An American company promises to realise the dream of advertisers, greedy for information on the audience of broadcasters that would enable them not only to choose on which stations and at what time to air the commercial, but to understand who listened to it and whether they zapped. Television, with smart TVs and set-top boxes, has long offered the possibility of monitoring audience habits down to the last detail. For radio, on the other hand, listening surveys detect the age, socio-economic profile, and musical tastes of the listener but do not offer precise data on when one stops on a station or whether one ‘zaps’ when there are commercials.
The system integrates radio, streaming audio, and TV
Photographing in-car behaviour is now being attempted by Xperi, a giant that holds the patent for the equipment (transmitters and receivers) of digital HD Radio (used on medium wave and FM in the States). The company has launchedDTS AutoStage, an infotainment system that lifts the veil on how people behave in the car. This is important data since in many countries mobile listening accounts for 60% of the audience. The new infotainment system integrates radio, streaming audio and video, promises an immersive experience, and… records what the user does. Joe D’Angelo, senior vice president of broadcast and digital audio at Xperi is excited because the system will offer radio stations and advertisers ‘new revenue opportunities with brands and advertisers‘. Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini
A Texas woman is the host who can boast the longest radio career. Mary McCoy began in 1951: she attended a talent show on station KMCO and told the hosts that she would like to host her own show someday. Four months later she began presenting her own program, continuing uninterrupted to this day. Today she is 85 years old and for nearly 72 years behind a microphone she has entered Guinness World Records. In her interview with the Guardian, she recounted her passion for radio and career memories, such as sharing the stage with Elvis Presley, whom she considered one of the kindest and most polite men she had ever met. Today Mary McCoy is on KVST K-Star Radio, broadcasting on 99.7 from Montgomery, Texas.
Interference on the medium waves generated by battery-powered cars has prompted several manufacturers (Audi, BMW, Mini, Tesla, and Volkswagen) toeliminate the AM tuner in their battery-powered models (we’ve already discussed it here). But new radio disturbances are on the horizon on which it would be difficult to act. Raising the alarm is the ITU (International Telecommunication Union): induction charging systems generate harmonic frequencies between 500 and 700 kHzthat cannot be eliminated by shielding because they are picked up by the antenna. In theory, U.S. law prohibits interfering with licensed stations, so if electric cars disrupt broadcasters, it is up to manufacturers to comply. Technically, however, it is not easy, and since the electric market moves huge interest (by 2030 in the U.S., one out of every two new cars should be electric) the game is wide open.
Heavy interference, but there may be a solution
Induction charging is convenient because it avoids the use of a cable. But the high powers involved (10 kW for a car, 100 kW for a public service bus) produce “robust” phantom signals. There is also DWPT, based on the same technology, which is used to extend the range of cars (now limited to a few hundred kilometers). It relies on coils placed under the asphalt that transfer energy directly to vehicles that do not have to stop at designated charging stations. What to do then? According to Xperi, stations could transmit digitally with the HD Radio system (for which the company owns the patent) because signal processing and error correction provide greater immunity to noise. (Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini)
In the North American country, 10 % of the frequencies are reserved for communityand indigenous radio stations, said Sóstenes Díaz, commissioner of the Federal Telecommunications Institute (FTI), on the occasion of the centenary celebrations of Mexican radio. There are 109 community radio stations and 20 indigenous radio stations protected by the Federal Law on Telecommunications and Broadcasting (LFTyR), which since 2014 has defined a regulatory framework to give certainty to social organizations. The law recognizes the importance of radio in the cultural and social development of communities. The legislation authorizes the granting of licenses to all entities interested in offering these services (Article 87), so much so that the airwaves regulator will hold seminars for entities interested in opening new ones.
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.