For several years now, there’s been a growing tension between broadcasters, online radio services, and the music industry over the issue of royalties. Current law requires streaming media services to pay performance royalties on the music they stream, while historically broadcasters have been exempt from these fees (everyone pays royalties to songwriters and publishers).
More evidence that the market in FM translator stations is maturing quickly.
Saga Communications, a radio conglomerate that specializes in mid-market acquisitions, owns 91 stations across the country. Of these, some three dozen are FM translators: second-class radio stations limited to a power of 250 watts or less that rebroadcast the signals of other stations.
Saga is an aggressive player in the practice of using FM-HD Radio signals to feed programming to analog translators. Since very few people actually listen to HD Radio, these mini-signals appear to be "new" stations, though in most cases they’re completely canned programming of a format that wouldn’t otherwise be profitable on a real full-power FM station.
Every so often, iBiquity Digital Corporation CEO Robert Struble pens a column on iBiquity’s corporate website. His latest missive actually (and unintentionally) puts a very fine point on the malaise that is the U.S. digital radio transition.
"The one constant for all successful media transitions has been the passage of time, and that patient strategy is working for HD Radio Technology as well," writes Struble. He claims that HD receiver penetration is on a strong upward trend, with a new digital radio sold "every six seconds."
With what seems like increasing frequency, media-pundits are dropping rhetorical bombs riffing on the notion that radio is dying. This inevitably sets off a tizzy within the radio industry itself. But there are still strong signs of life, especially if one steps back and looks at the big picture.
Every quarter, the Federal Communications Commission issues a report on the number of licensed broadcast radio stations in the United States. The graph at right compiles the last 21 years of these reports (from 1992 to 2013).
These FCC reports are available here. I used the agency’s mid-year totals, released every June 30th, for year-to-year consistency. (2000 and 2007 are asterisked because there was no June 30th report archived for those years; these figures come from the FCC’s third quarter (September 30th) report.)