Radio Survivor

Subscribe to Radio Survivor feed
This is the sound of strong communities.
Updated: 1 hour 38 min ago

More College Radio than Ever in the 2010s as it Takes New Forms

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 16:19

Big changes came to college radio in the 2010s, with dramatic losses and exciting new opportunities, leading to perhaps more college radio than ever before thanks to the variety of forms that college radio now takes. Despite the challenges, college radio is as resilient as ever and students’ desire to work in audio is strong as we begin the next decade.

College Radio Fights Back

At the start of the 2010s there were a series of high profile college radio license sales (with the most press attention for the loss of University of San Francisco’s KUSF-FM, Rice University’s KTRU-FM and Vanderbilt University’s WRVU-FM), which not only shook up communities of listeners and participants, but also led to organized protests (I dubbed 2011 “The Year that College Radio Fought Back”), collaborations, and new alliances. College radio stations came together, offered support, and even opened up their airwaves to bring attention to the plight of stations who were fighting license sales. College radio organizations and allies (including College Broadcasters Inc., National Federation of Community Broadcasters, CMJ, Grassroots Radio Conference, UCRN, and SXSW) also provided space for discussion on the topic of how to prevent station sales.

While some students were distressed by the loss of terrestrial licenses, others took these shifts in stride, embracing online radio, HD radio, podcasting, low power FM, and even iHeart Radio (which began adding college radio stations to its platform in 2012).

Celebrating College Radio

College Radio Day debuted in October, 2011, a welcome celebration on the heels of the loss of FM broadcasts at KUSF, KTRU and WRVU. Over the course of the decade, College Radio Day expanded from the one-day-a-year event in the United States to a global experience, uniting student radio stations all over the world. Additionally, the College Radio Foundation was formed in 2014 as a non-profit overseeing College Radio Day, as well as a grants program, record label, and affiliated events like an annual vinyl marathon (“Vinylthon”).

College Radio Embraces LPFM

The 2013 low-power FM application window brought even more opportunities for college radio and around 100 colleges and universities applied for new LPFM licenses, with more than 70 ultimately granted construction permits. After the major losses at the start of the decade, witnessing the growing interest in starting up new college radio stations was inspiring to watch.

FCC Cuts Student Stations a Break

There was some great news for licensed U.S. college radio stations in the past decade in regards to the FCC. Instead of continuing to levy big fines regardless of station type, in 2013, the bureau decided to cut student-run radio stations a break when they committed first-time violations. Fines were lowered and compliance plans were put in place in several cases. It was nice to see this compassion and recognition that low budget college radio stations with transitory staffs can easily make mistakes and that paperwork errors shouldn’t have to bankrupt a station

CMJ’s Slow Death

An integral part of the college radio/music ecosystem for decades, CMJ started the 2010s with a full roster of activities, including an annual conference/festival in New York City, weekly radio charts, a website with music news, reviews and more, and a subscription-based trade magazine (CMJ New Music Report). CMJ’s “College Day” event during the CMJ Music Marathon featured a day of panels, performances, and an awards ceremony focused on college radio. However, behind the scenes CMJ was having financial difficulties and went through a series of changes in ownership and management. By Fall, 2016, CMJ was distintegrating. A group of former employees sued CMJ for unpaid wages dating back to October, 2015 and in Februrary, 2017, CMJ’s weekly charts ended. The slow death of CMJ was sad to witness, with the company’s trademarks up for auction in 2018.

In late 2019, word came that new owners plan to bring CMJ back in 2020, promising events, charts, and editorial. So we’ll have to wait to see what the next decade brings for CMJ. Some media reports seem to equate CMJ’s death with the supposed death of college radio; but CMJ was just one part of the college radio universe and was largely serving the music industry in recent years. To that end, other organizations cropped up to compile radio charts and curate music biz conferences.

College Radio Takes on New Forms

Throughout the decade, colleges launched all sorts of radio stations, from streaming-only to terrestrial stations. As we’ve seen since the very beginnings of radio, college broadcasting has never been limited to one method. The myriad forms of college radio over the years have included amateur radio, licensed AM radio, campus-only AM carrier current, stations communicating over public address systems, many types of licensed FM radio, HD radio, cable FM, campus cable, cable TV, internet radio, radio over the phone (accessed by calling a phone number), podcasting, streaming video stations, apps, and audio options yet to be invented. While we saw fewer and fewer of certain types of college radio stations in the 2010s (very low power class D FM stations, commercially-licensed college radio stations, and carrier current stations are less frequent than a decade ago), there was growth in LPFM stations and streaming stations continued to launch (or were revived).

Feeling nostalgic or want to take a deep dive in college radio in the 2000s? See my year-end reviews from 2019, 2017, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011, my decade in review piece from 2009, as well as our About College Radio Page.

The post More College Radio than Ever in the 2010s as it Takes New Forms appeared first on Radio Survivor.

More College Radio than Ever in the 2010s as it Takes New Forms

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 16:19

Big changes came to college radio in the 2010s, with dramatic losses and exciting new opportunities, leading to perhaps more college radio than ever before thanks to the variety of forms that college radio now takes. Despite the challenges, college radio is as resilient as ever and students’ desire to work in audio is strong as we begin the next decade.

College Radio Fights Back

At the start of the 2010s there were a series of high profile college radio license sales (with the most press attention for the loss of University of San Francisco’s KUSF-FM, Rice University’s KTRU-FM and Vanderbilt University’s WRVU-FM), which not only shook up communities of listeners and participants, but also led to organized protests (I dubbed 2011 “The Year that College Radio Fought Back”), collaborations, and new alliances. College radio stations came together, offered support, and even opened up their airwaves to bring attention to the plight of stations who were fighting license sales. College radio organizations and allies (including College Broadcasters Inc., National Federation of Community Broadcasters, CMJ, Grassroots Radio Conference, UCRN, and SXSW) also provided space for discussion on the topic of how to prevent station sales.

While some students were distressed by the loss of terrestrial licenses, others took these shifts in stride, embracing online radio, HD radio, podcasting, low power FM, and even iHeart Radio (which began adding college radio stations to its platform in 2012).

Celebrating College Radio

College Radio Day debuted in October, 2011, a welcome celebration on the heels of the loss of FM broadcasts at KUSF, KTRU and WRVU. Over the course of the decade, College Radio Day expanded from the one-day-a-year event in the United States to a global experience, uniting student radio stations all over the world. Additionally, the College Radio Foundation was formed in 2014 as a non-profit overseeing College Radio Day, as well as a grants program, record label, and affiliated events like an annual vinyl marathon (“Vinylthon”).

College Radio Embraces LPFM

The 2013 low-power FM application window brought even more opportunities for college radio and around 100 colleges and universities applied for new LPFM licenses, with more than 70 ultimately granted construction permits. After the major losses at the start of the decade, witnessing the growing interest in starting up new college radio stations was inspiring to watch.

FCC Cuts Student Stations a Break

There was some great news for licensed U.S. college radio stations in the past decade in regards to the FCC. Instead of continuing to levy big fines regardless of station type, in 2013, the bureau decided to cut student-run radio stations a break when they committed first-time violations. Fines were lowered and compliance plans were put in place in several cases. It was nice to see this compassion and recognition that low budget college radio stations with transitory staffs can easily make mistakes and that paperwork errors shouldn’t have to bankrupt a station

CMJ’s Slow Death

An integral part of the college radio/music ecosystem for decades, CMJ started the 2010s with a full roster of activities, including an annual conference/festival in New York City, weekly radio charts, a website with music news, reviews and more, and a subscription-based trade magazine (CMJ New Music Report). CMJ’s “College Day” event during the CMJ Music Marathon featured a day of panels, performances, and an awards ceremony focused on college radio. However, behind the scenes CMJ was having financial difficulties and went through a series of changes in ownership and management. By Fall, 2016, CMJ was distintegrating. A group of former employees sued CMJ for unpaid wages dating back to October, 2015 and in Februrary, 2017, CMJ’s weekly charts ended. The slow death of CMJ was sad to witness, with the company’s trademarks up for auction in 2018.

In late 2019, word came that new owners plan to bring CMJ back in 2020, promising events, charts, and editorial. So we’ll have to wait to see what the next decade brings for CMJ. Some media reports seem to equate CMJ’s death with the supposed death of college radio; but CMJ was just one part of the college radio universe and was largely serving the music industry in recent years. To that end, other organizations cropped up to compile radio charts and curate music biz conferences.

College Radio Takes on New Forms

Throughout the decade, colleges launched all sorts of radio stations, from streaming-only to terrestrial stations. As we’ve seen since the very beginnings of radio, college broadcasting has never been limited to one method. The myriad forms of college radio over the years have included amateur radio, licensed AM radio, campus-only AM carrier current, stations communicating over public address systems, many types of licensed FM radio, HD radio, cable FM, campus cable, cable TV, internet radio, radio over the phone (accessed by calling a phone number), podcasting, streaming video stations, apps, and audio options yet to be invented. While we saw fewer and fewer of certain types of college radio stations in the 2010s (very low power class D FM stations, commercially-licensed college radio stations, and carrier current stations are less frequent than a decade ago), there was growth in LPFM stations and streaming stations continued to launch (or were revived).

Feeling nostalgic or want to take a deep dive in college radio in the 2000s? See my year-end reviews from 2019, 2017, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011, my decade in review piece from 2009, as well as our About College Radio Page.

The post More College Radio than Ever in the 2010s as it Takes New Forms appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Preservation is One of the Most Important Radio Trends of the Decade

Wed, 01/08/2020 - 16:17

Welcome to 2020! As Matthew Lasar noted this week, this year marks the 100th anniversary of some significant moments in radio history, including KDKA’s first broadcast. While other stations were on the air with regular broadcasts prior to 1920 (shout out to Doc Herrold’s early broadcasts to fellow radio amateurs); KDKA’s debut is a rallying point for history buffs and will certainly be recognized at the next Radio Preservation Task Force Conference at the Library of Congress in October, 2020.

As we celebrate 100+ years of radio, it’s encouraging that audio preservation has become an increasing priority in the past decade. While radio participants and collectors are some of the most important preservationists (how would we find those amazing boxes of tapes if they hadn’t been squirreled away in basements and closets?), the past decade has seen growing institutional interest.

In the United States, the Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Plan was created in 2012 and by 2014, the Radio Preservation Task Force (RPTF) was developed out of that. In the ensuing years, the RPTF has brought together scholars, archivists, radio stations, collectors, and enthusiasts in order to develop projects to not only save endangered recordings, but also to increase access and use of these materials.

On Radio Survivor we’ve covered not only the Radio Preservation Task Force (of which I’m co-chair of the College, Community & Educational Radio Caucus); but also some more under, the radar archival and preservation projects that aren’t necessarily affiliated with libraries or educational institutions.

Thanks to technology and a DIY ethos, modern archives can even live in the cloud. Radio scholars and fans can surf the web to find recordings from every sort of radio imaginable, including college radio shows, famous rap battles, early episodes of the call-in talk show “Loveline,” and classic Dr. Demento shows. Thanks to the Internet Archive, one can also dig up obscurities that have been uploaded by radio aircheck collectors. That’s where I happened upon some 1970s gems from KFJC (where I volunteer).

On the Radio Survivor show we’ve highlighted quite a few archives and preservation projects, including American Archive of Public Broadcasting, the Hip-Hop Radio Archive, the Queer Radio History Project, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters archive at University of Maryland, the KRAB-FM Archives, and more. When learning about various projects, I’ve also been struck by the creative ways in which archivists are working to encourage radio preservation. A 2018 KEXP-hosted pop-up digitization event is a wonderful example of how archivists from several institutions shared resources and skills in order to help members of the general public digitize treasured tapes. And, as preservationists point out, time is of the essence since many radio recordings are housed on tapes that won’t survive for much longer.

Kudos to the radio stations, archives, libraries, and funders (including “Recordings at Risk” grants through the Council on Library and Information Resources) who have drawn attention to radio preservation in the past decade.

The post Preservation is One of the Most Important Radio Trends of the Decade appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Want a Radio Station License? April Is the Next Chance (at Least for 127 Cities)

Wed, 01/08/2020 - 14:00

We love getting email from readers and listeners, and by far the most common inquiry we receive is asking how one can get a radio station license. For the last four years or so we haven’t had a good answer, because there hasn’t been an FCC license auction or application window since July 2015.

Though most large market radio dials around the country are pretty full, there remain places where are there some spots in the commercial band. The Federal Communications Commission will be auctioning off 130 of them beginning April 28.

Before anyone gets too excited, it’s important to note two substantial caveats. First, very few of these licenses are in large or even medium-sized markets, and they’re only in 30 states. Folks looking to broadcast in Indiana, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey or Pennsylvania, for instance, are out of luck.

The second caveat is mostly for those interested in pursuing community-style broadcasting – unlike the licensing windows for full-power non-commercial and LPFM stations, these will cost money. It’s a real auction, with the opening bids starting at $750 for signals in places like Yakutat, AK (pop. 662), Essex, CA (pop. 89) and Wamsutter, WY (pop. 451), all the way up to $100,000 for one license in Sacramento, CA (pop. 508,530), the biggest city and market on the list by far.

It must be stressed that these are opening bids. Depending on how many bidders there are, those prices could skyrocket.

Also note that that’s just the price for the license. An actual station – with studio, tower and transmitter – is not included.

That said, if you’ve ever dreamed of owning your own radio station, this is your next best opportunity. Moreover, entering this auction is likely – but not guaranteed to be – less expensive than trying to buy an existing license on the open market.

Those that are still not discouraged have a few steps to complete before the bidding begins on April 28. The Broadcast Law Blog has a rundown of the timeline, beginning with filing a short-form application to tell the Commission what channels you’re interested in between January 29 and February 11. Keep in mind that you’ll also need the cash in hand ahead of time; the FCC requires a minimum bid deposit be made by March 20.

A final caveat is that you need to be serious if you want to be successful. Should you win an auction, the Commission will require you to fill out a full application form that specifies all the technical details for where you will site your transmitter. It’s definitely not a lottery, or a make-it-up-as-you-go-along process.

Though I have no plans to cover this auction as closely as the LPFM licensing window from 2013, I’ll be curious to see who wins.

The post Want a Radio Station License? April Is the Next Chance (at Least for 127 Cities) appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Want a Radio Station License? April Is the Next Chance (at Least for 127 Cities)

Wed, 01/08/2020 - 14:00

We love getting email from readers and listeners, and by far the most common inquiry we receive is asking how one can get a radio station license. For the last four years or so we haven’t had a good answer, because there hasn’t been an FCC license auction or application window since July 2015.

Though most large market radio dials around the country are pretty full, there remain places where are there some spots in the commercial band. The Federal Communications Commission will be auctioning off 130 of them beginning April 28.

Before anyone gets too excited, it’s important to note two substantial caveats. First, very few of these licenses are in large or even medium-sized markets, and they’re only in 30 states. Folks looking to broadcast in Indiana, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey or Pennsylvania, for instance, are out of luck.

The second caveat is mostly for those interested in pursuing community-style broadcasting – unlike the licensing windows for full-power non-commercial and LPFM stations, these will cost money. It’s a real auction, with the opening bids starting at $750 for signals in places like Yakutat, AK (pop. 662), Essex, CA (pop. 89) and Wamsutter, WY (pop. 451), all the way up to $100,000 for one license in Sacramento, CA (pop. 508,530), the biggest city and market on the list by far.

It must be stressed that these are opening bids. Depending on how many bidders there are, those prices could skyrocket.

Also note that that’s just the price for the license. An actual station – with studio, tower and transmitter – is not included.

That said, if you’ve ever dreamed of owning your own radio station, this is your next best opportunity. Moreover, entering this auction is likely – but not guaranteed to be – less expensive than trying to buy an existing license on the open market.

Those that are still not discouraged have a few steps to complete before the bidding begins on April 28. The Broadcast Law Blog has a rundown of the timeline, beginning with filing a short-form application to tell the Commission what channels you’re interested in between January 29 and February 11. Keep in mind that you’ll also need the cash in hand ahead of time; the FCC requires a minimum bid deposit be made by March 20.

A final caveat is that you need to be serious if you want to be successful. Should you win an auction, the Commission will require you to fill out a full application form that specifies all the technical details for where you will site your transmitter. It’s definitely not a lottery, or a make-it-up-as-you-go-along process.

Though I have no plans to cover this auction as closely as the LPFM licensing window from 2013, I’ll be curious to see who wins.

The post Want a Radio Station License? April Is the Next Chance (at Least for 127 Cities) appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #227 – A Banner Decade for Community Radio and FrankenFMs

Tue, 01/07/2020 - 21:53

We begin part one of our review of the last decade in radio with the observation that it saw the greatest expansion of community radio in history. Though the second US LPFM licensing window that happened in 2013 is a significant driver, the growth happened all over the world.

The 2010s were also a growth period for a lesser-known type of radio station, that isn’t officially even radio. We’re talking about FrankenFM TV stations that can be heard on the FM dial. Not remotely as numerous as low-power FMs, they nevertheless increased in number.

We also note the cataclysmic shifts in independent internet radio that went largely unnoticed outside specialist press (and Radio Survivor). Though indie stations, and platforms supporting those stations, still exist, an unknown number were effectively forced to shut down.

Still, at the end of the decade, there are substantially more radio stations on the air than ten years ago. Not bad for a dying medium, eh? Next week, in part two, we dig into the decade in college radio, and dig deeper into the convergence of radio and video.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #227 – A Banner Decade for Community Radio and FrankenFMs appeared first on Radio Survivor.

The Greatest Flowering of Community Radio in History Happened in the 2010s

Sun, 01/05/2020 - 19:55

Mid-way through the last decade I declared that, “[w]ith regard to new stations going on the air, 2015 represented the biggest single-year leap forward for non-commercial and community radio in U.S. history.” That’s because 524 new low-power FM stations signed on that year. That was an increase of 56% over the number of existing LPFMs at the end of 2014 (924).

Over the next four years another 753 signed on, bringing the total number low-power stations to 2,186 as of September 30, 2019 according to the FCC. At the close of 2009, when the service was on the cusp of its 10th birthday, there were 864 LPFMs in operation. This means the count more than doubled in the 2010s. No doubt this period saw the biggest expansion of low-power FM in history.

But because the LPFM service is specifically designed to be locally owned-and-operated, with hyper-local service, it’s clear that the last decade also saw the greatest flowering of community radio in US history. In fact, low-power FMs now make up a full 35% of all non-commercial stations in the country. That’s an increase of 14% from the end of 2009. The reason why the percentage didn’t jump more is that the last ten years were good for full-power non-commercial licenses as well, with 942 launching in that time.

Defining & Counting ‘Community’ Radio

Now, one might argue that not every low-power FM station is operated as a true community station, programmed and staffed by local folks who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to broadcast. It’s true that many are owned by groups – religious and otherwise – that fill their schedules primarily with syndicated programming beaming in by satellite or streamed over the internet. There are others that are mostly filled with automated music that feel more like vanity jukebox stations, with no sign of any kind of live or local hosts or DJs. Added together I can’t tell you how many there are, but I could be convinced that they even make up a full half of all LPFMs.

The problem with counting community radio stations is that there is no central authority. The FCC only cares if a station is non-commercial or commercial – it doesn’t dig into the differences between public, religious, college or community stations – or that it meets the ownership and operational requirements to have a low-power license. While the National Federation of Community Broadcasters represents and assists community stations, there’s no obligation for a station to join, even though the organization has worked hard to connect with these new broadcasters.

Nevertheless, even if only a decent minority of these new stations operate with the spirit of community radio, that’s still on the order of at least 200 to 300 new community stations. This estimate is easy to justify by taking a look at any of the top 100 radio markets in the country, where you’ll find a minimum of one new community LPFM. More likely you’ll hear two, three or more. I’m thinking of cities like Portland, OR, Seattle, Philadelphia and Chicago which all added a few. And while some cities, like Philly and Chicago, long have had rich college radio scenes, they didn’t have true community stations, owned by local non-profits and open to local people unaffiliated with a school or college, until this past decade.

But LPFMs didn’t only go up in major markets, although that was a vitally important aspect of this growth. Dozens or even hundreds of smaller cities and towns got new community stations, too. That leads me to think my estimate of 200 to 300 is too conservative.

Growth for All of Radio, too

Despite the supposed imminent death of radio, the medium continued to grow as a whole in the 2010s – by over 2,300 stations – and community radio outpaced all previous growth in the sector. Radio’s share of most folks’ daily listening may have declined, given so much other audio media competing for their ears. But the need and desire for the terrestrial radio hasn’t gone away.

Why a Radio License still Matters

Today, in this always-connected internet environment, it’s significant that many, if not most, community LPFMs have internet streams, which help them reach audiences – especially younger audiences – that don’t use over-the-air receivers. However, this fact doesn’t make their broadcast licenses and terrestrial signals redundant or vestigial. Rather, being a licensed broadcast station is an assurance to the community that the organization is serious, and intends to stick around. The official sanction of a license shouldn’t be underestimated or overlooked, because it’s also a shared asset that a community is more likely to rally behind and value, in part because, if lost, it’s not easily replaced.

Community stations function as community media centers, providing local residents a chance not only to broadcast, but to learn audio or video production, train up on live sound engineering or create podcasts. These are functions that most commercial, public or religious stations don’t serve, even if their programming is a community service. Though an LPFM’s listening audience may be small compared to a town’s local NPR affiliate, the interpersonal network and impact is often much stronger, especially with people who aren’t amongst the local elite or traditionally well-connected.

An Historic Global Flowering

Not only was this the biggest ten-year increase in US history, it was arguably the biggest in world history, too. India certainly adds a lot to that total, with 428 letters of intent (like a US construction permit) issued to groups that applied to build stations, on top of many other countries. This is why the explosion of community radio, especially via low-power FM, is one of the most important radio trends of the last decade.

The post The Greatest Flowering of Community Radio in History Happened in the 2010s appeared first on Radio Survivor.

The Greatest Flowering of Community Radio in History Happened in the 2010s

Sun, 01/05/2020 - 19:55

Mid-way through the last decade I declared that, “[w]ith regard to new stations going on the air, 2015 represented the biggest single-year leap forward for non-commercial and community radio in U.S. history.” That’s because 524 new low-power FM stations signed on that year. That was an increase of 56% over the number of existing LPFMs at the end of 2014 (924).

Over the next four years another 753 signed on, bringing the total number low-power stations to 2,186 as of September 30, 2019 according to the FCC. At the close of 2009, when the service was on the cusp of its 10th birthday, there were 864 LPFMs in operation. This means the count more than doubled in the 2010s. No doubt this period saw the biggest expansion of low-power FM in history.

But because the LPFM service is specifically designed to be locally owned-and-operated, with hyper-local service, it’s clear that the last decade also saw the greatest flowering of community radio in US history. In fact, low-power FMs now make up a full 35% of all non-commercial stations in the country. That’s an increase of 14% from the end of 2009. The reason why the percentage didn’t jump more is that the last ten years were good for full-power non-commercial licenses as well, with 942 launching in that time.

Defining & Counting ‘Community’ Radio

Now, one might argue that not every low-power FM station is operated as a true community station, programmed and staffed by local folks who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to broadcast. It’s true that many are owned by groups – religious and otherwise – that fill their schedules primarily with syndicated programming beaming in by satellite or streamed over the internet. There are others that are mostly filled with automated music that feel more like vanity jukebox stations, with no sign of any kind of live or local hosts or DJs. Added together I can’t tell you how many there are, but I could be convinced that they even make up a full half of all LPFMs.

The problem with counting community radio stations is that there is no central authority. The FCC only cares if a station is non-commercial or commercial – it doesn’t dig into the differences between public, religious, college or community stations – or that it meets the ownership and operational requirements to have a low-power license. While the National Federation of Community Broadcasters represents and assists community stations, there’s no obligation for a station to join, even though the organization has worked hard to connect with these new broadcasters.

Nevertheless, even if only a decent minority of these new stations operate with the spirit of community radio, that’s still on the order of at least 200 to 300 new community stations. This estimate is easy to justify by taking a look at any of the top 100 radio markets in the country, where you’ll find a minimum of one new community LPFM. More likely you’ll hear two, three or more. I’m thinking of cities like Portland, OR, Seattle, Philadelphia and Chicago which all added a few. And while some cities, like Philly and Chicago, long have had rich college radio scenes, they didn’t have true community stations, owned by local non-profits and open to local people unaffiliated with a school or college, until this past decade.

But LPFMs didn’t only go up in major markets, although that was a vitally important aspect of this growth. Dozens or even hundreds of smaller cities and towns got new community stations, too. That leads me to think my estimate of 200 to 300 is too conservative.

Growth for All of Radio, too

Despite the supposed imminent death of radio, the medium continued to grow as a whole in the 2010s – by over 2,300 stations – and community radio outpaced all previous growth in the sector. Radio’s share of most folks’ daily listening may have declined, given so much other audio media competing for their ears. But the need and desire for the terrestrial radio hasn’t gone away.

Why a Radio License still Matters

Today, in this always-connected internet environment, it’s significant that many, if not most, community LPFMs have internet streams, which help them reach audiences – especially younger audiences – that don’t use over-the-air receivers. However, this fact doesn’t make their broadcast licenses and terrestrial signals redundant or vestigial. Rather, being a licensed broadcast station is an assurance to the community that the organization is serious, and intends to stick around. The official sanction of a license shouldn’t be underestimated or overlooked, because it’s also a shared asset that a community is more likely to rally behind and value, in part because, if lost, it’s not easily replaced.

Community stations function as community media centers, providing local residents a chance not only to broadcast, but to learn audio or video production, train up on live sound engineering or create podcasts. These are functions that most commercial, public or religious stations don’t serve, even if their programming is a community service. Though an LPFM’s listening audience may be small compared to a town’s local NPR affiliate, the interpersonal network and impact is often much stronger, especially with people who aren’t amongst the local elite or traditionally well-connected.

An Historic Global Flowering

Not only was this the biggest ten-year increase in US history, it was arguably the biggest in world history, too. India certainly adds a lot to that total, with 428 letters of intent (like a US construction permit) issued to groups that applied to build stations, on top of many other countries. This is why the explosion of community radio, especially via low-power FM, is one of the most important radio trends of the last decade.

The post The Greatest Flowering of Community Radio in History Happened in the 2010s appeared first on Radio Survivor.

The Greatest Flowering of Community Radio in History Happened in the 2010s

Sun, 01/05/2020 - 19:55

Mid-way through the last decade I declared that, “[w]ith regard to new stations going on the air, 2015 represented the biggest single-year leap forward for non-commercial and community radio in U.S. history.” That’s because 524 new low-power FM stations signed on that year. That was an increase of 56% over the number of existing LPFMs at the end of 2014 (924).

Over the next four years another 753 signed on, bringing the total number low-power stations to 2,186 as of September 30, 2019 according to the FCC. At the close of 2009, when the service was on the cusp of its 10th birthday, there were 864 LPFMs in operation. This means the count more than doubled in the 2010s. No doubt this period saw the biggest expansion of low-power FM in history.

But because the LPFM service is specifically designed to be locally owned-and-operated, with hyper-local service, it’s clear that the last decade also saw the greatest flowering of community radio in US history. In fact, low-power FMs now make up a full 35% of all non-commercial stations in the country. That’s an increase of 14% from the end of 2009. The reason why the percentage didn’t jump more is that the last ten years were good for full-power non-commercial licenses as well, with 942 launching in that time.

Defining & Counting ‘Community’ Radio

Now, one might argue that not every low-power FM station is operated as a true community station, programmed and staffed by local folks who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to broadcast. It’s true that many are owned by groups – religious and otherwise – that fill their schedules primarily with syndicated programming beaming in by satellite or streamed over the internet. There are others that are mostly filled with automated music that feel more like vanity jukebox stations, with no sign of any kind of live or local hosts or DJs. Added together I can’t tell you how many there are, but I could be convinced that they even make up a full half of all LPFMs.

The problem with counting community radio stations is that there is no central authority. The FCC only cares if a station is non-commercial or commercial – it doesn’t dig into the differences between public, religious, college or community stations – or that it meets the ownership and operational requirements to have a low-power license. While the National Federation of Community Broadcasters represents and assists community stations, there’s no obligation for a station to join, even though the organization has worked hard to connect with these new broadcasters.

Nevertheless, even if only a decent minority of these new stations operate with the spirit of community radio, that’s still on the order of at least 200 to 300 new community stations. This estimate is easy to justify by taking a look at any of the top 100 radio markets in the country, where you’ll find a minimum of one new community LPFM. More likely you’ll hear two, three or more. I’m thinking of cities like Portland, OR, Seattle, Philadelphia and Chicago which all added a few. And while some cities, like Philly and Chicago, long have had rich college radio scenes, they didn’t have true community stations, owned by local non-profits and open to local people unaffiliated with a school or college, until this past decade.

But LPFMs didn’t only go up in major markets, although that was a vitally important aspect of this growth. Dozens or even hundreds of smaller cities and towns got new community stations, too. That leads me to think my estimate of 200 to 300 is too conservative.

Growth for All of Radio, too

Despite the supposed imminent death of radio, the medium continued to grow as a whole in the 2010s – by over 2,300 stations – and community radio outpaced all previous growth in the sector. Radio’s share of most folks’ daily listening may have declined, given so much other audio media competing for their ears. But the need and desire for the terrestrial radio hasn’t gone away.

Why a Radio License still Matters

Today, in this always-connected internet environment, it’s significant that many, if not most, community LPFMs have internet streams, which help them reach audiences – especially younger audiences – that don’t use over-the-air receivers. However, this fact doesn’t make their broadcast licenses and terrestrial signals redundant or vestigial. Rather, being a licensed broadcast station is an assurance to the community that the organization is serious, and intends to stick around. The official sanction of a license shouldn’t be underestimated or overlooked, because it’s also a shared asset that a community is more likely to rally behind and value, in part because, if lost, it’s not easily replaced.

Community stations function as community media centers, providing local residents a chance not only to broadcast, but to learn audio or video production, train up on live sound engineering or create podcasts. These are functions that most commercial, public or religious stations don’t serve, even if their programming is a community service. Though an LPFM’s listening audience may be small compared to a town’s local NPR affiliate, the interpersonal network and impact is often much stronger, especially with people who aren’t amongst the local elite or traditionally well-connected.

An Historic Global Flowering

Not only was this the biggest ten-year increase in US history, it was arguably the biggest in world history, too. India certainly adds a lot to that total, with 428 letters of intent (like a US construction permit) issued to groups that applied to build stations, on top of many other countries. This is why the explosion of community radio, especially via low-power FM, is one of the most important radio trends of the last decade.

The post The Greatest Flowering of Community Radio in History Happened in the 2010s appeared first on Radio Survivor.

The 2020s will be heaven for radio anniversary history buffs

Sat, 01/04/2020 - 11:38

If you are, like me, a total sucker for “one hundred years ago today” anniversary stories, you are going to love this decade when it comes to broadcast radio history. To be fair, the 20-teens had their moments, case in point the Radio Act of 1912. But that decade offered slim pickings compared to the 2020s.

Super fun fact: did you know that KDKA had its own blimp? [Pennsylvania Center for the Book]

The fun starts in 2020. Many anniversary journalists will focus on the launching of KDKA in Pittsburgh. “Its first broadcast,” write historians Christopher Sterling and John M. Kitross, “held on election night, November 2, 1920, came from a 100 watt transmitter in a tiny makeshift shack atop a Westinghouse manufacturing building.” The Pittsburgh Post fed election returns to the station via a telephone connection. KDKA broadcast the data “to an estimated few thousand listeners, including some people at a Pittsburgh country club, over Westinghouse-supplied speakers.”

Does this mean that KDKA had launched the “first broadcast by a licensed radio station”? I predict that the 2020s will not only see lots of anniversary “first” stories, but plenty of battles over who was really first.

Then there was (get out your hankies folks) the first broadcast radio commercial. The trade news site Campaign US notes that it aired on August 28, 1922 on a station owned by the AT&T corporation: WEAF in New York. The Queensboro Corporation paid for fifty minutes at the rate of a dollar per minute to extol the virtues of an apartment complex in Jackson Heights, Queens.

“Friend,” the sales pitch explained:

“you owe it to yourself and your family to leave the congested city and enjoy what nature intended you to enjoy. Visit our new apartment homes in Hawthorne Court, Jackson Heights, where you may enjoy community life in a friendly environment.”

1922 not only witnessed this heartwarming moment, but also the first worried speech about the potential impact of commercials on radio. Herbert Hoover read the first generation of broadcasters the riot act that year at the First National Radio Conference. “The wireless spoken word has one definite field,” Hoover proclaimed, “and that is for broadcast of certain predetermined material of public interest from central stations. . . .

This material must be limited to news, to education, and to entertainment, and the communication of such commercial matters as are of importance to large groups, of the community at the same time . . . It is therefore primarily a question of broadcasting, and it becomes of primary public interest to say who is to do the broadcasting, under what circumstances, and with what type of material. It is inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service to be drowned in advertising chatter.”

“Inconceivable”? Isn’t that what Wallace Shawn said in The Princess Bride? Moving right along, on September 13, 1926, a duo of RCA executives announced the creation of the National Broadcasting Company.

Here is my favorite part of the statement:

“The Radio Corporation is not in any sense seeking a monopoly of the air. That would be a liability rather than an asset. It is seeking, however, to provide machinery which will insure a national distribution of national programs, and a wider distribution of programs of the highest quality.”

Fifteen years later the Federal Communications Commission concluded that, contrary to this assertion, NBC was, in fact, monopolizing the airwaves. In 1941 the agency issued its ban on “dual networks,” forcing the company to divest holdings that would eventually become the nation’s third network, the American Broadcasting Company.

Meanwhile at the same time that all this monopolizing took place, college radio spread across the USA. I wish that I could identify the first college radio station in the country, but as Jennifer Waits notes, it is not so easy. Still, candidates for the 1920s would include the University of Minnesota, Grove City College, the University of Wisconsin, the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, Haverford College, and Dartmouth.

Alas, no good deed goes unpunished. In 1927 the government appointed a regulator for broadcast radio: the Federal Radio Commission. The FRC repaid this decision with an Order that reorganized the nation’s radio licenses in favor of big commercial operations at the expense of smaller non-profit and college radio outfits. What happened? As I put it myself ten years ago:

“The result? In 1926 most stations belonged to civic groups, or colleges and universities, or trade unions. Only 4.3 percent were commercial stations. But by 1934 the vast majority of licenses were now commercially supported (98 percent). Early 1920s proposals like Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover’s to fund radio with a two percent tax on receivers were forgotten by all but a handful of media reform groups.”

I am sure that I have missed many wonderful bullet points in this timeline. And if for some reason (like preserving your sanity) you decide to skip the 2020s altogether, rest assured that the 2030s will offer one hundred year broadcast anniversaries galore, such as Orson Welles’ famous 1938 rendition of War of the Worlds, which scared the daylight out of America . . . or did it?

This article was edited on January 5, 2020; I suspect that it may be edited some more. Stay tuned.

The post The 2020s will be heaven for radio anniversary history buffs appeared first on Radio Survivor.

The 2020s will be heaven for radio anniversary history buffs

Sat, 01/04/2020 - 11:38

If you are, like me, a total sucker for “one hundred years ago today” anniversary stories, you are going to love this decade when it comes to broadcast radio history. To be fair, the 20-teens had their moments, case in point the Radio Act of 1912. But that decade offered slim pickings compared to the 2020s.

Super fun fact: did you know that KDKA had its own blimp? [Pennsylvania Center for the Book]

The fun starts in 2020. Many anniversary journalists will focus on the launching of KDKA in Pittsburgh. “Its first broadcast,” write historians Christopher Sterling and John M. Kitross, “held on election night, November 2, 1920, came from a 100 watt transmitter in a tiny makeshift shack atop a Westinghouse manufacturing building.” The Pittsburgh Post fed election returns to the station via a telephone connection. KDKA broadcast the data “to an estimated few thousand listeners, including some people at a Pittsburgh country club, over Westinghouse-supplied speakers.”

Does this mean that KDKA had launched the “first broadcast by a licensed radio station”? I predict that the 2020s will not only see lots of anniversary “first” stories, but plenty of battles over who was really first.

Then there was (get out your hankies folks) the first broadcast radio commercial. The trade news site Campaign US notes that it aired on August 28, 1922 on a station owned by the AT&T corporation: WEAF in New York. The Queensboro Corporation paid for fifty minutes at the rate of a dollar per minute to extol the virtues of an apartment complex in Jackson Heights, Queens.

“Friend,” the sales pitch explained:

“you owe it to yourself and your family to leave the congested city and enjoy what nature intended you to enjoy. Visit our new apartment homes in Hawthorne Court, Jackson Heights, where you may enjoy community life in a friendly environment.”

1922 not only witnessed this heartwarming moment, but also the first worried speech about the potential impact of commercials on radio. Herbert Hoover read the first generation of broadcasters the riot act that year at the First National Radio Conference. “The wireless spoken word has one definite field,” Hoover proclaimed, “and that is for broadcast of certain predetermined material of public interest from central stations. . . .

This material must be limited to news, to education, and to entertainment, and the communication of such commercial matters as are of importance to large groups, of the community at the same time . . . It is therefore primarily a question of broadcasting, and it becomes of primary public interest to say who is to do the broadcasting, under what circumstances, and with what type of material. It is inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service to be drowned in advertising chatter.”

“Inconceivable”? Isn’t that what Wallace Shawn said in The Princess Bride? Moving right along, on September 13, 1926, a duo of RCA executives announced the creation of the National Broadcasting Company.

Here is my favorite part of the statement:

“The Radio Corporation is not in any sense seeking a monopoly of the air. That would be a liability rather than an asset. It is seeking, however, to provide machinery which will insure a national distribution of national programs, and a wider distribution of programs of the highest quality.”

Fifteen years later the Federal Communications Commission concluded that, contrary to this assertion, NBC was, in fact, monopolizing the airwaves. In 1941 the agency issued its ban on “dual networks,” forcing the company to divest holdings that would eventually become the nation’s third network, the American Broadcasting Company.

Meanwhile at the same time that all this monopolizing took place, college radio spread across the USA. I wish that I could identify the first college radio station in the country, but as Jennifer Waits notes, it is not so easy. Still, candidates for the 1920s would include the University of Minnesota, Grove City College, the University of Wisconsin, the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, Haverford College, and Dartmouth.

Alas, no good deed goes unpunished. In 1927 the government appointed a regulator for broadcast radio: the Federal Radio Commission. The FRC repaid this decision with an Order that reorganized the nation’s radio licenses in favor of big commercial operations at the expense of smaller non-profit and college radio outfits. What happened? As I put it myself ten years ago:

“The result? In 1926 most stations belonged to civic groups, or colleges and universities, or trade unions. Only 4.3 percent were commercial stations. But by 1934 the vast majority of licenses were now commercially supported (98 percent). Early 1920s proposals like Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover’s to fund radio with a two percent tax on receivers were forgotten by all but a handful of media reform groups.”

I am sure that I have missed many wonderful bullet points in this timeline. And if for some reason (like preserving your sanity) you decide to skip the 2020s altogether, rest assured that the 2030s will offer one hundred year broadcast anniversaries galore, such as Orson Welles’ famous 1938 rendition of War of the Worlds, which scared the daylight out of America . . . or did it?

This article was edited on January 5, 2020; I suspect that it may be edited some more. Stay tuned.

The post The 2020s will be heaven for radio anniversary history buffs appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Understanding Radio in the Popular Zeitgeist – An Analysis of Radio Survivor’s Most Popular Posts of the Decade 2010 – 2019

Thu, 01/02/2020 - 02:04

One of the fun aspects of writing for Radio Survivor as we enter a new decade is that our efforts have become more idiosyncratic. When we first started the site in 2009, I think we sort of envisioned it as a radio news site, but one with a decidedly non-commercial focus. An early motto offered by Matthew Lasar, “not the voice of the industry,” illustrates this emphasis on community and college radio, alongside the quirkier and independent commercial operations.

As the last decade wore on, the newsiness of Radio Survivor declined. Speaking only for myself, I can say that the daily or weekly grind of keeping up on stories for the sake of writing about them got old. On the one hand, it was exciting to document the roll out of the largest expansion of community radio in history every week from December 2013 to July 2016, but few other topics were quite as alluring for me to dedicate such weekly time and attention. Instead, I gradually chose to follow my muse, writing from the spark of inspiration (or obsession) rather than obligation.

It also became apparent that appealing to a more mass audience was difficult, and only occasionally successful. For me, it made sense to settle in to the idea that Radio Survivor the website and podcast is for a relatively select group of radio lovers. That bunch includes broadcasters, producers and listeners, but really nobody whose job depends on what we cover and write about. As we say on the podcast, it’s for “the love of radio and sound,” and I think it’s love that we’ve really doubled-down on over time.

On the newsy side, Jennifer Waits’ weekly College Radio Watch reviews – Radio Survivor’s only remaining regular news feature – certainly qualify as a labor of love.

So, it’s interesting to take a look back at our most popular posts of the decade, all of which received between 29 times and 614 times the traffic of the average Radio Survivor post. It’s an instructive exercise because these posts represent a fascinating overlap area in the Venn diagram of what is popular or important in the culture at large, and what is of intense interest to folks who love radio and audio.

The Enduring Popularity of “Alice’s Restaurant” and the Super Bowl

This seems particularly true for a full half of the raw top 10. Three are posts from Jennifer’s annual Thanksgiving rundown of stations playing “Alice’s Restaurant.” This shows that tens of thousands of people are still into this holiday tradition. It also provides an example in inadvertent search engine optimization, where having a reliable post every year – that people click on – puts you at the top of search results.

Two of the top 10 are installments in my annual “how to listen to the Super Bowl” posts. As I freely admit, I don’t really care about the NFL or about the Super Bowl. But it’s a steadfast American cultural event that cuts across media. So I’m always curious to see what’s available to people who can’t view it on television, no matter where they are in the world. Obviously, tens of thousands of readers agree, or at least find the guide useful.

Incidentally, the Super Bowl posts rank pretty well in search results, too – coming in at number three – but not as well as the “Alice’s Restaurant” posts, which come in at number one and two.

The Strategy of Holding on for 10 Years

If we combine these “Alice’s Restaurant” and Super Bowl posts into just one entry each, the rest of the top 10 also highlights this coincidence of the popular zeitgeist and our deep radio nerdery. I’ll come clean that one reason for writing my yearly “Super Bowl on the radio” posts is because they bring in traffic. However, because Radio Survivor has been ad-free for about two-thirds of the decade, clicks themselves don’t add up to a payday. And while it’s nice to be popular, that’s not really my point either. Rather, I hope that some tiny percentage of these readers are radio nerds who come back.

It’s not entirely clear this strategy works. Overall, as we begin 2020 our monthly pageviews are about 25% greater compared this time in 2010. But this number fluctuates, and at times has been as much as almost double that figure from a decade ago.

That said, as a relatively niche, untrendy and not-clickbaity blog, holding on and even growing during this time is an actual accomplishment. Anecdotally, I’d say the group of devoted radio lovers reading and engaging with us has grown to a larger portion of the overall audience, judging from feedback we get from social media, email and old fashioned interpersonal networks. I like to think we’ve helped coalescence a community of Radio Survivors.

Nevertheless, looking at the rest of our most popular posts of the decade we gain insights about what a broader population of internet denizens thinks is attractive, intriguing or simply just useful about radio in the 2010s.

People Are Looking for Guidance

In at second most popular is a post from 2015, “In Search of High Fidelity Internet Radio.” For a while, this one’s popularity was a little puzzling, because it’s a very techie subject, and because I tend to think the topic of high fidelity itself is very niche. Yet, the explosion in headphone listening has won over a new generation of listeners who care about sound quality in the last ten years.

Also, if we see a tiny trend here, posts that are resource guides seem to have an outsized draw, and this one includes a list of better quality streaming stations. However, it’s a list that I haven’t reviewed or updated in a long time. Maybe that goes on the 2020 to-do list.

If we use that resource-guide frame, I think that explains a full 70% of the top 10. This includes a 2010 piece on, “Make Your Own Radio Kits and DIY Projects,” one from 2012 that explains “There’s still jazz on Chicago radio, despite the death of Smooth 87.7,” and a 2017 entry from Jennifer’s yearly examination of Princeton Review’s “Best College Radio Station” list.

News with a Curiously Long Shelf Life

At number four is one of only two straightforward radio news stories, “FCC Fines iHeart $1 Million for Airing Fake Emergency Alert Tone during Bobby Bones Show.” Though published nearly five years ago, this post saw many spikes in traffic in 2019. While Bobby Bones is a popular radio and American Idol personality, it’s a mystery to me what drove all this recent attention.

The other news story – at number 10 – is, “Apple Kills Off Its First and Only FM Radio” from 2017, reporting the cancellation of the iPod Nano, the only Apple device to ever have a radio receiver built in. Most of its hits came when the news was hot, though at least a hundred people or so read it every month in 2019.

CDs and a Question

The least radio-centric post is also the only one in the top 10 that was written in 2019, “10 Reasons Why CDs Are Still Awesome (Especially for Radio).” Like most of these pieces, it saw a spike of traffic around the time it was published, which quickly fell off. But then it’s been picking up steam since March, going up in traffic ever since. I’m not sure why this is happening, though I get the sense that it taps into a rising interest in CDs and physical media in general, as streaming music has become less novel and more everyday.

Finally, last in this haphazard review, but not least, is the fifth most popular post of the decade, “Can your radio receiver access 87.7 FM?” Now, content that is titled with a question often does well in search results because many people literally type in questions to Google. If we search for exactly this question, our post is the first result. Matthew’s inquiry taps into a long running vein at Radio Survivor, following the creation and evolution of channel 6 low-power TV stations that effectively broadcast as radio stations owing to the fact you can hear their audio at the far left end of the FM dial.

One such station that once played smooth jazz for Chicago, was the jumping off point for the number seven most popular post on jazz stations in that city. Yet, none of the posts specifically about these stations ranks in the top 50. Perhaps there are more questions than answers?

The Numbers Don’t Lie, but What Do They Say?

It’s always a humbling experience to look at your web stats, which provide at least one score on how many people took in what you created. But, as I’ve said on the podcast many times, I think the modern internet distorts our perception of reach and audience. A post that reaches 140 people may seem like a failure compared to a major tech blog or an Instagram post that got 3000 likes. Yet, if you filled a room with all those people for a talk, performance or meeting, you’d probably feel like a great success.

The Passionate Niche Is Alright by Me

The paradox of the internet is that while a significant percentage of all humanity can find your stuff, that doesn’t mean they all are interested or will see it. Then again, the spirit of the radio (inclusive of podcasting and internet radio) we love and champion here is the kind that reaches maybe only dozens at a time, late at night on a frequency on the far-left-end of the dial, maybe broadcasting to a town with fewer residents than the number of people attending Coachella. At Radio Survivor we celebrate the passionate niche. We are the passionate niche.

And every once in a while – maybe even a few times a year – a group that would fill the United Center for a Bulls game stops by to check us out. A few stragglers come by again, but for most this is just a little morsel in one day’s enormous internet diet.

But along the way a community forms around this shared love for radio and sound. If this enterprise were a newsletter or magazine this core audience would outpace most academic journals, and many magazines you might find at your local indie bookstore.

I’m not arguing that size is so important or that it’s an indicator of merit. No, I’m just grateful to everyone who has read this far, and continues to spend a little time and attention with Radio Survivor, whether it’s once a week, once a month or once a year. Thanks for benefit of your attention, and I hope I’ll be writing another review like this in 2030.

Here are the Top 10 most popular Radio Survivor posts of 2010 – 2019:

(With “Alice’s Restaurant” and Super Bowl posts conflated.)

  1. How To Listen to Super Bowl LII on the Radio this Sunday – Jan. 2018
  2. Digital Watch: In Search of High Fidelity Internet Radio – March 2015
  3. Alice’s Restaurant Maintains Spot on Thanksgiving Radio Dial in 2018 – Nov. 2018
  4. FCC Fines iHeart 1 Million for Airing Fake Emergency Alert Tone during Bobby Bones Show – May 2015
  5. Make Your Own Radio and DIY Projects – Sept. 2010
  6. There’s Still Jazz on Chicago Radio despite the Death of Smooth 87.7 – May 2012
  7. Can Your Radio Receiver Access 87.7 FM? – March 2015
  8. Princeton Review’s Best College Radio Station List Released – Aug. 2017
  9. 10 Reasons Why CDs are Still Awesome (Especially for Radio)– Jan. 2019
  10. Apple Kills Off First FM Radio – Aug. 2017

The post Understanding Radio in the Popular Zeitgeist – An Analysis of Radio Survivor’s Most Popular Posts of the Decade 2010 – 2019 appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Understanding Radio in the Popular Zeitgeist – An Analysis of Radio Survivor’s Most Popular Posts of the Decade 2010 – 2019

Thu, 01/02/2020 - 02:04

One of the fun aspects of writing for Radio Survivor as we enter a new decade is that our efforts have become more idiosyncratic. When we first started the site in 2009, I think we sort of envisioned it as a radio news site, but one with a decidedly non-commercial focus. An early motto offered by Matthew Lasar, “not the voice of the industry,” illustrates this emphasis on community and college radio, alongside the quirkier and independent commercial operations.

As the last decade wore on, the newsiness of Radio Survivor declined. Speaking only for myself, I can say that the daily or weekly grind of keeping up on stories for the sake of writing about them got old. On the one hand, it was exciting to document the roll out of the largest expansion of community radio in history every week from December 2013 to July 2016, but few other topics were quite as alluring for me to dedicate such weekly time and attention. Instead, I gradually chose to follow my muse, writing from the spark of inspiration (or obsession) rather than obligation.

It also became apparent that appealing to a more mass audience was difficult, and only occasionally successful. For me, it made sense to settle in to the idea that Radio Survivor the website and podcast is for a relatively select group of radio lovers. That bunch includes broadcasters, producers and listeners, but really nobody whose job depends on what we cover and write about. As we say on the podcast, it’s for “the love of radio and sound,” and I think it’s love that we’ve really doubled-down on over time.

On the newsy side, Jennifer Waits’ weekly College Radio Watch reviews – Radio Survivor’s only remaining regular news feature – certainly qualify as a labor of love.

So, it’s interesting to take a look back at our most popular posts of the decade, all of which received between 29 times and 614 times the traffic of the average Radio Survivor post. It’s an instructive exercise because these posts represent a fascinating overlap area in the Venn diagram of what is popular or important in the culture at large, and what is of intense interest to folks who love radio and audio.

The Enduring Popularity of “Alice’s Restaurant” and the Super Bowl

This seems particularly true for a full half of the raw top 10. Three are posts from Jennifer’s annual Thanksgiving rundown of stations playing “Alice’s Restaurant.” This shows that tens of thousands of people are still into this holiday tradition. It also provides an example in inadvertent search engine optimization, where having a reliable post every year – that people click on – puts you at the top of search results.

Two of the top 10 are installments in my annual “how to listen to the Super Bowl” posts. As I freely admit, I don’t really care about the NFL or about the Super Bowl. But it’s a steadfast American cultural event that cuts across media. So I’m always curious to see what’s available to people who can’t view it on television, no matter where they are in the world. Obviously, tens of thousands of readers agree, or at least find the guide useful.

Incidentally, the Super Bowl posts rank pretty well in search results, too – coming in at number three – but not as well as the “Alice’s Restaurant” posts, which come in at number one and two.

The Strategy of Holding on for 10 Years

If we combine these “Alice’s Restaurant” and Super Bowl posts into just one entry each, the rest of the top 10 also highlights this coincidence of the popular zeitgeist and our deep radio nerdery. I’ll come clean that one reason for writing my yearly “Super Bowl on the radio” posts is because they bring in traffic. However, because Radio Survivor has been ad-free for about two-thirds of the decade, clicks themselves don’t add up to a payday. And while it’s nice to be popular, that’s not really my point either. Rather, I hope that some tiny percentage of these readers are radio nerds who come back.

It’s not entirely clear this strategy works. Overall, as we begin 2020 our monthly pageviews are about 25% greater compared this time in 2010. But this number fluctuates, and at times has been as much as almost double that figure from a decade ago.

That said, as a relatively niche, untrendy and not-clickbaity blog, holding on and even growing during this time is an actual accomplishment. Anecdotally, I’d say the group of devoted radio lovers reading and engaging with us has grown to a larger portion of the overall audience, judging from feedback we get from social media, email and old fashioned interpersonal networks. I like to think we’ve helped coalescence a community of Radio Survivors.

Nevertheless, looking at the rest of our most popular posts of the decade we gain insights about what a broader population of internet denizens thinks is attractive, intriguing or simply just useful about radio in the 2010s.

People Are Looking for Guidance

In at second most popular is a post from 2015, “In Search of High Fidelity Internet Radio.” For a while, this one’s popularity was a little puzzling, because it’s a very techie subject, and because I tend to think the topic of high fidelity itself is very niche. Yet, the explosion in headphone listening has won over a new generation of listeners who care about sound quality in the last ten years.

Also, if we see a tiny trend here, posts that are resource guides seem to have an outsized draw, and this one includes a list of better quality streaming stations. However, it’s a list that I haven’t reviewed or updated in a long time. Maybe that goes on the 2020 to-do list.

If we use that resource-guide frame, I think that explains a full 70% of the top 10. This includes a 2010 piece on, “Make Your Own Radio Kits and DIY Projects,” one from 2012 that explains “There’s still jazz on Chicago radio, despite the death of Smooth 87.7,” and a 2017 entry from Jennifer’s yearly examination of Princeton Review’s “Best College Radio Station” list.

News with a Curiously Long Shelf Life

At number four is one of only two straightforward radio news stories, “FCC Fines iHeart $1 Million for Airing Fake Emergency Alert Tone during Bobby Bones Show.” Though published nearly five years ago, this post saw many spikes in traffic in 2019. While Bobby Bones is a popular radio and American Idol personality, it’s a mystery to me what drove all this recent attention.

The other news story – at number 10 – is, “Apple Kills Off Its First and Only FM Radio” from 2017, reporting the cancellation of the iPod Nano, the only Apple device to ever have a radio receiver built in. Most of its hits came when the news was hot, though at least a hundred people or so read it every month in 2019.

CDs and a Question

The least radio-centric post is also the only one in the top 10 that was written in 2019, “10 Reasons Why CDs Are Still Awesome (Especially for Radio).” Like most of these pieces, it saw a spike of traffic around the time it was published, which quickly fell off. But then it’s been picking up steam since March, going up in traffic ever since. I’m not sure why this is happening, though I get the sense that it taps into a rising interest in CDs and physical media in general, as streaming music has become less novel and more everyday.

Finally, last in this haphazard review, but not least, is the fifth most popular post of the decade, “Can your radio receiver access 87.7 FM?” Now, content that is titled with a question often does well in search results because many people literally type in questions to Google. If we search for exactly this question, our post is the first result. Matthew’s inquiry taps into a long running vein at Radio Survivor, following the creation and evolution of channel 6 low-power TV stations that effectively broadcast as radio stations owing to the fact you can hear their audio at the far left end of the FM dial.

One such station that once played smooth jazz for Chicago, was the jumping off point for the number seven most popular post on jazz stations in that city. Yet, none of the posts specifically about these stations ranks in the top 50. Perhaps there are more questions than answers?

The Numbers Don’t Lie, but What Do They Say?

It’s always a humbling experience to look at your web stats, which provide at least one score on how many people took in what you created. But, as I’ve said on the podcast many times, I think the modern internet distorts our perception of reach and audience. A post that reaches 140 people may seem like a failure compared to a major tech blog or an Instagram post that got 3000 likes. Yet, if you filled a room with all those people for a talk, performance or meeting, you’d probably feel like a great success.

The Passionate Niche Is Alright by Me

The paradox of the internet is that while a significant percentage of all humanity can find your stuff, that doesn’t mean they all are interested or will see it. Then again, the spirit of the radio (inclusive of podcasting and internet radio) we love and champion here is the kind that reaches maybe only dozens at a time, late at night on a frequency on the far-left-end of the dial, maybe broadcasting to a town with fewer residents than the number of people attending Coachella. At Radio Survivor we celebrate the passionate niche. We are the passionate niche.

And every once in a while – maybe even a few times a year – a group that would fill the United Center for a Bulls game stops by to check us out. A few stragglers come by again, but for most this is just a little morsel in one day’s enormous internet diet.

But along the way a community forms around this shared love for radio and sound. If this enterprise were a newsletter or magazine this core audience would outpace most academic journals, and many magazines you might find at your local indie bookstore.

I’m not arguing that size is so important or that it’s an indicator of merit. No, I’m just grateful to everyone who has read this far, and continues to spend a little time and attention with Radio Survivor, whether it’s once a week, once a month or once a year. Thanks for benefit of your attention, and I hope I’ll be writing another review like this in 2030.

Here are the Top 10 most popular Radio Survivor posts of 2010 – 2019:

(With “Alice’s Restaurant” and Super Bowl posts conflated.)

  1. How To Listen to Super Bowl LII on the Radio this Sunday – Jan. 2018
  2. Digital Watch: In Search of High Fidelity Internet Radio – March 2015
  3. Alice’s Restaurant Maintains Spot on Thanksgiving Radio Dial in 2018 – Nov. 2018
  4. FCC Fines iHeart 1 Million for Airing Fake Emergency Alert Tone during Bobby Bones Show – May 2015
  5. Make Your Own Radio and DIY Projects – Sept. 2010
  6. There’s Still Jazz on Chicago Radio despite the Death of Smooth 87.7 – May 2012
  7. Can Your Radio Receiver Access 87.7 FM? – March 2015
  8. Princeton Review’s Best College Radio Station List Released – Aug. 2017
  9. 10 Reasons Why CDs are Still Awesome (Especially for Radio)– Jan. 2019
  10. Apple Kills Off First FM Radio – Aug. 2017

The post Understanding Radio in the Popular Zeitgeist – An Analysis of Radio Survivor’s Most Popular Posts of the Decade 2010 – 2019 appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #226 – Irish Pirate Radio Encore

Tue, 12/31/2019 - 18:41

Here at the close of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 we’re celebrating the 31st anniversary of the end of one of the most fascinating periods in radio broadcast history, when pirate radio ruled the Irish airwaves. We enjoyed this interview – recorded at the beginning of 2019 – and we think you will, too.

For about a decade, ending in 1988, pirate stations dominated the Irish radio bands, exploiting a loophole in the law that made punishments for unlicensed broadcasting on par with a speeding ticket. Now the sounds and artifacts of this cultural movement are being preserved online in the Irish Pirate Radio Archive.

Archive co-founders Brian Greene and John Walsh tell us about this rich history, in which some of the biggest stations broadcast with multi kilowatts of power, with listeners as far away as London and Wales. Stations ran the gamut, from these high-powered “super pirates” which often emulated American commercial radio to hobbyist broadcasters and community radio. Some of the Irish pirate radio stations were extremely political, focusing on the Irish language, or political prisoners. One station was a feminist pirate where only women’s voices were broadcast. While the scene came to an official end when the Irish government passed a new law with more severe penalties, these pirate stations helped to force open the country’s airwaves to non-governmental radio, which had a monopoly for more than fifty years.

Little known outside of Ireland, this hidden history is a must-listen for radio historians, enthusiasts and nerds of all stripes.

We went down several pirate radio wormholes that we couldn’t fit into this episode. Supporters of Radio Survivor can hear that extra material in Bonus Episode #178.5 right now on Patreon.

Not a patron? Sign up now for as little as a $1 a month and you can get access to this episode and even more great bonus content.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #226 – Irish Pirate Radio Encore appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #226 – Irish Pirate Radio Encore

Tue, 12/31/2019 - 18:41

Here at the close of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 we’re celebrating the 31st anniversary of the end of one of the most fascinating periods in radio broadcast history, when pirate radio ruled the Irish airwaves. We enjoyed this interview – recorded at the beginning of 2019 – and we think you will, too.

For about a decade, ending in 1988, pirate stations dominated the Irish radio bands, exploiting a loophole in the law that made punishments for unlicensed broadcasting on par with a speeding ticket. Now the sounds and artifacts of this cultural movement are being preserved online in the Irish Pirate Radio Archive.

Archive co-founders Brian Greene and John Walsh tell us about this rich history, in which some of the biggest stations broadcast with multi kilowatts of power, with listeners as far away as London and Wales. Stations ran the gamut, from these high-powered “super pirates” which often emulated American commercial radio to hobbyist broadcasters and community radio. Some of the Irish pirate radio stations were extremely political, focusing on the Irish language, or political prisoners. One station was a feminist pirate where only women’s voices were broadcast. While the scene came to an official end when the Irish government passed a new law with more severe penalties, these pirate stations helped to force open the country’s airwaves to non-governmental radio, which had a monopoly for more than fifty years.

Little known outside of Ireland, this hidden history is a must-listen for radio historians, enthusiasts and nerds of all stripes.

We went down several pirate radio wormholes that we couldn’t fit into this episode. Supporters of Radio Survivor can hear that extra material in Bonus Episode #178.5 right now on Patreon.

Not a patron? Sign up now for as little as a $1 a month and you can get access to this episode and even more great bonus content.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #226 – Irish Pirate Radio Encore appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #226 – Irish Pirate Radio Encore

Tue, 12/31/2019 - 18:41

Here at the close of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 we’re celebrating the 31st anniversary of the end of one of the most fascinating periods in radio broadcast history, when pirate radio ruled the Irish airwaves. We enjoyed this interview – recorded at the beginning of 2019 – and we think you will, too.

For about a decade, ending in 1988, pirate stations dominated the Irish radio bands, exploiting a loophole in the law that made punishments for unlicensed broadcasting on par with a speeding ticket. Now the sounds and artifacts of this cultural movement are being preserved online in the Irish Pirate Radio Archive.

Archive co-founders Brian Greene and John Walsh tell us about this rich history, in which some of the biggest stations broadcast with multi kilowatts of power, with listeners as far away as London and Wales. Stations ran the gamut, from these high-powered “super pirates” which often emulated American commercial radio to hobbyist broadcasters and community radio. Some of the Irish pirate radio stations were extremely political, focusing on the Irish language, or political prisoners. One station was a feminist pirate where only women’s voices were broadcast. While the scene came to an official end when the Irish government passed a new law with more severe penalties, these pirate stations helped to force open the country’s airwaves to non-governmental radio, which had a monopoly for more than fifty years.

Little known outside of Ireland, this hidden history is a must-listen for radio historians, enthusiasts and nerds of all stripes.

We went down several pirate radio wormholes that we couldn’t fit into this episode. Supporters of Radio Survivor can hear that extra material in Bonus Episode #178.5 right now on Patreon.

Not a patron? Sign up now for as little as a $1 a month and you can get access to this episode and even more great bonus content.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #226 – Irish Pirate Radio Encore appeared first on Radio Survivor.

College Radio Watch: 2019 College Radio Year in Review

Fri, 12/20/2019 - 09:01

As we approach the end of 2019, it’s time for my semi-annual reflection on the year in college radio. As is often the case, the stories picked up most by the popular press focus on big news (like station launches, license sales, and budget crises), major milestones (like significant anniversaries), and quirky or feel-good stories about station personalities. But beyond those headlines, there are always a lot of fascinating tales of college radio stations embarking on innovative projects. I was happy to be able to visit a handful of San Diego-area college radio stations in 2019 to see for myself. Revisit those tours to Griffin Radio at Grossmont College, KCR at San Diego State University, SDS Radio at San Diego City College, and KSDT at University of California San Diego in my tour archives and on Radio Survivor podcast #202

It’s always a challenge to interpret a year’s worth of college radio news, as it often takes longer for trends to emerge. With that caveat, here are some of the themes that have jumped out at me throughout 2019. In the weeks to come, I’ll be taking an in-depth look back at the decade in college radio; where the changes are more pronounced.

College Radio Alums Rule the World…or at least the School

Does 2019 mark a key point in college radio history, in which we have college radio alumni serving as leaders in industry and academia? These thoughts crossed my mind while reading some of the coverage surrounding the arrival of Reed College’s new president, Audrey Bilger (full disclosure: I know Bilger, as she’s married to a long-time friend of my husband). Music and college radio are a big part of Bilger’s past and present and she mentioned her time at University of Virginia’s college radio station WTJU in press interviews this year. Portland Monthly even asked, “Is Reed College’s New President Too Cool to be a University Administrator?,” citing her college radio cred and humongous record collection, arguing that she is “probably, the first college president to own a bigger record collection than her school’s entire student body.”

In somewhat related news, we also learned this year that former White House counsel Don McGahn was on a 1980s college radio compilation.

New Stations and Station Revivals

One of the most encouraging signs of college radio’s continued health in 2019 is that students keep launching radio projects. In September, 2019, a student at Fordham was disappointed by the lack of radio opportunities at the Lincoln Center campus in New York City, so she started up Wavelengths to showcase student-produced radio. Billing itself as “Fordham Lincoln Center’s first student-run internet radio station,” Wavelengths can be found on Instagram and Spotify.

Other new stations in 2019 include the February debut of online radio station the Quake at Wilmington College and the launch of a student-run streaming radio station KTSU2- The Voice at Texas Southern University. A campus radio station was also established in Zimbabwe at Great Zimbabwe University this year as part of the “journalism training institution.”

Brown Student Radio (which has been off FM since 2011) was able to return to the terrestrial airwaves in 2019 thanks to its successful launch of a new LPFM radio station. Part of a three-way time-share with an arts organization (AS220) and a community radio group (Providence Community Radio), WBRU-LP is broadcasting in Providence, Rhode Island at 101.1 FM and online.

Streaming radio station WRCM at Manhattan College was revived in February. It marks the return of radio to the Bronx, New York campus after a four-year absence. Additionally, at Wiley College, KBWC-FM resumed operations after a 2-year break due to campus construction. Another revamp happened at Presbyterian College, where WPCX-LP returned to the airwaves in Clinton, South Carolina with renewed student interest.

In Montana, Montana State University’s KGLT-FM was also able to expand its broadcast range thanks to the addition of a translator.

It also warmed my heart that Rice University was able to purchase its original call letters, KTRU. Readers will recall that it continued to refer to itself as KTRU, even after its FM signal was sold off. Although it successfully snagged a low power FM signal (KBLT-LP), the KTRU call letters weren’t available until recently.

Rumored CMJ Relaunch in 2020

At the end of 2019, CMJ emerged from a long slumber on social media, announcing that it will return in 2020. Details are vague, but the new owners of the long-time college media brand plan to bring back CMJ’s radio charts, music events, and coverage of the college music scene. For decades, CMJ was a conduit between college radio stations and the music industry; with its weekly college radio airplay charts, annual conference/music festival/college radio confab in New York City, and reporting on new music releases.

Podcast and Audio Production Projects Expand

In 2019, we learned about quite a few interesting podcast projects at college radio stations. While some stations are adding stand-alone podcasts, like MargRock at WKNC, others are creating podcast versions of existing programs. Additionally, stations like WTJU are creating their own podcast networks as well as audio-drama podcasts. I’m also pleased to see collaborations, for example the news podcasts being undertaken by the Texas A&M-Commerce’s student newspaper and radio station KKOM.

A project that I found particularly fascinating is a student-run radio production club at Ithaca College. While the campus is home to two college radio stations, members of the new TNT Radio Productions club “believe there is a lack of diversity in audio content at the college,” according to a November, 2019 piece in The Ithacan. The group is “working to produce creative long–form audio stories” that run the gamut “from contemporary drama to experimental audio narratives that are not restricted to common formats like podcasting,” writes the Ithacan.

The fact that there’s increased desire for audio production opportunities on a college campus with two existing radio stations is a testament to the growing popularity of podcasting as well as audio drama. Speaking of audio drama, Arkansas Tech University’s communications and journalism department runs Arkansas Radio Theatre. Its production, Concealed Carrie, airs over KXRJ-FM.

And finally, with the boom in podcasting, some colleges are profiling the variety of podcasts both on campus and produced by students. Boston University is home to a few, some of which are affiliated with student radio station WTBU.

Big Anniversaries

Numerous college radio stations celebrated MAJOR anniversaries this year and it’s perhaps important to point out how special it is that so many college radio stations have persevered for decades. Despite the transitory nature of college radio stations, these institutions carry on with new leaders and new students. In the commercial radio world, it’s an increasing rarity for a station to exist for 40, 50, or 60 years under the same ownership; so kudos to college radio!

Some of the milestone anniversaries in 2019 include:

Stations Leaving AM and FM

College radio license sales are one of the bummer stories that I report on year after year. Thankfully 2019 didn’t see the flurry of big sales that we witnessed earlier in the decade. Nonetheless, it doesn’t make this year’s license sales any easier for fans, participants, and alumni who care about terrestrial broadcasting. I have to point out that the loss of AM or FM is not always mourned at college radio stations. In the most recent example, student participants at Denison College station WDUB expressed relief upon transitioning their station to an online-only operation that will be free from FCC-compliance concerns.

In 2019, one of the most-discussed college radio stations leaving FM was WUEV at Evansville College. This one really hurts for me, as I’d reported on WUEV’s impressive efforts in saving their station from a sale back in 2006. While students and alumni did their best to stop a sale this time around; WUEV’s FM license was ultimately sold to a religious radio group, with the sale approved last month.

Lehigh University’s student radio station WLVR-FM also left its 91.3 FM channel, but will stream online and broadcast on HD-2. This is part of a “partnership” with Lehigh Valley Public Media, in which public radio programming took over the station’s main channel as of November 1, 2019. Lehigh University will retain the license.

At Bucknell University, student radio station WVBU-FM transitioned to online-only status after the school made a deal with VIA Public Media. The FM license was sold to Northeastern Pennsylvania Educational Television Association in July, 2019 for $17,600. NPR programming now airs over the FM signal as of August, 2019.

At Trine University, WEAX-FM left the airwaves in July, 2019, with the station moving online. In a filing with the FCC, the university stated that it “no longer wishes to operate a radio station” and was “looking to sell the station.” In November, 2019, the FCC approved the assignment of the license to religious broadcaster Star Educational Media Network for a sale price of $40,000.

WIUV-FM at Castleton University in Castleton, Vermont, which had been on the air since 1976, also shut off its terrestrial broadcasts, turning its license back to the FCC in May, 2019. The license was subsequently cancelled.

University of Jamestown sold its station KJKR-FM to religious broadcaster Hi-Line Radio Fellowship in 2019, just seven years after the 4,000 watt radio station was launched on the North Dakota campus.

And in AM news, Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut shut down its professionally-run station WQUN in 2019. The station has been silent since May 31, 2019 and has FCC permission to remain off the air until June 2, 2020, citing “financial considerations and a reassessment of student needs” as reasons for not returning to the airwaves.

Student Fees Crisis in Canada

Throughout 2019 we’ve seen fallout from some policy changes in Canada threatening funding for campus media in Ontario. In March, 2019, we went in-depth on this topic for the Radio Survivor Podcast, speaking with Barry Rooke from the National Campus and Community Radio Association.

Because of an initiative allowing college students to opt out of various student fees, some stations have faced financial crises, including CJAM at University of Windsor (which cut staff), Laurentian University’s CKLU, where “funding from student fees dropped from $45,670 in 2018 to $3,000 in 2019.”

Late in the year, a piece in McMaster University’s student newspaper the Silhouette asks, “Did we choose student life?,’ pointing out:

September 2019 marked the first of possibly many registration periods in which students could opt-out of student union fees deemed non-essential. This change, instituted by the Government of Ontario in January 2019, is part of the widely criticised Student Choice Initiative. In the past, McMaster’s student union fees for all clubs and services have been mandatory. Non-essential fees range from a few dollars, like the $1 fee for Mac Farmstands or $2 for Horizons, to $13.72 for CFMU 93.3FM or $17.50 for Campus Events. As early as  January, student groups have feared the worst and prepared for the inevitable cuts.

More College Radio News License Sales Infrastructure Programming Music Industry and College Radio Events Alumni

The post College Radio Watch: 2019 College Radio Year in Review appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #224: How the FCC Could Support Diversity, Localism & Competition in Radio & TV

Wed, 12/18/2019 - 22:47

All nine judges on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently denied the FCC’s request for a rehearing on its many-times rejected media ownership rules. Prof. Christopher Terry calls this the Commission’s “Legacy of Failure.” But it begs the question, what does success look like?

Prof. Terry, who teaches media law at the University of Minnesota, joins us to discuss what another broadcast world might look like. Going back to fundamentals, he explains that media ownership rules are expected to serve the objectives of furthering diversity, localism and competition, and that is the standard against which they are judged. The Third Circuit has ruled again and again that the Commission has failed to provide evidence that rules changes – in the face of 23 years of increased consolidation, reduced localism and a dwindling number of women and minority station owners – would stem this tide.

While these seem like difficult trends to reverse, Prof. Terry thinks that a recent FCC policy initiative might actually work, with just a few modifications. He tells us how this could happen. He also fills us in on the status of Network Neutrality as public interest petitioners file their appeals in the appeals court case that upheld the Commission’s reversal of the 2015 Open Internet rules.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #224: How the FCC Could Support Diversity, Localism & Competition in Radio & TV appeared first on Radio Survivor.

The Near-Death of Independent Internet Radio Is One of the Most Important Radio Trends of the Decade

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 01:03

Internet radio experienced a sea change in the middle of the last decade that washed away many independent broadcasters, and changed the atmosphere for others. While the medium continues to sail on, it is also more fractured – and more diverse – than ten years ago. That’s why this evolution is one of the decade’s most important radio trends.

Internet Radio’s Indie Roots

Independent broadcasters have been a cornerstone of internet radio since the very beginning. Looking back 26 years to the very first internet broadcasts, we see that – much like terrestrial radio – they were initiated by hobbyists and experimenters, not big media companies.

In fact, one can argue that the U.S. commercial radio industry largely neglected internet radio for a good portion of its first two decades. I think we can mark the founding of iHeartRadio as an app and platform in 2008 as the turn, when American commercial broadcasting finally embraced the internet as a useful and profitable medium, rather than a pesky nuisance. I don’t mean that commercial stations weren’t streaming before then. Rather, that streams were treated as low priority obligations.

During that time thousands upon thousands of independent internet radio operations were founded, taking advantage of a very low cost of entry and an absence of any sort of governmental licensing. Esepecially in the late 90s and early 2000s, it was mostly a matter of getting a Live365 account, loading up some music, and going for it.

The DMCA Takes a Bite, but not a Mouthful

Beginning with the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998, internet broadcasting transitioned from its anything goes days to being a little more regulated. This was due to being required to pay royalties to songwriters and musicians for playing their music.

However, thanks to lobbying efforts on their behalf, small, independent and hobbyist webcasters got a break from Congress, twice. The Small Webcaster Settlement Acts of 2002 and 2009 established reasonable performance royalty rates for internet broadcasters not intent on going commercial, making much income, or serving large audiences. In effect, they were for webcasters that are akin to a small community LPFM or college station.

While this meant running a legit internet radio operation in the U.S. wasn’t free, the costs could be low enough to be comparable to, or less than, any number of other hobbies. Live365, then one of the biggest platforms offering streaming radio services, make it particularly easy by bundling those royalty payment in with the hosting costs. Some of the smallest webcasters could be on the hook for less than $100 a year – less than the cost of cup of Starbucks a day.

2016: The Year of the Great Seachange

The independent internet radio train ran off the rails in the middle of this last decade, January 2016 to be exact. That’s when the medium was dealt two massive blows: the expiration of the Small Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009 and the closure of Live365. Though the expiration of the Settlement Act was perhaps the final nail in the coffin, Live365 had been struggling for some time before hand, largely due to the loss of key investors. Its demise on January 31 of that year left some 5000 internet broadcasters of all sizes scrambling for new hosts.

Despite the hopes and prayers of many a small webcaster, Congress never took up their cause again, and their royalty rates skyrocketed. Instead of paying a percentage of revenue as under the Settlement Act, they would started having to pay royalties based upon tracks streamed per listener. That meant a station that averaged 100 listeners tuned it at any time – not a huge audience – playing an average of 15 songs an hour, was on the hook for as much as $22,000 a year.

An untold number of independent internet broadcasters called it quits. That number is untold because there’s no central authority or accounting. But anecdotal evidence from looking at the Shoutcast directory of internet radio stations and monitoring internet forums indicated that the reduction was pretty substantial, especially amongst stations that served narrow niches and very small audiences.

Many mid-sized independent broadcasters seem to have been able to hold on by virtue of fundraising or ad revenue. SomaFM is one such group, which survives on listener contributions. Back in 2016 founder and operator Rusty Hodge told me that he anticipated his costs to jump to as much as $20,000 a month, and he would be implementing automatic stream time-outs for people listening for more than a couple hours, to be sure SomeFM wouldn’t be streaming music to empty rooms.

Non-commercial terrestrial stations dodged the bullet because the royalties for their online streams are negotiated separately by groups like National Public Radio and the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Commensurate with their non-commercial and non-profit status, their rates remained reasonable, though only as a result of careful diligence.

Short-Lived Alternatives

Many small U.S. webcasters left homeless by the closure of Live365 migrated to the France-based Radionomy service, which acquired the Shoutcast internet radio server technology and Winamp media player app from AOL in 2014. That’s because Radionomy offered free streaming hosting, even covering royalties, to broadcasters who could maintain a minimum audience size. In exchange broadcasters agreed to have a few minutes of advertising inserted into their streams every hour.

However, the bloom started to fall from that rose pretty quickly. In February of 2016 four major record labels filed suit against Radionomy claiming non-payment of royalties since “late 2014.” The service soldiered on, but stopped serving U.S. based listeners and broadcasters earlier this year. At the end of November the service shut down altogether.

Radionomy broadcasters were offered the opportunity to migrate their stations to the Shoutcast for Business service. While it’s reasonably priced – starting at about $15 a month – that doesn’t include any royalty coverage. Accounting for and paying royalties is up to the individual broadcaster, and that’s where the significant costs set it.

After Live365 closed in 2016, other U.S. webcasters turned to a company called StreamLicensing.com. The company offered to cover a station’s royalties for a cost lower than paying them directly. It seems the way they did this was probably by aggregating all the member stations into one license and single payment, using the economy of scale to reduce the liability of individual broadcasters. Stations had to find their own stream hosting – which is easier, with costs very proportionate to audience size – and StreamLicensing.com took care of royalties beginning at about $60 a month. Though more expensive than the lowest cost pre–2016 Live365 plans, that $720 annual rate was still on par with cable TV or a gym membership.

But beginning last year I started hearing scuttlebutt that not all was well with the company and that the numbers weren’t adding up. Whatever the case really was, StreamLicensing.com shut down in May of this year, again setting dozens or even hundreds of small webcasters adrift.

The Re-Birth of Live365 Is a Bright Spot

The story for small webcasters hasn’t been all doom and gloom since 2016. In 2017 Live365 was resurrected by a young internet entrepreneur named Jon Stephenson. The new service also offers internet radio hosting and royalty coverage for one monthly fee. The costs begin at $59 a month if your station runs Live365-placed ads – not much more than the old StreamLicensing.com alone without hosting – or $79 a month if you want to remain ad-free.

These introductory plans limit a station to 1500 total listening hours a month – equivalent to an average of 2 listeners per hour. But since the reality is that listeners tune in and out, and few should be listening for more than a few hours at a time, this is more than enough to sustain a small niche webcaster.

Of course, that adds up to $708 to $948 a year, and still might be too much for some would-be broadcasters. The price is not the fault of Live365 or other similar providers because their costs are pretty well fixed, especially the royalties. But small webcasters do still benefit from the economy of scale and and the convenience of one-stop-shopping these platforms offer.

If we’re being honest, spending $1000 a year or so to be a broadcaster is still a bargain compared to the costs of starting and running a terrestrial broadcast station, even a low-power FM. Many folks will spend more on a set of golf clubs, a digital camera or a couple cases of wine.

Early Promise Tarnished

It’s the contrast with the early promise of internet broadcasting that makes the situation feel unfair. In 1997 it seemed that all you needed to be a broadcaster was an internet connection and a few bucks a month to host the stream. The realities of intellectual property and commerce quickly caught up, but for a while – about 14 years, actually – the scrappy indie webacaster caught a break. But by 2016 it seems like folks stopped caring, especially Congress.

It’s not really clear why no congressperson saw fit to try renewing the Small Webcaster Settlement Act. Maybe the rise of streaming music services like Pandora and Spotify, music hosting sites like SoundCloud, or on-demand music show and podcast services like MixCloud made it seem like there were plenty of other opportunities for folks to get their audio out across the interwebs, whether by playlist, DJ set or podcast.

The opportunity hasn’t gone away. Live365 and similar services still offer the most cost-effective way to start broadcasting on the internet legitimately. But it’s probably not the sort of thing you do on a whim. At the same time there are many more outlets for casting out audio on the internet, and that is a net good.

Internet Radio Is Fundamentally Changed

That doesn’t change the fact that internet radio in the U.S. fundamentally changed in 2016. I’m certain many of the broadcasters who found themselves high and dry that year just gave up. This doesn’t mark the end of indie internet radio, just a major shift.

It should be mentioned that it’s conceivable to run an internet radio station without any costly royalty obligations. If you only run talk programming, with no music, then you bare no liability. But no music means you’re not using any commercially released music at all, not as bumpers or stingers or music beds. Now, podcasters manage to do this by relying on royalty-free music libraries, contracting directly with musicians or making their own music. So it should be possible for a talk-only internet station to pull this off.

Another option is to work directly with artists and labels to obtain permission to play their music royalty-free, or pay them directly. Note that this may not be as simple as it seems. If an artist is signed to a label it’s not good enough for them to say you can use their recordings, since the label will own some portion of them. You’ll need the label to give the OK, too. If an independent artist also self-releases, then you’ll have an easier time.

The Free Music Archive was actually founded to provide community and other non-commercial terrestrial radio stations high-quality royalty-free music alternatives back in the early days of the DMCA, before separate negotiations brought their rates down to a reasonable level. While the FMA’s ownership has shifted twice in the past 12 months, experiencing some downtime in the process, the music uploaded there from 2009 to 2017.

Also keep in mind that beyond the performance royalties, there are royalties owed songwriters via rights organizations like ASCAP and BMI. If an artist owns their songs and recordings, then again you’re free and clear. But if they’re playing cover versions or their label shares in the composition ownership (not unusual), then you’ll need more stakeholders coming to agreement. It’s not impossible, but it’s also not straightforward.

Some internet broadcasters have skirted the royalty issue by pivoting to video. Last year I wrote about the new breed of “YouTube pirates” who run live streams of music accompanied by static or looping images. They’re kind of the internet equivalent of FrankenFM channel 6 TV stations that maintain the bare minimum amount of video service to qualify as television stations, while primarily functioning as radio stations.

In harmony with my advice above, it seems that many YouTube stations survive by relying on independent music that falls outside the mainstream music industry’s royalty structure. For instance, the Netherlands-based Chillhop Music channel streams “jazzy beats / loft hip hop” that’s mostly devoid of recognizable hits.

Other channels that skirt closer to major label tunes end up playing a cat-and-mouse game with YouTube. The only real penalty seems to be having your channel shut down, which results in the loss of a potentially large listener and subscriber base. But there’s no indication that a bill from SoundExchange or other royalty collections authority will show up in your mail, in part because you don’t need to provide any legal identity to set up a YouTube channel.

The irony is that YouTube isn’t a radio platform, and that hosting streaming video is more expensive that streaming audio by a significant margin. But YouTube is free, and there are few free radio streaming options out there. In particular, there are none even remotely as prominent as YouTube.

The Future Is Fractured

So maybe the future of internet radio is video? I know that many podcast listeners actually consume their favorite shows – like Joe Rogan’s – on YouTube and think of the platform as the place to find podcasts.

In reality that’s probably overstating things. Like all online media, internet radio has become more fractured in the last decade. While some platforms and opportunities have disappeared, others have come to the fore.

If you’re looking to create a traditional 24/7 live streaming station using copyrighted music, services like Live365 are there to help you do this legally at a variety of price points. YouTube is there to let you stream for free if you don’t mind dealing with that platform’s restrictions, and the likelihood that you’ll need to rely on underground, independent and unsigned artists if you want your channel to stay up for the long haul.

If you don’t mind confining yourself to an on-demand show, DJ set or virtual mixtape, then Mixcloud is a pretty good alternative, since the service is free and covers all royalties.

Both YouTube and Mixcloud are largely confined to the web and their own apps on mobile devices, and platforms like Chromecast, Roku and Apple TV. That does give audiences a fair number of ways to listen, though not appearing alongside pure-play streaming radio stations, like on iHeartRadio or TuneIn.

I will note that the Sonos wireless speaker system supports Mixcloud. It also supports YouTube Music, which sort of lets you access the music available on YouTube, but I haven’t yet figured out how to hear any of the live streaming stations – just their archive streams.

The last decade was marked by a significant shake-up in internet radio, and I don’t think we’ll ever turn back the clock to the heady days of the mid–2000s, when it seemed like medium would be the new “pirate radio,” as the mainstream press often proclaimed. That doesn’t mean there isn’t ample opportunity to broadcast online.

Rather, our definition of radio has expanded. If the platform is about getting audio programs out to an audience, then we can argue it’s radio. If it’s on the ’net, then it’s internet radio. It may change, and morph from platform to platform. But it’s still here as we enter the third decade of the 21st century.

The post The Near-Death of Independent Internet Radio Is One of the Most Important Radio Trends of the Decade appeared first on Radio Survivor.

College Radio Watch: WDUB to Sell FM License and More News

Fri, 12/13/2019 - 06:28

On Wednesday, December 11, 2019, Denison University in Granville, Ohio, filed paperwork with the FCC for a proposed assignment of the FM license for its student-run radio station WDUB-FM (aka The Doobie). The sale price is a paltry $5,000 being paid by Ohio State University (WOSU Public Media). Additionally, Denison will be granted underwriting announcements over WOSU TV and radio for 4 years, at an estimated value of $47,040. Paid student internships will also be offered to Denison students ($48,000 value).

This news did not come out of the blue, as WDUB ceased broadcasting over FM back on September 1, 2019 (ironically, just after it was included in Princeton Review’s list of “most popular” college radio stations). In its request with the FCC for special temporary authority to remain silent, Denison University stated that it suspended operation “for financial reasons” and sought permission to “remain silent until such time as it can resolve the situation.”

But, the rationale goes much deeper, as WDUB participants pointed to fears of budget-breaking FCC fines for public file violations being a big motivation for relinquishing the FM signal.

According to an October 15, 2019 piece in the Denisonian:

A big transition happened last year, when the FCC decided to move their documentation system to an online platform rather than physical paperwork. When The Doobie began the process of switching their public file over to abide by FCC, they discovered a problem: about five to six years of missing documents and unsigned papers.

‘With everything that we were looking at, the fine could have been around $60,000,’ [senior station manager and president of the station Rachel] Weaver explains…

‘We had a lot of people telling us to just ‘fudge’ the paperwork, and that is a felony.’ Hiding past mistakes was a risk that was not up for discussion to Weaver. This was the leading decision behind The Doobie switching to an online streaming service.

‘No one wants to kill the radio, and a lot of alumni are upset, because we are losing a bit of nostalgia with this,’ Weaver said.

It’s unfortunate that fear of a big FCC fine led to the station relinquishing its license for a mere $5,000. While public file violations can yield serious fines; student-run radio stations with first-time violations have been able to negotiate deals with the FCC, following a decision in 2013. As a result, we’ve reported on quite a few consent decrees with voluntary forfeitures in the $1,000, $1,200, to $2,200 range. This is a far cry from some of the higher fines wielded against student radio stations in the past and is based on acknowledgment by the FCC of the low-budget and transitory nature of student-run radio stations.

More College Radio News License Sales Music Culture Events Programming College Radio in Popular Culture Public Radio Connections College Radio History Alumni Awards and Accolades

The post College Radio Watch: WDUB to Sell FM License and More News appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Pages