February 04, 2005

Simon on ClearChannel

It's been a while since I've quoted from the Sage of Britania, but he's got a great fisking of an article on SlashDot.

We know tight playlists aren't for everyone, but they're for *most* people. Amazing as it may seem, radio listeners actually like hearing their favorites on a regular basis. Adults, in particular, punch out more often than not when something new comes on -- no matter how good it is.

Not buying this - for a start: how would Clear Channel know? When have their stations ever tried this? Secondly, the American TV market produces programmes like The Sopranos, Frasier, Seinfeld, Desperate Housewives, Buffy - why is it that when they're viewers, American adults manage to sample stuff that plays with their expectations and does things they might nor expect, and yet when they're listeners they panic and switch off because they get a George Jones album track instead of Islands In The Stream again?

Real music enthusiasts with well-developed tastes have a lot of options open to them these days, if they don't mind paying for them. Hell, I own an iPod, too. But free radio is still out there, playing the hits, ready whenever you need a pop fix or breaking news.

Okay, flame away. But that's the deal.


So, in a nutshell, then: Clear Channel feel they're incapable of programming a radio station that does anything than play the same few songs over and over again; and they've got some expensive research which backs up their timidity. You can hear it in their output, can't you?

Lay on, McDuff....

Posted by Casper at 12:40 AM | Comments (0)

January 13, 2005

Habla Espanol

WHFS, 99.1 in the DC area, has switched formats from Modern Rock to Latin. Thus ends a 36 year history of rock in the capital area.

While HFS has never been my favorite station, they were a pretty good rock station for most of the time. Presumably, this also spells the demise of the HFS-tival, the radio station's rock concert which would feature dozens of rock bands.

I'm a bit suprised by this change, but I'm not going to shed a lot of tears. I like Latin music, being as I play in a band that has a heavy Latin feel to it. I usually listen to 92.7 for Latin, but I'll give El Zol a shot for a while.

Posted by Casper at 10:17 AM | Comments (0)

January 07, 2005

Now that Payola's gone

Salon has an interesting article about Payola and radio. More specifically, about what to do now that Payola's on the way out.

Under pressure from New York's nosy attorney general, who has already posted an impressive track record weeding out corporate fraud in other major industries, the system is finally collapsing -- or at least contracting -- from its own weight. In recent months, chain after chain of radio stations has announced it's cutting official ties with the middlemen or indies, who are now struggling to come to grips with the radically changed landscape around them. "We're not becoming millionaires anymore," says one longtime indie promoter for top 40 radio. "We're just paying our bills. I'm hoping I'll still be in business next year." They shouldn't bother looking to the record company counterparts for any sympathy, though. "Let's face it," says a label source, "the system was a scam."

The bad news for musicians and radio fans, though, is that even in the wake of the indies' demise -- a remarkable industry milestone considering how far back the look-the-other-way practice dates, and how many times labels and artists vowed, unsuccessfully, to do away with the system -- tight radio playlists are unlikely to improve anytime soon. While indie promoters are often seen as dubious, they did have a knack for getting new acts their break on FM radio. That's why some industry insiders worry that station programmers may soon become even less adventurous in choosing which songs get tapped for rotation on FM stations' heavily guarded playlists.

So, following Eliot Spitzer's annoucement, the labels have decided they weren't going to pay anymore. Does this mean that de facto payola is over and done? Probably not. I suspect it will go underground for awhile, and then come back in a few years in another guise.

Posted by Casper at 12:50 PM | Comments (1)

October 27, 2004

And in this corner....

FCC Commissioner Michael Powell is on a radio call in show in SF. Howard Stern calls in to ask a few questions. Hillarity ensues.

Posted by Casper at 12:22 AM | Comments (0)

October 06, 2004

Howard Stern escapes the reach of the FCC

He is moving to Sirius satellite radio. Much like cable, the FCC has no authority to regulate content on a pay channel.

What horrors will be wrecked upon the people of America without the loving censorship of the FCC? Oh yeah, the same stuff that's on HBO. Strangely, the republic hasn't fallen yet.

Posted by Casper at 10:37 PM | Comments (0)

August 03, 2004

A change of pace

Mancow is one of the more popular shock jocks in the Midwest. Much like Howard Stern, he's been harassed a few times by the FCC for decency violations. However, he took matters into his own hands, suing one of the people who regularly complained to the FCC about him. He has now decided to drop the suit, claiming to have met his desired goal.

Posted by Casper at 11:19 AM | Comments (0)

July 29, 2004

Demote me? I quit!

Bob Edwards, no longer anchoring NPR's Morning Edition, will be hosting his own morning show on XM radio. Any bets on whether or not it will run at about the same time as Morning Edition?

Posted by Casper at 12:28 AM | Comments (0)

July 19, 2004

It really will be "less talk, more music"

Clear Channel Communications (trust me, if you listen to radio at all in the US, you've got better than even odds that it's a CCC station) will be cutting back on the number of ads that will run in a given hour.

Thanks to Brad for the tip.

Posted by Casper at 09:18 PM | Comments (0)

July 11, 2004

A hidden cost to broadcast decency

To avoid getting staggering costs, broadcasters are scrambling to get the technology to allow for delayed broadcast (of just a few seconds).

The typical 7-second delays may sound about as harmless as Bill O'Reilly on mute. But the technology isn't cheap for small stations, which also face a risk of hefty fines just like their huge commercial counterparts in metropolises like New York City and Los Angeles.

While the technology ain't cheap, it's less than a half million dollar fine.

Thanks to Glenn for the tip.

Posted by Casper at 11:41 PM | Comments (0)

July 08, 2004

Broadcasters to retain records for 90 days

Due to a new FCC regulation, radio and TV broadcasters are now may be required to keep an archived edition of everything they do for sixty to ninety days. I'm not a fan of this approach; I expect that it will significantly curb any broadcaster's willingness to even risk playing a song (or showing a skit) that might offend someone.

My reasoning? Well, prior to this rule, if someone was going to complain, they had to be recording the broadcast in question. This didn't always happen, of course (How often didn't this happen, you may be asking? Try 1.17%.). Nowadays, all that anyone has to do is write the FCC, say "KBAL did something indecent at 7:25am on Saturday, July 10" and an investigation will follow. Said investigation will cost the station money (in research, lawyers, etc.), so the sheer nuisance value of the potential complaints will cause the station to shy away from taking the risk.

Before any of you get all happy over this possibility ("less smut on the air! yeah!"), try to keep in mind that there is no limit to how this can be applied. A complaint could be lodged for something offensive during a Rush Limbaugh show just as easily as an allegation can be sent in about an incident during a Michael Moore interview.

Also, what about small/indie stations? Most radio/TV groups will probably have the technical means to support this requirement (to warehouse the tapes and/or hard disk space for the archives), but some of the micro stations that the FCC has been trying to encourage may not. Web-based radio stations will probably have the disk space (since it's a streamed medium), but I still suspect that this regulation will probably put some groups out of business.

-- Update --
I changed the post to better reflect the reality of the situation. Thanks for the correction, Kristin.

Posted by Casper at 09:43 AM | Comments (2)

June 27, 2004

Not satellite, digital

The era of digital radio isn't quite here, but we do have some examples floating about.

Posted by Casper at 11:42 AM | Comments (0)

June 09, 2004

Clear Channel pays up

Some new legal news:

The Federal Communications Commission's settlement with Clear Channel Communications is estimated at $1.75 million, according to the source, who requested anonymity in the absence of a formal announcement. That was expected as early as Wednesday.

The deal marks the largest settlement negotiated by the FCC (news - web sites) and a broadcaster, narrowly topping the $1.7 million that Infinity Broadcasting paid in 1995 for indecency violations by Stern, the shock jock whose New York City-based radio show features sexually explicit talk and off-color humor.

I've said this before, people, and I'll say it again. If you don't like what you hear, turn the f-in' knob to a different channel.

Posted by Casper at 01:41 PM | Comments (0)

June 07, 2004

Classical (and other music) disappearing from public radio

I'm a fan of NPR; I think their news service is top notch, if a bit skewed to the left. I listen to their morning show every day, catching up on the news along with traffic and weather. But I can remember the public radio stations of my youth, playing almost exclusively classical music. It would seem that those days may be falling to the wayside.

What listeners in Orlando have seen happen at Glerum's station is a slow-motion version of what has happened to public radio across the country. Music--not merely classical but also jazz, folk, blues, and bluegrass, once staples of public radio programming--is slowly being withdrawn from the public airwaves. According to data from the trade group M Street Group, the number of noncommercial stations identified as "classical" has been cut in half since 1993, while the number of noncommercial news-talk stations has tripled. Data from the Public Radio Tracking Study, commissioned by public radio stations, tell the same story. From 1995 to 2002, the number of locally generated classical music hours on public radio declined roughly 10 percent, even as the number of public radio stations greatly increased; meanwhile, over the same period, the number of news-talk hours rose by more than 150 percent. As the tracking study researchers wrote in their report, with unseemly enthusiasm: "Local classical music just sits there, while NPR news-talk races ahead."

Posted by Casper at 11:52 AM | Comments (0)

May 24, 2004

RIAA vs. CEA

In a battle royale of the acronyms, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America, the 600 pound gorilla that argues in favor of the recording industry) and CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) have been going at each other over the impending spectre of digital radio. The RIAA sent a fax to the CEA, requesting the CEA ask their members to change the hardware in digital radios to prevent end users from recording signals (much as the RIAA succeed with prevent digital TV transmissions from being recordable via broadcast). The CEA pretty much concisely told the RIAA to stick it.

...[T]here is no content "license" at issue becuase RIAA members have no licensable right that could be a basis for imposing limitations on free broadcasts.

Finally, you state that you do not wish to limit the ability of consumers to record over-the-air radio broadcasts. Instead, you apparently want to force them to buy what they have received for free since Fleming and Marconi first made it possible for consumers to hear new and music over the public airwaves.

As you know, we have love been concered about content owners seeking to change the "play" button on our devices to a "pay" button. At least you have addressed the semantics by suggesting new devices come equippred with a "buy" button.

... As you are aware, hundreds of thousands of digital radios have already been sold in Great Britain, yet you offer no proof of harm to the recording industry. Indeed, the various consumer recording practices your letter warns of could easily be accomplished today using commonplace analog radio data service (RDS) technology combined with the digitization of FM broadcasts, but there is no evidence this is occurring. The FCC docket is also devoid of any showing linking digital radio to the unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing of music.

Hear, hear. With friends like the RIAA, musicians don't need enemies.

Thanks to Cory for the tip.

Posted by Casper at 05:44 PM | Comments (0)

May 19, 2004

Radio DJs make a difference

A useful little chart showing the impact of radio DJs on music sales.

Posted by Casper at 11:19 AM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2004

The FCC and Trusted Computing

The FCC is considering new regulations with regards to the radio spectrum and Trusted Computing. The EFF has responded, listing several reasons why it's a bad idea.

...in order for Trusted computing to effectively curtail malefactors and the merely clueless from turning their PCs into malignant emitters, it would have to restrict PC owners' ability to run software that addressed either integrated SDR devices or the components that make them up, such as DACs. The Commission did not specify exactly how Trusted Computing would do this and it is not clear whether the Trusted Computing implementations currently contemplated could serve this function in the PC environment. "Trusted Computing" should not be used as a catch-all term for "tamper-resistance", not least because the actual amount of tamper resistance included in Trusted Computing systems may vary widely.

Thanks to Cory for the tip.

Posted by Casper at 03:25 PM | Comments (0)

April 29, 2004

Sayonara, Bob Edwards

Bob, we'll miss you.

Posted by Casper at 02:52 PM | Comments (0)

April 21, 2004

A thought about indecency regulations

Stuart Benjamin has a few things to say about the FCC and indecency.

The House has passed legislation that increases the maximum monetary penalty to $500,000 for each violation and that provides for revoking the license of broadcasters who are penalized three times. Other legislation would (to the delight of George Carlin) define the statutory term “profane” to include any form of eight objectionable words. ...

The bottom line for broadcasters is that they are much more likely to be penalized, and that the penalties will probably be more severe – and as a result a judicial challenge is more likely.

In recent years broadcasters have refrained from bringing judicial challenges to the regulation of broadcast indecency precisely because the fines were small, and rare, enough that broadcasters decided it was not worth the costs of antagonizing the FCC and Congress. Now, with heavy fines (and maybe even license revocation) on the line, broadcasters are more likely to do so. Indeed, that process began yesterday, when both NBC and a coalition of media groups filed petitions asking the FCC to reverse its decision. It looks like those groups are girding for a judicial challenge to the indecency regulations.

This is significant, because the Supreme Court probably would – and in my view should – find these indecency regulations unconstitutional. With respect to newspapers and magazines, telephones, and cable television, the Supreme Court has held that the government may not reduce the adult population to viewing only what is fit for children. As the Supreme Court noted in the 2000 Playboy case on cable indecency, a core principle of the First Amendment is that "The citizen is entitled to seek out or reject certain ideas or influences without Government influence or control."

Posted by Casper at 10:56 AM | Comments (0)

April 01, 2004

FCC uneasy about fines

The FCC seems to be having some second thoughts about the new fine structure.

"I understand it," [Michael] Powell [Chairman of the FCC] said, referring to Congress' desire to make performers pay. "But I have some reservations with the FCC going after performers."

Powell said artists have always enjoyed protection under the First Amendment governing free speech and slamming them with large fines would be "a very touchy area for the FCC."

Thanks to Jesse for the tip.

Posted by Casper at 03:41 PM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2004

Really; it's because they wanted it

The NY Times is reporting that the NPR stations were actually the ones behind getting Bob Edwards reassigned.

Posted by Casper at 01:44 PM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2004

Bob Edwards leaving NPR

NPR is, oh how did they put it, "evolving" the sound of their morning show. They are doing this by pulling Bob Edwards -- who has been there for a little over 25 years -- off the anchor slot and into a "senior correspondent" position.

Posted by Casper at 12:59 PM | Comments (0)

March 19, 2004

FCC reverses itself on Bono

The FCC has decided that it will pursue Bono for saying the "F" word on TV.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) overruled its staff and said an expletive uttered by rock singer Bono during an awards show acceptance speech on NBC was both indecent and profane. It marked the first time that the FCC cited a four-letter word as profane; the commission previously equated profanity with language challenging God's divinity.

Posted by Casper at 01:17 PM | Comments (0)

March 17, 2004

The changing business of radio

Here's an interesting article on the state of radio these days.

When you tune in to radio today, at best you’ll listen to a live DJ reading song lists off of a computer monitor, at worst you’ll listen to a recording of a DJ reading song lists off of a computer.

The creation of computerized programming and voice tracking technology made live radio obsolete. A music director picks the songs, a technician programs them into a computer, and a DJ comes into the studio, looks at a computer screen, sees the song list, and records—or voice tracks—the talking breaks into the computer. It might take half an hour or less to voice-track a four-hour show, which can be run at a later time. The computer inserts the commercials as well.

I can recall my days as a DJ. This fits with what I remember as being the direction of the industry, and it goes a long way towards explaining why most radio stations have a depressing sameness to them (right now, Evanescence's My Immortal will be playing on at least one or two DC radio stations pretty much any time of day).

Thanks to Bat Boy for the tip.

Posted by Casper at 11:30 AM | Comments (0)

March 16, 2004

Tsing Loh responds

Sandra Tsing Loh responds both to her firing and to KCRW's attempt to rehire her. If you wanted to get a feel for the kind of material she did, this is a good article to read.

Posted by Casper at 12:17 AM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2004

FCC fines DC 101's Elliot In The Morning

DC 101's Elliot In The Morning is to be fined $247,500 for indecency. However, they will not be the first to receive the latest and greatest FCC fines. According to the press release from the FCC,

The material at issue was aired in connection with the “Elliot in the Morning” program on Stations WWDC(FM), Washington, D.C., WRXL(FM), Richmond, Virginia, and WOSC(FM), Bethany Beach, Delaware. The Commission proposed the statutory maximum forfeiture of $27,500 for each of nine apparent indecency violations.

The Commission found nine apparent indecency violations that involved graphic and explicit sexual material, and were designed to pander to, titillate and shock listeners. The Commission proposed the statutory maximum forfeiture amount because of Clear Channel’s history of violations relating to the broadcast of indecent material.

What did they say, you might be asking? It seems they were talking about Ron Jeremy (who apparently turned 50 recently). In the conversation, they took a quote from a documentary movie about Jeremy. The conversation is between Elliot, the host and Dianne, the news girl for the show.

Diane's Voice: Finally porn legend Ron Jeremy is hitting the half century mark.

Elliot's Voice: Oh, Happy Birthday Ron.

Diane's Voice: 50 years old today. Despite turning 50, Ron Jeremy says he's still going strong in the sack and continues to film sex scenes without needing Viagra. He credits his good health to avoiding drugs for all these years. And I figured what a better time than now to play Craig's interview with one Ron Jeremy fan.

Female Voice: I masturbate with Jeremy's video every day. Uh, not every day, but every other weekend.

Craig's Voice: Wow. What is it that you like about him so much?

Female Voice: The way he licks pussy. I want to do a threesome with him. See who's the best. If I can lick better or he can lick better.

Diane's Voice: She is a looker.

Elliot's Voice: Hot. Got a great dental plan in her office.

Note that nowhere do any of the forbidden seven words appear.

The FCC is not only talking about fining Elliot (and the stations that did the broadcast), they are also talking about possibly revoking their broadcast license.

Posted by Casper at 12:01 AM | Comments (1)

March 12, 2004

Indecency fines increasing

If someone were to utter one of the seven words, it can cost them up to half a million dollars. As one of the more recent finees (is that even a word?) of the FCC has noted, the future lies in satellite radio.

-- Update --
And, on this note, Howard Stern has threatened (promised?) to quit if Bush signs these new fines in to law. We can only hope he's serious.

Posted by Casper at 11:20 AM | Comments (0)

March 05, 2004

NPR commentator fired for obscenity

Sandra Tsing Loh (known for her "The Loh Down" stints on Marketplace) has been summarily dismissed from her job at KCRW. During one of her monologues, she was talking about her husband (who is currently touring with Bette Midler):

"My husband, my soul mate, my ROOMMATE of 15 years -- he sleeps LATE, doesn't LISTEN, moves my STUFF around. But he DOES play guitar for Bette Midler on her MASSIVE new STAGE show. There are times he STANDS within five FEET of her!," the script read. "So I guess I have to fuck him."

Although the quirky, uneven cadence of Loh's delivery makes it appear that the segments materialize in her mind as she walks into the recording studio, they are carefully scripted, she told Reuters.

"We discussed it and (the engineer) said, 'Say it and I'll bleep it out," Loh said.

The sound engineer was supposed to bleep the particular word out, but he didn't (for whatever reason). And, for this, Ms. Loh was canned.

"It is the equivalent of the Janet Jackson (news) performance piece and there is not a radio or TV programmer today who does not understand the seriousness involved to the station," Seymour [the general manager of KCRW] said, referring to the now infamous breast-baring halftime show for the Feb. 1 Super Bowl.

Is it just me, or does this strike anyone else as just a little bit of an overreaction?

-- Update --
For those who want a more legal POV on this one, check out what Eugene has to say...

Posted by Casper at 12:42 PM | Comments (0)

February 27, 2004

Howard Stern booted

For those who have not heard this, Howard Stern has been tossed off of Clear Channel's stations.

This is pretty much a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Stern was only on six of CC's stations, and he just happened to be dropped as the CEO of clear channel heads up to Congress to testify about indecency.

As far as indecency goes, if you don't like it, just turn it off. It's like the guy who got Bubba the Love Sponge thrown off the air in Florida -- he was so offened by what he heard that he listened for hours. 'Please stop me before I sin again.'

Posted by Casper at 12:08 PM | Comments (0)

February 01, 2004

Clear Channel gets fined

Clear Channel, the nation's largest radio chain, has been fined $755,000 dollars for indecency. Apparently, some of the stations in the chain's family aired Bubba The Love Sponge a few times, totalling up to twenty-six times altogether. The FCC issued the maximum fine ($27,500) for each pop and then added $40,000 on top "because [Clear Channel] failed to keep proper records of the possible violations". And yes, the amount of the fine is a record.

Having not heard the actual violation itself, I can't really speak to it. I have, however, found a description of the particular transgression:

In the July 19 broadcast, skits in which Bubba show members imitated cartoon characters and discussed drugs and sex were inserted between Cartoon Network advertisements. In one instance, a cast member portraying George Jetson began by saying he no longer needed Viagra because he got a "Spacely Sprocket (bleep)ck ring." Another bit featured a show member imitating the voice of cartoon character Alvin The Chipmunk, in which "Alvin" complained that he hadn't "been laid in almost six weeks." Another chipmunk responded that the problem was due to the "f(bleep)cking pussy music we play" and sang a "kick ass" song directing a "filthy chipmunk-whore" to "suck on my [inaudible] chipmunk (bleep)s." The FCC determined that all seven segments reviewed for indecency "unquestionably involved on-air discussions relating to descriptions or depictions of sexual organs, excretory organs and/or activities of a sexual nature. The broadcasts involved conversations about such things as oral sex, penises, testicles, masturbation, intercourse, orgasms and breasts."

It seems, though, that Bubba is attempting to out-Stern Stern. By focusing on strippers and sex, the lowest-common denominator theory of radio will pretty much guarantee him an audience.

My general response to this kind of protest is to tell people that if you don't like what you hear (or are offended by it or whatever), then turn it off. The Supreme Court has carved out an exception in the 1st Ammendment to allow some supression of free speech via radio because

"Broadcast mediums (TV, radio) are uniquely pervasive presence in our lives – hard to avoid and easy to accidentally come upon harmful material, and uniquely accessible to children...There is (was) a limited spectrum of radio/TV frequencies and gov’t was justified in monitoring/regulating this spectrum"

--FCC v Pacifica(1978)

That particular exception does not seem all that compelling to me, though; if you happen to turn on the radio and something comes on that you are not expecting (no matter how vile), you can always change the station or just turn it off. But that's just me.

Posted by Casper at 02:37 PM | Comments (0)