By: Art Vuolo
Today, I am back home from a whirlwind tour through the largest trade show in the country. If you ever wondered where Simon & Garfunkel got the inspiration for their hit song “At The Zoo,” I can assure you it was probably at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. I have been attending this event for nearly 30 years, but this one was different on a number of levels.
After consulting with several attendees, I came away with a few observations. There were far too many people. It attracted over 140,000 people. The worst part was that (seemingly) nobody cares. People are so into their own world with all of their technological gadgets that they are oblivious to those around them. If you’ve ever been in a store wondering when someone would ask if they could help you, or felt you knew more about the product than they did, you will know what I mean.
For someone like myself, with a profound love and passion for radio, the 2008 CES proved once again that our beloved medium is in very serious trouble. Interestingly, the satellite radio folks, who at one time maintained some of the largest, costliest and most elaborate displays in the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, were nearly non-existent last week.
Sirius was buried in a car stereo display with just a handful of representatives, and XM was relinquished to small corners of the Delphi and Audiovox booths manned by personnel unable to answer any questions beyond the most basic. It was very disappointing.
We are living in a visual era, and radio is finding itself needing to market more heavily and make far better use of their most visible asset, their Web site. Webcasts, podcasts and other means for radio stations to make themselves available to the listener on their schedule is quickly becoming the norm.
It was a 40-minute search to find the iBiquity booth with the latest innovations for HD Radio. After speaking with company president Robert J. Struble, he shared my feeling that unless local stations start putting some thought and financial backing into programming content that people actually care about, HD Radio could be facing an up-hill road ahead. Technically, it’s great but what comes out of the speaker needs work.
The announcement from Ford Motor Co. that they will start supporting HD was welcomed news for the iBiquity camp, but since most major radio companies are slashing budgets and cutting highpriced talent on their primary frequency, how can we expect they’ll support those “hidden” secondary channels?
Troy-based Delphi, despite local downsizing, still maintained an impressive display, but the emphasis was more on services like On-Star and XM verses how good their AM/FM audio systems, in new General Motors Corp. cars, actually are.
Many of you know that I produce a great deal of video about and for radio stations, and the big buzz in video, was the announcement that major support from the film industry seems to be in favor of the Blu-Ray DVD High-Definition format. CBS Radio news recently said “Remember Beta vs. VHS? Well, déjà vu, except this time it’s blue (as in Blu-Ray) vs. HDDVD.” The mantra at the CES seems to be,” if it’s six months to a year old, it’s ready for the antique fair or the garage sale.” This is why so many of you are afraid to make major purchases in electronics goods.
What is in store for radio? Well, according to some experts, your favorite stations may be coming to you — in the not so distant future — via your cell phone. In fact, the number of services cell phones will soon deliver is downright scary. Personally, I just wish I could have fewer dropped calls. Tony Novia, a longtime radio programmer and format editor for industry trade Radio & Records is pumped about the cell phone applications. In upcoming weeks, I will have more for you about this new concept.
The big electronics show for this year is history, but as new things develop, I will attempt to stay on top of the news. But right now, my feet still hurt and my legs are sore. Each year, I keep hoping more radio people would attend so they can see and hear what lies between
their tower and your ears. I ran into a few, including all-news WWJ-AM (950) auto reporter Jeff Gilbert.
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On the local scene, one of the big stories is the appointment of Tom Bigby as the new operations manager of sports WXYT-FM (97.1) and AM (1270). Oddly enough Bigby was a DJ at WXYZ in their music days back in the 1970s. He was most recently program director at Philadelphia’s sports powerhouse WIP-AM (610). Another odd twist, WIP originated the on-air chicken wing eating contest, that “Deminski & Doyle” made famous on 97.1 FM during the WKRK days. Where might all this lead?
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It leads me to the end of my first column of 2008. How lucky for me to have it on the 13th.
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Reprinted from the Sunday Oakland Press, January 13, 2008