By: Mike Austerman
With school back in session for a couple weeks now, it must be time to restart some media commentary here on Michiguide.com. Overall, summer radio news in Detroit was very slow- some of that no doubt is because of the change in the way the Arbitron plans on collecting ratings information, starting this fall. Instead of having listeners fill out diaries with pencil and paper, the company plans to move to what's been touted as better technology and have the information collected by portable people meters (essentially an electronic monitor that automatically collects and then reports radio listening with little effort from the person wearing the device). Once the first numbers with the new system start coming in, it might jumpstart some big changes ... depending of course on how much difference there is compared to the numbers gathered the old way.
The new system has come under criticism in the few markets it's been used in so far because of low response rates and differing opinions on how well the numbers accurately reflect listening to certain radio formats. So, I guess it shouldn't have been surprising to see most everyone play the waiting game this summer and into the fall.
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The Drew Lane rumor mill got fired up again this week with speculation that the former WRIF morning host might be returning to the Home of Rock 'N Roll ... but this time to an afternoon shift. Tongues have been wagging about what would happen to Rif afternoon drive legend Arthur Penhallow should Lane get the green light for a new program on WRIF.
I'd be very surprised if the plan was to move Penhallow away from where he's held court for decades without his blessing. If the rumors are true, and all indications are that there is something brewing between Lane and WRIF, my 2 cents is that a more likely scenario would be to reduce the air time for Penhallow and program director Doug Podell, who's got his hands full leading both Rif and sister station WCSX, in order to create a two or three hour window for Lane's show.
If these rumors become reality, it'll be very, very interesting to see what kind of program Lane will offer. It's hard to think that WRIF would drift away from music in the afternoon ... but then again, I said the same thing way back when the morning show first changed from J.J. and The Morning Crew and obviously having a talk program sure hasn't hurt the station at that time of the day. The risk of adding more talk is having someone else take on an active rock format to counter any additional hours of talk-focused programming in the afternoon on WRIF and lure away listeners that prefer music programming.
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Over the course of the summer, I had the opportunity to do quite a bit of traveling around Michigan and check out how the transition to digital broadcasting was progressing for TV stations. Our family owns a camper that has an amplified antenna and I brought along a small TV that receives DTV. I was very disappointed at how limited the DTV options were through much of the lower peninsula once away from metro Detroit and Grand Rapids. It was unusual to pull in digital companion stations for most of the analog broadcasts that could be received, even if only with fringe signals.
I'm aware that most of the state's TV stations are broadcasting with temporary DTV facilities that don't have the coverage area equal to their analog counterparts. That said, I find it very pretentious that people are being asked by the FCC and local TV stations to be ready for this conversion even though there isn't an opportunity to know if preparations are going to be successful or not after investing in new equipment. I've heard from various sources that even when the transition happens in February, there are going to be a lot of disappointed viewers in fringe areas that will find out they have lost reception of their favorite TV stations.
While homeowners might be able to invest in getting a bigger antenna or subscribe to a cable/satellite provider, those of us in RV's and folks with cabins up north may very well be left without usable television starting this winter. And because it seems that folks that are considered 'temporary' in nature aren't really sought after by either advertisers or the TV stations themselves, it's probably going to be hard to convince anyone to fix those probable reception problems once they are discovered. I hope I'm wrong and everything goes without a hitch... but after my experiences this summer, I'm not confident at all.
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This just in from the promotions department, Art Vuolo has finally finished his video of the second WLS Rewind from Chicago. WLS was the CKLW of the heartland, and last Memorial Day turned back the hands of time as the talk station returned to Music Radio 89 for one day and Art caught it all on videotape. You can actually see a 10 minute preview by going to www.wlsam.com or to YouTube. Search for "art vuolo", scroll down and you can watch a highly condensed version of the 2 1/2 hour video. You can order via www.vuolovideo.com on the "Reunions" page. It's some major radio history.
Speaking of "Radio's Best Friend," Art has just published his popular WJR Michigan State RADIOGUIDE after missing 2007 due to lack of sponsorship support. A number of clients were "looking at it" in '07, but time ran out before it could get printed. This fall, Flagstar Bank was the hero which makes the new RADIOGUIDE free for the listening public. It lists all of the AM and FM stations in Michigan and surrounding areas, and which ones carry MSU football. The schedule is also on the guide. They're available (while very limited supplies last) at most CVS Pharmacy's and some Flagstar Banks, which has the slogan "The New Wave in Banking." Perhaps it's radio waves, as this growing bank lends support to we radio fans. Since the 2006 edition there have been over 150 changes to stations statewide!
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Mike Austerman covered radio for the Oakland Press from September 2001 through April 2008 and can be reached at email@example.com or at PO Box 99392, Troy MI 48099.