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Monthly Archives: August 2008

The Mother Of All Storms

The caller to WWL said “I’m on I-10 in Beaumont listening to you guys, because there is no local coverage here.”

This was around 9:45 on Saturday night.

She was referring to the evacuation of a hundreds of thousands of people from southern Louisiana.

That call was testimony as to why stations like WWL and their 50KW signals continue to be important.

The big AM signals go and go when FM stops at the horizon.

Many evacuees will be in places like Shreveport, Memphis, and points far to the east and west. Nobody knows for how long.

They’ll rely on WWL to get the news from back home.

Just as importantly people outside of New Orleans with family and friends in the area will listen to WWL for information throughout the crisis.

Their coverage is brilliant.

A mix of important information and support for the community.

The talent is calm but sending the serious message that residents must evacuate.

They have a steady stream of city and parish officials on air mixed with calls from listeners.

Entercom is broadcasting WWL on all of their New Orleans stations as of Saturday.

Tell me again why more big AM stations can’t be run like WWL with local talent and well stocked news rooms?

I shutter to think what the evacuation in New Orleans would be like if WWL were run like so many other AM stations. You know the kind, filled with network shows and down to a handful of people in the newsroom.

It’s truly terrible news that New Orleans is in the path of another major storm.

Thankfully they have WWL to lean on.

We’re all hoping this turns out better than it looks.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2008 in Radio programming

 

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Uncle Ted

Ted Roberts is virtually unknown as a radio personality in the United States.

He broadcasts his radio show from studios in Washington D.C to listeners thousands of miles away.

Ted hosts Nightline Africa on The Voice Of America.

He calls it “The Peoples Program”.

When you listen, you’ll quickly understand why.

The show is filled with greetings, calls from listeners and warmth.

There’s plenty of warmth.

But that’s Ted.

Uncle Ted as he’s known, sounds like he could be your Uncle.

I’m not really sure how long Ted has been on VOA. He’s clearly a seasoned broadcaster.

The program is done in English.

Ted’s own accent is difficult to pinpoint. African in origin would be my guess.

He brings different people from a wide range of cultures together for a program of information, music and fun.

Uncle Ted is one of our most important ambassadors.

He speaks directly to the people throughout Africa. Ted talks about their hopes, dreams, their kids.

He brings the American beacon of hope to people he’ll never meet.

Catch your tax dollars doing good work.

Listen to Uncle Ted on the VOA.

He is easily heard around 2 in the afternoon in the US on 15.410 shortwave.

If you like good radio. You’ll love Uncle Ted.

Just like they love him in every country in Africa.

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2008 in Radio programming

 

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The Bear Is Awake

Now sobering news.

The Russians test fired a a new stealth long range nuclear missile capable of traveling 6,125 miles yesterday.

It’s big news when Iran sends a scud into the air.

This is Russia.

They are the serious guys.

But did you hear about it on your local news?

Probably not.

Have you heard much about the tensions between our two counties?

Survey ten people and at least nine will not be aware of the serious threats Russia is making.

Talk shows are filled with the same old political bashing.

Listen to The Voice Of Russia on shortwave. It sounds like a Cold War version of Radio Moscow.

They don’t say nice things about us.

We thought they were our friends.

It would not surprise me to wake up one more morning to find our country at war. Not with Iran, but with Russia.

How could we as Americans not know about this?

Simple.

We have no real news coverage.

Our news services somehow decided we’re not interested in international news, so they don’t report it.

Angie and Brad’s twins are more important. They live overseas, that’s international news.

The missile story could have been a lead or close to the top.

Our national talk shows should be all over it.

This is why we need serious news service.

Perhaps we need a real FCC again.

The market place is failing the people.

The bear is out of hibernation.

Our media needs to be watching out for us.

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

When Gustav Met Hanna

Gustav is heading toward New New Orleans this morning.

WWL 870 New Orleans is providing up to date information on air and on line.

Their website has very good information.

New Orleans is a lucky to have a station with a full-time local line-up.

WWL please don’t change.

It is important to note during Katrina, many people outside of New Orleans listened to WWL’s skywave signal for information.

This demonstrates the importance of the high power ‘clear channel’ AM stations.

Houston might not be out of the woods, yet.

So, KTRH could still get a ‘do over’ after Edouard.

The Hurricane Watch Network is available on line at http://hwn.org.It is on shortwave using 14.325 when the Hurricane is within 300 miles of landfall. You’ll hear radio operators reporting weather conditions in the impacted area.

Tropical Storm Hanna is heading to the east coast.

Stations from Florida to at least the Carolinas should be prepared.

Find interesting frequencies and information under the ‘Emergency’ section in the right column on this blog.

A shortwave radio or WIFI radio are both great ways to hear the action.

AM stations like WWL can be heard at great distances at night because of their skywave.

Tune a good AM radio to 870 and you’re likely to pick them up in most of the country.

This is called DXing or distant listening.

There are a couple of articles about DXing on this blog.

Hurricane/Tropical Storm Hannah fans will be able to hear coverage on WBT 1110 Charlotte if the storm heads to the Carolinas.

WBT is heard throughout the northeast and south at night.

Friday morning it looked like Hanna was making a U-turn toward South Florida.

KLVI 560 in Beaumont and WJBO 1150 Baton Rouge are two more stations with lower power but good programming from the area Gustav is projected to hit.

Stations will use their daytime power at night during an emergency. This will make it easier to hear them outside of their home area.

Check back here from time to time.

I’ll add additional frequencies or interesting places to listen as I find them.

I don’t want to sound like a storm freak, but I do love great storm coverage.

Let’s hope the storms just blow themselves out before reaching land.

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2008 in Radio programming

 

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The Mad Butcher

The Mad Butcher is a character.

He is one of the biggest radio advertisers in New Zealand and everybody knows him.

If you’re not in hiding you’re automatically gonna be pretty well known in New Zealand.

There are less than four and half million people in the whole country.

There’s no special exchange rate or anything for calculating the population figures of small countries. The population is what it is.

New Zealand has about 250 radio stations.

You want me to do that math again?

Four and a half million people and 250 radio stations.

That’s Atlanta with a very crowded radio dial.

I know.

It doesn’t make much sense.

It’s a wonder there’s room for sheep.

And that’s why they are so good at running radio networks. It’s the only way they can be profitable.

But even in a place as intimate as New Zealand, The Mad Butcher advertises like a madman.

He knows the value of radio.

There is hardly a party in the US like one the Mad Butcher throws before each Auckland Warriors Footy game.

Footy is rugby.

Kiwis and Aussies sound tough but they tend to add ‘y’ to lots of names and nouns.

It sort of helps take the manly edge off.

These blokes would be scary otherwise.

A first timer to the Mad Butcher’s party is required to sing for the crowd.

You’re allowed to use lots of beer as a lubricant.

But sing you must.

And sing I did.

My sentence was to leave the country within 48 hours of my performance.

I was that good.

The Mad Butcher said so.

New Zealand radio is filled with personality.

People can be stars there even when they just own a butcher shop.

A popular Breakfast Show talent can be as big as Jay Leno is here in the US.

These stations are within earshot with the internet or with a WIFI radio.

News Talk fans should look for News Talk ZB pronounced Zed B.

There are a number of fine stations easily located on Google.

This is a good way to look for fresh ideas and hear excellent production.

Hearing the Mad Butcher in action is worth it.

I promise.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2008 in Radio programming

 

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Can’t We Fix This?

Working conditions were supposed to improve when Big Brother took over from Mom and Pop.

There are so many stories about bad, no horrible radio station facilities in the days before consolidation we could tell them all night.

Almost everybody has a few tales about a ‘dump’ or two.

Ask someone about the old WWL studios in the French Quarter. The ones where the all night guys set up their turntables on bricks each night to do their show.

They had to evacuate the building when the termites swarmed.

I kid you not.

Capstar bought some station, I don’t remember which one now, that was located in a junk yard.

The owner had to go to the trunk of a junked car to get his files.

Hey, if I’m lying, I’m dying.

We thought all that would end when the big guys got to town.

I’ve seen some junkers owned by publicly traded companies.

There’s a cluster in Georgia I’m sure they don’t want the Fire Marshall to see.

Another is housed in an old jail in Texas. It’s said to be haunted. I’d believe it.

I’m more likely to believe the ghosts are rats in the walls.

I did a consulting project in the early 90s for KMML Amarillo.

It was housed in a small shopping center. The building was dark, and dirty, and well plain awful.

Five years later I went back to that building when Capstar bought the station.

I swear the same dirty coffee cups were in the exact spot they were five years earlier.

We moved a lot of radio stations in the years during consolidation. KMML was one of them.

Ah, the things I’ve seen.

I looked through some of postings from Florida on Radio-Info this weekend. There are still a good number of radio stations off air because of Fay.

From the sound of it, several towns had little or no radio service after the storm.

Most clusters have one engineer if they are lucky. Sometimes only a contract engineer is available.

That one engineer is responsible for the studios and often multiple transmitter locations spread over many miles.

There’s nothing more useless than a radio station with a dead transmitter, especially in times of trouble.

Now that Mom and Pop don’t run the company, maybe it’s time for the kids who do to fork out a little money and make sure these stations are ready before the next storm hits.

Remember your station is worthless if they can’t hear it.

Don’t tell us you’ll be there in times of trouble and not show up.

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2008 in Radio programming

 

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The Backstory

In literature the backstory is a narrative used to help the main story unfold.

It might be the background used to fill in the character’s lives.

An author will sometimes create it for their own information never revealing the details in a novel or movie plot.

Backstories are used in journalism as a way to develop the background for a news or profile piece.

It’s often material that is not used in reporting the story, but might be heard in a podcast or internet piece later.

There are many uses for backstories and three ways to spell it, by the way.

Retailing is where you find some of the most well developed backstories created to support popular brands.

In our work consulting for major retail and fashion brands we see a wide range of approaches to branding.

Walk through the mall and you can quickly pick out the struggling brands. Their inconsistencies give them away.

And it’s always the little stuff.

Little stuff adds up over time.

The big winners are relentless about ‘staying on brand’.

They are highly focused, developing a backstory with depth, and making sure everyone in the company lives it.

Backstories can be as thick as a book and as detailed as a well written novel.

No detail is left to chance.

The house pictured in the painting on the wall in the store is part of the backstory. So is the wood chosen for the cabinets or the antique lighting fixtures.

The backstory evolves and grows over the years.

The central plot and themes remain.

Listening to someone responsible for a brand tell the backstory is like spending an afternoon with a novelist.

A great story aids the staff with their visualization of the brand.

It keeps a brand on track through the inevitable personnel changes.

We used a Marketing Model as way to outline the brand story for our radio stations.

It defined the target, product, position, and promotion for the next year.

Looking at that now, The Marketing Model was primitive compared to a well done backstory.

As companies develop more ‘lifestyle’ formats the backstory becomes very important.

‘Bob’, and ‘Jack’ probably have some sort of backstory about who they are and why they are here.

The backstory is as much about who they aren’t as who they are.

Morning shows are a place to apply the backstory concept.

This is where you define character roles, history, and some of the ‘make believe’ that goes into each person on the show.

A recent article explained how the Program Director job is disappearing and being replaced by Brand Managers.

This means the traditional PD job is evolving from management of one radio station to including websites and other media.

A radio ‘Brand Manager’ requires more skills than today’s Program Director. That person will need to understand how to program a radio station, and how branding works and flows among different media.

It will be important to study businesses like retailing to see how they communicate their brand both internally and to the consumer.

Retailers start with the story long before the logo is drawn.

They think long term.

Newer, lifestyle radio brands will have an advantage over traditional stations. They can create a deep backstory and attach themselves to a specific lifestyle much like major retailers like American Eagle, Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, Pac Sun and others.

Some stations have a person, we’ll call her ‘Suzie’ who they outline as the typical listener that shops in certain stores and watches Friends re-runs. That’s just the start of your station’s backstory.

It requires vivid detail and a clear understanding of what you want the station to be, and not to be.

I suggest you take time to think about your station brand. What is the story behind it?

Certain stations have tons of lore because of their history. WMMS Cleveland and WEBN Cincinnati are two that come to mind. There are others.

People love stories.

How can you use the backstory concept to set your station apart from the others?

Remember this. If you think a backstory can’t be used to set apart radio stations that are playing similar songs from one another think again.

Retailers have a tougher job.

They’re trying to be different, cool, exciting from the retailer across the mall selling the same kind of stuff like jeans, t-shirts and hoodies.

The retailer with the better story wins.

It should work the same in radio.

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2008 in Radio programming, Uncategorized

 

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My Wild Streak

Our cat Meow, yes that is her name ask her, sits by the garage door most nights waiting for lizards to appear.

Meow can sit for hours, and hours waiting, just waiting.

She’s waiting poised at the ready for the moment when a lizard invades her territory.

She loves to bat them around, or get them into her little game of hunting them down. (“You be the mouse, I’ll be the cat, ok?”)

Meow was a wild cat and lived in our neighborhood before she moved in with us.

Don’t let her calm demeanor fool you.

She has the wild streak of a hunter in her.

I’ve carefully observed Meow’s approach and learned her technique.

I use it while sitting by my computer watching, and watching the screen.

I wait.

Sometimes I wait and wait.

When I wait, I’m waiting for a number.

The little red number that signals that a comment has arrived.

I don’t have a streak as wild as Meow’s.

You can tell we’re related though. We have the same patience.

The comments come from readers to the blog.

Thanks to all who take time to comment about postings.

I appreciate them.

Also I enjoy getting emails which you can send to AlanGFurst@aol.com.

Comments never have to agree with me of course.

Please express your opinion.

If you think I’m wrong, say so. My wife does, and she generally just tells me in person.

Meow is having a rough week. She is suffering with kidney stones.

My Uncle has trouble with kidney stones.

Meow heard they run in the family and wishes the neighbor next door would have adopted her.

Please help Meow’s Friends by adopting a homeless cat or dog or by making a donation to your local animal rescue or shelter.

Thanks

af

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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Clear Channel Rethink

Thirty years or so ago the term ‘clear channel’ had a somewhat different meaning than it has today.

You were in special company as part of the ‘clear channel’ club.

These were the ‘power house’ stations like WGN, WBZ, WLW, WABC, and KFI.

All were 50KW non directional stations day AND night.

They were virtually alone on their frequencies often covering up to thirty eight states with skywave.

Sometime in the 80s a move was made to break down the clears.

One by one stations were added to the clear channel frequencies cutting down on their skywave coverage.

The thinking was these powerful metropolitan stations could not serve smaller towns as well as a local service on the same frequency.

Many strange combinations of power and directional patterns were used to put new stations on the air.

In the end the AM band became a jumbled mess.

Today there are AM stations operating with as many as eleven towers that have difficulty being heard in their city of license.

Power levels can be as low two or three watts.

Who does all this serve?

Looking at ratings in most cities. Hardly anybody.

If AM has become a money loser and many of the cities have outgrown the AM signal coverage, rethinking it is long overdue.

These days other than IBOC, it’s rare to hear anyone suggest ways to improve AM service.

OK, so I’ll make some suggestions.

It’s my blog, all they can tell me is NO!

So here goes.

Instead of cutting power back, adding towers and adding more stations the FCC should consider the following;

  • Cut back on the total number of stations, way back!
  • Raise power significantly on remaining stations
  • Make all or most non-directional.

Most importantly bring back the clears!

Make them very high power, highly desirable properties with outstanding coverage. Their assignment should be based on population needs of the United States in 2008 and beyond.

Remember, AM signals don’t cover like they did in the 1930s when the original 50KW stations were assigned. There is far more interference from lights, electronics and other stuff that limit radio signals.

Cities exist in southern locales where only small towns could before air conditioning. A disproportionate number of 50KW stations are in the north.

Assign a special class license to these stations.

  • Require a commitment to news and service.
  • Locally targeted programming, limiting amount of network programming used – careful this is not about government dictating content in any way.
  • A detailed emergency plan for storms, disasters, terrorism.
  • Make them a hub to feed other AM and FM stations during emergency programming.
  • Provide special assistance such as grants to fund back up transmitters, generators and studios, to make sure they stay on the air in times of trouble.
  • Have each station strategically placed around the country to guarantee 100% coverage of the US by at least one of the signals both day and night.
  • Give them high power of 100 KW or more, possibly as much as 250KW
  • Allow only one station per channel, a true clear channel.
  • Give each clear channel station a full market FM signal to simulcast 24/7, most listening and a younger audience is on FM.
  • Guard the transmitter sites like during World War II to protect them for national defense.
  • Tie them into all promotion with NOAA, FEMA and other agencies as the source for up to the minute emergency information so the public knows where to go all of the time.
  • Turn off the IBOC noise.
  • These are NOT government stations to be managed and ruled by politicians, they are important sources of information and service like under the FCC rules pre-1996 run by independent broadcasters.
  • Make it a competitive process. Don’t hand the licenses out like candy or because an owner has a former clear channel signal now. If you want it, prove you deserve it. This ain’t your garden variety radio station we’re talking about here.

Will high power and a free FM station give these stations an unfair advantage?

Hopefully, it does.

If your company is willing to step up and do it right, you should get some breaks.

Only serious broadcasters need apply.

That should get the debate started.

Now it’s your turn.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2008 in Radio programming

 

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In Case Of Emergency

Radio becomes even more important as an emergency voice in February 2009.

That is the date when television switches off their analog transmitters.

Television users will be left with a choice of upgrading their television to HD, buying a converter or using cable.

Since most people watch on cable few will pay attention to the change.

Without a cable hook up or converter your old analog TV is worthless.

It has the potential to be life and death issue.

The only time it will matter is when the cable is out, during a storm or power outage.

Any attempt at tuning to analog TV channels such as 2-13 will come up empty.

The only place to find emergency information on that day will be local radio.

Hopefully the local radio station will be doing more than playing Sean Hannity repeats.

Most people are pretty unclear about the TV changes taking place.

They rely on cable for their TV service today.

So, what will happen if a serious storm or disaster takes out the cable and leaves a city with a couple of radio stations that have no news room?

This scenario isn’t limited to smaller towns. Big cities are extremely vulnerable.

Take Houston, less than sixty miles from the Gulf Of Mexico.

Houston is sitting duck for a major Hurricane.

If the TV stations are off, there is only one radio station in the entire city with a decent sized news room. Just ONE. And that is an AM station that carries mostly syndicated programming.

Since we know from Arbitron that most radio listening is done on FM, how would people even know to look on the AM band for news?

Have you rented a car lately?

Most of the time the AM radio has been untouched. That should tell us something.

AM radio is not top of mind, if people know of it at all.

No station has stepped into the void and built a news reputation on FM in Houston.

It is doubtful that even one Houston FM station has more than two people in their news room. I’m being generous here.

Shall we take a guess as to how many Houston FM stations have a working newsroom?

Not to pick on Houston, we could be talking about most markets, large and small.

Few have any information service on FM outside of their NPR station.

Every city needs a well publicized emergency plan that defines the radio and television outlets that will provide official information during emergencies.

Forget competition.

Remember I said this is a life and death matter?

There should be Plan A, B, C, down to little plan Z.

If you hold the license, you accept the responsibility.

It’s that simple.

Do you recall what happened in New Orleans during Katrina?

Houston may have narrowly missed the same fate when Rita moved just to its east that same year.

This is the stuff the FCC should be concerned about.

Have any FCC Commissioners actually worked inside a radio or television facility?

They seem too worried about the price of XM/Sirius service and not concerned about the next Hurricane.

This isn’t about politics.

It’s what holding a license is all about in the first place.

You never really own it, remember.

The license isn’t filed on Wall Street, you still do that down on K Street.

Maybe they could use some radio and TV people on that FCC.

We’ll have no trouble coming up with names for them if they like.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2008 in Radio programming

 

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