Voltair Controversy: The Seduction of Denial

Next month is the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual radio convention, to be held in Atlanta. I wish I could be a fly on the wall in some select panels and the local off-hours watering-holes. Fireworks are expected over an issue that’s been feistily percolating for more than a year — the integrity of the U.S. radio ratings system.

First, a quick primer about radio ratings in the United States. Administered by Nielsen, the ratings are collected by two primary means: listener diaries and Portable People Meters (PPM). The PPM system is a small pager-like device that selected listeners carry around with them; when exposed to a station’s broadcast, the meter logs the station and time spent listening. How? Stations that subscribe to the Nielsen ratings in PPM-enabled markets broadcast a special audio watermark that is inaudible to listeners, but that PPM devices can hear. The watermark is a 1000-3000 Hz tone; as a proprietary technology, the only way to work out how it really operates is by observing it in the wild or by examining its patents.

When the PPM system was introduced in 2007, it was touted as a new era for measuring radio ratings because listeners aren’t all that great about accurately and meticulously recording all the stations they’re exposed to. For example, radio often functions as background noise in places like restaurants, stores, and offices; when you’re at the dentist are you really paying attention to the smooth/lite pabulum oozing from the waiting room ceiling? Today, four dozen markets are measured using PPM technology. Read More

NextRadio Reaches Carrier Milestone

The radio industry’s efforts to carve out space for itself on mobile phones took some big strides foward this summer. In late July, AT&T announced that it would seek to enable FM reception capability in the Android devices it offers. This month, after a NextRadio-led Twitterstorm, T-Mobile declared it would do the same.

This is an important milestone for the NextRadio effort: three of the four major wireless providers in the United States have embraced the notion that terrestrial radio should be part of the media mix on mobile platforms. It will be interesting to see how long Verizon, the #1 carrier in the country, decides to hold out on offering FM radio as a feature in its phones. That it took until 2015 for this to happen is testament to the gatekeeping-power of the wireless oligopoly in the United States. Read More

Next Steps for Radio Preservation Task Force

Just received a comprehensive update on the work of the Radio Preservation Task Force, an initiative announced last year by the Library of Congress to digitally preserve local radio history. About 100 scholars spent last fall scouring libraries, museums, historical societies, and stations around the country looking for recordings large and small. More than 100,000 were discovered, and that impressed the LoC’s National Recording Preservation Board enough to move on to “phase two,” which (in part) will involve more detailed examination of our finds.

The Task Force is also lining up some specific preservation programs in conjunction with other media preservationists. Read More

Skotdal: The Future of AM is FM

Just a couple of days after prognosticating on the policy future of all-digital AM-HD radio broadcasting, one of the key players in the industry’s testing regimen issued his own reality check: for digital radio to succeed, all over-the-air broadcasting must migrate to FM.

Andrew Skotdal is the owner of two AM stations the NAB et al. used to test all-digital AM-HD in Seattle this fall; he presented on these tests at the NAB Radio Show. In prior trade coverage, Skotdal has been upbeat about the future of digital AM broadcasting, though cognizant of its uphill climb. His latest missive shatters many illusions. Read More

Radio Stations Fall Victim to Cyberattack (Again)

Several radio stations in small markets throughout the United States are licking their wounds after suffering cyber-intrusions.

The alarm was first sounded by a cluster of radio stations in Louisiana on October 16. When the morning crews arrived, they found they had no access to the stations’ automation systems or music libraries. Instead, the data on their computers had been encrypted and frozen…and then they began to receive e-mails asking them to pay hundreds of dollars in order to set their machines free.

The stations’ owner reports that instead of paying the ransom demand, they’ve reported the intrusions to the police and plan to rebuild their systems from scratch. It will cost “tens of thousands of dollars” to undo the damage that the malicious software has inflicted, and they apparently keep finding more compromises as they continue their damage assessment.

Then last week, stations in Arkansas and Virginia announced that they, too had been infected by software that scrambled several of their computer systems and demanded payment to restore them. And this week, a cluster of stations in Michigan belatedly reported that they suffered the same sort of attack in September. Read More