Monday, April 30, 2007

iBiquity: Moms, Dads and Grads $40 Rebate

iBiquity has another HD Radio rebate offer that's running from April 29, 2007 to July 3, 2007...celebrating the graduation season. $40 off most HD Radio receivers...not too shabby.

Here's the press release:
http://www.ibiquity.com/press_room/news_releases/2007/1020

And here's the rebate form: (it's an Adobe Acrobat PDF)
http://www.hdradio.com/rebate

I've also heard that from April 30th to May 12th, Radio Shack's Accurian tabletop HD Radio (catalog # 12-1686) is on sale for $169.99. The RS website also links to the aforementioned iBiquity rebate, so the final price would be $129.99. I believe it's same price online or in the store.

As reviewed in Radio World not long ago, the Accurian has no alarm clock, but is overall a pretty good tabletop HD Radio.

A little more WJIB

UPDATE: From Scott Fybush's excellent wrapup of WJIB's fundraiser in his N.E.R.W., I learned that WJIB received over 2400 donations ranging from $5 to two $1000 checks. That's important...there's an axiom of sorts that 10% of any station's listeners are also paying donors. There's also some (older) evidence that it's more like 33% but either way it means that WJIB's regular listenership is between 8,000 and 24,000 people. I hate to sound like a broken record, but given WJIB's tiny broadcast signal (and no webcast) that's an amazing accomplishment. Even though WJIB is a commercial outlet, it's programmed not unlike a public radio station...so non-commercial (public and college) radio stations really should learn why WJIB works and see what lessons they can apply to their own operations.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Best Law Enforcement Idea...EVER

My engineering friend Demetri and I were heading home from a mutual friend's bachelor party, and he told me about the urban legend of the "brown note"...a resonance frequency that causes people's lower GI tract to spasm uncontrollably with unpleasant results. The idea was that you take all those high-profile white-collar criminals (such as Jeff Skilling and Bernard Ebbers) and you let them out of prison, but they have to wear bright-white jumpsuits for the duration of their sentence. And then at random times when they're amongst co-workers, family or friends, you hit 'em with the "brown note" and let the humiliation begin. Repeat at least once a week.

The kicker was the name, though, it's the best/most awful pun I've ever heard.

You ready? It's a pretty hideous pun.

Sure about this?

Okay...

...Crapital Punishment!

Feel free to quote Demer on this one. :-)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

WJIB - the Little Station that DID!

WJIB is a unique little AM station in Boston. Despite a tiny power (250w day / 5w night) and no staff besides owner/operator Bob Bittner, they found an underserved audience and served it well with its "beautiful music" format. The proof is in the pudding - after just six weeks of limited fundraising announcements, WJIB raised $88000 it needs to cover music licensing fees related to WJIB's recent (and dramatic) jump in the Arbitron ratings.

There's a lesson here, one I fear too many are "brushing off": WJIB did not run an effective fundraiser, WJIB runs an effective station...and that's why it both had the listeners and raised the funds.

I don't mean that first part as a slight, more just to draw attention to how limited it was compared to, say, fundraiser powerhouse WBUR. Unlike WBUR...WJIB's fundraiser had nobody manning the phones. Credit cards were NOT accepted, and online donations were non-existent...donations were entirely in the form of checks & money orders mailed to the station. There weren't any of the dreaded "pitching sessions" either...instead, Bob recorded a series of announcements, each a few minutes in length (MP3), that explained what the fundraiser was for and how to donate. Rinse, lather, repeat for six weeks and viola! The cash was raised.

At many fundraisers, I get the distinct sense that the station could stop fundraising entirely, and instead just call up the same donors who gave the last time; they'd still raise about 90% of the goal. That means that you don't have your listeners convinced your station has value...you just have a core group that will support the idea of your station no matter what your programming is. And that, in turn, means you're not serving your audience as well as you could be.

Food for thought.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Another big step for HD Radio adoption

FMQB reports that Best Buy will start selling HD Radio receivers at all 832 stores nationwide. They're also "increasing emphasis on HD Radio in its weekly newspaper ad circulars and in stores."

If Radio Shack's selling of the Boston Acoustics Receptor HD & Accurian HD table radio was the first big step in HD Radio adoption amongst listeners, then this is definitely the next big step. Despite a lot of questionable customer service practices by Best Buy, they are certainly one of the premier electronics retailers. We have a bunch of 'em here in Boston.

Now I just hope that Best Buy actually educates their salespeople to know what HD Radio is. Historically they have not been good about this...often I have gone into Best Buy and asked if/when they'll start carrying "HD Radio" and they'll take me to their Sirius Satellite Radio display. sigh

Still, I'd say that we're rapidly approaching the second big wave of adopters. We've already had the hard-core early adopters who were actively seeking HD Radio receivers through any outlet they could. Now we've got the more moderate early adopters who want HD Radio and have options at common retailers to get them (Radio Shack, Walmart, Best Buy). Probably within another two to three years we'll see HD Radio receivers start becoming "commonplace" enough that the next wave of adopters will hit: the everyday users with disposable income.

This does have significant impact on broadcasters transmitting HD Radio as well...no longer can they assume that there's no (or few) listeners so they can "get away" with poor engineering, operations, or dead air while they figure out what to do with HD Radio. School's almost out, kids! :-)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

BE PREPARED - it's not just for Boy Scouts

We live in a material world, as Madonna so famously sang in 1985. For good or ill, our entire society is based on assigning value (in our case, money) to everything; even things that you don't usually think of in objective terms. September 11th brought this concept home in a stark way for insurance companies that had to calculate the dollar value of a victim's life. Grisly, indeed.

On a less-dark note, though, we have something that runs almost directly counter to this entire concept: college radio. College radio disdains the idea of assigning a material value to both itself as an institution and itself as its programming. Fortunately, most college radio stations have the financial support of a parent university so they don't have to face the dreaded "fiscal reality". But I'd suggest that there's more benefits than just cash when you take a little time to look at your station's objective value.

When you assign value to your programming, it helps you make a wide variety of decisions that your station faces on a daily basis. Let's take a classic example. Most stations have a transmitter. At some point, this transmitter will need to be off the air for some reason. Maybe it's scheduled maintenance, maybe it's an upgrade, but regardless...for some period of time you won't be broadcasting. EEK! The obvious solution is a backup transmitter. But is it really worth that substantial cost?

Of course, it probably is...but how can you tell? And how much backup do you really need? The simple answer is "As much as you can afford," but for a college station, that doesn't work. You're probably already on a shoestring budget, so you need to figure out just how much backup you really need before you can figure out how you're going to pay for it.

How to do this? Well, first you have to calculate what is the dollar value associated with you being on the air at a given time. Commercial stations do this all the time when it comes to their spot load. If they don't air a commercial spot, the cost of the spot they would've charged the advertiser is now charged back to the station...either in the form of a monetary refund or a make-good of some other kind. In addition, being off the air for more than a few seconds usually means lost listeners, which can affect a station's Arbitron ratings. Right now that affect is difficult to quantify, but with the rollout of the hyper-accurate Portable People Meters...the affect of just a single minute of downtime can be measured.

The same concept can be applied to college radio, too. How does being off the air "cost" your station? Do you have to issue make-goods or refunds for underwriting? Do you lose listeners? Do you lose subcarrier rental revenue? Don't forget that you will want to decide that your station is committed to offering a certain level of service to your listeners, so there's a self-imposed cost if you cannot maintain that level of service.

These costs may change across the day and week. For example, being off the air from 3am to 5am on a Wednesday is less likely to cost you listeners than being off the air from 4pm to 6pm on a Saturday. Especially if Saturday is game day for sports coverage, or some other similarly special event.

Balance this against what direct benefit being on the air gains you. In many cases, this will just be the same amount as the cost...simply turned positive instead of negative...but not always. Best to be thorough in these analyses.

Now estimate how much downtime is caused by various scenarioes: transmitter failure, regular maintenance, DJ didn't show up, STL fails, fire in the studio (or transmitter), tower collapses, etc etc etc. It may help to seek professional advice from an engineer and/or broadcast insurance company (or even your campus legal/insurance office) to help you make sure you've thought of as many possible disaster scenarioes as you can. Try and cover everything from the smallest issue (say, one CD player of three croaks unexpectedly) to the biggest (say, a disease quarantine forces your DJ's to not do their shifts).

Don't assume that something is "just too unlikely" to happen to you. You don't have to look any further to Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, or 9/11 and the World Trade Center, to know that the unthinkable can suddenly become your reality...and by the time it happens it's too late to prepare for it; you've got to be ready ahead of time. Even the relatively mundane can suddenly throw a giant wrench into your operation...a serious but relatively contained fire at the One Broadway building in Cambridge forced The Infinite Mind's entire operation out of their studios for over six weeks. It cost us dearly in time, funds and productivity to set up temporary facilities and rent other studios in the interim.

The aforementioned insurance professional should also be able to help you assign probabilities to each scenario's occurrence, although with anything that can take you off-line for more than 72 hours...you should assume that it can happen anytime and have a plan in place to deal with it.

Okay, now that you've got all this information, it's a relatively simple matter of deciding which problems/disasters are most likely to occur and how much downtime you're willing to accept if one of them does occur. Once you know this, you'll know what you need to have in place to deal with the problem and avoid the downtime.

Mind you, this isn't all doom-and-gloom. With some stations, the cost of downtime just isn't very high...so you don't really need to spend that extra money. But until you actually perform an analysis of the costs and benefits, you're not going to know for sure - and that means you're not prepared.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Discover(y) the meaning of irony

I'm sorry, but I can't be the only person who sees the irony here...
(source: Current.org)

4/05/2007
Discovery plans to launch an earth-focused channel and turn its Silver Spring, Md., headquarters "green" as part of a $50 million project it's calling PlanetGreen, Broadcasting & Cable reports. The cable network will relaunch its current Home channel as the as-yet-unnamed eco-friendly channel next year. Programs will focus on eco-design, organic food and "green" architecture, among other topics.

4/09/2007
Discovery today cut approximately 200 staffers, or roughly 3 percent of its workforce, Broadcasting & Cable reports. Network management let go roughly 20 percent of the aggregate staffs of the Discovery Channel; Animal Planet; the Education group; and some Corporate Service groups.

So everyone at Discovery must've felt great about how their company was investing $50 million dollars in "going green" for four whole days...until they realized that $50 million could've been used to save their jobs. That's gotta sting.

Ed.note: Yes, I know I'm oversimplifying here...these things really have almost nothing to do with each other. I'm just commenting on the lousy timing of these two news reports. I can't believe there aren't some laid-off Discovery Staffers that aren't thinking exactly the same thing. Even the Associated Press showed a little cheek in their report.