Jon Elliott claimed on his show last night, which originates from the studios of KLSD in San Diego, that things are looking up for that station, which has been rumored to be considering a flip to a sports format. Evidently, Monday's rally must have been effective.
In the midst of all this and other format flips on their progressive talk stations, Clear Channel Communications itself has taken a lot of heat, some deserved and some not. Many see this as some sort of conspiracy to remove the format from the nation's airwaves, and point to the political lean of the Mays family, founders of the company.
But it's never that simple. Over time, I've found that in the radio industry, politics often takes a backseat to pure commerce. Meaning, they don't really care what's on the air, so long as it pads the bottom line and takes next to no overhead to keep it running. How else to explain Entercom Communications, the fourth largest radio group in the United States? Now here's a major radio station owner that, ironically, actually donates heavily to Democrats. In a simplistic form of thinking, one would think progressive talk would be a slam dunk for some of their struggling AM stations. So, how have they been doing thus far in this regard? The first Entercom station to pick up the format was WROC in Rochester, NY. After three years, the station is doing modestly, given its AM dial position and rather weak signal. From there, Entercom stations in New Orleans, Sacramento, Buffalo and Memphis picked up the format.
Flash forward to 2007. WROC has been climbing in the ratings. WWKB in Buffalo occasionally does well, in spite of how badly neglected the station is. And progressive talk has been dropped in New Orleans and Sacramento. The format seems to be badly neglected in Buffalo. And now, rumors are swirling in Memphis, where it looks like WSMB (680AM) may soon flip to sports. At least that's the rumor coming out of there, as salespeople are allegedly breaking this news to their clients.
Needless to say, this doesn't sound surprising. WSMB (formerly WWTQ until they grabbed the current call letters from their defunct New Orleans progressive talker) is blessed with an amazing signal (10,000 watts day at a very low spot on the dial), rare for a progressive talk station. But they had to go and screw it all up by doing a rather half-assed job of programming and promoting it. Until today, I didn't even realize that they have rolled out a new website for the station. For a long time, it was the same old tired WWTQ site that prominently featured relics of the past such as Jerry Springer, Al Franken and Janeane Garafalo. Not very up-to-date, is it? And that's another thing. While progressive talk stations around the country have experienced some sort of success with a mix of shows from various syndicators, and even some local programming, WSMB couldn't even be bothered to program their computers to flip a satellite switch! That's right - they carry the straight Air America Radio feed. Meaning no Stephanie, no Big Eddie, no local talk. Nothing that can help a station boost their numbers and draw potential advertisers. To be fair, though, they did carry a local morning show at one time, but it was universally hated by everyone.
Keep in mind that, like at Clear Channel, format decisions for stations are made mostly at the local level. One look at the vast differences of the various stations easily prove that. WROC has been pretty aggressive, have a fairly good mix of programming, and are currently getting the best ratings the weak AM signal could possibly hope to get. Meaning that the people there are at least doing something. Not sure the same could be said about their other progressive talk stations, certainly not WSMB.
Granted, the station did add some other programming. But that programming consisted of St. Louis Cardinals games and University of Tennessee sports. It's true that locally-oriented sports programming does pull in the bucks. Even high school football on the radio can rake in a ton of loot. So when this stuff pops up on progressive talk stations, I often give it a pass. Hey, if this stuff is good enough for conservotalk stations (and many of them have sports contracts that often contribute the bulk of station revenues), then it's good enough for the liberal talk outlets.
Given the amount of neglect that progressive talk has gotten on this signal, and the increased emphasis on sports programming, it should be no surprise that liberal talk will likely soon be leaving the Memphis airwaves. And no, it's not because nobody wants to listen to it, as this ignorant pinhead seems to think. I chalk this one up to neglect. The progressive talk format is only as strong as the stations that carry it. And when it's viewed as merely cheap, latchkey programming, well, how well is that going to turn out? Weak promotion (except for a billboard or two a long time ago and some bumper stickers), poor ad sales efforts, uninspiring programming choices, and perhaps the ugliest logo in the radio industry. What aggravates me is that WSMB had so much potential, even in a market like Memphis. This station has been badly neglected.
Yes, Entercom really screwed the pooch on this one. Let's hope they know how to do sports.
UPDATE: And it looks like it's been confirmed. According to AllAccess, Entercom Memphis announced this afternoon that WSMB will become FOX Sports 680 on Saturday evening (9/1), immediately following the Cardinals/Reds game. They will carry the FOX Sports feed most of the time, save for the 11A-2P shift weekdays, Saturday mornings and whenever they run local play by play.
Friday, August 31, 2007
Jon Elliott claimed on his show last night, which originates from the studios of KLSD in San Diego, that things are looking up for that station, which has been rumored to be considering a flip to a sports format. Evidently, Monday's rally must have been effective.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
It was an ambitious project, but one that obviously faced an uphill climb.
Yesterday, The Washington Post and Bonneville International, owner of the three radio stations that make up "Washington Post Radio" (WTWP-FM 107.7FM, WTWP 1500AM, WTWT 820AM and a translator at 104.3FM) announced they were going their separate ways, terminating a partnership set up to create an "NPR on caffeine" all-news and talk format on the already over-saturated local airwaves. They are also the flagship station for Washington Nationals baseball.
So, out goes WTWP, in comes WWWT, or "3WT" and a new format consisting of inexpensive bartered talk shows. Stuff like Neal Boortz, Bill O'Reilly (recently dumped from WJFK), Glen Beck, Phil Hendrie and Stephanie Miller. The station's slogan will be "Left, Right, and Whatever We Want." Tony Kornheiser's show, when actually on, will be a holdover from WTWP. The changes commence September 20.
Whoa, wait - Stephanie Miller? Um, isn't she already on liberal talker WWRC (1260AM)? Actually, yes. So, what does this mean for WWRC, the lowly-rated, weak signalled progressive talker? Is WYD/Jones MediaAmerica looking to move her to a station people can actually pick up? Or is Clear Channel shopping for a replacement format for 1260AM (as if anything else has a chance of getting ratings on this frequency)?
So, what's the deal with WWRC? One would think liberal talk would be a slam dunk hit in the nation's capitol, which consistently votes for Democrats in ridiculously high numbers. Well, it's not that simple. Never is. First off, the Washington, DC metro area is heavily packed with news and talk stations. Clearly out in front ratings-wise is public radio outlet WAMU. Bonneville's all-news station, WTOP (103.5FM and 103.9FM), is also often found near the top of the heap. The 50,000 watt conservotalker WMAL is a bit further down. Reformed Free FM shock jock station WJFK-FM is next, and Pacifica's WPFW is not far behind that (yes, a Pacifica outlet is one of the top talk stations in town). Then there's WTWP.
And then there's the rest. WTNT is WWRC's low-rated conservotalk sister station. WWRC usually shows up in the lower rungs of the ratings charts from time to time. Then there are the real bottom-feeders, stations that don't show up in the ratings at all. These include wonky Federal News Radio (WFED), urban talker WOL, talk/standards hybrid WMET, and non-commercial C-Span feeder WCSP. In addition, there's two all-sports stations (one simulcasts on three signals) that get crappy ratings. Not to mention many talk-oriented morning shows on FM music stations.
Now, that's a lot of talk! Especially in a market that's predominantly African-American. Of the top five stations in the market, four carry urban contemporary formats. Needless to say, there are way too many talk stations, in a market that doesn't much care for them. One would think hip-hop would be an easier sell.
Considering that news/talk is a slow-growth format that demands a long-term commitment, Washington Post Radio had a steep uphill climb ahead of it. Any talk station, whether it be all-news, sports talk, liberal talk and yes, even conservotalk, need a long, long time to establish themselves. Music formats such as rock or country can often explode right out of the gate. Not so with talk. In addition, a live and local format, such as the one being done by WTWP, is insanely expensive and has high amounts of overhead, including many, many staffers. Piped-in syndicated talk formats, though, are very cheap, since it's all bartered programming.
So, back to the Stephanie Miller/WWRC connection. Miller has been confirmed for the new 3WT. Likely, her show will be delayed to the evening hours, as opposed to her live WWRC slot. What does this all mean for WWRC? They carry the other two Jones progressive talk shows, Bill Press and Ed Schultz. The rest is filled with Air America Radio programming. And then there's those business talk shows. Yes, business talk. And it's slapped up on the station in the sloppiest of fashions, as brokered infomercials often clutter the weekday schedule at random times, often in prime drive time slots. Well, no wonder why their ratings suck!
In addition, many have complained about the station's rather weak signal, licensed for 5000 watts but probably putting out the equivalent of far less. The station barely gets out of the metro area. Various formats over the past few decades have been tried, everything from elevator music to business talk to sports. All have failed. A far cry from 1963, when they were the first station in America to play "I Want To Hold Your Hand."
So again, what is the fate of WWRC? Did they swing some sort of deal to carry Miller along with 3WT? Is she being replaced with Lionel? Who knows? Is Clear Channel going to pull the plug? What else are they going to put on that graveyard signal? Progressive talk is probably their best shot at any success. They're already doing sports on another signal.
But Stephanie Miller? On a Bonneville station? Aren't they that Mormon outfit out of Salt Lake City? Bonneville International, is in fact owned by the LDS Church (aka the Mormons). They are a secular broadcaster that owns roughly 30 or so stations across the country. They are also known for rather staid, plain and safe formats. Stuff like adult contemporary, country, sports and oldies. In other words, bland, non-offensive radio, save for one or two conservotalk stations. How safe? Last year, they sold hard-rockin' WLUP in Chicago, with most speculating that it was partly because the station's long-time format didn't jibe with the laid-back Mormon lifestyle.
Stephanie Miller on a Mormon station? Should be interesting. Especially when she rips into Mitt Romney.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
All too often, there are some smaller stories worth mentioning, but not enough to really fill a whole article. So here's a few "Quick Hits":
Air America Radio's Thom Hartmann gets the C-Span treatment this Friday (August 31) from noon to 3PM ET.
Should I spoil it for those who haven't checked their TiVos yet? Well, you can still catch bits and pieces at YouTube, including the 'Worst Person In The World' and another segment.
Yesterday's early morning rally outside of Clear Channel's San Diego complex was deemed by many to be a success, as a crowd of roughly 500 people showed up to fight for their favorite station.
In addition, almost 1,200 people have signed a petition calling on Clear Channel to keep KLSD’s progressive talk format. Clear Channel executives have also been deluged with thousands of e-mails, virtually all in favor of keeping the format, rumored to be replaced, on the San Diego airwaves. Program director Cliff Albert, just returning from a vacation, came home to 847 emails in his inbox, all supportive of the format.
Morning host Stacy Taylor greeted the protesters on-air (audio here, here and here), and also played host to others, such as Air America Radio/KLSD host Jon Elliott, KTLK's Bree Walker, local politicians and others. The promotions department of the station itself even set up a tent in the parking lot. Albert himself even addressed the crowd, trying to explain what was happening.
“Clear Channel has no agenda to shut down progressive voices,” Albert said at the rally. Albert was the one who brought the format to KLSD in 2004 and even chose the call letters, both of which he said he is proud of. According to station insiders, consideration of a format change is motivated solely by fallen ratings in the recent Arbitron book and concerns over advertising dollars. No decision has been made about the fate of the station.
Other station insiders disagree, as at least one has claimed that its three year old progressive talk format has always met or exceeded its revenue goals. Ratings, save for the last fluke book, have been about as good as can be expected for a small AM station in a heavily radioed market. Taylor claimed on his show last Friday that a recent market survey showed that KLSD's listeners are more affluent than any other station in town.
So, who's behind all these rumors anyways? And where did they come from? That seems to be the million dollar question, and nobody's providing any answers. Taylor, who has devoted a large amount of time to KLSD's fate on the air, claims that many people in the building are supportive of the format, including office personnel, promotions, people at sister stations and even the sales department.
A domain name, xtrasports1360.com, was reserved by a station employee, Mike Costa, who appears as a sideline reporter and sports commentator on sister station KOGO's play-by-play coverage. This is likely where the rumors started. Granted, a domain name can be registered for as little as the amount of a pack of cigarettes. The name also makes no sense, as the "Xtra Sports" moniker, utilized when the format was carried on XETRA (690AM) is no longer used by Clear Channel in Southern California. Why revive it, especially since XETRA (no longer run by Clear Channel) still exists, albeit under a Spanish language news format?
Some fingers are pointing at the building's upper management. The general manager of KLSD and sister station KOGO is reportedly rather conservative, and dislikes KLSD's format. The general sales manager is a bottom-line guy who likes selling sports formats.
And, of course, many fingers are pointing east, to San Antonio, Clear Channel's corporate home. All involved in the situation deny that any directive has been sent from head office to ditch progressive talk. And with Clear Channel struggling to gain government approval of their proposed effort to sell the company to Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners and go private, it is highly unlikely the company would do anything to attract more controversy to their programming practices. In recent format flips from progressive talks, there are no signs whatsoever that the directive came from San Antonio. Those decisions seem to have been made at the local or regional level (Clear Channel's corporate structure is very, very complicated).
So, the bottom line is this: Who is making the decision to axe KLSD? Is the flip going to happen (everyone involved claims that no final decision has been made)? And finally, will the grassroots effort work? So far, things are looking somewhat positive. The outcry so far has rivaled or even exceeded the backlash that WXXM in Madison received when they tried to install a sports talk format. And we all remember what eventually happened there.
So for now, concerned listeners can sign the petition to save the format, visit saveklsd.com, NonStopRadio.com or their Yahoo! group. And most of all, support the station's many advertisers, who are really the voice that station management listens to. After all, money talks.
KLSD has more about the rally, including photos and even video on their website. Also read the excellent article at Brad Blog.
Monday, August 27, 2007
I'll follow-up on the KLSD rally and some other stories soon, but in the meantime, here's something I'd like to share with all of you.
Quite often, many have asked me about LTR promotional banners for their website or blog. I have conjured up many different prototypes, but just haven't been able to settle on any that I was satisfied with.
Besides, I would have to come up with many different sizes, as well as enough web server space to host these. It could work on a small blog, but let's say a high traffic site such as Daily Kos decides to slap one up. Now we're talking massive bandwidth!
In addition, I experimented with those java-based headlines boxes, but wasn't very impressed with them. I was always holding out for something better. Now, it looks like that something better has arrived.
As of this moment, LTR is available in widget form for your very own blog or website. This cute little thingy, as shown on the right (click to enlarge to actual size) displays the most recent headlines from LTR, along with a paragraph or two of the most recent headlines. Thanks to the wonderful folks at Widgetbox for the capability to do this.
If you'd like to put the latest LTR headlines on your blog, without having to use any of your own server space (save for the code), you can proceed from this link. From here, you can customize how it is displayed, by choosing either a vertical (narrow) or horizontal (wide) layout. You can also customize colors and whether or not you would like only headlines or headlines plus article excerpt (the default).
It's better than a boring ol' banner. This game actually moves as you play (I always wanted to quote a song from L.A.'s coolest punk rock band, X, on here). Hey, it's live - what more can you say?
The widget is available in either java or flash (for MySpace profiles, etc.) here.
UPDATE: I changed the default color a bit, with a black background. I think it really pops. If you put it on your site, blog or MySpace/Facebook/Live Journal page, please drop me a line with the URL. I'd love to know where it is, and I may even link to you. Thanks.
Friday, August 24, 2007
The big rumor this past week has been about KLSD in San Diego. Several sources, including this here very blog, reported earlier this week that Clear Channel was about to flip KLSD to another format, most likely sports. The outcry and avalanche of emails evidently led the station to make a statement, which they did via a big red banner on the front page of their website:
RUMORS ON AIR AMERICA YES, there are rumours flying about KLSD changing format. And while various options are under consideration, we also want the progressive voice to remain heard in San Diego. Stay tuned and we will keep you informed. Thanks for listening and supporting KLSD.
Continuing on a second page, they add:
Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to voice your thoughts and opinions.
SDRadio.net says it's a done deal, but that Clear Channel is looking for a way to keep the progressive talk programming on in the San Diego market. The format flip would likely occur at the beginning of the SDSU Aztecs football season, which kicks off September 8. But again, this is one person's word, so it is what it is.
In addition, the station recently applied with the FCC to move the transmitter to Santee, CA and increase the power to a highly directional 50,000 watts day and night signal. This likely won't expand the listening area, but it should clear up the signal within the market.
With the rumored format change of KLSD, the station's faithful listeners have quickly jumped to persuade station management to keep the station as it is. One person has already purchased the domain name saveklsd.com and a rally is planned for Monday August 27, outside Clear Channel's San Diego complex. A Yahoo! Group has also been set up.
So, if Clear Channel is indeed giving KLSD's progressive talk format the boot, where will it go? Station management is still gauging interest in the format, and have half-heartedly claimed that they want the format to remain in San Diego. But where will it show up? KOGO, home to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura and local talker Roger Hedgecock is the only other AM station that they own. FM is likely not an option.
Only a few years ago, Clear Channel controlled nearly half the signals in the market, since they owned the 'programming rights' to several stations (i.e. the ones that start with an 'X') across the border in Tijuana and Rosarito (the Mexican government does not allow straight physical ownership of their broadcast properties by foreign entities, but license holders in border towns often lease their stations to American interests). The FCC forced them to pare down when they started considering the Mexican stations to be included in the legal limit for market ownership, so Clear Channel sold their leases to other parties, some of whom, such as Finest City Broadcasting, are still closely aligned with Clear Channel. They could be trying to swing a deal with a company leasing one of these signals to keep the format going.
Could progressive talk wind up on a Mexican station? It's not without precedent. XEPE (1700AM) in Tijuana recently flipped to a talk format that carries a mix of local hosts, business talk and conservatives such as Dennis Miller, Michael Reagan, Neal Boortz and Lars Larson. So there's nothing subversive about American political talk on one of those 'X' stations. Who knows? XEPE could even flip to progressive talk, if they're desperate enough to get ratings. As they say, anything can happen in radio.
Another possibility for Clear Channel to 'keep' the progressive talk format going would be via an HD Radio subchannel on one of their FM stations, in essence offering a straight feed of Air America Radio. It's not without precedent, as KYTI in Sheridan, WY does this. But seeing as HD Radio is not very widespread in the marketplace as of yet (there's hardly any equipment available to listen!) and listenership currently is equivalent to the number of people listening to FM radio in 1953, a move such as this could be seen as a slap in the face to the station's listeners. Besides, I doubt Air America or any other syndicator would go for it.
Seeing as KLSD has gotten, for the most part, pretty good ratings in its three year life, no doubt there could be an interested party that could pick up the programming. After all, when's the last time XEPE, XESURF, KCEO or KFSD showed up in the ratings books?
Speaking of ratings, while this is often not a factor in selling a sports format, does Clear Channel really expect any kind of success with yet another sports station in the market? The company fizzled with the format on the powerful signal of XETRA (690 AM) until a few years ago. Since then, a smaller company has succeeded with the AM/FM simulcast of XEPRS (1090 AM) and XHBCE (105.7FM), a.k.a. "XX Sports Radio." XESPN (800AM) carries the straight ESPN feed. So, what's left for a sports-formatted 1360AM? In order to take on XX Sports, they've got to be locally-oriented. But that costs a ton of money, and takes a long time to establish. Likely, they'll pipe in their Los Angeles station, KLAC (570AM), as they have already reserved the domain name xtrasports1360.com (though KLAC no longer uses the "Xtra Sports" moniker). But this approach didn't work when they tried it several years ago on 690AM. And KLAC already gets crummy ratings in its home market. And if they opt to merely simulcast the KLAC feed, they would have to work around Jim Rome and FOX Sports Radio, since XX Sports already has the San Diego rights to those.
Another possibility is that this could all be a ruse. Clear Channel is vaguely acknowledging rumors about a change in format for KLSD. The "Xtra Sports" domain makes little sense, as the name is no longer being used by the company. What we do know is that KLSD, coming off some pretty impressive ratings books (as high as over a 2.0 share, impressive at least for a small AM station), though they dropped all the way down to 0.9 share overall in the Spring Arbitron book in what could be considered a fluke. They even put up a 'pledge to listen' page on their site, in order to gauge interest in the station. A pretty sizable list of dedicated listeners would be pretty nice to show advertisers, don'tcha think?
So, is KLSD a goner? Who knows? Nothing is confirmed, and Clear Channel has been very vague about a future shift in direction. In the meantime, San Diego listeners can show their support in the following ways:
KLSD email support: email@example.com
Save KLSD Yahoo Group
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Last week, you read here about the 'former' KQKE in San Francisco and some online hints about their upcoming new direction. Well, it looks like 960AM is going green next week.
Already, there have been a few hints dropped so far. Earlier this month, the call letters were officially changed to KKGN. Owner Clear Channel reserved several domains, including green960.com and 960green.com. And an email sent to me by the station's promotions director teased claims of 'turning a new leaf.'
As of next Monday, August 27, the new "Green 960" will debut. The station will keep liberal talk, but will supplement it with more environmental and locally-oriented programming. Green Seed Radio, a co-production of the Green Building Exchange that currently airs on Saturday afternoons, will move to weekdays 3-4P. The local Progressive News Hour with John Scott will expand by an hour, airing from 4-6P.
With these changes comes some schedule shuffling of popular syndicated shows. Rachel Maddow, currently airing live from 3-5P, is being bumped to 9-11P. Randi Rhodes slides back down to the 6-9P shift. And Mike Malloy's show will move to late night, from 11P-2A.
Commenting on the new imaging and scheduling shift, KKGN PD Bob Agnew claimed, "This is a natural evolution for the station. We are in the most environmentally-conscientious market in the country, and our listeners have let us know the depth of their concern and their desire to be part of the solution. 'Green 960' will entertain, educate, and motivate people on the need to recycle, sustain, preserve, and protect this place we call Mother Earth."
It has been nearly a year since Mike Malloy got the axe from Air America Radio. Since then, he's rebounded with Nova M Radio and landed his show on radio stations in markets such as San Francisco, Miami, San Diego, Seattle and Chicago.
And now, Malloy has landed the mother of 'em all... KENOSHA!
Yes, Kenosha, Wisconsin. Smack dab on the border between Wisconsin and Illinois. The rough midway point between Milwaukee and Chicago. Hometown of Orson Welles, Don Ameche and the guy who invented the answering machine (Joseph Zimmerman). A town that still has streetcars (yay!). A town ranked by many as a desirable place to live. And unlike the crappy crime-infested ghetto that is it's neighbor to the north, Racine, Kenosha is indeed a nice little town.
And now, Kenosha radio listeners can stay up late and listen to Malloy on WLIP (1050AM) from midnight to 3AM.
WLIP is a little 250 watt station owned by NextMedia, a fairly decent-sized company that owns a bunch of stations around the outskirts of Chicago (Kenosha is considered part of the Chicago radio and television markets). WLIP has just flipped formats, de-emphasizing the previous solid gold oldies format while adding more talk shows.
The bad news is they're not flipping to liberal talk. It looks like Malloy is it. The good news is that, hey, at least they've got Malloy. And they're not cramming the schedule with a bunch of typical conservocrud. Currently, WLIP has a generous amount of locally-oriented programming (very generous for a low-powered AM station in a small market). They're adding a few syndicated shows as well. In addition to Malloy buried in overnights, 'Dr.' Laura will air in afternoons and Jim Bohannon will air evenings 9-midnight, if that's your cup of tea (okay, probably not).
The miniscule 1050AM frequency might not sound like much, but it does cover some populated areas. The signal basically stretches from Chicago to Milwaukee (though with static in those two cities). And they put out a city-grade signal from Racine to Waukegan, Illinois. For listeners in the northern Chicago suburbs, unhappy that the city's progressive talker WCPT (850AM) signs off at night (per FCC rules), this at least gives them some kind of alternate for after-dark listening.
Malloy's addition to the WLIP roster marks somewhat of a return to the Chicago airwaves. Years ago, he was on WLS, prior to their liberal purge. And with WCPT, his show is mostly confined to their 24/7 webstream, as they sign off early in his program.
So there you go. If you're driving I-94 between Milwaukee and Chicago in the nocturnal hours, at least you've got something to listen to. Malloy's show airs on delay from midnight to 3AM weekdays.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
And now, with apologies to Paul Harvey, is the rest of the story.
First, we start with an Air America Radio host who has evidently inspired a new movie. No, I'm not talking about Stuart Saves His Family. This one is a documentary. The 11th Hour, created, produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio. The film is an environmental film, somewhat in the spirit of last year's Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth. It features former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, physicist Stephen Hawking and others. And it was inspired by Thom Hartmann's book, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight. DiCaprio admitted this in a guest appearance on Hartmann's show last Friday (8/17).
"You really got me, as a reader, to take a step back and try to understand how this all came about and where oil is extracted from," said DiCaprio. "The light that fell on the fields was the most that humanity could use in a certain amount of time -- and when we actually started taking this ancient sunlight out of the ground was when our population exploded on this mass level... and has led us to the situation that we’re in today. So thank you for your book, truly. It made me want to take a different perspective on this documentary as far as mankind’s relationship to the planet, and the resources that we use."
For his part, Hartmann is helping to promote the film, making appearances in Los Angeles and New York for the opening weekend, as well as a planned promotional appearance in San Francisco this week. Hartmann appears in the film as well.
You can check out the trailer here.
And speaking of Air America hosts branching out into the visual media, we check in with former Majority Report co-host Janeane Garofalo, who has, ironically, been added to the cast of the slowly fading "24" on FOX this fall. The show, which is some sort of Tom Clancyesque spy yarn about civil servants yelling and sweating in high-tech control rooms while its sleepless hero beats the shit out of terrorists, is produced by Joel Surnow, a self-confessed "right-wing nut job" fresh of his fizzled unfunny comedy "The Half Hour News Hour," recently shelved by FOX News Channel. Granted, Garafalo hasn't been with Air America in well over a year (and probably longer than that), though some disturbingly obsessed souls still seem to think she's there. Go figure.
Anyhoo, the seventh season of "24" will premiere on FOX sometime this decade, possibly in January 2008.
And back to current Air America shows, as Orlando attorney John Morgan is the newest addition to Ring of Fire, joining Mike Papantonio and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Out is David Bender, who is leaving the network to work on a book.
Morgan, also a consumer advocate, entrepreneur and self-described "Democrat on strike," made his debut on the show this past weekend.
He decided the time was right to jump into radio, thinking that more people are tuning out conservative commentators. "They're saying: 'We drank the Kool-Aid. And now we're sick.'" Morgan will appear on the show, which airs Saturday afternoons from 3-6P ET, via his own radio studio in his downtown Orlando law office.
And finally, resident GM hater Ralph Nader is hopping mad once again. No, they're not bringing back the Corvair. This time, Nader is going straight to government regulators in regard to what he deems payola on the part of General Motors.
It seems that GM is lending out cars and purchasing advertising on a variety of radio shows. They've offered cars to the likes of AM radio staples such as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, 'Dr.' Laura Schlessinger and Sean Hannity. Representing the FM side of the medium are Whoopi Goldberg (yeah, she's in radio), overrated, lame-ass Dick Clark wannabe Ryan Seacrest and a few local radio personalities in Los Angeles and Dallas. And representing the left are none other than Ed Schultz (wait! I thought he was a Ford guy!) and Bill Press.
With this little offering, a fine line is being crossed. The FCC recently cracked down on the practice called ''payola,'' which involves the giving of lavish gifts from record labels to program directors to pimp their latest
piece of shit hit recordings on FM radio. In April, four of the largest U.S. radio companies agreed to pay $12.5 million to settle these claims.
So, how exactly does talk radio fit into this whole payola thing? Is it payola? Well, we are comparing apples to oranges somewhat. The recording industry was using bribery to get their music played on the radio, while GM is going after independent radio show hosts, buying advertising time, loaning them cars and encouraging them to say nice things about them. Is this wrong? On many levels, yes. But is it illegal? I guess that's what we'll soon find out. If I were a prominent radio host, would I do it? Well, um, that new Corvette is nice.
What's interesting is the role that journalism plays in all of this. O'Reilly passes himself off as one. Hannity also hosts a show on FOX Noise Channel. With most of the rest, it seems like a fine line between journalism and entertainment (which in my opinion is really what talk radio is about).
Of course, no self-respecting 'journalist' would accept a gift such as this. But these people are not really journalists. Only O'Reilly really claims to be one, so I guess this settles that matter once and for all. Regardless, is this where the line between 'journalist' and 'radio talk show host' finally ceases to blur? I won't pass final judgement just now, as this is such a grey area. I am a bit suspicious of a host accepting a free car from a manufacturer that often makes the news. There is that whole 'conflict of interest' cloud looming large over all of this. Will Schultz, for example, be torn between saying nice things about GM and commenting frankly on union issues regarding the manufacturer? Or is this all just similar to a really big advertising buy on the show? In this case, I'll report, you decide, and I'll most certainly welcome your comments below.
Fresh off signing a new four year deal in April, with the promise of increased exposure, Keith Olbermann of MSNBC's hot Countdown is getting even more exposure from parent company NBC Universal, as first reported in the New York Times and later confirmed by NBC itself.
Olbermann, coming off a July that has seen his ratings jump 88% over the previous year to become the #2 show in its time slot among cable news shows, will host a special edition of Countdown on NBC itself, leading into the Sunday Night Football NFL pre-season matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers. In addition, as previously announced, Olbermann, who is also well-know as a sports journalist and commentator, will be a permanent fixture on the Football Night In America pregame show this season.
"I'm delighted we're getting a chance to show off in a bigger storefront window," said Olbermann in the press release. "It's much better than trying to take it door-to-door. I do advise new viewers to sit well back from their screens."
The NBC edition of Countdown will air this Sunday, August 26, at 7P ET (6P CT). Right-wingers will go into convulsions soon afterward and complain about that "durned librul media," despite the fact that the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have had generous amounts of network television exposure prior to this.
Haven't we been here before?
Well, its been a while since the last rumor post here, since I'm always a bit wary of these, and have been burned a few times as well. Nonetheless, here's a new one to chew on. And it concerns one of the biggest success stories in the liberal talk format. And hopefully, by getting this out in the open, perhaps some light will be shed on this whole speculation.
Industry trade news site AllAccess is forwarding this little tidbit from San Diego, via sdradio.net's Chris Carmichael, who noticed that Clear Channel's Mike Costa, a local sports radio gadfly, has registered the domain xtrasports1360.com as of August 8th. The '1360' part of that is also the frequency for radio station KLSD.
Costa is currently employed by Clear Channel, and will do sideline reporting for sister station KOGO's coverage of San Diego State Aztecs football this Fall. Previously, he's done time at virtually every sports station that has ever existed in San Diego.
Carmichael is teasing a potential flip on Radio Info, going so far as to hint at new call letters, KXTR. Only problem is, a check of the FCC call sign database shows that the KXTR calls reside on an Entercom-owned AM station in Kansas City.
So far, this all sounds like merely a rumor. David Tanny at San Diego Radio News is a bit skeptical, given that the two other sports stations in town aren't really setting the world on fire. Meanwhile KLSD has been doing well with liberal talk, getting the best ratings the signal's gotten with various other past formats, though they took an unusual drastic slide in the most recent ratings report, dropping from 2.2 to 0.9 overall. With such a slide, which seems like a fluke to me, no doubt will there be rumors flying.
Save for the most recent book, KLSD has done well with the format, getting its best ratings since the 80s. The station has also helped to spawn local talent, such as Air America Radio's Jon Elliott and frequent fill-in Stacy Taylor.
So, does San Diego, or Souther California really need yet another sports talk station? Sure, XEPRS does well with its mostly local approach, while XESPN (airing, obviously, the ESPN feed) and two stations from L.A. that are listenable in the market - Clear Channel-owned KLAC (XTRA Sports 570, which 1360 would likely copy) and KSPN, another ESPN outlet. Of course, both of those stations get lousy ratings in their home market.
Clear Channel has tried sports in San Diego in the past. In fact, they did the L.A./San Diego combo before, with XETRA (690AM) and the former KXTA (now KTLK). Both stations did rather poorly in the ratings, even with XETRA's monster signal that reaches all the way up to Los Angeles. They dropped the San Diego part when they were forced to end their marketing agreement with XETRA, and moved the Los Angeles sports format to KLAC. Following that move, XEPRS picked up Jim Rome and FOX Sports Radio from Clear Channel's syndication arm, Premiere Radio Networks.
Reach KLSD's Cliff Albert here.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Eco-consciousness is a big buzzword these days, as many of us have become more aware of our surroundings. Suddenly, we've become more concerned about melting glaciers, smog, landfills, the air we breath and our lakes and rivers.
And we most certainly see it at the gas pumps. Notice how many Toyota Prius hybrid cars are on the road these days?
Needless to say, the environment is slowly bringing us all together, save for conservative flacks who think this is all some twisted plot by Al Gore. Some wiser conservatives are actually reverting to the old Barry Goldwater ethic of protecting our surroundings. Even religious groups are starting to bring the issue to the forefront, as they move away from the old divisive Jerry Falwell-style nonsense.
Well, with this newfound environmental awareness that has thankfully entered our daily lives, it was only inevitable that radio enter the picture. And what better place than in eco-friendly San Francisco? On a progressive talk station?
RadioInsight.com is reporting that KQKE (960AM) is undergoing an image makeover. That's right, they're going green.
Look for new imaging, new graphics and even a new call sign, KKGN, which the station flipped to on Monday. Additionally, a number of domain names, such as green960.com and 960green.com have been registered by Clear Channel this week.
Now, keep in mind, The Quake is not just installing a new marketing gimmick. They're pretty tuned-in to the local community, going so far as to carry blocks of environmentally-oriented programming on the weekends, as well as a 'green' page on their website.
The station's promotions director, in an email response, is even claiming that they "will be 'turning a new leaf' by the end of this month." So far, there's no other information available. I tried to get a pic of the new station logo, going so far as to sthreaten to post either the Boston Celtics logo or a picture of an avocado on this article. He was against the Celtics idea, and quite frankly, after the Kevin Garnett trade a few weeks ago (I'm a Timberwolves fan), so was I.
To be fair, the new KKGN is not the first station to tie in a 'global' theme to their imaging. CBS Radio's WTGB (94.7 The Globe) in Washington, DC has them beat by a few months. But this could be the start of the 'greening' of radio.
Oh, and I'm posting the avocado pic. Hey, it's green, right?
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Fans of the old DC Comics books may be familiar with a character named Bizarro. He's a strange cat, who's persona is that of being the exact reverse of the world around him, most notably arch-nemesis Superman.
Bizarro comes from a planet called Htrae (spell it backward), which is worth mentioning in that it is cube-shaped. It is often referred to as Bizarro World. Everything there is opposite of Earth. Ugly is beautiful, beautiful is ugly. Black is white, white is black. You get the idea. Basically, everything in Bizarro World is the opposite of reality.
The same could almost be said for FOX News Channel. One suspects that they seem to live in their own little Bizarro World, where just a little crafty spin can create a sort of artificial reality for their jaded viewers, who seem to feel out of place in the real world. A Republican does something bad? That's okay, he's branded a Democrat. Things going bad in Conservoworld? No problem, they just turn that frown upside down. Nothing a little creative spin doctoring can't clean up. The people of Bizarro World spoke in simple, nonsensical grunts. Hey, so do the people of FOX News!
I've often given FOX News a little more slack than most. I recognize them for what they are, namely a feel-good fantasy channel for crabby conservatives who feel paranoid that the alleged 'librul' media is out to brainwash them and steal their children. Right-wing fantasy porn. But let's face it, FOX Noise is only as offensive as one makes it. Besides, while they do well in the cable news subculture, they're really only watched by a small percentage of the overall viewing public. Kinda like AM talk radio. Most people could care less about cable news. And many of the people who watch it either take everything with a grain of salt or are already guzzling the proverbial powdered drink mix. This basically makes them further irrelevant. If conservatives want to live in their own little virtual reality, hey, let 'em. It's easier to poke fun at them.
In effect, FOX Noise has tried to carve out its own niche as the last resort for right-wing political wonks. And they usually have a pretty good idea of what they want. And I'll be the first to admit that they are very good at what they do, when one considers what they are in fact really doing.
Lately, they have tried to expand the FOX News brand. Take for instance their recent attempt at comedy. No, I'm not talking about Hannity and Colmes. I'm talking about their own bizarro version of Comedy Central's highly popular news parody The Daily Show, a rather weak effort that was unleashed on the public earlier this year. The Half Hour News Hour was envisioned as a more 'fair and balanced' version of Jon Stewart's show, which I imagine they felt was vulgar, subversive 'librul' fare. Well, they likely thought, what about a cheap knockoff crammed with a bunch of stale Hillary jokes?
So off to the drawing board they went. The producer is the guy who brought us "24," a rather mundane, overrated spy yarn that mostly featured civil servants standing around arguing in control rooms. To spice it up, they shot it with hand-held cameras and had the actors yell and emote a lot. News flash - Alias was better. Much better. So, the producer, Joel Surnow (also well-known as Rush Limbaugh's Dominican Republic wingman) helped craft a direct ripoff of The Daily Show and the 'Weekend Update' feature on Saturday Night Live. Unfortunately, in FOX's version of bizarro world, what's intentionally serious is often funny, and what's intended to be funny is usually far from it. The FAUX News 'comedy' show looked more like a really bad version of SNL in one of their bad years than the hilarious Jon Stewart show. It got horrible reviews. The first sketch was something about Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter being president and vice president, no doubt giving the children of America disturbing nightmares. The hosts of THHNH were bland, amateurish, dorky, plastic-looking and rather unfunny. Then again, so was the rest of the show. Hey, at least SNL's Charles Rocket dropped the F-bomb on live network TV.
The initial ratings were adequate, probably better than any of the leftover fare often found in the Sunday Night News Channel Deathslot (let's face it, the lame-ass hosts with the fake names are definitely not ready for prime time). But the show fizzled over time, and now, it's being dropped. Yesterday, FNC's programming chief Bill Shine announced that no further episodes will be produced following its current 15 episode run. They are, however, considering a revamp of the show for future use.
As I mentioned months ago, THHNH had a serious uphill climb ahead of it. First of all, conservatives are often not that funny. As stated previously here, the best topical comedy often pokes fun at the 'establishment' or 'authority.' And let's face it, you most certainly can't get anymore 'establishment' than the Republican Party, and they were basically off-limits as far as targets go. There are rare exceptions, such as P.J. O'Rourke, who also possesses a rapid-fire wit. But Dennis Miller? Come on! Oh, and did I mention Miller was a commentator on the failed FOX News comedy show? 'Nuff said.
So, the FOX Noise Comedy Half-Hour Hour or whatever it's called has been fed to the worms, though the door has been left open for reanimation sometime in the future, with a great deal of tweaking. How will it change? Probably for the worse (if it can indeed get worse). Might I make a suggestion? Perhaps instead of trying to carbon copy The Daily Show, why not start watching the even more brilliant The Colbert Report? If FAUX Noise is to resurrect their not-so-divine comedy, they need to do something radical. Namely, self-parody. Now, this is a pretty bold suggestion for a news channel as self-righteous and pompous as FNC. They'll lie, scream and cry before they let anyone diss their meal ticket, let alone do it themselves. But if there's a subject ripe for parody, it would be FOX News Channel itself. Besides, they may even gain a little respect for having the ability to poke fun at themselves, particularly from the many, many people that think they're full of shit. Why not self-mockery? Sadly, I highly doubt FNC has the humility required to pull off something so radical. But if they do, drop me an email to discuss intellectual property royalties.
So, the intended attempt at humor was discovered to be rather unfunny, and yesterday, the gang at the FOX Nuisance Channel were caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar due to an unintended humorous series of events that turned out to be downright hilarious.
Yesterday morning, the tubes of the internet were all aglow with an article at Wired.com about a new little search tool designed by CalTech grad student Virgil Griffith. This little do-hickey, called the Wikiscanner, was designed for amateur sleuths and Wikipedia addicts to find out just who these so-called 'anonymous' users are that contribute those strange edits and selective deletions.
So far, people at the headquarters of defective voting machine manufacturer Diebold have been outed for providing their own little spin on articles about them and their suspicious practices. Scientology whitewashes their articles, but we already suspected that. We also found out what the CIA is doing on there. Some evil Republican tried to spoil the ending of the new Harry Potter book. And no doubt people are scouring Wikipedia to see what people inside the U.S. Congress are editing, such as the user who added this little difference between Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. On computers owned by the Government. Yes, the skeletons were released from the closet.
Perhaps the funniest thing uncovered so far, besides the CBS staffer who changed Clinton's birthplace to 'Hot Dog, Arkansas' comes from our friends at "The most powerful name in noise." Allegedly, when they're not creating revisionist news fiction, and when their pundits aren't screaming at each other, they're being pretty ferocious online, trying to make the rest of the world look like the false reality so vividly displayed on their television property. Artur Bergman made a fascinating discovery when he uncovered what colors the gang at FOX were using to paint their own candy-coated world. Witness this little short-lived change on Al Franken's article, as the original text up to that point looked like this:
The lawsuit focused a great deal of media attention upon Franken's book and greatly enhanced its sales. Reflecting later on the lawsuit during an interview on the [[National Public Radio]] program ''[[Fresh Air]]'' on [[September 3]], [], Franken said that Fox's case against him was "literally laughed out of court" and that "wholly (holy) without merit" is a good characterization of Fox News itself.
The FOX Noise 'anonymous' user made a few changes:
The lawsuit focused a great deal of media attention upon Franken's book and greatly enhanced its sales. Reflecting later on the lawsuit during an interview on the [[National Public Radio]] program ''[[Fresh Air]]'' on [[September 3]], [], Franken said that Fox's case against him was liberal [[National Public Radio]] program ''[[Fresh Air]]'' on [[September 3]], [], Franken said that Fox's case against him was the best thing to happen to his book sales.
Unfortunately for them, this little masterpiece lasted all of eight minutes before being reverted.
And notice the slapping-on of the term 'liberal' in describing Fresh Air? Hey, at least they spelled it correctly there, as opposed to this edit. Oops!
So, who exactly is this person? Well, there is at least a little anonymity left on the net, as this person (or persons, since anyone in the building could have been making edits) is only known as 184.108.40.206. So it may be a big gun like, say Bill O'Reilly. Or it may just be some underling in a cubicle. Nonetheless, the IP number is indeed assigned to the FOX News HQ.
So, how else has .228 (since there's no first or last name, let's refer to this moniker) been attempting to 'Foxify' Wikipedia? Well, one look at the edit history assigned to the number shows some rather interesting revelations. Editing is very heavy on the articles of their high profile personalities. Witness the article on Shepard Smith, which shows an edit by .228 removing a couple bits - one about an arrest in Florida (even removing the Smoking Gun link with his mugshot) and the other about a hilarious on-air gaffe regarding the phrase 'blow job' in a story about Jennifer Lopez. Unfortunately for .228, video doesn't lie. The edits were reverted by the next day. In addition, references to Greta Van Susteren's facelift were deleted.
In addition, .228 was also trying to scrub articles on 'talents' such as Carl Cameron and Brit Hume (though, to be fair, some of the edits involve his son's alleged suicide, so best not go there). They also removed a paragraph from Chris Wallace's article that used a reference from long-time FAUX nemesis Media Matters for America.
Lots of fluff was added for the various FOX Noise comedy all-stars, but a bit of vitrol was reserved for their 'enemies list'. Keith Olbermann got slammed a bit by .228, ironic in that the network seems to disavow Olbermann's very existence. First, .228 removed a couple sentences about a well-received book Olbermann wrote about baseball coaches, one that was even recognized by the Baseball Hall of Fame. Next, .228 removed a cited source praising Olbermann. And then, .228 added a vague statement chastised a time when Olbermann, in reporting the death of Peter Jennings, told his own personal story about his battle with smoking. They also cleaned up a sentence reading, " Some conservatives feel that Olbermann's reporting carries a liberal bias" to remove the word 'some.' References to O'Reilly's infamous sexual harassment lawsuit were removed from the article. Within an hour, all these additions were reverted.
Remember that on-air gaffe by CNN that resulted in Dick Cheney's face being 'X'ed' out for a split second? That was expanded on by the fine folks at FAUX (they claim it was for 1/7 of a second rather than 1/15, if you're dying to know). Oh, the little things.
So, what is FAUX's deal anyway? Do they really think we're that stupid? Have they spent so long snookering the American public with their own brand of infotainment they really think they are living in Bizarro World, where they can fool all the people all the time on all the internet? Who knows. Will the newly revamped Half Hour News Hour bring this up? Doubtful.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
The Associated Press reports that fired radio talker Don Imus has reached a settlement with CBS over his multimillion-dollar contract and is negotiating with WABC radio to resume his broadcasting career there, according to CBS and a person familiar with the negotiations.
Imus and CBS Radio reached a settlement that would pre-empt the dismissed radio personality's threatened $120 million breach-of-contract lawsuit, CBS spokesman Dana McClintock said Tuesday.
No terms of the settlement were disclosed, although there may be a "non-disparaging" agreement that would prevent Imus from trashing his former employer on the air.
The settlement and possible comeback come more than four months after Imus created an uproar over racist and sexist comments he made. Imus, 66, was dismissed April 12 after describing the Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos" on his nationally syndicated radio program, which was also simulcast on MSNBC.
Just before his dismissal, Imus signed a five-year, $40 million contract with CBS. Famed First Amendment lawyer Martin Garbus said in May that Imus planned to sue CBS for $120 million in unpaid salary and damages.
Don't look for Imus to return to WFAN. They just named former Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason as the permanent morning replacement. And MSNBC seems to be content with whatever direction their morning show is going in. Right now, the hot rumor sees Imus going to WABC (770AM).
However, if the WABC deal falls through, at least his former boss Mel Karmazin would welcome him to Sirius.
Somebody in Houston certainly has a problem with diversity of opinion on the radio. Or perhaps they just don't like Zydeco music.
At around 1AM Monday morning, a gunman in a white car fired a shot through a Plexiglas window at Pacifica-owned KPFT (90.1FM) in Houston before cowardly speeding off into the night. Thankfully, there were no injuries, though the bullet came within 18 inches of program host Mary Thomas' head.
Ironically, the station's motto is "Radio for Peace."
KPFT ruffles quite a few feathers in Houston, not surprising as a left-leaning Pacifica outlet in one of the reddest of the red states. The station airs a variety of programming, mostly non-controversial fare such as blues, folk, world music, punk rock and various other genres of music. They also carry a great deal of news and public affairs programming, covering topics such as gay and lesbian issues, the environment, the peace movement and other subversive liberal fare that could obviously deeply penetrate the thin skins of hardcore conservatives. How thin are their skins? Soon after the station went on the air in 1970, the Ku Klux Klan dynamited the transmitter. On two separate occasions (video). They obviously hated KPFT for their freedom.
Ironically, at the time of the shooting, Thomas was playing inoffensive Zydeco music.
"I think it was purposeful," station manager Duane Bradley said. "It's highly likely that, at some point, someone may have heard something that offended them and they decided to do something about it."
KPFT, which is a fully community-supported station, had just finished a weeklong $135,000 pledge campaign prior to the shooting.
No arrests have been made in the shooting, though an obscurely-shaped gun shell was retrieved at the scene. The attack is assumed by station staffers to be politically or ideologically motivated.
Friday, August 10, 2007
For those of you wondering who on earth actually does listen to Rush Limbaugh, here's a peek at one man who does.
From Yahoo! News and The Joplin Globe:
PITTSBURG, Kan. - Steve Graham might not be in the doghouse over a dispute with his wife, but as far as his neighbors are concerned, he's not far from it. For the past seven years, Graham, 55, has been living in his car parked in the backyard of a house he and his wife, La Donna Graham, own.
Graham said the two have "been having troubles" since 1999 and that he's been out of the house since about 2000. His wife still lives in the home.
"She's not going to support me not having a job and bumming around," Graham said. "I'm trying my best to get a job and get up out of this rut."
But his neighbors, who say Graham plays loud music, often spouts obsenity-laced tirades and uses his yard as a toilet, aren't amused. They have asked the city to prohibit such living arrangements.
"You can't enjoy your backyard," said Linda Sanders, whose backyard is across the alley from Graham's property.
"Every day he's out there. He never goes into the house," Kenny Waring said. "He sleeps out there, he eats out there, he watches TV, he plays guitar. ... Everything that you do in your house, he does out there."
Graham acknowledged that he watches TV, listens to music and sometimes sleeps in his blue, 1989 Buick Century. The car is parked on a concrete slab, mostly covered by a large, blue tarp that is secured with bricks and cinder blocks.
An extension cord from the house to the car provides power for a 13-inch TV, an oscillating fan and a radio.
"I get better reception there than I do in there," he said, pointing at the house. "I listen to Rush (Limbaugh) every day, just about."
The neighbors say one of their biggest complaints is that Graham may be using his yard for a toilet.
So, there you have it. Looks like a pretty desirable demographic for
Fats Lowbrow er, Rush Limbaugh. Must be one of those 'personal responsibility' Republicans.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Okay, imagine this futuristic scenario.
The date is February 18, 2009. You wake up in the morning, pour yourself a cup of coffee and get ready for work while you flip on the telly to the Today show for your morning news fix. Only thing is, there's nothing there. Just static. Flipping furiously though the channels, you notice the same thing. No picture, no sound. Nothing but static. What happened?
It probably won't happen this way, but It's a somewhat realistic scenario for some. Particularly since there are still people out there that rely on the ubiquitous rabbit ear antenna to pull in over-the-air signals direct to their television set. This task will take on some rather profound changes in the next year and a half.
Currently, we are in the midst of a digital revolution. And a major part of this involves television. In the 1990s, the federal government laid down the path for an eventual conversion from the 60 year-old analog broadcast standard to a digital one. Yes, if all goes as planned, the analog television standard will be history come February 18, 2009. This date was set two years ago, after a couple other ill-advised set dates were changed. Gone will be the fuzzy signals, the ghost-like images, and various interference often found on the box. In its place will be crystal-clear images, sharp sound, multicast channels, widescreen dimensions and a lack of static and ghosts.
Undoubtedly, many may have noticed digital TV, often called DTV, in the world around us. From the frequent mentions of "Available in High Definition" on TV stations, to the wide array of plasma and LCD widescreen sets that have taken over the shelves of Best Buy, the digital revolution is going on right here, right now.
Yesterday marked a milestone in digital television. USA Today published an article on the front page of the Life section, laying out what's in store for television. More importantly, the FCC released the final and official list of DTV assignments for broadcast stations. Yes, many of the stations you watch are changing channels. Many of them are even going to UHF.
Again, what the hell is going on here?
Well first, an explanation of what DTV is. The FCC's page on DTV claims it to be "an advanced broadcasting technology that will transform your television viewing experience. DTV enables broadcasters to offer television with movie-quality picture and sound. It can also offer multiple programming choices, called multicasting, and interactive capabilities."
Currently, most TV stations are using two separate channels: Their long-established analog channel and a temporary one for digital broadcasting. Since UHF signals are better suited for this purpose, most digital channels can be found here, though some higher VHF channels (ch. 7-13) are also adequate for this. Lower VHF channels (ch. 2-6, a.k.a. the low FM band) are not very good for digital broadcasting, as they are prone to interference. That's why many of those stations are moving. The FCC's newly released list shows the channels that stations have opted to use once their analog signal is shut off.
So, why exactly is analog going away? Is it a plot by the federal government to force us all to subscribe to cable or buy a satellite dish? Are the lobbyists representing those industries that good? Actually, no. The U.S. is not alone in switching to digital. Most every country on earth has either converted, are in the process of converting, or have made plans to do so. Luxembourg and The Netherlands have already gone completely digital. Finland and Switzerland will follow in the next few months. And Sweden, Germany and Austria will join them next year. The U.K. has already begun the analog shutoff in various parts of the country. Many more will follow in the years ahead.
In addition, the move to DTV allows the FCC at the same time to make some long-desired adjustments to the television spectrum. A couple decades ago, the commission removed channels 70-83 from the spectrum (remember when the old UHF tuners went that high?) and reallocated that chunk of the airwaves mostly to cell phone providers, public safety, land mobile and other wireless communications concerns. Now, they'd like to get rid of channels 52-69, as they can rake in billions of dollars by selling this spectrum space for use by advanced wireless services.
With digital television and the massive channel switch to follow, this process will be rather simple. How, you ask? Well, it all boils down to something called digital channel mapping, or the concept of the 'virtual channel'. To the right is a sample list, using Chicago as an example. As you can see, WMAQ channel 5, a long-established VHF station, is currently broadcasting their digital signal on channel 29, and they have opted to move there permanantly. Even though they are already broadcasting digitally on 29, their digital channel still maps to channel 5. Therefore, WMAQ will still show up as channel 5. They'll still be found at channel 5 on the local cable systems as well. When the changeover takes place, the actual physical channel location will, in many instances, mean little to the average person. WMAQ will be 'channel 5' in name only. Just like channel 2 will still be channel 2, channel 9 will still be channel 9, and so on.
So, what does this really mean, anyways? Will my TV work in 2009, or will it just become a rather large paperweight taking up valuable living room space? Do I really have to take out a mortgage and buy one of those expensive new plasma large screen TVs? Not exactly. Sure, most sets built before two years ago are not equipped with digital tuning capabilities. They need something else. Namely a set-top box. By the end of this year, or early next year, you will see digital converter boxes available in your local retail outlet. This little black box, which will likely sell for anywhere between $50-70, will effectively do the job in pulling in these digital signals. Another option would be to purchase a newer DVR, DVD recorder or VCR (if those are still around) equipped with digital tuning. For cable and satellite subscribers, nothing to worry about, since the current set top box will work as it did before. But isn't this whole thing merely just a raw deal for poor and elderly people who can't afford cable? After all, the government is asking people to go out and spend more money for something they currently enjoy for free. Starting early next year, the FCC is making available vouchers with a value up to $40, good toward purchase of a new tuner box, but are rather vague on the details. As for the rabbit ears, they'll work just fine.
But along with the stick required of buying yet another electronic box to plug in to the TV set, comes the proverbial carrot. Digital TV offers some pretty nice advantages. First off, the stations will be clearer. Even standard definition will look better in digital. Reception may improve in many cases, as digital signals are sent out differently than analog - you either get the station or you don't. There is no in-between.
Furthermore, and this is the cool part, digital viewers will get more channels, much like HD Radio. With a digital signal, TV stations have access to quite a bit of wavelength. This can be used to broadcast in high definition with surround sound. Or it could be used for multicasting. With up to five subchannels available, stations can virtually program multiple channels. One widely-used example is NBC, which has designed a 24/7 highly customizable and localized weather service for their affiliates called "NBC Weather Plus." AccuWeather has a similar DTV service available. Public broadcasting stations, often among the first to implement new technology, make heavy use of subchannels. PBS has several services available, including an HD service, a Kids Channel, an educational channel and a network called Create, which offers a variety of lifestyle and how-to shows, including some of the best travel programming found on any type of television.
Individual stations often opt to make their own programming choices. In some smaller markets, a station may use a subchannel as an affiliate of another network (some stations have picked up the CW network affiliation to put on their subchannel). WDJT in Milwaukee and WCIU in Chicago, both co-owned, use their subchannel (58.2 and 26.2 respectively) to expand the signals of low-powered local sister stations. WOWT in Omaha established their own separate independent station, 62O, on a subchannel (6.2). And a few third party networks have struck deals to program subchannels. The Tube, which carries 24/7 music videos, is carried by many stations owned by Raycom, Tribune Broadcasting and Sinclair. Retro Television Network (RTN) is a newer network, specializing in older, classic TV shows that TV Land and others have long since ignored, and appears on a few subchannels. Even networks that most have never heard of, like America One and Omni, may find new life via subchannel carriage. Ethnic viewers may find more viewing options as networks targeting the Asian and Hispanic communities could quite possibly show up on DTV.
Okay, sounds pretty cool, you say. And you're probably thinking about just going ahead and buying a TV anyway. Well, this gets pretty confusing. Make sure whatever TV, DVR, DVD recorder, tuner box, etc. you are buying is digital ready. It doesn't have to necessarily be a high definition unit, and the cheaper ones won't be. Nonetheless, there is an abundance of new LCD flat panel models going for very reasonable prices. And they're smaller, lightweight and put out a great picture. If you happen to run across a clearance model or older tube-style TV, buy it at your own risk. Many of these may be quite old and may or may not be compatible without a tuner box. Target and Wal-Mart have just started labeling non-compliant units, and Best Buy will start soon. Make sure you know what you're buying. Ask a salesperson. And those $20 black-and-white jobs at Walgreens? The thing will be useless in a year and a half. Avoid.
So, will the DTV transition fly? Will there be riots in the streets from irate people who can't watch Judge Judy? The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) estimates that a third of the nation's households has at least one TV that pulls in signals from the sky. And more than 60% of the nation's population has no idea that big changes are in store. Likely, the February 2009 cutoff will stick this time around, as the television industry and the FCC have been making big plans for this. Hopefully, we'll all be ready.