The Health of Radio: By the Numbers

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.

stationtotalssmEvery 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.) Read More

CBS Radio Shills for Fracking in Pennsylvania

From the bullsh*t propaganda department: on August 15th, CBS Radio’s Pittsburgh cluster (KDKA-AM, KDKA-FM, WDSY-FM, and WBZZ-FM) will "host" the Marcellus Shale Festival at an outdoor music venue in town.

This is an event wholly designed to put a happy face on the practice of hydraulic fracturing: the messy process of harvesting natural gas that’s spreading throughout the country. The Marcellus Shale Formation extends throughout seven states and is currently one of the most active areas of hydraulic fracturing in the continental United States. In many respects, Pennsylvania has been the ground zero of Marcellus fracking, where wells have been operating since 2005.

The day-long event features "exhibits" such as a screening of FrackNation, a polemical "documentary" from folks with strong ties to climate-change deniers. FrackNation was produced pretty much explicitly to try and impugn two damning actual documentaries about hydraulic fracturing: Gasland and Gasland 2.

There will also be a "town hall" hosted by KDKA-AM midday host Mike Pintek—the reporter who first broke the Three Mile Island meltdown story in 1979—featuring a fracking industry executive who’s admitted using "psychological operations" against opponents (also a regular guest on KDKA’s own frack-pimping show, The Marcellus Shale Hour) and many of the politicians the industry’s already bought and paid for.

The entire shebang closes out with live country music from The Stickers and Phil Vassar, who may be blissfully unaware of their roles in this charade. The list of sponsors for the "festival" reads like a who’s who of companies involved in fracking the Marcellus Shale to oblivion. Read More

Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism Saved from Eviction

Good news from Madison: Governor Scott Walker used his line-item veto power for good late last month and struck a provision that would have evicted the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism from the UW-Madison campus and prohibited journalism faculty from working with it.

Slipped into the state budget in the dead of night by an anonymous Republican lawmaker and the subject of national controversy, Walker killed the item because he didn’t feel it was appropriate to single out one particular group in such a way. Instead, he is asking the UW Board of Regents to review its policies on campus facilities-sharing with outside groups. Read More

VOA’s Radiogram Brings New Utility to Shortwave

The Voice of America is set to launch a new communication service on shortwave radio with interesting implications for information flow in crisis situations or under repressive regimes.

Called Radiogram, the service uses digital encoding to transmit text and images via analog shortwave broadcasts. The transmissions themselves sound much like old dial-up modems (at root the technologies are identical, in that both involve the conversion of data to audio), but when decoded on an equipped receiver or computer the text and images appear. Read More