Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The role of the Music Director

In all my college radio advising, music is one area I generally don't meddle too much with. I'm so far out of touch with "today's music" that it's almost shameful. So I write this in an attempt to self-teach via organizing my thoughts, and hopefully I'll garnish some insightful comments, too.

First of all, I'll touch on formatted vs. unformatted. Most "college radio" stations aren't formatted, although I suppose it's worth pointing out that those few that are generally enjoy more listeners (and thus more quantitative success) than those that don't. It's not an easy comparison, though. One thing that really comes at me here is WERS's recent decision to dump block programming for freeform during most of the day. Before you scream "WERS is NOT freeform!!!" I recognize that by the classic definition, you are correct. However, Joe Public scanning the dial and finding 88.9FM isn't going to make that distinction. If Joe hears six different songs from six different genres, he's thinking he's listening to a freeform station.

Putting WERS aside and thinking more about the legions of "college radio" stations that are effectively "freeform" out there....you'd think that because of freeform's inherent all-inclusiveness that it'd be popular, but in fact the reverse is true: when the listening public writ large tunes into a station, they want to have a decent idea of what they're going to hear. Most people don't want to tune for rock-alternative and get polka. So the audience for freeform is always hyper-niche; only a very narrow audience really digs that uber-randomness.

Quick aside: the "Jack" format that sounds much like an iPod on shuffle is nowhere near as "diverse" as a real freeform station. Despite the branding, most "Jack" (or "Mike", or "Frank", etc) stations only draw from perhaps four or five genres during any given daypart...and those genres are usually somewhat related.

Getting back to freeform, and its close cousin block-formatting, that wildness to the playlist typically means you end up with listeners devoted to a specific DJ, because that DJ will be relatively consistent during their show. This isn't inherently a bad thing, but it can be very limiting for your listeners since they're - by and large - only tuning in once a week for a few hours as that DJ spins.

In theory you can group similar DJ's together so that you get something approaching a daypart going...hopefully convincing listeners to stick around for the next DJ after their favorite one leaves. But that must be fiendishly difficult to manage, both from DJ to DJ and also semester to semester as schedules change and students come and go.

I wonder if anyone's successfully pulled off a hyper-organizing of their DJ's that way. With modern technology and voicetracking it certainly can be done far easier now than in years past...although many DJ's prefer to run a live show to get the feedback from the listeners (and because they're, in many cases, too lazy to plan out their show in advance enough to voicetrack it) so I can imagine a philosophical war over trying to implement that. Anyone know of a successful or unsuccessful example?

So that's formatted vs. unformatted. I'll also get into how the traditional model of working labels for new music, and organizing that music for airplay, seems to be breaking down in the age of iPods and home-burned CD's...but that's for the next post.

Second Life muscles into Real Life

Appropo of nothing, the good folks at Linden Lab, creators of the virtual community Second Life, have opened a satellite office 11 floors above my head in my office building. They even sublease from the same company we do. I understand this isn't entirely by accident...The Infinite Mind has interacted with the higher-ups at Linden Lab quite a lot over the last eight months so I'm sure at some point we mentioned to them how much we like our landlord (and it's true, our landlord is pretty cool).

It's kinda nice, last week I got to meet several people in the flesh that I'd only known as 3-D avatars and artificial names like "Harmony Linden" previously. Put faces to the names, so to speak. That's usually one of the really nice things about attending conferences and conventions and whatnot.

But at the same time, it was a little creepy. The line between my real life and my virtual presence is getting more blurred every day. :-)

Damn your brutal honesty Mel!!!

Sirius Satellite Radio sucks less. No really, at a recent shareholder meeting, Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin...in a fit of stunning honesty...said (I quote) "We suck less" (compared to rival satellite radio provider, XM Radio)

Wow. You wouldn't think that's a good way to describe your company, but there's suddenly this part of me that really wants to go out and buy a Sirius satradio. After all, "sucks less than XM" is exactly how I would describe Sirius, ya know? It's nice. It's got some good stuff on it. It's not really worth $13/month, though. And yeah, it's a hair better than XM.

But the weary and cynical consumer/engineer in me respects honesty from the corporate world. It seems so rare these days that I feel the need to reward the rare company that tells the truth.

Damn your brutal honesty, Mel. Now I want to buy your sucking-slightly-less product!!! :-)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Martha sez "You Suck!"

I was recently alerted to the fact that Martha Stewart was not even hiding the fact that she'll sell out for the right price, and that the price is a mere $10,000 for 30 seconds.

Oh my, I don't have $10k lying around the house, but it's a low enough number that I can almost imagine that I do. And since Martha's done a little time, she probably knows how to shiv someone in the back as well as to hawk someone's product.

C'mon, admit it...wouldn't you love to see Martha's smiling visage and warm, gentle voice twisting the knife as she character assassinates someone you don't like on national TV? Alright, maybe just in the abstract, but it's still a pretty funny thing to imagine, isn't it?

I'm Martha Stewart, and I'd just like to say that the Yankees Suck!

Metro & the Morning Commute

Like many fellow Boston subway riders, during my morning commute I read the Metro, our local freebie rag that is often compared to "mental twinkies". Meh, it's free and it passes the time. But today two things caught my attention.

First was this picture of Barry Bonds. (thanks to Metro and AP) I saw it and the first thought that came to mind was: "He's taken so many steroids even his tongue muscle has gotten freakishly huge!"
Yeah, I really don't like Barry Bonds. Not one bit. I don't really begrudge him the steroids so much as the blatant dishonesty about it. And the apparent greed in trashing Hank Aaron's great homer count for Barry's own personal glory.

I also really hate Barry for what he's doing to Giants' fans. Well, at least one Giants fan, anyways...one of my best friends...who's a San Francisco native living in Boston. And this season he can't just pop a brew and enjoy a damn Giants game because everything is about Barry Bonds. It's like the rest of the team doesn't exist. That's not fair to the fans, Barry. Screw you.

I suppose this touches on a long-held theory of mine that I believe players should be completely indebted to the fans. Because it's the fans that pay for outrageously overpriced tickets, concessions, playbooks and jerseys. Those sales ultimately pay for athletes' salaries, so don't give me "I'm not a role model" bullcrap. You can't sell part of your soul, folks, you gotta sell it all.

But I digress...

The other thing was "Ask the (insert government official here)" column with Dan Grabauskas, General Manager of the MBTA. Dan was appointed after creating a reputation as a "cleanup man" after his success at the Massachusettes Motor Vehicle Registry. If his goal was to "clean up" the MBTA, he's failed miserably...things are worse now than when Grabauskas started in 2005, and the recent reports of state transportation's fiscal health indicate it's gonna get a lot worse in the future.

One of the Q&A questions was about fare evasion on the Green Line...I'll quote the relevant part so you don't have to open the PDF...

QUESTION: What is being done about fare evasion on the Green Line? I’m sick of paying $60 a month for my pass, and watching kids and adults alike board the back doors, laughing how easy it is not to pay. What happened to “proof of payment,” and why is it never enforced?
(name omitted, 23, Brookline)

ANSWER: The Green Line fare collection system is working. While we do have some peak loading problems, we are addressing them with staffing or other measures.
(emphasis added by me)

Don't tell someone that that a pig is a swan when it's oinking and dripping mud on your carpet. The fare collection system on the Green Line is completely a farce and every regular rider knows it. After three fare hikes in six years, it's reasonable to expect that people who pay their fair share are gonna be mad when anyone does not.

Even if the system really worked, the perception is that it's a farce...and that's just as bad.

Thinking more broadly, this is why I don't really care for these kind of "Ask your elected official" columns. The Metro has had the "Ask the Mayor" column for a little while now with Boston Mayor Tom Menino and it's equally useless and arrogant-sounding. People are essentially writing in with a complaint and the Mayor's never going to be in a position where he can say "You know, you're right! We really f**ked that one up, and I'm going to fire the jerks responsible, and hire some actual real workers who aren't patronage appointments!" because no elected official can ever actually say that. Even if Menino could actually do that, he probably wouldn't say it.

Really all we'll ever get out of these columns is arrogant-sounding dismissals that there's not really a problem, but we're working hard to fix it (in vague, unspecified terms). That doesn't benefit the questioners, the readers or the elected officials. So why do these columns continue?!?!?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Welcome Radio World Readers!

Wow - two issues in a row! Yay!! :-)

Welcome all Radio World readers once again, if you're looking for my expanded tale of Toboggans and ISDN over Satellite, the post is right here!

If you're a RW:Workbench reader, too, here's the links about the Digital Day Counter:

By the way, I noticed that same Workbench mentioned Download.com - which is a great site, indeed. However, there are many, many freeware apps out there that will sync your Windows computer's clock to any time server you want. Why pay for it?!? I use Dimension4 myself. FWIW, I usually set it to sync with tock.usno.navy.mil every six hours. My clock is now rarely more than 0.1 sec off.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

CONFIRMED: Sangean HD Radios at Sharper Image

I was wandering through the Prudential Mall in Boston today, and whilst perusing stuff I can't afford at The Sharper Image I spotted a Sangean HDR-1 tabletop HD Radio on the shelf. I vaguely remember hearing they were available, but I'd never seen one actually for sale before. Pics included as hard proof...although apologies for the lousy photo quality - they're from a Razr cameraphone.

For grins, I include a Business Week review that's decidedly mixed. Based on my 2 minutes of fiddling, I agree with most of the review...especially the over-reliance on the remote for control of the radio. The radio seemed a little deaf, too...but admittedly conditions were not good. We're in a store with a lot of metal and glass walls/ceilings, and it's packed full of electronics that're in use and no doubt making tons of RFI. Plus that telescoping antenna...while a good compromise, is still a compromise. And let's not forget that the store is literally at the base of the Prudential skyscraper, where at the top there's six Class B FM stations pumping out about 20,000 watts ERP each! Talk about blanketing interference!!

For what it's worth, Sharper Image was also selling the Boston Acoustics Recepter HD tabletop HD Radio as well. Although the demo unit on the floor was screwed up somehow...the control buttons didn't work right. The radio kept switching to the AM band and wouldn't stay on the FM band, nor would it output any sound. And unlike the Sangean, the BA was kinda shoved in a corner. :-(

The text on the little price card for the Sangean reads:
  • Handsome AM/FM/HD Radio featured superior reception, improved bass response and the most realistic acoustic reproduction.
  • Features dual alarms with a "Humane Waking System" - wake to a gentle buzzer that gradually ramps up, or to an HD Radio station.
  • Plugs into outlet with the included AC adapter. Credit-card-size remote runs on on 3V (unreadable) battery (included).
  • $249.95 / SE701- 3 year replacement guarantee $49.95 / 90-day warranty

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Zipcar dumps, blames XM Radio

Okay, I've been a Zipcar member for about eight months. This evening I got an email from Peter Demers at Zipcar. I'll quote the relevant part of it here.

Sometimes if you love something, you just have to set it free. So, even though we know that so many of you love XM's tuneage and ad-free format, we've made the difficult decision to break ties with XM while things get sorted out in the satellite radio industry (there's serious talk of XM and Sirius merging).

Now I like Zipcar quite a bit, actually. It's let me save a bundle on expensive Brookline parking...and I still have a car when I need it. But don't forget that Zipcar strives to create a sense of community amongst its members, and they shamelessly encourage a sense of smugness in their members: Aren't you a smart Zipster?

The downside to that cultivation is that your members expect a straight deal, and they'll turn on you if you fuck with 'em. So I really feel my intelligence is being insulted here. "Break ties while things get sorted out"??? Excuse me??? I call SHENANIGANS!!! Where's my broom!?!?

Besides the fact that a merger between XM & Sirius is anything but assured - there has been no indication of any current changes in prices or availability, nor would there be any changes even if a merger does happen. Not for at least a year or two...well beyond the scope of any "fleet" contract between XM and Zipcar.

I rather suspect the real story is that Zipcar is getting hammered by rising fuel costs and the allure of XM Radio is rapidly fading. With 2500 vehicles costing $13/month for a questionable benefit...that's a tough expense to justify.

But just TELL us that; we're big boys, we'll understand. Don't toss out this really fake-sounding "excuse".

And if the email is really telling us the truth...then man, it was badly written.