Lee Abrams, who in 1973 created the radio format AOR (Album Oriented Rock) tells Variety about his new project: a new format to renew the way of doing radio. In the seventies the idea of sticking to a playlist was a way to build a precise radio identity, but almost fifty years later the father of this format repudiates his creature: the programming is now flattened and the radio stations are too similar. The solution? Reinventing oneself, focusing on information, defined by Abrams as “the new rock ‘n’ roll”, and leaving more room for creativity. Here are the details.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has lifted the ban on broadcasting the same programme (simulcast) on several FM and AM stations. The regulation was introduced in 1964 and has been updated several times (the last time in 1992) to take account of developments in a market where competition is increasingly fierce. It is estimated that in FM no broadcaster will be able to repeat the entire programming (until now the limit was 25%), but the greater flexibility should help to overcome the crisis, favouring format changes and facilitating the transition of medium wave channels to digital. Ultimately, it should be the service offered to listeners that gains. More details and official statements can be found here.
In the wake of the racial protests following George Floyd’s death, the iHeartMedia group launched an all-news radio for the black community. BIN, which stands for Black Information Network, offers 24 hours of news seven days a week and according to the promoters is “an objective, accurate and trusted source of continual news coverage with a black voice and perspective”. The publisher has also carried out a study according to which 86% of black listeners believe that this service is necessary and that they will probably use it as an important source of news, while 83% think that it provides information that today cannot be received on the radio or TV. The broadcasts will have no advertising, but will be funded by a group of companies: Bank of America, CVS Health, GEICO, Lowe’s, McDonald’s USA, Sony, 23andMe and Verizon, “who share and support the mission of BIN”. This line-up suggests that the “black” have been identified as potential consumers.
IBA (Independent Broadcasters Association) is about to be set up in the United States. The aim is to increase the impact of thousands of member radio stations when communicating with record companies, selling airtime for advertisements (from the radio and social network to smart speakers like Alexa) and negotiating savings on services (from accountancy to putting programmes on air). We put three questions to Ron Stone, the promoter of the initiative.
RR: IBA not only offers its members the sale of commercials that will be broadcast on 3.000 radio stations, on as many apps and Facebook pages, but also to reduce the fees for music rights by negotiating royalties as a group of broadcasters. What difficulties did you encounter when explaining your proposal? Wasn’t getting 3.000 “heads” to agree a problem? Or has the prospect of earnings (and savings) made prospective members more willing to listen?
RS: The goal is to represent the stations that become members as an unwired network, offering this network to clients that have a national presence. In addition, we will create a digital platform for all the members to participate in that will allow for the first time, a true digital sale opportunity by radio on a national scale to compete for digital spending.
RR: Could this model also work in other countries? Associations usually do lobbying or offer services, but none of them have thought of taking such an active role.
RS: I really cannot answer this as I am not familiar with broadcasting in other countries. We will not be a lobbying group. We will leave that to the NAB, unless we find that there is a particular issue that we are being harmed by and not fairly represented.
RR: In order to sell advertising for 3.000 radio stations, are you going to create an independent advertising agency or rely on existing structures?
RS: With an unwired network, it becomes fairly easy. It is an all or none sale. Clients cannot cherry pick stations.
The objectives of the Independent Broadcasters Association
Excerpt of the program of the association, from Radio IBA
The concept is to serve independent radio stations in ways we are NOT being served by existing organizations and provide independent operators with ways to drive revenue and achieve cost benefits from scale that cannot be achieved alone.
Below reflects my thoughts on what the organization would focus on right away and during the first two years.
Group employee benefits Better coverage and lower prices, and potentially add additional benefits for our employees.
Revenue generation An unwired network & digital platform supported by a national sales team to monetize for us.
Digital services group This would enable continuity across independent stations giving us the opportunity to accomplish double digit digital revenue through Web, Mobile, Alexa, & Streaming
Shared resources A system that allows sharing of that talent in non-competitive situations and reduces our dependence on national syndication that requires cash, barter and sometimes both.
Proprietary systems and services Under the umbrella of a member owned association, we can create proprietary systems that we control and eliminate some of the costly monthly per station fees for traffic, accounting, CRM, Yield Management, even automation and music scheduling.
This will of course take time, like eating an elephant, one bite at a time. But as independents, we are 7,000 stations strong, and multiply what each of us pay for any one service, it becomes crystal clear that through a membership owned organization, we would have the wherewithal to accomplish this, and the revenue growth and savings would be astronomical.
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 operating on 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.
Click here for the official source and other useful information.