Friday, August 31, 2007

Ira Represents the Rainbow Crowd

With apologies to the fine folks at Oregon Public Broadcasting...but how could they not see this coming?

http://blog.oregonlive.com/breakingnews/2007/08/ira_glass_popular_public_radio.html
Oregon Public Broadcasting plans to move an Oct. 7 appearance by Ira Glass, the voice of "This American Life," to the Oregon Convention Center after criticism about holding his talk at a Clackamas church that has been prominent in anti-gay rights campaigns.

(snip)

"When Ira found out, he asked for it to be moved," Barclay told The Oregonian. "He was not aware of it before that."

Admittedly, it's not like Ira Glass has been screaming supporter of gay rights in particular. But this is public radio, the bastion of tolerance. Plus, this sort of thing strikes me as completely in-character for Ira to do. And good for him, I might add.

I suppose the church might've been a better venue, and cheaper to rent, than the convention center. That might explain why it was tapped in the first place. But it's an interesting reminder of how inherently "charged" anything to do with religion is, and always will be.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

New Honda

Today I picked up my new car to complement my move out to New York. Gotta get me a Red Sox sticker so's I can represent. :-) It's a 2001 Honda Accord with about 50k miles. Ultimately I was not thrilled with the dealer I bought it from...the usual slimy used car dealer B.S. But I suppose you get that everywhere these days.

The car itself seems nice. Stick-shift with cruise control, leather seats, power seats, sunroof. Now I need to get me XM Satellite Radio so I can listen to Red Sox games and an HD Radio so I can keep an ear on the rollout.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Go west, young man!

On Wednesday September 5th I will be semi-permanently moving to New York state. My wife will join me two months later. The circumstances surrounding this event are why I haven't blogged in two weeks, and why I probably won't blog much for several more weeks. Apologies all around.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Place Your Bets, Gentleman! (Storrow Drive & the Esplanade)

Surprise, surprise...the Storrow Drive Tunnel Repair is going to be far more expensive and take far longer than originally envisioned. So the Patrick Administration is floating the idea of putting a temporary bypass road onto the Esplanade while the tunnel is completely rebuilt. This idea was floated, and shot down, several months ago when the project was first announced.

The bypass road will extend about 40ft into the Esplanade, and reduce construction time by six months, and save about $5 million. On a several hundred million dollar (and two year) plan, that doesn't seem like much, does it? However, it's a big deal because it means that Storrow Drive can continue handling close to the 100,000+ cars that drive on it every day...as opposed to trying to funnel those cars through Beacon Hill and Back Bay.

Yeah, think about that for a second: the already-traffic-choked Beacon Hill and Back Bay neighborhoods trying to cope with many tens of thousands of new cars every day for about two years. And that's assuming they finish on time. Just like how the Big Dig was supposed to be a few years, and instead took 15 and counting. Yikes.

Nevertheless, local Beacon Hill residents, and City Councilman Michael Ross, are screaming that this bypass road will destroy the Esplanade and they'll chain themselves to the trees before they'll allow it to be built.

I can see their point...the Esplanade is a real jewel in Boston's crown, and to have a major disruption on it for two (or three, or four or five) years really sucks. And there really is no guarantee that after the construction is done, the Esplanade will truly be returned to its current "impressively decent" state.

However, let's take a look at the alternative: those same residents screaming about "their" precious Esplanade will be the same residents screaming about the horrible traffic lasting until 2am every night if the bypass isn't built. Not to mention the incredible disruption to commuter traffic; since Storrow Drive is a major artery it will have a ripple effect across the entire region. That means lost worker productivity and an already-overburdened (and under-resourced) MBTA subway getting hammered even more. Not to mention the incredible environmental impact that millions of cars idling in traffic for an extra two or three hours per day will have.

The ultimate costs to business, the state and to ourselves could well run into the billions. I don't know what the exact number is, but the Patrick administration bettter figure that out quick because I'm willing to bet it's a helluva lot more than the entire construction project will cost.

And someone ought to remind those selfish SOB "Beautiful People" on Beacon Hill to think of the entire state a little more, instead of only themselves.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Commercial Radio is Minding the Gap

I need to do a longer analysis of this, but here's the short version: after several quarters of public radio stations (mostly news/talk) beating the usual ratings-winners (also mostly news/talk), those commercial news/talkers are getting the message, and they're changing their programming.

At the moment, I'd say it's still a clumsy, awkward change...not one to soon draw away pubradio fans. But the beast has been awakened, and it's not going back to sleep. Sooner or later commercial stations will start tailoring their product to better compete with public radio's offerings, and that's a serious problem for public radio.

Why?

Because public radio, by and large, is not good at competing. Even in cutthroat markets there's still a lingering geniality that (stuffy British accent) we're all good sports here, chap. Plenty of listeners to go around, you know?

Except it's not true, and if commercial radio steals back all those listeners pubradio has fought for, a lot of pubradio stations are going to find themselves deeply in the red. They've come to rely on those listeners to generate fundraising and underwriting revenue.

Here's the evidence: KIRO-AM in Seattle took note that KUOW topped the ratings for two books in a row, and now they're (pretty substantially) shifting their lineup. Anecdotally I can tell you that commercial radio in Boston has not ignored WBUR's rating successes over the past year or so, either...and there's been giant holes opening in the schedules at all three of our big news/talker commercial stations (WTKK, WRKO and WBZ). Just this week it appears that our big sports/talker, WEEI, might also need a new morning show as well. (or it might be just a stunt, who knows?) Still, change is a afoot and I would lay good odds that at least one of those three stations ends up with a more "public radio" sound at the end of it.

Ya know, all that speculation that Christopher Lydon could end up on commercial radio suddenly doesn't seem so crazy after all...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

This job makes me paranoid

Generally speaking, I enjoy my times filling in at Tech Director at Living on Earth. The people are nice, and the show is usually a great learning experience. The only real problem is that it makes you paranoid in a real hurry.

The last time I filled in (about eight months ago) I learned how horrifically unsafe most of the United States' chicken is. I love chicken, so I was spooked. I managed to ask the expert we were interviewing about those pre-cooked chicken strips that are popular now, and she said those were safe from the problems the interview was about, but were also commonly having problems with a different kind of bacteria. ARGH! Fortunately she said that microwaving them for two minutes on high does the trick. WHEW!

This time I learned about bisphenol-A which is a plastic compound commonly found in hard plastic food containers...like those Nalgene water bottles, or the water cooler's tank...and in the lining of soup cans. It's been around for about 100 years, so it's EVERYWHERE. And just now they're learning that this crap really screws up child development while in-utero and in the early years. It's because it can mimic the effects of estrogen. God only knows what else it can do in adults, too. The takeaway I got was to NEVER microwave food in tupperware; nuke it in a porcelain bowl instead.

And don't get me started on the global warming stories we inevitably do each week because there's so much news happening about it these days. Living in a coastal city isn't so attractive anymore, lemme tell ya.

I was joking with Eileen, the show's Senior Editor, that we should open every billboard with "It's Living on Earth and WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!! WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!!!"

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The FAA and NOTAM's

The FAA has recently moved to begin consolidating and outsourcing the process of issuing NOTAM's into a national office (call 877-487-6867) rather than many local/regional offices. A NOTAM, or NOtice To AirMen, is very relevant to broadcasters since many of them are responsible for the warning beacons on their towers. Whenever a beacon fails, the responsible party has to notify the FAA immediately, who then issues a NOTAM to all the local pilots about the lighting failure, so they know to give said tower a wide berth.

The problem is that many of these local offices have developed personal relationships and "local knowledge" of terrain and towers, that is crucial in ensuing accurate notices reach the right pilots. The national push doesn't seem to be allocating enough resources to compensate for that "local touch"; it's more about saving costs.

A Radio World writer asked me for my thoughts on this issue; below is what I sent him. I don't think they'll reprint my e-mail entirely, but if they do I'll link to them instead. Before you read it, bear in mind that I am not directly responsible for any towers, nor have I ever had to issue (or retract) a NOTAM before. I have no special knowledge of the FAA, I'm just commenting as an intelligent observer who does not have any special insight into the actual reasoning behind this change.
There are some valid reasons for consolidating the collection and
dissemination of NOTAM's...after all, if a plane is flying from, say, Boston to
Miami, and the tower with the lights out is in Delaware, logically the
information of the outage will get to pilots faster via a national office than
via local offices. A national office is probably more capable of updating
with time and technology to better reach pilots using a broader spectrum of
communications: e-mail, txt messaging, websites, blogs, etc.

The problem is that this outsourcing/consolidation seems to be driven by
cost-cutting rather than by efficiency, and as such there aren't sufficient
resources committed to compensate for that crucial "local
knowledge". Knowledge like how a tower might be listed for a certain
latitude and longitude, but in reality it's a few degree-seconds to the
east. That small difference on paper could mean life or death for a pilot
in low-visibility weather, and a local office is more likely to have the
personal connections between the FAA and pilots to ensure that knowledge is
shared.

These issues, that local knowledge and personal relations so easily
compensate for, CAN be duplicated with sufficient resources at the
national. It's not easy, nor is it fast, but it can be done.
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like that's the goal here. Instead, the
goal seems to be to drive the bottom line as hard as possible. Such a method
inherently compromises safety to some degree. That degree might be quite
small, and thus quite acceptable...after all, at a certain point it becomes
dangerous to fly in bad weather no matter how many NOTAM's are issued.

But I fear it's more likely that the resources will be cut more and
more, and the risk increased more and more, in the pursuit of the fiscal bottom
line. And that the only thing that will stop that drive for profits is a
repeat of the 2004 Black Hawk chopper crash in Waco, Texas. That was not a
failure from corruption or malice (a proper NOTAM was issued) it was just a
system too inefficient to work properly. This recent consolidation
seems to be exacerbating that inefficiency, rather than fixing it.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Busy, busy, busy...

I haven't blogged much lately due to a severe case of lackoftimeus. Also a nasty summer cold, ugh. And damn it's hot! August in da city, folks...

Anyways, this past week, and for the next two weeks, I'll be subbing in as Technical Director at the fine public radio program Living on Earth. Plus work is ramping up at Broadcast Signal Lab as more and more folks are hoping to get a new radio station this October, and need our technical wizardry to find out if they can.

But fear not! A new blog post is soon to be here as I got my review unit of Sangean's new HDT-1X HD Radio receiver. An article in Radio World will also be forthcoming. Sneak preview: it's a pretty good radio, and I see two features that indicate Sangean has been listening to early feedback on their other HD Radio receiver - thanks guys! :-)