Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hockenberry Returns to His Roots

PRI just announced that John Hockenberry will be hosting their new morning show, to launch in early 2008.

This news is great news for pubradio fans everywhere as far as I'm concerned. I know John through my work at The Infinite Mind, where he was their regular commentator. I only had the pleasure of meeting him once or twice (TIM's producers, hosts and engineers are frequently all over the country...I was in Boston while John was in New York) but damned if he didn't make me bust a gut laughing (or strike me speechless with solemnity) every time he recorded a commentary. The man knows how to riff on anything under the sun, and he has a great knack for having an intelligent conversation with anyone on any topic; a rare gift.

Heat fans, and early Talk of the Nation fans...not to mention the lucky folks who caught him filling in for Tom Ashbrook's On Point last year, and fans of John's podcast/blog...will also no doubt be stoked.

Of course, a great host alone does not guarantee success...witness the "indefinite hiatus" that Chris Lydon's Radio Open Source went on this summer...but John's still a great choice. I, for one, will be listening with interest to see how it goes. :-)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Today the Division, Tomorrow the World!!! (Series, that is)

With a brilliant bunt down the third base line...the always-dangerous-at-the-end Orioles stunned the Yanks in extra innings. That loss, coupled with today's Sox win over the Twins, means the Red Sox have won the AL East division! First time in 12 years, even.

I've said it before to Yankees fans, and I'll say it again: "How many World Series have you won this century?" Nyah nyah nyah. :-)

Monday, September 17, 2007

AM IBOC: Put Up or Shut Up Time

I should've mentioned this last week, but on Friday September 14th the FCC's new rules for IBOC digital radio (known in the US under the iBiquity brand name "HD Radio") went into effect. That meant, among other things, that IBOC was authorized for 24/7 operation on the AM band.

There's been a lot of controversy in the industry over nighttime IBOC. Anyone who's ever listened to AM during the day vs. during nighttime knows that distant (as in 100's or 1000's of miles distant) AM stations can come in like local stations at night. It's a quirk of the Earth's atmosphere called "skywave reflection". By and large this happens on the "clear channel" frequencies (no relation to the company of the same name) which only have one or two big stations in the entire continental US. These are stations like WBZ 1030 in Boston, WTIC 1080 in Hartford, and WOR 710 in New York...just to name a few.

AM IBOC intentionally puts a lot of RF energy on the adjacent channels of the transmitting frequency; that's just how the system works. So when you're in Boston and you tune an analog radio to 1020 or 1040, you'll hear a roar of white noise. That's the digital carriers...it's sort of like picking up the phone when a fax is transmitting. During the day it's not that big a deal because the AM signals stay local and locally there aren't going to be any stations on 1020 or 1040.

But at night...when these signals start reaching way beyond the local area due to skywave...there might be a station on 1020 or 1040. For example, KDKA in Pittsburgh...another "clear channel" station...is on 1020. So if these stations run IBOC and transmit it at night, will it result in interference?

A lot of engineering and even more speculation has been done on this issue. Ultimately the FCC decided that the answer was "For the most part, no" and authorized it. Radio purists cried foul rather loudly, but until it actually started happening, nobody really knew 100% for sure what was going to happen.

Which brings us to last Friday...when several of these bigger "clear channel" stations were just waiting to start nighttime IBOC broadcasting and immediately started doing so.

What's the result? Honestly I don't know. The invective is still spewing from both sides so I can't trust that, and I haven't been by a HD Radio-equipped tuner until today. I'll take a listen tonight and see what happens.

UPDATE 9/18: Meh, I'm not seeing massive AM disruption. Hell, I can't even get a solid HD signal here. I can get the HD light flashing on WTIC, WFAN and WOR, and even see a bit of PSD for WTIC, but that's it. Can't get a clear enough signal to hear IBOC audio, but that's no surprise...I couldn't do it before, either. I was a bit surprised that WHAM doesn't come in with IBOC here...the analog sounds fine. (shrugs) Anyways, the locals that I would expect to come in here, still come in just fine.

In all honesty, I kinda felt the AM band was a giant mess already...it's not really possible to make it worse. If anything, having more white noise/hash might be an improvement over the four overlapping skywave signals beating off each other.

Either way, my original point stands: we'll soon know definitively whether of not AM-IBOC at nighttime is a "disaster" or not...and the naysayers will either be vindicated or chastized. I fervently look forward to this particular debate being settled.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Insight to Programming Decisions

I saw this on Current.org today:
"I always liked WAMU weekends for the very reason that it wasn't just like WAMU on the weekdays," writes a fan of the Dick Spottswood Show and American Routes,
It's a comment posted on DCist about WAMU's announcement they were dropping bluegrass music from their weekend schedule. I understand the sentiment, but to my way of thinking, this commenter demonstrates exactly why WAMU made a good decision. He or she doesn't want to listen to the overall branding of WAMU, they want to listen to the bluegrass programming that happened to air on WAMU.

That's a very important distinction, because said listener probably can get quality bluegrass programming anywhere. But there's only one place to get WAMU programming. That's because bluegrass is a genre, but WAMU is a brand identity...and a crucial one for any radio station to establish.

No doubt the bluegrass programming just didn't really fit into that branding schema; not surprising since most music lovers don't care for the news/talk and vice versa. Given the overwhelming time for news/talk vs. music on WAMU, it makes sense to stay true to the brand.

This does not mean it's a good thing if the bluegrass programming just completely disappears. Obviously there's fans of it, and if WAMU is smart, I'm sure they're investigating the return on investment to continue the bluegrass programming via an alternative programming channel...such as online (webcast/podcast) or HD Radio multicast.