Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mid-week roundup

As I try to wrap my head around what kinds of hallucinogenic drugs John McCain must be ingesting, it's time to catch up with some of the big stories going on in the world of media...

Wilmington gets digitized

The plug was pulled at noon Monday, as Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin and Wilmington, N.C., Mayor Bill Saffo flipped a huge, symbolic digital light switch to end full-power analog TV in the market, making the market the first to switch to all-digital broadcasting.

The symbolic move, the latest prior to the nationwide switch to digital on February 17, 2009, had all of the market's major stations pulling the plug on analog at the same time. The market's station owners all agreed on May 8 to volunteer to become a test market for the FCC, becoming the first to go all-digital.

As expected, the switch did bring in a few calls out of the estimated 13,000 local households that receive broadcasts via antenna, with roughly 226 logged as of Tuesday. Surprisingly, only one call was from a viewer who was surprised by the switch, with most of them needing assistance in setting up their DTV converter boxes correctly (hint: Use the autoscan feature), reception issues or inquiring into the whereabouts of their requested $40 government-issued voucher coupons.

The Wilmington shut-off most importantly shows the importance of being prepared for the upcoming analog-to-digital switch, with only five months to go. If you don't subscribe to cable, satellite or other subscription means, and your television is several years old (without digital channel reception capabilities), you need to get a converter box. As you may know, Uncle Sam will foot $40 toward the cost of the box (which averages roughly $50-60 retail). Log in to to apply for up to two vouchers. For those of you with friends or relatives unaware of the change that still use an antenna, this is the perfect opportunity to remind them, and to give enough lead time to prepare for the conversion.

Regardless, many see the upcoming digital switch as a major pain in the ass. In reality, it shouldn't be. Digital channels should come in much clearer than their analog counterparts. The digital picture is clear - DVD quality. And many stations carry subchannels on their digital signals, which allows for additional programming. Most NBC affiliates carry Weather Plus, which carries full-time local weather updates. Many PBS affiliates have feeds of extra programming, such as the excellent PBS World. And others are carrying channels such as RTN, .2 Network or the upcoming MGM channel, This TV (to launch this fall in Chicago and Milwaukee so far), all of which specialize in classic reruns and movies.

Think of it as getting better reception and more channels. Not a bad motivation to pay $10-20 dollars for a small box.

The Sirius XM lovechild

As the nation's two satellite radio services proceed with their merger, listeners of either service will soon be able to hear programming from the former rivals, meaning that XM subscribers will soon be able to hear Howard Stern and NFL games, while Sirius subscribers will get Opie and Anthony, Oprah Winfrey and PGA broadcasts (golf on radio?).

The combined company announced this week a content lineup for Sirius XM's new "Best of Both" programming options. As part of "Best of Both" programming, most current XM customers will continue to receive their existing XM service, and be able to obtain select Sirius programming. Likewise, Sirius listeners will be able to access some XM programming.

In addition to their existing service, Sirius subscribers will have access to XM-exclusive sports such as the NHL and select college sports, in addition to Opie and Anthony's "The Virus," "Oprah and Friends," and XM's public radio offerings, including Bob Edwards. XM fans will be able to hear Howard Stern, Martha Stewart's "Living" channel, Playboy Radio and sports offerings from the NFL and NASCAR.

As you may have noticed, liberal channels such as Air America and Sirius Left are not on the list currently, a surprise, since the two channels are an obvious drawing card for their respective services.

Right-wing station sued for bias

An interesting item from Los Angeles, as Salem Communications owner Ed Atsinger is being sued for the obvious right-wing slant of local talk station KRLA. The Glendale News Press reports that the plaintiff, David Birke, who describes himself as a Democrat, is suing the station and its hosts, including Salem's Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, Hugh Hewitt and Mike Gallagher, KRLA local host Kevin James (link), TRN's Laura Ingraham and Westwood One's Dennis Miller. Birke alleges that the station defrauds the public and misrepresented itself to the FCC by featuring only conservative hosts and "Republican issues."

Birke's complaint alleges that KRLA "has never allowed a Democrat to host a show; uses call screening to 'suppress' calls from Democratic supporters; and violates "campaign finance laws by providing free media for advertising, attacks on Democrats, fundraising and promotion exclusively to GOP officials and candidates.'"

His attorney Johnny Birke (not sure if there's a relation) stated, "This a legal attack about the facts and law about what these defendants did and what they are doing on the airwaves."

The suit will likely go nowhere. The FCC has consistently declined to interfere in programming decisions since the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine and does not require stations to balance programming.

Personally, I have always held the belief that station owners should be free to do whatever format they want. We all know that Salem is a corporate media sinkhole propped up by the revenue brought in by the fundamentalist religious formats airing on many of their stations. And we all know that roughly 95% of the public does not listen to political talk radio of any kind, and most of it just preaches to the respective choirs anyway. I think too many make too big a deal of it.

Stephanie Miller out in San Diego

Speaking of KRLA, Salem and Laura Ingraham seem to have parted ways. She is off all of the stations that had aired her show, and in Los Angeles, she takes her show to rival KGIL/XESURF, which serve Los Angeles and San Diego respectively.

While most people here could likely care less about Ingraham, it is noteworthy in that her show will replace that of Stephanie Miller on the San Diego station, only a few months after being added to the lineup. Local liberal talker Michael Jackson is also gone in the shuffle.

Wait! Wait... Just Watch Me!

Are you a fan of NPR's hilarious weekly game show "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!"? If you are, you'll be pleased to know that it will soon hit the TV screen.

A TV pilot version of the show is being developed by CBS Entertainment, always on the prowl for new game show ideas. And unlike most of the crap passing for game show/reality competitions, nobody will be forced to run through obstacle courses, live with smelly, irritating roommates or eat live bugs. Or that terrible game show on FOX the other night which featured teams of people jumping through walls. It's just a fun little quiz show that's a bit more challenging than opening suitcases full of money. Think "Jeopardy," but with a bit more wit.

Host Peter Sagal and judge/scorekeeper Carl Kasell will appear in the pilot, with show creator/executive producer Doug Berman serving in a similar role for the TV version.

The hour-long show is produced by Chicago Pubic Radio in association with National Public Radio and is structured like a quiz show, focusing on current news subjects. No word on whether the show will air on the CBS network or via their syndication arm.

Article of the day

Finally, for those of you interested, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has an article on local boy Ron Reagan, who just started a new show on Air America. His show airs from 8-9P weeknights. I haven't had the chance to tune in, but dedicated reader FSL claims that it's better than fried spam and mayonaise sandwiches, and more fun than Sarah Palin in granny panties. Check it out.


tmode93 said...

DTV = better reception ? Even people in metro areas are finding that these digital signals aren't as easy to receive as their analog counterparts. Basically when a analog TV signal starts to drop you get static, when a digital signal starts to drop it disappears! Bad for rabbit ear users and those on TV reception fringes. It'll be interesting when this launched nationwide. Myself I've had to upgrade my outdoor TV antenna and go through a few junk conveters with poor reception (I did find 2 good models though). Thus far two of my TV sets are ready.

I guess in summary while picture and sound quality are improved the signal most certainly is not! Who wins ? The FCC, future buyers of vacated bandwidth and satellite/cable providers when they see a spike because people lost their signal. Maybe it's a minority (I think 12% of people still rely on OTA TV?) but some consumers will loose in this transition. Myself after buying a few things I am enjoying a few of the extra channels even though the closest PBS affiliate with PBS World is still out of reach :(

AlanF said...

And we all know that roughly 95% of the public does not listen to political talk radio of any kind, and most of it just preaches to the respective choirs anyway. I think too many make too big a deal of it.

Like the Republicans made "too big a deal" about political talk radio in the '90s, which helped fuel their takeover of the House? Whether or not they were preaching to the choir, they certainly built up the choir.

Let me put it this way -- the only reason I read this blog is that I think political talk radio is a big deal.

Was your comment meant to be sarcastic, by chance?

NYLefty said...

...Ron Reagan, who just started a new show on Air America. His show airs from 8-10P weeknights.

No, Reagan's show is on for just one hour, from 8 PM to 9 PM, Eastern Time.

ltr said...

tmode -

Try this site if you are having DTV reception problems:

It's a good resource for choosing and aiming antennas and configuring your DTV tuner.

For people who live in metro areas, reception will greatly approve. If you live far away from television transmission facilities, there may be some distance problems. And like you said, while analog signals will give you static if reception is fuzzy, digital will either give you a picture and sound, pixelation, or nothing at all. A good antenna may help, and if reception is a problem, there are some good amplified units out there.

alan -

Yes, it is true that talk radio only gets on the average no more than 5-6% of the listening audience.

As far as right-wingers go, it has mostly given a small minority a louder microphone. But the average person doesn't really give a rip.

Sometimes, we give it too much credit. That's all I'm saying.

NYLefty -

It's been corrected. Can't a guy enter a typo once in a while? Sheesh!

FSL said...

Five to six per cent and long past the money demos. Listen to the spots and you get a pretty good idea of who listens.

And let's face it, the quality of syndicated hosts mostly ranges from poor to mediocre. The one radio talent is Rush, and he has stayed way too long at the party. His act has worn thin. Partly because he has done it too long; mostly because of all the others who are trying to do it.

Radio has always been driven by dynamic personalities. Rush and Howard are probably the last two and they - like the medium itself - are tired and wound down. Anybody who might have had the chops to be the next generation "king of all media" has gone into some line of work with a future and never really considered radio.

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