Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #88

The goal for the “We Want More ...” fundraiser at Long Beach State’s student-run K-Beach Radio (heard on digital HD radio’s via 88.1 HD3) earlier this month was a modest $5000.

Modest or not, listeners and supporters -- including Turkish Airways and HD Radio developer Ibiquity Digital -- helped them zip right past that goal ... the 88.1 hour event raised over $9000. This will go a long way toward improving and modernizing the station that is already lightyears ahead of what I remember from my college days at UCLA’s student run KLA.

As to the weekend fundraiser itself, it was quite fun hearing the student DJs live rather than prerecorded as is usual. Everything went smoothly according to station adviser Danny Lemos ... perhaps this will mean more live programming in the near future.

Sound Donation

For one week, June 15 - June 21, The Sound (KSWD, 100.3 FM) ran a contest of sorts: counting the number of commercials played on KLOS (95.5 FM). The bit? Mark “in the morning” Thompson would donate $1 for every commercial played on the Sound competitor to SPCA-LA (spcala.org), dedicated to the prevention of cruelty to animals since 1877.

It’s an ingenious promotion, hearkening back to the days of the old KMET-KLOS rivalry and essentially all in fun. In the end, KLOS played 2165 commercials between the hours of 6 am and 12 midnight, according to Sound programmer Dave Beasing. “We didn’t count overnights because we didn’t want them to jam extra commercials in to overnights just to run up the total,” he tole me.

Where did that 2165 -- meaning a $2165 donation -- come from? I figured they pulled it out of their, er, hat. I was wrong ... it turns out that they used an industry monitoring service that does the counting for them. “It got crazy how much money it became” Thompson told his “therapist” (a dog) in a video available on the Sound website (TheSoundLA.Com).

Where are the home HD radios?

I had a chance to talk with Joe D’Angelo, senior VP of Ibiquity’s marketing and broadcast business, to discuss the current state of HD Radio. The conversation was inspired by a column earlier this year in which I lamented that HD radio is still relatively unknown by much of the general public. And I’m not referring to the ‘80s alternative band.

HD sends digital signals as a “sandwich” around the main analog signal of a radio station; AM stations using the technology sound much cleaner and FM stations can offer extra channels such as K-Beach mentioned above.

After talking with D’Angelo, I will stand somewhat corrected. Awareness is going up, he says, due to the simple fact that the technology is being found in cars (every manufacturer offers at least one model with HD, and the number is increasing) as well as aftermarket stereos at competitive price points.

“There have been 25 million HD radios sold,” according to D’Angelo. And those who own the radios are discovering the improved sound and extra stations ... and telling their friends. There are also many compelling stations to be heard, such as KROQ’s Roq of the ‘80s format (106.7 HD2) and the Smooth Jazz format (94.7 HD2) that used to run on the main channel of The Wave.

But what about home radios, I asked ... apparently living in the past. With just a few exceptions, they are not found on the shelves of local electronics retailers.

“You won’t find many traditional stereo receivers or table radios at all in those stores,” D’Angelo explained. “That category of products is going away, replaced by such things as bluetooth speakers that tie into your iPhone, Android or iPod. In response, electronics manufacturers are developing some exciting products including an HD network radio that streams to everything connected to your home network and tuned through an app on your smartphone or computer.

This sounds exciting. In the meantime, if you want to know what HD stations are available to you locally, you can download the “HD Radio Guide” app on your phone. I did, and I found it quite helpful.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #87

I received a very passionate letter recently, from reader Evelyn in Sylmar:

“First, understand that I am a true OLDIE.  That includes taste in music. However, what I miss terribly is not radio music of ANY kind. What I miss is something other than music and news!

“In my old listening days, L A's radios offered interesting and intelligent and purposeful TALK. Like, for instance, Clark Howard and Dave Ramsey, and going back even further, names I can no longer recall (which could be said about almost anyone' s name nowadays). So now I have only KFI's Saturday morning legal beagle to look forward to....and I DO.

“You appear to present only a music (if it can be called that) profile. Is that because you are still too young to appreciate entertaining and practical information? Well, not all of us out here with home radios are that young and cold to the sound of a speaking voice: Why do we not have any of these choices available to us?”

Interestingly, I have the same lament as does Evelyn... one of the reasons I tend to gravitate toward music more and more these days is the dearth of what I consider informative talk radio programs. For a time I found political talk radio interesting, but I’ve grown tired of the constant negativity, and in many cases the truth-stretching and occasional outright lies stated by some hosts to further their agenda. And no, I am not referring to Rush Limbaugh.

But the question is one I have as well ... what happened to the informative brand of talk radio, as opposed to what you might call Agenda Talk? Bruce Williams ... Hilly Rose ... well, the good news is that there are still shows around like that; you just have to search for them.

You mention a few. Bill Handle’s morning program on KFI (640 AM) is superb, though I know you are actually referring to his Saturday morning Handel on the Law program that airs from 6 to 11 a.m. KFI weekends, in fact, are full of entertaining non-political shows including Leo Laporte (technology, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays) and Ric Edelman (investments, 2 - 4 p.m. Sundays).

Dave Ramsey and Clark Howard can still be heard on KEIB (1150 AM)  3-6 and 6-9 p.m., respectively.
Phil Hulett can’t be heard on local radio any more, but you can catch his “Phil Hulett and Friends” talk about almost anything but politics via his online feed at philhulettandfriends.com. Recent topics ranged from dinosaurs to relationship skills to lemonade stands.

I’ve noticed that these and similar shows seem to have a buzz about them as of late, and I personally believe they will be the future of talk radio. Not that political talk will completely go away, but I can see an era in which we return to more generalized, informative shows on stations that tend to be more balanced in perspective. Stations dedicated solely to politics just don’t cut it with audiences any more. 

But it will take a while and it will require stations to do some real marketing and promotions to let people know about the programs ... does anyone else find it interesting that radio stations do such a bad job promoting themselves when they are in the business of promoting businesses through their advertisements?

All Digital Radio

The National Association of Broadcasters released a white paper that discusses the feasibility of an all-digital broadcast service on the AM band, looking at the engineering problems involved. In general, the study found that all-digital can work, can reduce interference compared with today’s analog or analog-digital hybrid system, and can increase fidelity.

The problem, of course, is that moving to all-digital would render millions of radios obsolete.
Much of the paper was technical, so I asked one of my engineer friends to comment. His reply could have been written by me: “My personal opinion: AM owners and engineers need to realize that most of the problems with AM aren't technical, they're programming problems. Look around the country ... if there's some compelling programming on an AM radio station it still gets ratings.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #86

K-Beach (88.1 HD3), the student-run HD radio station on the campus of California State University, Long Beach wants more. More awards, more opportunities for graduates to get jobs in the industry, more equipment and more programming.

To do that, they plan to raise money. All this weekend, beginning Thursday, June 18th at 8 a.m. and running all the way through midnight on Sunday, June 21st, they are hosting an 88.1 hour marathon featuring live programming simulcast on both the HD station and their online stream at KBeach.Org.

This is a break from normal. The online stream usually has its own separate programming, and the on-air HD signal (you need an HD Radio to receive it; many newer cars and trucks have such tuners built in) tends to run taped programming (one of my few complaints about K-Beach ... radio should be live whenever possible).

The goal is to raise at least $5000 for the station’s operating budget. Donations may be made through the station’s website via a PayPal link.

“The entire weekend will be music-intensive,” station manager Danny Lemos told me. “The programs will run three-hours each and all will be live except for a taped concert running Sunday evening.

“The hosts will be playing their favorite music on each shift along with promoting the various programs that air on K-Beach,” he said.

Lemos says that there is excitement and support from everyone ... from the students at K-Beach to the staff at KKJZ, which hosts the station via their HD radio signal. Even Turkish Airlines is supporting the event by donating a trip to anywhere in the world Turkish Airlines flies; that prize will be given away via a drawing from those making donations.

On Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., there will be a reunion of CSULB radio alumni, including those from K-Beach as well as the former student-run station forced off the air by inept University staffers in 1981, KSUL. Many of those involved with KSUL and K-Beach have gone on to careers in radio and television ... meaning that KSUL and K-Beach have done exactly what a student-run radio laboratory should do.

Problems at Nielsen

The problem with the PPM system of collecting ratings data at Nielsen was dealt another blow this week when it was announced that Canada has asked all member stations to cease using the controversial Voltair system to boost station ratings.

Voltair is a system added to a station’s on-air signal that essentially boosts a PPM encoding signal, making it easier for a PPM -- Portable People Meter -- to “hear” and correctly decode and credit a station’s listenership.

The problem for Nielsen is that Voltair does seem to work. And if it works, Nielsen has a flawed system ... meaning the ratings collection and calculations used since PPM was adopted are just slightly better than worthless.

In Canada, stations using Voltair were asked to cease using it pending the outcome of a study expected to take about 60 days. Having an even playing field is the issue involved.
Here in Los Angeles, it appears no station wants to necessarily admit using it, but I am told by insiders that many do. And I wouldn’t blame them ... a lot of money is riding on the ratings. Nielsen could be in for some trouble.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #85

When old school Hot 92.3 FM became hip-hop Real 92.3, one of the casualties was Art Laboe, whose syndicated Art Laboe Connection didn’t fit in with the new format.

The 89-year old broadcaster is considered a friend to his numerous fans, and those fans span generations. Many remember him from the original KRLA (now KDIS, 1110 AM), a station he helped save with an oldies-current hybrid format in the 1970s, or his live broadcasts from venues in East Los Angeles beginning in the 1950s. Laboe is the DJ loved by grandparents, parents and children all the same time.
And they didn’t like when he was removed from the air.
Luckily, KDAY (93.5 FM) is picking up the slack. The station announced that Laboe’s syndicated program can now be heard Sundays from 6 p.m. to 12 midnight. If you are in the Inland Empire or have a clear signal for Old School 104.7 (KQIE), you can hear him even more often: weeknights from 9 to midnight.

Laboe is a Southern California treasure. Not just a legend ... he truly loves his listeners and loves his audience. He plays -- as he always has -- requests and dedications, and is the epitome of old school personality radio. You just don’t have many like him left. And his radio career all started because he wanted to impress girls.

True story.

For the trivia-minded ... this brings Laboe full circle with the KDAY call letters; he spent a year or so at the original KDAY (now KBLA, 1580 AM) around 1960.

New PD

Ken Charles has been named the new Program Director for KNX (1070 AM) replacing, well, no once technically ... the station has been without a programmer since September when it let go of longtime KNX and KFWB (980 AM) Andy Ludlum.

Charles comes to CBS from Clear Channel/iHeart Media where he most recently was VP of programming for iHeart’s Sacramento cluster of stations as well as being the national brand manager for all of the iHeart news, talk and sports stations. Whatever that means.

Position 93

A lot of action over of Airchexx.Com, with some recent additions being recordings of KHJ (980 AM), KFI (640 AM) and Ten-Q (1020 AM) circa 1978.

It’s an interesting comparison of what was done in the face of stiff direct competition -- all three stations were running forms of top-40 -- along with the competition from the FMs in the form of album rockers KLOS (95.5 FM), KMET (now KTWV, 94.7 FM), and top-40 formats on such stations as KIQQ (now KSWD The Sound, 100.3 FM).

Listening to KHJ of the era is just sad. All the excitement that made the station what it was is missing from the format created by programmer John Sebastian. On the other hand, Jimi Fox-led Ten-Q was on fire and KFI was about to make its move under the direction of John Rook. Ironically, as bland was KHJ was during the Sebastian years, today it would be s standout personality-driven format. And Ten-Q would be killing everyone, just as KFI would have done had they not gone soft.

The last great era of top-40 on AM is represented in part by these airchecks. Add in some later KHJ when Chuck Martin brought them back from the dead and you will wonder what happened on the way to radio as it is done today.

Check out Airchexx.Com and ReelRadio.Com.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #84

KCRW (89.9 FM) kicks off their 6th season of free “Summer Nights” concerts this Saturday, June 6th at 7:30 p.m. with a performance by LA-based duo De Lux and a DJ set from Dan Wilcox in the courtyard amidst the historic buildings of One Colorado in Old Pasadena.
DeLux will preview some songs from their upcoming album “Generation,” scheduled for release June 23rd. Featuring a sound that is a combination of disco, post-punk and funk, they are a favorite among listeners of KCRW and the show should be fun for all ages.

One Colorado is a collection of 17 historic buildings housing a mix of retailers, designers, local merchants, restaurants and a boutique cinema. It is located at 24 East Union Street in Pasadena, and is a full city block bordered by Colorado, Union, Delacey and Fair Oaks Boulevards.

This is the first of many in the concert series; other venues include locations in Chinatown, Grand Park, the Hammer Museum, the Santa Monica Pier, and the Annenberg Space for Photography. Details are still being finalized; you can get the latest information on this series by visiting SummerNights.KCRW.Com.

Programming to the PPM

In what may be likened to “teaching to the test” in which educational standards are lowered as schools try to hit only topics that are tested on state assessments, it appears that programmers are guilty of lowering broadcast standards by “programming to the PPM” (Portable People Meter); the test being the ratings as determined by Nielsen’s PPM ratings collection system.
The problem is, the PPM is flawed. Perhaps fatally, though I am currently in the minority in believing  that. But it is seriously flawed, and the fact that a system called Voltair -- discussed here a few weeks ago -- can be used by radio stations to increase ratings proves that.

As explained by industry website AllAccess.Com in reporting on a study from Harker Research’s Richard Harker, stations may have been changing station formatics based upon flawed data. In other words, if stations were programming to get higher PPM ratings, and the PPM ratings system is not accurately picking up listening habits, then those programming decisions were as inaccurate as the PPM system itself.

“Everything was predicated on the fact that since the PPM was accurate, we needed to act on what we learned from it,” Harker told All Access. “Such as shutting up jocks. Radio has been depersonalized in terms of personalities because we saw the numbers go down and thought listeners didn't like jocks. Now it turns out that the jocks weren't getting credit for hours because the PPM dropped out during momentary pauses and soft-volume moments. End result: A lot of high-profile jocks are out of work because we thought they talked too much and listeners didn't like it when they did. Now we'll have to completely rethink it.” 

Speaking of Talk

I guess it has been a while since I listened much to talk radio in general and KFI (640 AM) in particular. How can I tell? Besides my much more mellow mood, I happened to tune in last weekend and heard the start of the KFI traffic report ... complete with the most obnoxious and annoying music bed known to man. Or animal. They added it last year and it’s still there.

Apparently someone at KFI thinks we need music that often drowns out the report itself. That someone should be fired. To my ears the bad European techno-sound is like fingernails on a chalkboard, and it is bad enough that I just switch off KFI ... and discover other stations that treat me better as a listener. Judging by KFI’s recent ratings compared with the past, I am not alone.