Trade show proves radio’s 'in very serious trouble'

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By: Art Vuolo

On The RadioToday, 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.

 • • • • • • • • 

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?

 • • • • • • • • 

It leads me to the end of my first column of 2008. How lucky for me to have it on the 13th.

 • • • • • • • • 

Art Vuolo has published the Radio Guide for more than 30 years and runs Vuolovideo.com. Contact him at artvuolo@aol.com.


Reprinted from the Sunday Oakland Press, January 13, 2008

 

5 Comments

I hate to see the rapid decline in radio, but if it will put an end to the HD Radio HD/IBOC jammers, then so be it:

http://hdradiofarce.blogspot.com/

Audience befriends air talent via the magic of local radio. Radio isn't about costly gadgets that flash 'Buy Pepsi Now' or inane traffic texting. Radio isn't HD. Radio is people. BigRadio views people as line-item liabilities. Isn't it uncanny, the way greed begets undoing?

Local radio thrives. BigRadio implodes. Weep not for BigRadio execs who stuffed their pockets with salaries of fired talent. BigRadio squandered millions on HD, thinking that would fool listeners into returning.

Is BigRadio using HD to cheat market forces, jam competition off the air and listeners into submission? If not, how better to do it?

FCC offered HD its own band. That would level the playing field. BigRadio didn't like that as they'd have to compete fairly with locals. They cobbled a clever yet destructive 'solution'. They pigsawed digital sidebands onto AM and FM signals - proof, Junk Science exists.

BigRadio brought this sorry state upon itself.


Paul Vincent Zecchino
Manasota Key, Florida
13 January, 2008

You said: "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."

You and Struble agreed that: "HD Radio could be facing an up-hill road ahead." It is facing an uphill battle now which actually has already been lost, what are you guys smoking? I have heard of being unrealistic before but that statement takes the cake. We'll have colonies of humans on Mars next year too.
You and Struble also said: "Technically, it’s great but what comes out of the speaker needs work." Did he really say that?? Never mind the content which is usually pretty bad, but how about the fact that it cuts the range of FM radio to less than 20-25 miles under optimum conditions? How about the fact that FM IBOC receivers need outside roof top antennas? How about the fact the no one is buying the receivers? How about the fact that no one stocks them and if they do, they are dust covered and don`t work? How about the fact that the adjacent channel interference is beginning to become known to be a problem on FM as well as AM? ....Which brings me to AM IBOC, this worst of the worst which makes great swaths of digital noise on both sides of the carrier going 1000 miles sometimes at night ruining adjacent channel reception for 15 Khz on both sides of the offending, and yes I do mean offending station. HD is a little lead balloon which I would have said has faded into obscurity but faded is is not the correct term as it has never been out of obscurity except in the minds of iBiquity and a few broadcaster cheerleaders. This has gone nowhere and will go no where. Bad content has nothing to do with this ill-conceived stillborn dubious technology which was supposed to save radio. If IBOC is left to continue to mess up our airwaves with it's noise and bad reception it will kill off the remaining listeners who will have no idea where that new buzzy whooshing noise is coming from, why? BECAUSE NO ONE KNOWS IT EXISTS, and more inportantly no one cares.

"...(seemingly) nobody cares...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."

I had the same experience: there were times where those with a display did not want to discuss their items and products...and we had microphones and cameras aimed at them!

"...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."

I am amazed at how management and programmers continue to not realize, or ignore, this.

Thanks Art - and I appreciate your insights. While I agree with you that radio has some very serious challenges - the greatest since TV first came into common use in the late 40's & early 50's - I wouldn't base that opinion or observation on seeing Sirius and XM relegated to the back of the bus at the CES. They aren't radio and never have been. They are merely satellite delivered jukeboxes. Radio's challenge is to stay relevant and local and dump the reliance on researching out everything that might possibly cause someone (even if they were a tiny minotrity) to tune out. Vanilla sound-alike stations are boring - even more boring than the jukeboxes.

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This page contains a single entry by Mike Austerman published on January 13, 2008 11:46 AM.

West Michigan: Newsmakers Jan 13, 2008 was the previous entry in this blog.

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