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.
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.
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).
In the first quarter of 2021, the Walt Disney Company will close Radio Disney and Radio Disney Country. Opened in 1995, the station owned 23 medium-wave stations to reach a large audience of young people and teenagers, but with the spread of streaming in 2014 most of the stations (22) had been sold and the signal was being broadcast digitally, on satellite and in some HD Radio subchannels. Radio Disney Country, a secondary streaming brand launched in the autumn of 2015, was no longer on AM as of 2017 because the station broadcasting it, 1110 KDIS in Pasadena (Los Angeles) had changed its name and format, becoming KRDC. The end of broadcasting is also caused by the uncertainties of the pandemic about the future of live music events. Thirty-six employees (full-time and part-time staff) will lose their jobs and the Pasadena station will be sold off. The closuredoes not affect Radio Disney in Latin America.
Audi cars sold in the United States can be equipped with a hybrid car radio (i.e. capable of receiving the signal over the air or streaming via the internet) that maintains the tuning of the preferred station even if the signal broadcast over the air is weakening during the journey. With a traditional device, when you leave the coverage area of a station, noise increases until the audio becomes unintelligible. Cars equipped with the Hybrid Radio® system, on the other hand, allow you to continue listening because when the listening quality starts to deteriorate they automatically switch from the signal transmitted over the air to the digital signal received via the Internet.
The new functionality is available on vehicles in the 2021 series (on sale from September 2020) equipped with the MIB 3 modular multimedia system, which connects to the network thanks to the integrated 4G Wi-Fi hotspot (requires a subscription to the Audi connect® Prime or Plus service). iHeartRadio, a leading U.S. radio company, is making more than 600 stations throughout North America compatible with the Hybrid Radio® system, in order to participate in the project.
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.