The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the largest Christian group of radio stations in the United States into crisis.
The Salem Media Group had a business model that protected them from the highs and lows of the advertising market. In 2019 they made US$79 million by selling pastors time on their transmissions to deliver their sermons. However, they certainly did not forgo both local and national commercials that brought in $68 million. Nevertheless, the Covid-19 pandemic caused their shares to plummet to 80 cents (they were at US$8 in 2018 and US$30 in 2004). Moody’s, an American credit rating agency, has classified investments in the company as high risk.
The Salem Media Group has a network of 3,100 radio stations (100 of which they own) with a guaranteed 298 million listeners per week. The board of directors have announced a dividend block, a reduction of 10% in managers’ salaries and they are now considering personnel cuts (a total of over 1,400 employees). In this article the magazine Christianity Today outlines the situation in-depth.
Luckily measures have been taken by some Regional Governments. Emilia-Romagna has allocated € two million for a campaign on the radio, TV and social media in order to relaunch the tourist season. While in Abruzzo (even though it is still a proposed bill) €300,000 are arriving to support local radio and TV stations, newspapers and online press.
Public radio stations ask Trump for help
The US$ 75 million received from Congress (we have spoken about in one of our previous articles) is not enough. The Corporation of Public Broadcasting, that distributes funds to about 1500 public radio and television stations, had originally asked for US$ 250 million and insists on having the other US$ 175 million, which is indispensable to guarantee the survival of the public and university stations.
Is the future of the sector of independent radio doubted? More restrictive laws on royalties and the shutdown of the Live 365 platform in 2016, that had encouraged web radios in the past, now is putting doubts on the future of the independent radios sector.
Those tiny realities are not capable of paying the amount of money required for royalties to a commercial radio: some web platforms that tried to replace Live 365 (paying a forfait to record companies) didn’t last and, increasing costs for the radios they’ve contributed to reduce the number of online broadcasters. The future is uncertain, as Paul Riismandel’s analysis said, a media producer, who analysed this phaenomenon in an interesting article on Radio Survivor. The article contains practical comparison on costs and on the financial effort that the radio stations had to handle in order to continue. To view the article please click here.
Since December 2019 The Dutch telecommunication agency (TT-Agentschap Telecom) toughened the penalties for unauthorised radio broadcasting. In the Netherlands, pirate radio stations have been a mass phenomenon since the 60’s. Back then, broadcasters like Radio Caroline introduced beat music on the airwaves. This has resulted in the Dutch being infected with ‘piracy’s virus’ and they started transmitting local folk music, especially in rural areas with radio programmes spoken in dialects. The phenomenon became really big: the Dutch Telecommunication Agency estimated the existence of 10,000 to 60,000 unauthorised broadcasters operating in the country during 1984, this equals to one pirate per 250 inhabitants. The radio stations were operating on shortwave (above the 49 metre band), between 1620 and 1700 kHz (X-Band), and also on FM. The programmes were usually broadcasted on evenings or weekends.
The ‘ghost radio’ signals are going to increase
During 2003, with the first crackdown, the illegal signals decreased by 73% and now, to restrict them further, the minimum penalty has been set at € 2.500. But why do pirate broadcasters want to transmit over air, when they can easily do it via web? The reason is the thrill of being caught, according to what one of the protagonists said to Arno Van Der Hoeven, a student that carried out research on this phenomenon in the Erasmus Research Centre for Media, Communication and Culture at Rotterdam University.
The hypothesis is a possible increase of ghost signals: to not being caught by authorities, the radio transmitter and antenna are installed on a tree and remotely controlled. When the inspectors find them, they usually only deactivate the equipment without looking for the signal source.
USA: record penalty reached US$ 450.000
Even the United States has its pirate radios. In the US, the coverage area of every radio and television station is set and verified rigorously (due to their model of planning for the over air transmission). And the fines are hefty: the FCC (Federal Communication Commission) imposed a fine of US$ 453.000 to Radio TeleBoston, a station that broadcasts programmes for the Haitian community and operated illegally on 90.1 and 92 MHz (with a total of three transmitters), interfering with other radio stations duly authorised. After some notices have been sent (since 2017), FCC decided to assign the maximum penalty (US$ 151.000) for every transmitter; in the meantime, TeleBoston is asking listeners for donations in order to finance the radio station.
After making its debut in 2018 on the Ram 1500 pick-up truck of FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), the 360L multimedia system of Sirius XM was implemented in a million cars from the GM group (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC). In addition to 200 commercial-free music channels, broadcast via satellite or streaming, a library of 10,000 hours of broadcasting that offers an interactive listening experience is available: while you follow a programme, the system proposes to follow insights (such as an interview with the artist or a concert). Furthermore, listening can continue outside the car, with the myChevrolet, myBuick, myGMC or myCadillac apps, which allow you to set customised listening profiles, which once on board synchronise with the system.
Exclusive events for subscribers only
Among the programmes there are also exclusive events, such as the one that will take place on January 15, 2020 in Los Angeles, in The Garage studios of SiriusXM: Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland of Coldplay, accompanied by other artists, will deliver an acoustic performance for a limited audience of platform subscribers; the event will go live between 7 and 10 pm on The Spectrum (channel 28), the replicas on Alt Nation (channel 36).
Since 2002 every AM broadcaster in the United States is allowed to broadcast digitally by using HD Radio – a system that permits spreading to 3 thematic channels and provides services, such as the visualisation of songs’ or artists’ names (in addition to the analogue signal – still receivable by traditional receivers). However, this system can’t always be used; in fact, the digital signal occupies 40 kHz of the band – compared to the standard frequency range of 20 kHz – making digital broadcasting not possible if other radio stations are operatingon nearby frequencies.
Since listening to AM stations has become difficult due to the rising of radio electric interferences – caused by increasing proliferation of electronic devices- FCC is trying to promote and increase AM stations ratings by proposing broadcasters to switch to all digital broadcasting, meeting the standards set by the regulations (not exceeding 20 kHz) and thus minimising interferences. This is just one of the various initiatives taken by the American regulator almost one hundred years from the first radio transmission in the US: the Agency has also allowed the opening of some new broadcasting facilities.
Today, only one AM station is all digital
Today just one broadcaster in the US is allowed to operate all digital on AM. It is WWFD – a broadcaster from Frederick, Maryland (70 km from Washington). Since 16th July, 2019 this broadcaster – better known as The Gamut – transmits its digital-only AM signal on 820 kHz. Additionally, the station transmit its digital signal on 103.5 MHz in HD (a standard that allows to transmit up to four channels on the same frequency). Today -in the United States – 4,580 broadcaster are operating on AM and 10,850 on FM, divided in commercial (6,728) and non-commercial (4,122). In total there are 20,342 FM transmitters. You can find the complete list on FMList.
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