. The same could not be said of the room’s supplied clock radio.

Though small, the Mini’s speaker is adequate for a travel radio, with pleasing sound that’s loud enough for hotel room listening. You’re not going to disturb your neighbors, and that’s probably a good thing. I also appreciate its simple thumbwheel tuning. It’s not quite as convenient as the number direct-dialing keypad on my Tivdio, but the Tivdio’s buttons are stiff and make a loud click, which can annoy others around you if you’re scanning the dial wearing headphones.

For late night listening a sleep timer is a necessity, since I’m likely to drift off, sometimes to the soothing sounds of inter-station static. The Mini comes so equipped. I also appreciate its control lock that prevents it from turning on inside my baggage, draining batteries and annoying fellow passengers.

Patience Pays for DXing

After dark is the time for AM band DXing, and here I found the Mini’s performance curious. When I first spun the dial, I was only picking up the strongest local stations. Then I started clicking through frequencies more slowly, stopping when I heard a faint signal. Leaving the radio tuned, the signal grew in volume and strength – patience paid off. I suspect this is an artifact of the DSP-based tuner, keeping the volume more muted with a weak signal so as not to assault the listener with loud static, then gradually increasing sensitivity as needed.

Moving from noisy Manhattan to the relative quiet – both in terms of noise and RF interference – of upper Passaic County, I enjoyed many fun DX finds. Keeping the gradual technique in mind, I had no problem bringing in signals from Quebec, Michigan, Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, Upstate New York and Boston. I didn’t formally log the stations because I was already tucked into bed with the lights out.

On Halloween night I dived into the shortwave band a little after dusk, wondering if I might encounter some pirates. I wasn’t hopeful, and so I wasn’t disappointed when none emerged from the ether. I was, however, pleasantly surprised when Radio Havana came blaring through at 6 MHz.

At home in Portland, Oregon, I’ve found shortwave reception inside my house to be very hit and miss, and mostly miss. I do think geography is partly to blame. New Jersey is simply closer to many more shortwave stations than Oregon. Nevertheless I was impressed with how good the Eton Mini’s indoor shortwave reception is.

On the whole, the Eton Mini Grundig Edition proved itself a capable and pleasant traveling companion. The one thing I miss is the easy ability to record airchecks direct to a memory card like my Tivdio can. However, I think the Mini outclassed it with AM sensitivity and selectivity, provided you’re patient and allow maybe a half-minute for a station to slowly come into focus through the static. Also, the Tivdio’s recording circuit can be a source of interference, which means it can thwart recordings of weak signals which will just disappear when you hit record. Moreover, if I’m listening to the Mini through the speaker I can make quick-and-dirty aircheck recordings using my smartphone or a portable voice recorder (yeah, I often travel with one of those, too).

There are better performing portable radios, and ones with more features or frequency coverage. But I don’t think I’ve encountered one this small and also this good. Carry on and tune in.

The post The Eton Mini Grundig Edition Is My New Travel Companion appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Happy 60th to College Radio Station KFJC

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 15:31

This fall has been a hectic time at the college radio station, KFJC-FM at Foothill College, where I am a volunteer DJ and Publicity Director. On October 20th, the station turned 60 years old and we celebrated with various on and off-air activities.

With my interest in college radio history, I felt compelled to do a bit more digging in order to tell some tales about KFJC’s past. So many college radio stations have done inspiring history projects and I’d been wanting to do a history blog in the style of WPRB’s History Blog for quite some time, as I like the way the Princeton University station features moments from its past in a non-linear manner.

So, in the midst of the annual fundraiser and as the anniversary loomed, KFJC launched its history blog where we are starting to share historical goodies. As I’d hoped, the 60th anniversary has been a rallying point for station alumni. Even before the blog debuted, they were sharing stories and images on social media, some of which have now been incorporated into the blog.

At KFJC’s 60th Anniversary Open House, alumni from nearly every decade of the station’s existence were on the scene. Some even brought bits of history, including a vintage T-shirt and a briefcase full of KFJC ephemera. Founder Bob Ballou wasn’t able to make it to the party, but he checked in over email. Every year he sends his congratulatory greetings on KFJC’s anniversary, which always makes me smile.

It’s nice to take the time to reflect back on a station’s past, as often we find parallels with the present. As KFJC was making plans for a big surf music show at a campus venue, I was shown a flyer from the KFJC archives for a 1960s-era KFJC forum and live broadcast from the very same room at Foothill College. While the content was markedly different (loud surf bands in 2019 vs. “The Art of Being Female” forum in 1965), it’s somehow reassuring to feel a kinship with station predecessors doing work in the same spaces.

Where is College Radio Watch?

So, with my hyper-focus on KFJC and other work this fall, the weekly college radio news updates here have been on hiatus. While I like to maintain a record of the latest college radio news, it takes time to do this every week. Did you miss “College Radio Watch”? Is it something that helps you in your work or in your understanding of the college radio scene? Drop us a note to let me know.

The post Happy 60th to College Radio Station KFJC appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #217: Radio Spectrum and Transmission Art

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 20:09

Amanda Dawn Christie is an artist enamored with radios and radio waves. The Assistant Professor, Studio Arts at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada) joins us on the show to discuss her most recent transmission art project, Ghosts in the Airglow, in which she created work at the HAARP facility in Alaska.

Christie also shares with us the backstory of how she starting working with radio and radio waves, describing her fascination with radio towers and shortwave and recounting her numerous radio-related art projects.

This episode first aired in April of 2019. To hear the longer verson click here.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #217: Radio Spectrum and Transmission Art appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #216 – Archiving LGBTQ Radio History (Rebroadcast)

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 21:00

Our guest is Brian DeShazor, an independent radio researcher and founder of the Queer Radio Research Project. Formerly the Director of the Pacifica Radio Archives, DeShazor has taken a special interest in uncovering and highlighting the LGBTQ voices that have aired on community radio in decades past.

On the episode, we discuss the history of queer radio programming as well as DeShazor’s work to bring some of the hidden LGBTQ stories to light.

This episode originally aired on April 2, 2019 as episode #187, which is slightly longer.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #216 – Archiving LGBTQ Radio History (Rebroadcast) appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #215 – Lessons Indymedia Has for Us Today

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 21:51

Today our online networks are largely owned and operated by corporations that spy on us for profit, but 20 years ago leftist activists built a very different kind of online network. It was called Indymedia. It was one of the first online spaces where people could self publish photos and text as well as audio and video. The network was designed for people to report their own news. Each local Indymedia website was linked to and run out of a physical space (Independent Media Center) where people gathered to work on telling their stories and to form community.

Our guest is April Glaser, technology and business journalist at Slate. April previously worked at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Prometheus Radio Project, Radio Free Nashville, and the Tennessee Independent Media Center.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #215 – Lessons Indymedia Has for Us Today appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Pacifica Radio: some recent positive developments

Sat, 10/12/2019 - 17:27

Please know that the opinions expressed here belong entirely to me. My Radio Survivor colleagues Eric, Jennifer, and Paul bear no responsibility for what follows. Any and all outraged responses should be sent to the email address listed in my profile below (expressions of agreement are also welcome, of course).

After a twenty year extended vacation from competence and sanity, forces within the Pacifica Foundation and its network of five listener supported radio stations have taken the first crucial steps towards rescuing the organization. I do not know whether they will succeed. I do think that they are on the right track. Or, to be more accurate, the right two tracks.

Here they are, Tracks One and Two, with my assessments.

Track One: By-laws reform. A group of Pacificans have proposed and are distributing a desperately needed revision of the foundation’s excruciatingly democratic by-laws. I cannot bring myself to say much more about these monstrous governance rules than I already have over the years. Following the Big Pacifica Blowup of 1999-2001, the survivors created a board system of over 120 people, elected by the network’s listener subscribers and staff. We are literally talking about a cast of thousands governance system that has cost the organization between three and four million dollars to keep in the idiotic manner to which it has become accustomed. And, as any high school student vice-president could tell you, its girth has paralyzed the organization time and time again.

In its place, the reformers propose a far leaner eleven member Board of Directors. Six will be chosen by the Board; five will be elected by the respective listener-subscribers and staffs of the network’s five radio stations. You can read the proposed by-laws yourself. Some of the by-laws team members helped create the current board system and appear to have learned something from its shortcomings. I like many things about the draft, especially its exclusion of station programmers from the Board, an obvious conflict of interest.

On the other hand, I am not crazy about the continuation of listener-subscriber/staff elected Directors. I anticipate that most of the candidates for these positions will be, at best, ignorant about the other four stations. I expect a bunch of crazy hotheads to front load the contests with noxious blather. And I wager that most listener-subscribers will cheerfully ignore the elections, as they do now.

But at least the elections will be decided by Ranked-Choice Voting, rather than its annoying and dysfunctional cousin, Single Transferable Voting (STV), or IUV as I call it: Incomprehensible Unexplainable Voting. Pacifica’s current ballot counting method, STV, seems to be obsessed with making sure that every wing nut gets their day. I remember a Pacifica board member I experienced as particularly bonkers asked some years ago to explain STV. “I don’t know how to describe it,” he candidly replied. “But without STV I wouldn’t be sitting on this board.” That was the best description of STV I have ever heard.

In contrast, in a straight up Ranked-Choice contest, the candidates who win will more likely be those supported by a critical mass of the station community. Not the best way to pick Directors, but hardly the worst. Bottom line: these proposed governance rules are so much better than the current Pacifica by-laws that there is no comparison. The organization desperately needs governors who can make decisions relatively quickly, especially now. So if you are a Pacifica station listener-subscriber or staff member, please endorse these by-laws (as have I) so they can replace the current monstrosity as quickly as possible.

Track two: WBAI. As everybody who pays any attention to Pacifica knows, last week Pacifica’s Executive Director took over Pacifica station WBAI-FM in New York City and replaced its schedule with network programming. You can read the CIA coup version of what happened over at The Nation magazine. My favorite line: “All of this occurred without a vote of Pacifica’s National Board.”

Regrettably, Pacifica does not have another two decades to deliberate over the future of WBAI (see my Track One comments). To my amusement, I now find myself in agreement with someone with whom I have been at odds for most of the recent Pacifica past: Carol Spooner (she once compared me to Glenn Beck). As a member of the aforementioned new by-laws team, Spooner notes that as of September 30, 2017, WBAI was in hock to Pacifica and the rest of the network to the tune of $4 million. “WBAI’s total net deficit as of that date was ($6.6 million),” she wrote in a recent letter to the National Board, “including $2.36 million in accrued rent.” (Spooner’s whole letter is republished at the end of my comments).

This loadstone comes in the context of a huge and, in my opinion, very ill advised $3.25 million loan that Pacifica took out in April of 2018. Facing a terrifying court decision allowing a WBAI transmitter landlord to flush out Pacifica’s exchequer in pursuit of millions of dollars in back rent, the organization should have declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Instead, Pacifica borrowed from Peter to pay Paul. “That loan is secured by everything Pacifica owns, and it comes due in full on April 1st, 2021,” Spooner warns. “So far, there is no clear plan to come up with the funds to pay.” 

And she continues:

“The rest of the network did the best we could to help WBAI . . . We (the rest of the network) sold the National Office building (paid for by KPFA listeners as part of the mortgage on the KPFA [in Berkeley, California] building). We (the rest of the network) loaned them money. We (the rest of the network) picked up as much of the slack as we could with national expenses and increased Central Services payments. We (the rest of the network) got them a new transmitter. And, finally, we (the rest of the network) mortgaged the KPFA, KPFK [in Los Angeles], and KPFT [in Houston, Texas] buildings (and everything else we own, including intellectual property at the Archives, all our furniture, fixtures, equipment, etc.) to get the loan to payoff Empire State and break the lease.”

Sorry folks, but enough is enough. The Executive Director in question, John Vernile, told The New York Times that he wants to “rebuild” WBAI, rather than sell the station license. “We are not out of the woods yet,” he said, “but this puts us in a place where we have a shot at bringing everything back in full.”

Is this the best strategy for community radio in the USA? I do not think so. To my mind, Pacifica should declare bankruptcy, sell WBAI’s frequency license, transfer the remaining Pacifica stations to local non-profits, and let the history of listener-supported community based radio migrate to new leaders who hopefully have learned something from the mistakes of the last 25 years.

But I believe that Vernile, Carol Spooner, and their colleagues are sincere in their intent. I think that the by-laws team and Pacifica’s latest management team are serious about trying to rescue the organization, more or less as it is. They have demonstrated that they intend to make the very difficult choices necessary to accomplish that goal.

Please, listen to their voices before you buy into the hysteria – or those who pontificate that “something had to be done, but not this.” Something had to be done which was at minimum this. I see these efforts as significant and hopeful. For the first time in a long time I am encouraged.

Here is Carol Spooner’s statement to the board, republished in full:

“Dear PNB Members,

I urge you to vote to support John Vernile’s very painful, difficult and courageous actions at WBAI last Monday. 

I believe the best hope for Pacifica now is strong and stable executive leadership with a cohesive board to back him up. The lender (on the $3.25 million loan) is watching Pacifica carefully, and very worried about their loan, I am sure. Seeing that strong action has been taken to stop the bleeding at WBAI, and seeing that the board supports that action, would be reassuring to them. Then, I believe John Vernile would have a reasonable chance to negotiate with them about extending the term of the loan. Without that, I would not be surprised to see them foreclose on their loan (as is their right under multiple conditions we have not been able to fulfill so far).We, the whole network, have done our best for WBAI. It wasn’t enough, and has exhausted the reserves and resources that are necessary to get the rest of our stations on a better footing.The audits tell the story, and I’m sure the lender carefully reads them. As of the last audited financial statements (9/30/17) WBAI owed $4 million in inter-division payables to the National Office and the other Stations. That included unpaid Central Services and other funds advanced to WBAI to cover expenses. WBAI’s total net deficit as of that date was ($6.6 million), including $2.36 million in accrued rent. You can see for yourself here: https://www.pacifica.org/finance/audit_2017.pdf

Ten years before (as of 9/30/07) WBAI’s interdivision payables were $502,389, and they had a net deficit of ($99,603). See for yourself here: https://www.pacifica.org/finance/audit_2007.pdf

That is a total loss of $7.1 million over the past 10 years at WBAI. The individual station info is in the “Supplemental Information” at the back of the audits.Both Hurricane Sandy and the Empire State lease took a terrible toll on WBAI. 

The rest of the network did the best we could to help WBAI … the national office cut everything they could, and more. I say more because for a couple of years there they didn’t have the staff or money to do critical things like do the audits (the 2017 audit was filed 2 years late!).We (the rest of the network) sold the National Office building (paid for by KPFA listeners as part of the mortgage on the KPFA building). We (the rest of the network) loaned them money. We (the rest of the network) picked up as much of the slack as we could with national expenses and increased Central Services payments. We (the rest of the network) got them a new transmitter. And, finally, we (the rest of the network) mortgaged the KPFA, KPFK, and KPFT buildings (and everything else we own, including intellectual property at the Archives, all our furniture, fixtures, equipment, etc.) to get the loan to payoff Empire State and break the lease.But our financial condition continues to deteriorate across the network. Listenership and donations continue declining. We have to change. We have to keep WBAI on the air with programs from elsewhere, while we strengthen the rest of our stations. Then, if the lender gives us a couple more years, we can reinvest in WBAI and bring back local programming … stronger and better I hope.

So, again, I strongly urge you to support John Vernile. Our lender is watching. It is important for any negotiations with them that John have the strong backing of his board for stabilizing Pacifica and turning things around. Without that, I really do fear that all will be lost.

Best wishes and many thanks, ~Carol Spooner (PNB Member 2002-2004)”

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No, Vinyl Records Aren’t Outselling CDs – Do the Math

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 02:01

Last month news spread that, “Vinyl Is Poised to Outsell CDs For the First Time Since 1986,” as Rolling Stone reported. The source of that prediction is the recording industry’s own mid-year report, which showed vinyl sales racking up $224.1 million on 8.6 million units in the first half of 2019, creeping up on CD’s $247.9 million on 18.6 million units.

You don’t have to stare at those numbers long to notice one disparity is significantly bigger than the other. It’s true that vinyl records accounted for only $23.8 million fewer than CDs. But the units moved tell another story. In fact, more than twice as many CDs were sold than vinyl records – 116% to be more precise.

I don’t know about you, but that looks to me like vinyl records are still a long way towards outselling CDs. Rather, each of those records sold generated more revenue than each CD, $26.06 per record vs. $13.32 per CD.

Those numbers should look pretty accurate for anyone who’s bought new music lately. Whereas in 1989, when the CD was ascendant and a new record generally cost at least a few bucks less, the situation has reversed in the intervening three decades. And that makes sense if you account for the industrial history at work here.

As vinyl sales dropped in the 90s in favor of digital discs, companies pressed fewer records, and pressing plants gradually shut down. While CD sales have slowed in the last decade, they haven’t yet experienced the kind of drop-off that vinyl did. Although the last ten years have seen a vinyl resurgence, aging plants struggled to keep up with demand, and new plants came on line, all increasing costs. CDs, on the other hand, became a mature technology, with production costs having pretty much bottomed out in the early 2000s, and not having increased much since then.

At core, this disparity is due to the fact that vinyl now costs more to manufacture than CDs. On top of that, I suspect that demand and the popular perception of records as a more premium product conspire to help push and keep prices higher.

So, it isn’t really the case that vinyl is outselling CDs. “Outselling” means that something is exceeding something else in volume of sales. Instead it’s the case that vinyl is outearning and generating more revenue than CDs.

Based upon those per-unit revenue numbers, if vinyl were actually proportionally on pace to outsell CDs in volume sold, they’d be generating more like $438 million on about 16.8 units.

Picking Apart False Narratives

Why do all this nit-picky math? Because I think a false narrative is being spun here. It’s the narrative that CDs are dying at such fast pace that even a once-thought-obsolete technology like the vinyl record is going to surpass it.

I care because it’s the same kind of narrative that’s been used to smear radio for the last generation or so. This, despite the fact that some 90% of the population still listens to terrestrial radio.

Now, I’m not a luddite (which seems like a strange thing to call someone who’s defending the digital compact disc). I don’t dispute the fact that radio listenership and CD sales are declining. Given the ubiquity these technologies enjoyed in the year 2000, pretty much the only way to go was down, especially with the proliferation of new, often more convenient and diverse technologies. But that slide does not mean the technologies are dead or obsolete.

I have a particularly sore spot for FAIL culture and tech triumphalism, which go looking for receding tech or trends to pronounce ready for the trash heap of history. The pernicious aspect of this is that it causes some folks to think maybe they’re backwards or out of it for continuing to enjoy their CDs or radios.

For CDs specifically, what I see happening is people dumping their perfectly good collections, ones that were often painstakingly acquired and curated, and at great expense. I get that streaming is more convenient; I listen to more streaming music than CDs. But even if I’ve pared down the collection, I’m not going to just chuck away favorite albums like that. You never know when Spotify is going to lose the rights to your beloved music out of nowhere.

History Repeating Itself

I’m having flashbacks to the early 90s, when I knew so many people dumping their vinyl collections – often for free or very little money – in favor of rebuying many of the exact same albums on new, supposedly superior, shiny digital discs. Being both a poor student then, and also vinyl enthusiast, I scooped up dozens of great albums for a fraction of what they originally cost or even what they go for now, new or used.

I’ve definitely talked to other Gen Xers who admit to now rebuying yet again favorite old albums on vinyl reissue, that they once had on CDs that replaced their original vinyl copies. Oy, the revolving door!

Look, if you’re into downsizing and Marie Kondo-ing your music collection, I have no beef with that. Streaming Spotify takes up significantly less space than any CD or vinyl collection. As long as you understand that some albums may mysteriously disappear from your streaming playlist and are fine with that, then forewarned is forearmed.

But dumping CDs because there’s a popular misconception that they’re inferior or obsolete, that’s what doesn’t make sense to me. Especially since decent CD players are easier to get and less expensive than all but the flimsiest record players (never mind smartphones), not having a player shouldn’t be your excuse. In fact you probably have a CD player and just haven’t realized it – it’s your DVD or Blu-Ray player.

18.6 Million Is a Hell of a Niche

I have no doubt that physical media will become increasingly less prominent and more niche. But still, 18.6 million CDs sold in 6 months (some 37 million in a year) is a hell of a niche!

Even if most people stop buying new CDs altogether, there are still billions of discs on the used market, in flea markets, thrift shops, garage sales and free bins. In fact, the online music database and marketplace Discogs says CDs saw the biggest increase in sales amongst all formats on its platform in the first half of the year. Unlike the RIAA’s numbers, which only count new product sales, Discogs counts both new and used.

While vinyl records were the most popular physical music format on Discogs, keep in mind that the medium is twice as old as the compact disc. We should expect there are at least twice as many of them out there to be traded and resold.

Even so, nearly forty years of compact discs adds up to a nearly unfathomable amount of music out there to be heard. Moreover, a decent percentage of it was never released in another format, and still isn’t available for streaming. That means there’s a treasure trove of undiscovered or to-be-rediscovered nuggets out there for the finding.

Some of those treasures might be in your attic, basement, storage unit, or – even better – your CD shelf.

And, maybe I’m not the only digital luddite. Only a couple of weeks after the “vinyl is surpassing CD” news, Billboard reported that new compact discs from Taylor Swift, Tool and even Post Malone are flying off the shelves. This apparently is causing labels to reconsider their physical media strategy, as stores beg for more product to sell, especially of new hit albums.

Is a “CD Store Day” far behind?

Need more convincing? Earlier this year I outlined “10 Reasons Why CDs Are Still Awesome (Especially for Radio)” and expanded on the topic on our podcast.

The post No, Vinyl Records Aren’t Outselling CDs – Do the Math appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #214 – Net Neutrality Is a Local Issue Now

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 00:13

Net neutrality received a very mixed ruling from the DC Circuit Court of Appeals last week. The Court largely upheld the significantly looser rules passed by the FCC in 2017 under the leadership of Republican Chairman Ajit Pai. But at the same time the Court said the Commission overstepped its bounds in attempting to forbid state and local governments from passing their own open internet rules.

Prof. Christoper Terry from the University of Minnesota is back again this week to help us understand the implications of this blow to net neutrality. He’s joined by Tim Karr, Senior Director of Strategy and Communications for Free Press. We learn how the Court justified the Pai FCC’s dismantling of Open Internet rules the Obama-era Commission had passed just two years prior, rules that survived a previous challenge in front of the same court.

However, hope for an open internet lies with state and local governments, which have been passing their own rules in the last two years, and are now specifically cleared to do so by the Appeals Court. We’ll understand what those efforts look like, and why Tim Karr is optimistic about the future of net neutrality.

Show Notes:

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Radio Station Visit #162: College Radio Station KSDT at UC San Diego

Fri, 10/04/2019 - 19:07

At the end of a long day of travel, I found myself in the relaxing digs of streaming college radio station KSDT at University of California, San Diego (UCSD). In a quiet spot on campus, the station’s lobby door opens onto a pathway within the old student center complex. It’s near the student-run television station (Triton TV) and various socially-minded student services reside nearby, including a food pantry, LGBT Resource Center, Student Veterans Resource Center, Food Co-Op and a long-time collectively-run bookstore (Groundwork Books).

Entrance to college radio station KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

On a sleepy June evening, just a few days after graduation, Programming Director Adriana Barrios and Media Director Emanuel Castro Cariño greeted me in the KSDT lobby for a chat and a tour. The station was on a brief summer hiatus, with live shows returning in July. In the absence of regular DJs, KSDT was running an automated mix of music from a big hard drive dubbed “Satan.”

View of campus from KSDT studio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

While there’s no set music genre for KSDT, the station does work to support independent, underground artists. Castro Cariño described the station sound as “eclectic,” praising its “weird audience” of listeners, including a fan in Poland who enjoys the station’s surf/garage show. Barrios said that while there are quite a few shows playing “indie pop” and “SoundCloud rappers,” she’s encouraging people to bring in genres that aren’t common at KSDT since they have so much available time on the schedule. “The more diversity in music, the better,” she relayed, summing up her programming philosophy.

7-inch records at college radio station KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

An enthusiastic fan of college radio, Barrios talked about her visits to stations in Boston and throughout California (thanks to University of California Radio Network conferences). Inspired in part by what she and other staffers have seen at other radio stations, KSDT is combing through its archives to uncover its 50+ year history.

Sticker at KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

As is the case at many college radio stations, the current participants at KSDT don’t know too much about the station’s past. A decade ago, a 2009 UCSD Guardian article uncovered historical tidbits, namely pointing out that the station has never had a licensed over-the-air frequency. From the earliest days, KSDT operated over very low power, initially broadcasting to dorms in 1968 via AM carrier current. By 1973, the station was able to expand its reach to the broader San Diego community thanks to cable FM.

Vintage KSDT sticker at the college radio station. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

A 1987 Los Angeles Times article pointed out that KSDT “…has a potentially massive listening audience. You can pick it up at 95.7 on Cox Cable FM, 95.5 on Southwestern Cable FM.” The L.A. Times explained that cable FM was a service utilized by a small percentage of cable customers in 1987, stating, “A spokesman for Cox said a lot of people just plain miss cable FM. Out of 278,000 Cox subscribers, only 3,000 get the FM service. He, of course, would like a higher number, as would KSDT. (It costs $3.95 a month.) KSDT reaches only a few dormitories, wired to receive the signal through electrical outlets–you just can’t get it over the airwaves.”

Vintage LPs at college radio station KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

As they toured me through the station, Barrios referred to vintage KSDT stickers emblazoned with long-forgotten frequencies from the station’s cable FM and AM carrier current days. She and Castro Cariño also pointed out file cabinets containing historical documents and reel-to-reel audio tapes housed in the station’s music library.

News archives amid KSDT 7″ records. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Barrios shared that KSDT is in the process of recovering its history by going through files and piecing together the story of the station’s past. As for the rationale, she opined that while KSDT is certainly looking ahead to its future, they also want to make a conscious effort to ground themselves in where they’ve come from.

50th anniversary sign at KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

It’s a group effort, with several folks at the station interested in delving into the station’s archival material, including video. KSDT’s Winter 2019 ‘zine even featured record reviews of some LPs from the KSDT library dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. Barrios would also like to work on engaging with KSDT alumni is a more significant way and creating a plan for how to involve alumni DJs was on her summer to-do list.

View from lobby into KSDT studio/record library. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Just past the lobby, KSDT’s spacious on-air studio has a large window overlooking a patio, with picnic tables and an eatery nearby. When broadcasting, speakers outside the studio beam the KSDT stream to passersby. Within the studio, there’s the requisite broadcasting equipment and the surrounding walls and shelves hold the recently alphabetized vinyl LPs, 7″ records, and even some vintage reel-to-reel tapes.

LPs at college radio station KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

The studio has another window overlooking a small office (with plenty of sticker-covered surfaces) as well as a roll-up door/window that can be raised to create an open expanse between the lobby and the studio. A short hallway leads from the lobby to a music practice room.

Sound board at KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

A student-run college radio station, KSDT has a staff of 12 students and around 100 DJs every quarter doing one-hour shows. Additionally, the station runs a music practice room with a membership of around 50 to 70 people. A unique project (I’m not aware of a practice room run by any other college radio station), I was told that the practice room is the only space on the UCSD campus outside of the music department that provides instruments and space for musicians to practice. Castro Cariño recounted that a few years back it was a “passion project” by the students who ultimately built the space.

KSDT Practice Room. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

A haven for both musicians and audio engineers, the practice room is stocked with drums, a piano, guitar, various percussion instruments, amps, cables, and microphones. In addition to being a helpful space for artists, it also benefits the station by bringing musical talent in to KSDT.

Audio equipment in the KSDT music practice room. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

With summer break underway, Barrios was preparing for her senior year at UCSD while Castro Cariño was heading out into the world as a college graduate. At KSDT since his sophomore year, he said that while some might say it’s “bittersweet” to be moving on, he’s ready for the next phase and even has some ideas percolating on how to do community radio back in his home town. In part, he’d like to try to replicate the inspiring community that he found at KSDT. Reflecting back on his first moments at the station, he was struck by its “homey” feel, explaining that it was one of the places on campus where he felt “socially calm,” “at home” and “at peace.”

Emanuel Castro Cariño in KSDT music library. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Barrios didn’t anticipate how important KSDT would become for her when she jokingly proposed hosting a show she called “Fake Indie, Real Talk” her first year of college. She told me that she didn’t know much about music and was intimidated by the seemingly music savvy DJs. Just wrapping up her second year at Programming Director when we met, she told me, “I’m so happy I applied as a joke,” adding that KSDT is “probably THE coolest thing on campus.”

Adriana Barrios at KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

It’s also a place where people seem to really care about the work that they are doing both on and off air. Barrios started up a new “training quarter” program in fall, 2018 to provide more structure for new DJs. The components of the program include orientation (including training on how to spin vinyl records), DJ shadowing, and a series of non-prime-time solo hours on KSDT.

Sticker-covered door at college radio station KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Additionally, as part of the effort to make their time in radio a bit more of an educational experience, KSDT has a programming review process in which interns listen to shows at a particular time of day and provide feedback to the DJs/hosts. Barrios explained, “It’s really hard to do radio when you’ve never done radio before.” New DJs are given suggestions on how to improve their shows across a range of areas. Barrios described the reviews as “holistic,” with Castro Cariño adding that much of what they are aiming for is helping on-air hosts to be better communicators.

KSDT ‘zine in the college radio station’s lobby. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Both Barrios and Castro Cariño talked about how special it is to participate in college radio, citing being part of a creative community as a huge plus, especially at a university that they described as “STEM-focused.” It’s a sentiment that’s a common refrain at student-run radio stations and rings true for me as well: college radio can be an escape from the day-to-day stress of academics and a place to connect with fellow music lovers, artists, and soon-to-be radio nerds (in the best possible way).

Sticker-covered table at KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Thanks to Adriana Barrios and Emanuel Castro Cariño for spending a Tuesday night hanging out with me and schooling me about all things KSDT. This is my 162nd radio station tour report and my 107th college radio station tour. See my radio station visits in numerical order or by station type in our archives. I recap my San Diego-area college radio travels on Radio Survivor Podcast #202.

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Happy College Radio Day 2019

Fri, 10/04/2019 - 16:02

Today is College Radio Day 2019, a day set aside to celebrate student radio around the globe. This year more than 500 stations are participating. One of the organized events is the World College Radio Day marathon, in which stations from all over the world take turns broadcasting on the official College Radio Day stream. Today, I tuned in to hear a bit of KJHK from University of Kansas, followed by Radio Univers in Ghana and now I’m listening to college radio station UTM Radio from Ecuador.

College Radio Day is a wonderful reminder of the diversity of college radio; during their marathon I’m hearing a mix of talk in various languages as well as a range of music from many different eras.

The annual College Radio Day is also a great excuse to reflect on college radio’s rich history, which stretches back to the beginnings of broadcast radio. My first experience in college radio was on a campus that launched a student radio station in 1923. Those crafty techies on college campuses in the 1920s are my college radio heroes, as they turned their passion for the brand new communications medium into a student activity that continues to thrive nearly 100 years later.

Learn more about college radio and its fascinating history by perusing the Radio Survivor archives, where we cover the culture of college radio on these pages and in our podcast. I’ve also been reporting on my field trips to college radio stations since 2008, having visited more than 100 college radio stations. Those reports are also chock full of history, giving a more complete picture of the roots of college radio. Happy College Radio Day!


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Podcast #213: Four Strikes for the FCC’s Media Ownership Policy

Wed, 10/02/2019 - 02:11

The FCC lost in court for the fourth time on September 23, in what’s become a really bad habit in the case known as Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals keeps sending the Commission back to do homework to justify with evidence the changes it wants to make in loosening media ownership rules. And the Commission just keeps failing.

Prof. Christopher Terry of the University of Minnesota returns to tell us why the FCC failed again this time. He notes that the FCC has been at it for fifteen years. This means media ownership policy has seen nary an update pretty much since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which infamously triggered massive consolidation in broadcast radio and television. Prof. Terry explains why this stalemate doesn’t serve the public interest, in part because the overall diversity in media has declined sharply in that time.

He also lets us know about a recent buried change in FCC procedure that threatens to undermine the voice of local citizens and groups in commenting on Commission rules and proceedings.

Show Notes:

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The FCC’s Score in Media Ownership Policy is 0 – 4

Wed, 10/02/2019 - 02:09

Prof. Christopher Terry also guests on this week’s podcast to review the FCC’s recent court loss in detail. -Ed.

“Here we are again.”

That is the opening of the recent decision written by Judge Thomas L. Ambro in the latest judicial review of media ownership rules, in what is now Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC (IV). The FCC is 0-4 in court, in what amounts to another wipeout of the agency’s policies.

This is a process that has been ongoing for 15 years. Following the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the FCC conducted Congressionally-mandated biennial reviews of ownership regulations in 1998 and 2000 without significant action. The agency then suffered its first loss in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in June of 2004 over the agency’s biennial decision release in June of 2003, something that has now happened three more times since then. This 2017 post gives a neat summary of the Commission’s “legacy of failure” in those first three rounds.

Nothing changed with Tthe election of Donald Trump. In fact,, and the election and the subsequent the promotion of Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai to the head of the FCC also had a trickle-down effect to media ownership policy. In a November 2017 Reconsideration Order, the Commission radically rewrote ownership rules. As I explained at the time,

The changes are substantial and include:

• The elimination of the Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rule

• The elimination of the Radio/Television Cross-Ownership Rule

• A revision to the Local Television Ownership Rule that eliminates the Eight-Voices Test and will incorporate a case-by-case review option in the Top-Four Prohibition.

• The elimination of the attribution rule for television Joint Service Agreements (JSAs)…

Now, put simply, the agency has had what I have coined as the “Legacy of Failure” on media ownership policy for one important reason above all: There is no empirical evidence to support the agency’s decision-making on media ownership…

The changes.. are justified, at least in part, by the failings the FCC has created with previous merger adjudications and ownership policy. The FCC cites, “the decline of radio’s role in providing local news and information,” as a justification for the rule changes it now seeks to make. That decline, in what was once radio’s bread and butter, can be directly tied to the agency’s decision making, the mergers it approved and the rise of radio giants (like Clear Channel, now iHeartRadio) in the early 2000’s.

The November 2017 order, like all of media ownership policy since 2002, returned to the Third Circuit for review over this past summer. Again, it did not go well for agency in oral arguments (as I discussed in episode 199 of the podcast), which previewed the outcome of the case.


But after all that, on September 23, 2019, the Third Circuit sent the FCC packing, again, in what amounts to close to a complete defeat for the agency. Judge Ambro writes,

“Here we are again. After our last encounter with the periodic review by the Federal Communications Commission (the ‘FCC’ or the ‘Commission’) of its broadcast ownership rules and diversity initiatives, the Commission has taken a series of actions that, cumulatively, have substantially changed its approach to regulation of broadcast media ownership. First, it issued an order that retained almost all of its existing rules in their current form, effectively abandoning its long-running efforts to change those rules going back to the first round of this litigation. Then it changed course, granting petitions for rehearing and repealing or otherwise scaling back most of those same rules. It also created a new ‘incubator’ program designed to help new entrants into the broadcast industry. The Commission, in short, has been busy.”

While, the Court suggests the agency has been busy, the Court will also go on to point out it has not been busy resolving the two core issues that the court has ordered the agency to get busy on: providing empirical evidence to support a rational policy decision and second, and coming up with a rational policy that increases ownership by women and minorities.

“We do…agree with the last group of petitioners, who argue that the Commission did not adequately consider the effect its sweeping rule changes will have on ownership of broadcast media by women and racial minorities. Although it did ostensibly comply with our prior requirement to consider this issue on remand, its analysis is so insubstantial that we cannot say it provides a reliable foundation for the Commission’s conclusions. Accordingly, we vacate and remand the bulk of its actions in this area over the last three years.” 

Problematically, the FCC is not embarrassed to admit, this failure is their own, failing to even argue otherwise, as it had at least tried to do in the past:

“Problems abound with the FCC’s analysis. Most glaring is that, although we instructed it to consider the effect of any rule changes on female as well as minority ownership, the Commission cited no evidence whatsoever regarding gender diversity. It does not contest this.”

No evidence whatsoever. None. Zip. Zilch, and as a reminder, this has been at the core of FCC ownership decisions since 2002. Not bad for an agency that is staffed largely by economists.

“The only ‘consideration’ the FCC gave to the question of how its rules would affect female ownership was the conclusion there would be no effect. That was not sufficient, and this alone is enough to justify remand… Even just focusing on the evidence with regard to ownership by racial minorities, however, the FCC’s analysis is so insubstantial that it would receive a failing grade in any introductory statistics class.”

Importantly, the Third Circuit is forcing the FCC to recognize the outcomes of ownership policy are not natural effects, but rather the results of choices (bad ones) made by the agency. Judge Ambro’s decision suggests that the FCC has to show its work, and even determine if other choices or approaches might have been better:

“And even if we only look at the total number of minority-owned stations, the FCC did not actually make any estimate of the effect of deregulation in the 1990s. Instead it noted only that, whatever this effect was, deregulation was not enough to prevent an overall increase during the following decade. The Commission made no attempt to assess the counterfactual scenario: how many minority-owned stations there would have been in 2009 had there been no deregulation.”

So, we remain where we have been for over 15 years, with an agency that can’t pass basic stats, nor do what it has been told to do three times in the past. Going 0-4 at the plate is bad by any metric in any sport, and at this point this situation would be comical if the stakes were not so high. The FCC regulates the industry that delivers information, a key component of that thing we like to call democracy. We, regardless of one’s viewpoint or ideology, need this to work. But the Circuit says no, again:

“Accordingly, we vacate the Reconsideration Order and the Incubator Order in their entirety, as well as the ‘eligible entity’ definition from the 2016 Report & Order. On remand the Commission must ascertain on record evidence the likely effect of any rule changes it proposes and whatever ‘eligible entity’ definition it adopts on ownership by women and minorities, whether through new empirical research or an in-depth theoretical analysis. If it finds that a proposed rule change would likely have an adverse effect on ownership diversity but nonetheless believes that rule in the public interest all things considered, it must say so and explain its reasoning. If it finds that its proposed definition for eligible entities will not meaningfully advance ownership diversity, it must explain why it could not adopt an alternate definition that would do so. Once, again we do not prejudge the outcome of any of this, but the Commission must provide a substantial basis and justification for its actions whatever it ultimately decides.”

Stick around. I’ll see you next time, and probably the time after that as well.

Feature image adapted from a photo by Mark Mauno shared on Flickr with a (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

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College Radio Watch: 1983 vs. 2019 and More News

Fri, 09/27/2019 - 08:17

Happy Fall! I’m wrapping up my summertime college radio station tour reports, with new write-ups on my visits to San Diego City College radio station SDS Radio and KCR Radio at San Diego State University. I love checking out stations and it was a treat to get to see four college radio stations in the San Diego area. My remaining tour there will be posted soon.

College Radio’s Commercial Radio Connection Circa 1983

As part of my volunteer work at Foothill College radio station KFJC, I’ve been combing through the archives to learn more about the college radio station’s 60 year history. It’s fascinating to look at how the station has intersected with the broader college radio scene, particularly in the 1980s when college radio was getting so much music industry attention.

In 1983, music writer Gina Arnold wrote a piece for the Peninsula Times-Tribune about how DJs at edgier college radio stations were NOT getting jobs in the mainstream music industry. Counter to the mythology about 1980s college radio being a pipeline to record label and commercial radio jobs, the story highlights possible brewing tensions at the time. Arnold writes:

…forging a career in radio has become increasingly difficult as radio formats get more rigid. Part of the reason for this is the new role that college radio has begun to play in the rock music industry. Instead of serving as a training ground for on-air talent and broadcasting technique, college radio stations have become a viable listening alternative to album-oriented rock and contemporary hit radio. By setting themselves up as a competitive industry, college radio stations have alienated commercial radio stations that previously used them as a resource for training and talent.”

Arnold quotes Sky Daniels, Program Director at rock radio station KFOG in 1983, articulating why commercial radio stations may not want to hire former college radio DJs. Daniels says, “Most college radio stations, especially ones like KFJC, KALX, and KUSF, are so adventurous, they scare program directors.”

The article points out that one station, KQAK (“The Quake”), has brought former college radio DJs into the fold, namely Rick Stuart (KUSF alum) and Rob Francis (KFJC alum). An innovative commercial radio station in San Francisco in the 1980s, “The Quake” played a lot of college radio staples, airing ska music, New Wave, punk, and the like.

I was a big fan of “The Quake” and it opened up a broader world of music choices to me. Although I was sad when “The Quake” went off the air in 1985, it ended up being my gateway to even more underground sounds. As I searched to find similar music on the dial after “The Quake” died, I found a bounty of college radio stations.

Alternative Radio’s Legacy and Role in 2019

This look back at the college radio scene circa 1983 is interesting when viewed in hindsight and in light of so many changes in radio since that time, including the commercialization of “alternative” music sounds in the 1990s. Bands that used to only get airplay on college radio moved into the mainstream and influenced a wide swath of the radio dial. Add to that an increasingly consolidated radio industry and the birth of digital music and the vast online world (including the likes of YouTube and Spotify). Decades later in 2019, where does that leave “alternative” music? Last week, the New York Times examined that question, pointing out that, “

Commercial radio has always been a fundamentally conservative medium, dedicated to avoiding any kind of jolt that would lead a listener to change the channel, but that can sometimes put alternative stations at odds with the ethos of alternative music, especially given the rapidly evolving choices available on streaming services and satellite radio. “

A growing refrain is that music discovery in 2019 is often taking place outside of radio- often online and sometimes algorithm-based. While that may be true, independent radio stations are still providing a space to learn about new and unheard artists, as they have been for decades. That’s a big reason why I love college radio.

More College Radio News Music Industry and College Radio Culture Events Programming Profiles of Stations and Staff Infrastructure College Radio History Popular Culture Awards and Accolades College Radio Alumni

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Podcast #212 – Border Radio in North America

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 00:18

Radio waves don’t obey borders, and stations have been taking advantage of this fact since the dawn of the medium – often despite the rules of government regulators where the signals go.

Dr. Kevin Curran of Arizona State University has been studying border radio stations extensively, making it the subject of his doctoral dissertation. Everyone has a ton of radio nerd fun as he takes us back to the 1920s, when Canadian and U.S. regulators struck a treaty to split up the AM dial and limit maximum broadcast power, but left out Mexico. That opened up an opportunity for stations in that country to cover the continent with hundreds of kilowatts, attracting broadcasters from north of the border wanting to take advantage.

Many infamous and colorful personalities were amongst this group, from Dr. John Brinkley, who promoted goat glands to cure male potency problems, all the way to man named Bob Smith – later known as Wolfman Jack – who blasted rock and roll that most American stations wouldn’t touch.

Dr. Curran explains why stations along the Mexican border remained popular with U.S. broadcasters even after that country lowered maximum power levels, in treaty with its northern neighbor. He also explores the relationship of U.S. stations to Canadian markets, where stations are more highly regulated. If you’ve ever wondered why radio is different along the border, you’re curiosity will be satisfied.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #212 – Border Radio in North America appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Radio Station Visit #161: SDS Radio at San Diego City College

Tue, 09/24/2019 - 08:17

On a beautiful morning in June this summer, my day of San Diego college radio immersion began with a stop at San Diego City College’s student radio station SDS Radio. When I entered the building where it was housed, the presence of a radio station was immediately discernible by signage and logos on the doors for jazz station KSDS aka Jazz 88.3.

San Diego City College. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

While I loitered outside the doors, a staff member from KSDS greeted me and asked me if I needed assistance. When I told him that I was visiting SDS Radio, he unlocked the station door and directed me to the booth. Sharing space with public/community radio station KSDS, SDS Radio is student-focused (thus, the tagline “student-delivered sound) and a part of the Radio-Television-Film program at San Diego City College.

SDS Radio banner in SDS Radio Studio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

At the end of the hallway, I made my way to the on-air studio, where student DJ Joe Martin was hosting a show, largely playing some under-the-radar metal music. A participant in the radio program, Martin also has a job as a board operator at an iHeart Media station in the area. Although it wasn’t his regular SDS time slot, he popped in to do a show since the summer schedule was largely open. A fan of all kinds of music from the 1980s as well as metal, Martin explained that he found one of the symphonic metal artists that caught my ear during his show, Dutch band Epica, by searching on YouTube.

Joe Martin in SDS Radio studio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

New to the program, Martin’s been involved with the station since the spring semester. James Call, who arrived as we were chatting, has participated in the program for three years, which makes him a veteran. A musician (organ and Theremin!) and self-described musicologist, he has a deep background in radio, having done shows on commercial and college radio in the 1980s and community radio in the aughts.

Sound board at SDS Radio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Call explained that part of the appeal of his SDS show is that he can explore musical themes on the air. Every week he picks a different topic, ranging from punk rock label Ork Records to the music of Mali. While he’s bringing in his own music to play, it still gets filtered into the station’s digital system, a process that every DJ goes through prior to their shows. Students upload music files to the station’s automation system and then create their playlists on the SDS computer.

Playlist interface at college radio station SDS Radio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

It’s possible to also play CDs over the air, but with no remote start capabilities, it’s a bit cumbersome. If one wants to play vinyl, it’s necessary to bring in a turntable from home since the studio turntable is not hooked up and is missing some parts.

Turntable in studio at SDS radio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Although their listenership is primarily online, SDS Radio also broadcasts over the KSDS 88.3 FM HD2 channel. Call estimates that around 20 students are in the radio program and the summer line-up was populated with 15 DJs or show hosts on the schedule. Call describes the mix as “pretty eclectic,” with students playing hip-hop, metal, jazz, and even 1950s/50s “crooners,” as well as hosting talk shows. When there isn’t a live host, the station airs a default automated playlist of pop, top 40, and oldies, according to Call.

SDS Radio studio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Although Call didn’t know the full history of SDS Radio, he shared some lore that the station had begun in a closet, joking that there’s a story that KSDS started in the same fashion. In the shadow of the longtime jazz station, SDS Radio was launched in recent years in response to a perceived need for a student station again. While KSDS began as a student radio station in 1951, it slowly changed over the years to more of a public radio model. The jazz format began in 1973. Call refers to SDS Radio as Jazz 88’s “sister station,” with its staff and volunteers happy to help when needed. The stations share some communal spaces and resources, including a break room/production studio.

LPs in Music Library at SDS radio’s sister station KSDS-FM. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Following my visit, instructor Scott Chatfield chatted with me by phone to fill me in on the back story of SDS Radio. He’s been an instructor at the college since 2008 and explained that the student radio station started up around 2013-2014 on one of KSDS’ HD channels and online in order to provide students with more on-air opportunities.

Equipment in SDS student. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Today, KSDS has some student interns and also airs student programming, including the news/feature show City Stories, which is a project of one of the Radio News Production class at San Diego City College. In contrast, SDS Radio is completely student-focused, with on-air shifts and leadership positions held by students in the radio program. Chatfield explained that podcasting is also taking on a bigger role, telling me that even with a smaller number of radio classes at the school, “…one of the things that’s really helping us is focusing a lot on podcasting, not just broadcasting,” adding, “That seems to be a much more attractive option for a lot of students these days…which is no surprise.” Podcasting is incorporated into both radio classes, allowing students to learn more about myriad aspects of the production process.

Jazz 88.3 banner at KSDS-FM. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Chatfield talked about the incredible transformations that students make over the course of their time at SDS Radio and told me that he loved seeing them achieve breakthroughs in their work. He shared, “I like the spark. I like seeing dazed and confused people in week one turning into people who have that tangible spark in their eyes by week four or five and they’re on the air rocking and rolling.” He also points out that the specific training and communication skills honed in the classes and at SDS Radio are transferable to so many aspects of life, including future careers. Chatfield elaborated, saying that he loves that SDS Radio “succeeds on such a high level. It’s almost like once people have learned how to do these things, they’ve gained a super power and that’s something nobody can take away from them.”

Sound board in SDS studio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

On another level, there’s also the pure joy of creating radio and podcasts. During my visit to SDS Radio, student James Call summed up his passion for SDS Radio, telling me, “I love eclectic radio and that’s what it is.”

SDS studio sign. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Thanks so much to everyone for the tour and interviews about SDS Radio. This is my 161st radio station tour report and my 106th college radio station tour. Catch up with all of my radio station visits in numerical order or by station type in our archives. I also discuss my San Diego-area college radio travels on Radio Survivor Podcast #202.

The post Radio Station Visit #161: SDS Radio at San Diego City College appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #211 – Surveying Community Radio’s Deep Archives

Tue, 09/17/2019 - 19:43

More than 600 community radio recordings from 1965 – 1986 are archived at the University of Maryland. These tapes were shared through a program exchange operated by the National Federation of Community broadcasters. The breadth of programming contained in these programs is remarkable, and underscores the still-active mission of the NFCB to support and promote the participation of women and people of color at all levels of non-commercial broadcasting.

Laura Schnitker is the curator of the Broadcast Archives at the University of Maryland, joining the show to tell us more about this special archive of programming, highlighting some of the gems in the collection.

This episode of the program was recorded and originally aired in September of 2018 and is being rebroadcast this week. The original episode number was 158

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #211 – Surveying Community Radio’s Deep Archives appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Radio Station Visit #160: KCR at San Diego State University

Mon, 09/16/2019 - 18:07

During my full day of radio station tours in the San Diego area in June, 2019, I visited college radio station KCR at San Diego State University. On a sprawling campus with a student population of more than 36,000, the station was a bit tricky to find. After a few missed turns, I parked atop an 8-floor garage and made my way the KCR studio in the school’s Communication building.

San Diego State University. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

KCR’s General Manager Ahmad Dixon greeted me, giving me the grand tour of the main KCR studio and also led me on a quick jaunt to see a satellite building that serves as a production studio and social hub for the station.

Sign for college radio station KCR’s live studio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Dating back to 1969, KCR is in the midst of its 50th anniversary celebrations this year. KCR has never had an FCC-licensed over-the-air terrestrial signal; but it does have a very interesting, interrelated relationship with a long-time public radio station on campus.

Back of KCR T-shirt. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Radio activity began in 1960 at the then-named San Diego State College, when educational radio station KEBS launched as part of the school’s speech department. A 2009 obituary for founder Ken Jones, recounts that,

Jones was the brain behind KEBS-FM (Educational Broadcasting in San Diego) which later became KPBS. It was the first radio station licensed to a California State University campus. In the mid-1950s, as a speech communications professor at San Diego State College (now SDSU), Jones began his work toward starting an educational radio station on campus. KEBS began broadcasting on Sept. 12, 1960 from the Speech Arts Building. The original schedule was only two-and-a-half hours, five days a week.”

Retro KCR College Radio photo on T-shirt. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Although students were involved in educational radio station KEBS, it was not a student envisioned or student-led program, which ultimately prompted the eventual founding of student radio station KCR. On the KCR Alumni website, Jerry Zullo shares the story of how KCR came to be:

The story starts in 1966.  At that time, Radio-TV majors (later called Telecommunications & Film) were required to complete a Senior Project in order to graduate.  A student named Martin Gienke decided to do a feasibility study, complete with recommendations, on setting up a student radio station at San Diego State…

At that time, KEBS-FM (later KPBS-FM) was considered a ‘student station;’ that is, it was operated by students who were forced to work there as part of their Radio-TV curriculum.  KEBS broadcast with 780 watts with an antenna on the roof of the Speech Arts Building. We were on the air Monday through Friday from 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., playing classical music and boring taped ‘educational’ programs.  Hardly anybody’s real idea of a student station.

Martin roped me into the project.  He’d do the study, and then my Senior Project would be to get the station on the air.  The ideal solution would have been to take over KEBS and turn it into a real student station, but after discussion with faculty we knew that wasn’t going to happen.”

In KCR engineering room. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

I was especially intrigued to read that in the 1960s, Martin Gienke and Jerry Zullo embarked on tours of “every college radio station in California.” Zullo explains:

We did interviews, found out what worked, what didn’t work, how the stations were set up, formats, funding, pitfalls to be careful of, etc.  In the end, we ended up with a report about three inches thick. The final recommendation was to make San Diego State’s student station a carrier current station, using electrical wiring in the buildings to carry the signal.”

Vinyl records at college radio station KCR in 2019. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

A few years later, in 1969, the dreams of a student-run carrier current station were realized, with transmitters in dorms all over campus and the AM broadcasts even leaking into the nearby community. Zullo writes,

We started engineering tests and found that not only did we cover all the dorms, but the signal sort of leaked (kind of on purpose) and we covered the entire campus.  In fact, if you were driving, you could listen to KCR on Interstate 8 between San Diego Stadium and College Avenue.  On Montezuma Road and over to El Cajon Boulevard, you could hear the station from about 54th Street to 63rd Street.”

1981 KCR airplay survey. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Meanwhile, educational radio station KEBS-FM transitioned to a public radio station and was one of the charter members of NPR, even changing its call letters to KPBS in 1970.

Posters and photos on wall at KCR College Radio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Today, KCR still has an AM signal, broadcasting at 1610 AM for about a mile around campus (the AM location has changed over the years) and can also be heard on Cox Cable. Most listeners tune in to the station’s internet stream, however. Additionally, KCR has a strong video presence, with web cameras in the studio and a thriving YouTube channel.

Vintage ad for KCR’s cable signals. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

I began my tour in KCR’s on-air studio in the Communication building. General Manager Ahmad Dixon pointed out various highlights, including the brand new, bright red fabric soundproofing material lining the walls. The station was DJ-less during the visit and “QC” (aka quality control) was playing in place of a live human. Curated by the music director, QC is the name for the mix of music, including indie and local material, that runs on automation.

KCR College Radio studio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Student-run live shows at KCR are “totally freeform,” according to Dixon. While DJs have creative license to play what they’d like from the station’s library or from their own collections, they are encouraged to play “odd, esoteric, non-mainstream” material, Dixon explained. The station also airs a mix of talk shows and sports programming (with a “hyperfocus” on San Diego State sports).

KCR College Radio’s live studio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

A talk show fanatic, Dixon joined KCR as a freshman (he’s a senior in Fall 2019) and relished the opportunities to experiment on the air. He reminisced a bit, telling me that he’d spun Kids Bop records, played vinyl backwards, and improvised a song while on-air.

KCR College Radio General Manager Ahmad Dixon in the studio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

These days it’s a bit more challenging to play vinyl on KCR, although some DJs bring in their own turntables to do so. The station still has an extensive vinyl collection, housed in lockers along with some older CDs.

CDs at KCR. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Interestingly, KCR has two distinct locations on campus- the main studio in the Communications building and an additional studio across campus. As Dixon led me to the second space, he explained that the station has been wanting to beef up its podcasting efforts and the additional production-focused studio is helping with that.

KCR On Demand podcast request form. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

KCR was able to take over an unused Daily Aztec student newspaper office when the publication reduced its space in the building. Today, it serves as an office, hang-out space and production facility for KCR. The main room is spacious, with seating, desks, computers, filing cabinets, and lots of historical items, including photos, and old KCR publications. Behind a door is a studio stocked with audio equipment.

Old decorated boombox at KCR. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

With about 150 members of KCR, the station is busy both on-air and off-air, with radio shows, an active blog, and video content. In the past it also produced a magazine called “Dead Air,” which I caught glimpses of on the station’s walls.

“Dead Air” magazine at KCR. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

It was gratifying to see that KCR has an active alumni network documenting the station’s 50 year history. Its alumni page is full of goodies, including scans of archival photos, program guides, vintage ephemera, and audio. Alumni still grace the KCR airwaves; with one DJ, Joe Shrin, a 40+ year veteran of the station. At KCR since 1976, he’s said to be the show host who has been there the longest.

KCR College Radio studio in 2019. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Thanks so much to Ahmad Dixon for the summer tour of KCR! This is my 160th radio station tour report and my 105th college radio station tour. Read all of my radio station visits in numerical order or by station type in our archives. I also share tidbits about my San Diego-area college radio travels on Radio Survivor Podcast #202.

The post Radio Station Visit #160: KCR at San Diego State University appeared first on Radio Survivor.

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