It comes full circle, Michael Mallace told Radio Ink, a US radio newsmagazine. He will direct KVIT-FM, the high school station in Chandler, a city in the Phoenix metropolitan area, where he started his career. In fact, the East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT) has appointed him as general manager of 88.7 FM The Pulse, the high school radio station that aims to engage students to acquire the necessary skills to make their way in the world of radio. Over the past 30 years, he has run various radio groups in the Arizona capital, not just chasing ratings and profits, but valuing people and nurturing talent.
A very American phenomenon
The Pulse is one of more than four hundred US campus radio stations (one in 15 of the approximately 6400 active FM stations) that have been in existence since the 1960s when the FCC (Federal Communication Commission, the US airwaves regulator) began issuing licences. They operate with an identifier (call number) similar to that of commercial and public stations. In Canada there are 52 of them, in FM and even on medium wave: the first was CJRT, from the Ryerson Institute of Technology (Ontario Department of Education). Known as Jazz Radio, it started in 1949 on 88.3 MHz with a power of 3 kW and today is on 91.0 MHz with 40 kW. The United States and Canada have the largest number of FM student stations, but there are such stations in over 40 countries. Often they operate only on the web because regulations do not offer them space on the airwaves.
Talent hubs and trendsetters
Working in college radio is part of the student experience. Stations are run completely independent but can make use of contributors from the community to which they belong for programmes. Some are set up to train professional radio staff, others to make educational programmes or to be an alternative to commercial and public radio. They often uncover musical trends or emerging artists before they make a name for themselves. One example among many? Music promoter Marco Stanzani writes that Anderson Paak, a pop artist of worldwide notoriety, had been noticed when he was still in the early stages of his career by Italian rapper Mondo Marcio thanks to tracks broadcast on a US college radio station. So much so that since 2010, with his agency Red&Blue Stanzani, he has organised Uniweb Tour – a real live acoustic live tour on the web radios of major Italian universities – to promote the artists he covers.
The dismissal of Lisa LaFlamme, one of the most familiar faces on Canadian TV, who was awarded this year’s Best National News Anchor, is causing controversy. This was revealed in a tweet that the journalist posted in August 2022 to inform fans that CTV (major private, English-language network) had fired her after a 35-year career. The reasons for this are confidential, but as the New York Times reports, it seems that age (58), sex and grey hair were influential.
From so to so
During the pandemic, in fact, unable to go to the hairdresser, the presenter had stopped dyeing her hair and then agreed to keep it in its natural grey colour. The company denied it, but failed to erase the doubts: it is indeed strange that such a well-known face should be thrown out of the door at the age of 58 (two years early), while other Canadian TV journalists as famous as her and with a similar role continued until the ages of 69 and 73. But they were men.
The news of the Canadian radio station looping the song Killing in the Name by Rage AgainstThe Machine for 30 hours went viral on 30 June 2022. Some speculated that it was a form of protest by the employees of Kiss Radio, which broadcasts on 104.9 from Vancouver, over the dismissal of two colleagues, so much so that many sites relaunched it as such (the song, in fact, contains an explicit line “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”, however, in the aired version this part was cut out). But The Guardian caught up with and interviewed the station managers, unravelling the mystery: it was just a way to get publicity. In fact, it was a typical gimmick used by broadcasters to attract the attention of listeners: when the news went viral on Twitter, spikes in online ratings were recorded from Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Europe. But it was a marketing operation, to announce a change of format for the station, which switched from soft-rock to alternative music, even changing its name to Sonic Radio.
In YouTube ads, he claimed to be a guru who had led more than a thousand clients to financial independence. But in reality, William Neil ‘Doc’ Gallagher was a fraudster, advertising his financial services from a Christian Protestant radio station in North Texas. With commercials promising returns of between 6 and 8%, he had convinced about two hundred pensioners, listeners of the Christian radio station, to entrust him with 32 million dollars, most of which he ‘burned’ in personal expenses. Financially, nothing new: Gallagher applied the classic ‘Ponzi scheme’, paying interest with money collected from new clients until the castle collapsed. The novelty lies in the fact that Gallagher exploited the notoriety and credibility of the Christian broadcasters (followed in the States by more than 20 million believers) to get rich. But in the end, justice presented him with his bill: the ‘money doctor’, now in his 80s, will have to serve three life sentences, in addition to the 25 years, he was sentenced to in 2020 by a Dallas court.
The abandonment of thermic engines is a mandatory goal to reduce CO2 emissions. The automotive industry is getting ready and among the aspects that are being discussed, there is also radio listening. On electric cars, HF interference is generated primarily by the frequency converter, a device that controls the amount of power delivered by the electric motor by turning the voltage on and off thousands of times per second. This generates signals that fall in the medium wave broadcast band: electrical noises (such as distortion and crackling) similar to those emitted by smartphones, TVs, computers, vacuum cleaners and hair dryers. In addition, static electricity, which creates crackles, increases with the power of the motors. So much so that some manufacturers, such as BMW, Mini, Tesla and Volkswagen have eliminated the AM band on their current cars. Others, like General Motors, are studying the problem, but the solution isn’t around the corner. Xperi Corporation, a leading digital radio company, whose HD Radio standard (a patent it owns) is used both in the FM and AM band, claims that its transmission system is not afraid of interference. And it presented test results at NAB Broadcast Engineering and Information Technology, the annual conference of American broadcasters. According to Pooja Nair, an engineer at Xperi Corporation, a fully digital AM signal resists interference much better than an analogue one.
The proliferation of pirate radio stations is worrying the authorities and broadcasters, who are members of the Cirt (National Chamber of the Radio and Television Industry). Many of them are run by organised criminal groups, who use them to communicate with each other, or by religious sects, pressure organisations or to generate mobilisation. “It is estimated that there are at least 500,” said Carlos Ponce, director of the section in charge of verification at the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT). Sixty were seized in 2021, bringing to 350 (out of 657 checks carried out) the number of deactivations carried out in the last seven years (since the start of inspection activity). Sixty percent of illegal radio stations are concentrated in the ‘corridor’ that ideally runs from Guadalajara and Bajio to Oaxaca; the other 40 per cent in the north of the country.
Damage to the economy and to licensed radio stations
Illegal pirate radio stations take resources away from the community because they do not pay royalties to the state, they do not pay taxes, they do not create jobs, they do not invest in production. They use frequencies without having participated in public tenders, like the concessionaires, and they take away advertising from the licensed radio stations. They often use non-standard equipment that produces interference and can jeopardise services such as air navigation by jamming communications between the control tower and aircraft. Countering these stations is not easy, says Alejandro Navarrete, head of the IFT’s Radio Spectrum Unit, because they hide their antennas in imaginative and unpredictable ways: they can be in trees or on the empty pipes of a water tank. Moreover, it is not easy to deactivate them: the operators of illegal stations and even whole communities often object and inspectors have to be escorted by the authorities, whether federal, state or municipal security forces.
The Central American country is one of the most dangerous in the world for journalists: an estimated 200 have been murdered in the last 30 years, not counting hundreds of attacks and intimidation. To defend them, and to prevent attacks on them and the media from going unpunished, thirteen Mexican media groups have formed an alliance. Its members are: El Universal, Proceso, Cámara Nacional de la Industria de la Radiodifusión (CIRT), Eje Central, El Heraldo, Organización Editorial Mexicana (OEM), La Silla Rota, Publimetro, El Dictamen, Politico Mx, Vanguardia Mx, El Economista y Debate. The association (Alianza de Medios Mx) not only defends, promotes and protects the rights of freedom of expression, but also offers support to file complaints on freedom of expression and requests assistance in case of attacks.
In order to stem the pressure of migrants on the Mexican border, the USA is also using radio advertising. A State Department spokesman told CNN that more than 30,000 advertisements are aired each month on Central American stations. The aim is to counter the misinformation spread by traffickers and the idea that President Joe Biden is softer on immigration. Up until the spring, 28,000 were broadcast, but this number has risen to over 30,000 due to the ‘discounts’ offered by the broadcasters on the ‘packages’ purchased by the American administration. The radio medium was chosen to reach the largest number of people, and religious leaders and public figures were also involved in the production of the releases. The monthly budget is $600,000. The announcements, broadcast in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, are in Spanish and five indigenous languages and last 40 seconds.
A study of the stock market capitalization shows that in the Twenties of the 20th century the performance of radio companies was comparable to that of today’s technology companies. In the summer of 1920 commercial broadcasters had started their activity in the United States, so it was imagined that the purchase of receivers would have led to a strong development for the industry. The analysis conducted by Jim Reid, a specialist at Deutsche Bank, reconstructs the performance of the stock of RCA (Radio Corporation of America), whose profits had risen from 2.5 million dollars in 1925 to 20 million in 1928, causing the value of the shares to soar by 700% (from cents in 1921 to ten dollars in 1926).
To support Mexican community radio stations, new legislation requires government institutions, states and municipalities to spend one per cent of the budget allocated to social communication by purchasing advertising space on community radio stations (Article 89, Section VII of the Federal Law on Telecommunications and Broadcasting). The first to implement the legal provision is the Federal Institute of Communications (IFT), which has created a special space on its Internet portal to make it transparent that access to resources is fair.
Support from Unesco for indigenous radios
Another support comes from Unesco, which with its ‘Design of public policies‘ project launched in 2020 seeks to bring indigenous content into public and commercial media. Funded by the European Union and the EU-Uesco Expert Bank, it aims to produce programmes in indigenous languages with content that reflects the country’s cultural and linguistic diversity. Strengthening them helps preserve indigenous languages, cultures and ancestral knowledge. Without forgetting that in the event of natural disasters, their role is irreplaceable, so it is necessary to remove the obstacles that prevent them from obtaining broadcasting authorisation.