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

AM Broadcasters Still Seek Translators, Digital Authorization

When the FCC announced the creation of an “AM Revitalization Initiative” in 2013, the proposal included a grab-bag of industry desires, such as the right for AM stations to utilize FM translators and for AM stations to move from hybrid analog/digital broadcasting to the all-digital AM-HD protocol. But to the consternation of industry lobbyists and HD-backers there’s been no movement on this initiative — so now they’re beginning to whine about it.

Case in point is a commentary published in late June by Frank Montero, an attorney at D.C. communications law powerhouse Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, which laments that AM broadcasters are being held hostage without access to FM translators and accuses the FCC of playing political football with the future of AM itself. It’s full of questionable assertions and revisionist history. Read More

Broadcasters to SEC: Digital A Variable Priority

In its latest quarterly filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Emmis Communications, the Indianapolis-based broadcast conglomerate who developed the NextRadio/TagStation suite and is a major player in HD Radio, had some interesting things to say about both technologies.

Back in 2013, Emmis inked a deal with Sprint in which broadcasters would pay $15 million a year to Sprint through 2016, in quarterly installments, in exchange for Sprint adding FM receiver chips to some 30 million devices on its network. Emmis has been working with other broadcasters to help shoulder the burden of this deal, but it would seem that industry enthusiasm for the project is coming up a bit short. Specifically (p. 30): Read More

Cumulus Acknowledges HD Malaise

An interesting disclosure in Cumulus Media‘s yearly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission:

On December 21, 2004, we entered into an agreement with iBiquity pursuant to which we committed to implement HD Radio systems on 240 of our stations by June 2012. In exchange for reduced license fees and other consideration, we, along with other broadcasters, purchased perpetual licenses to utilize iBiquity’s HD Radio technology.

That was then…this is now: Read More

Broadcast Conglomerates Consolidate in Cyberspace

This week, Clear Channel (#1 in national radio station ownership) and Cumulus (#2) inked an agreement intimately linking their online broadcast strategies.

Cumulus will integrate the webcasts from its ~560 radio stations under Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio streaming platform, and will actively promote it on-air. In exchange, Clear Channel will cross-promote Cumulus’ SweetJack service, a Groupon-style business the broadcaster is developing in markets where it has stations, both on-air and online. Read More