Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A tale of two situations....

Today,  Wednesday September 13th 2017  was an interesting morning at WION!  I received my usual news briefs on the radio industry that many station owners get each morning, and I was on the air.  What I didn't know was what a CONTRASTING situation was developing.

We'll call the hurricane part of this story, "Situation #1." 

The radio "news" in my inbox today  listed the stations off-air due to the hurricane in Florida.  Out of about 20 main stations, only five....FIVE were not owned by the "big corporate giants."  I had thought about trying to donate to a "local" station recovering from the hurricane, hopefully one similar to ours, but...all except the Catholic Church-operated stations were owned by companies bigger than ours, either by  number of stations, or ...by having "huge corporate" ownership.   It was a real eye-opener.

Tie that information in with what I'm about to say, and you'll agree WION (and WGLM, for that matter in Greenville/Lakeview) are rather unique.  During the height of the hurricane on the west side of Florida, the EAST side was experiencing tornado warnings.   Since I'm a radio geek, I thought I'd tune in online to one of the stations south of Daytona which I know to be locally owned down there.  During this tornado warning, they PROBABLY had the mandated EAS tones go off one-time as required by the FCC  to warn listeners.  Just SIX minutes in to their local warning I began listening. No announcer.  No news-break. Just the usual satellite delivered music and commercials as if their county was having beautiful sunny weather.  Basically, they had the bare MINIMUM amount of coverage and equipment to pass FCC inspection.  Sad. 

I guess I grew up and was trained in radio to be IN the studio for emergencies.  If there's power, and there's a tower, we're ON the air at WION.  It's what I was taught in my many previous radio jobs, and it's what we still do today.   Does it make us any extra money?  NO.  Does it help us in ratings against the big boys of broadcasting?  NO.  Is it what RADIO should do?  YES.  What I heard, or rather, "didn't hear" was appalling.  My view of this recent disaster in our country is that local radio got an "F" grade in helping the listeners and community.

Because of corporate ownership and lack of news departments  (my bet, anyway) many of the Florida radio stations that WERE offering coverage were simulcasting the local TV stations (2, and 7, I believe.) The TV stations promoted this as I watched on free-to air satellite feeds,  and even suggested snapping a picture of their screen and the radio logos, so you could know where to tune on RADIO for coverage provided by TV. I guess that's an "effort" for radio to inform, anyway.  TV, meanwhile was working together, two stations that probably usually compete to combine forces in meteorology, reporter-pool, and general information.  I spoke about this on the WION morning show, and I give them, an A+ for their tireless efforts...but, let's face it. With cell towers going "down", and people obviously not near their TV sets, coverage by TV was probably viewed more out of market than near the super storm.

In this electronified,  messaging-crazy, bump-into light poles while texting society,  RADIO still has the potential to help in emergencies and in every day life. But, unlike the one station I monitored with no live announcer during a Tornado Warning,  it takes owners who care, and maybe...just maybe...owners who care enough to build an EVERYday audience through localism to justify staffing the studio during emergencies, knowing your efforts will reach people in your town. 

And, that brings me back to WION. Situation #2. Quite the contrast.

No, we don't have a fulltime news department.  We DO choose our sources wisely and give you the Michigan News Network, CBS, and we cover local weather emergencies LIVE. We always have. Many times we beat the sirens and the EAS system in getting the word to listeners. We even get it on social media ahead of most "big" stations and authorities.  Of that we're proud.

How would WE react in a storm of the recent hurricane's damage potential?  I can't promise we'd be "on" through it, but I can say that we'd make every effort.  It's why we have a generator. It's why our towers have been maintained for standing in strong winds.  It's why we have a backup internet service if the (AC powered cable) internet goes down.  It's why we don't "bundle" our phones with cable, and still subscribe to copper lines running into our studios.   I know we'd make every effort until the building was targeted by the storm.   We were announcing the severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings just before the Portland tornado of a few years ago when other (bigger) stations were on automation.  We try very hard to get you information when it's possible to work with authorities and pass credible info on to you. 

Sad, however what the image of ONE station down south, and OTHERS that are off the air do to broadcasting, either by negligence, or by being so "big" there's no plan in place when a whole bunch of stations are in one building, and are hit by a huge storm.  That's one argument for NOT having studio consolidation, which the FCC is close to allowing more-of in their relaxing of the "main studio requirement" rule. Granted, there's not much they can do if their studios are destroyed by water and wind. I'll give you that, but to lose the signal of  ALL stations in a "cluster" because of penny pinching and consolidation of studios  is deplorable.

Then...on the GOOD side, and by contrast...an incredible morning at WION.

I put a poll on our listener pages and on facebook about HOW you listen to our station.  AM, FM, phone, smart device, internet radio, etc. It got quite the attention.  This same morning, as the old  I-phone app for WION expires with the rollout of the new IOS, a fan of our station informed me the NEW IOS app was in the app store!  The author of it (and WION fan) is Scott Greczcowski of Satelliteguys.us and he wanted to make sure we didn't drop support for our i-tunes listeners, so WITHOUT asking for pay, he designed the app with some online service, and it looks and works GREAT!  Now THAT'S loyalty...from way out on the East Coast!

Later in the morning show a note comes from "Chuck" listening as he drives through Virginia using our android app!   And, a note from our Ionia City Clerk stated that September should be "WION Month" since it's the month we brought this (small town) AM station back to life some 13 years ago!

How can an owner and on-air host NOT be pleased with all of that in one morning?  

Top that off with the fact all lit took was a discussion of our upcoming broadcast from Ionia High School Homecoming with the students of the Link Crew organization, and yet ANOTHER sponsor sends me a text wanting to be on the list of advertisers for that event, putting us OVER what we donated last year to the group through our advertisers!

Does any of this help ratings?  NO.  We don't participate in ratings. Is it what radio SHOULD be doing? YES!  And, it proves that listeners here care about their local AM station, and what we do to give back to our community.  Notice I said, "AM Station"....yes, our FM is nice, but 212 watts barely reaches the edge of the county...the AM is still the most-powerful signal of our two. 

So, on a day when "corporate" radio in Florida is listed as MIA due to a huge storm and damage to their multi-station facilities, and when another station in the path of a hurricane's aftermath during tornado warning is absent of staff to inform the public, it WION proud, as we stand-out from the (radio) crowd.

We hope....HOPE...that you will tune in not only in emergencies to us, but each day. and that you understand our 13 years here is only possible because you support the advertisers who pay our bills. Without them, we wouldn't be the contrasting situation to a studio with "lights on, nobody's home" which seems to be more the "norm" these days.

Keep listening. Keep shopping locally, and keep in touch by using our new I-phone app, and the good ol' Android app we've come to know and love, or any online smart-method you choose.  We LOVE serving you, in good weather...and bad.

-Jim Carlyle



Monday, October 7, 2013

Bigger Buses, More Guitars for the Music industry on the backs of local radio? Just Say NO!

It's time congress stops listening to big business and starts responding to common sense.  Yes, I said "Congress" and the phrase  "common sense" in one sentence.  Since your heart stopped when that happened,  let me explain. (Even more the need to explain as I'm posting this during a partial government shutdown.)

Yet another effort to 'tax' local radio for playing music has surfaced in Congress. You'll find information posted from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters and links on our facebook page. 

The recording industry is crying "poverty" on the backs of local radio nationwide,  and wants us to pay to play the music for you, beyond what we already pay!  You may not be aware, but for years and years, radio stations have paid the publishers of the songs we play, via the big three licensing organizations, BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC.  Stations providing a streaming service, as we do, also pay the recording industry through an organization called 'Soundexchange'.  Artists, on the other hand are traditionally paid by their recording companies,  by the public attending concerts, and the sale of the artists' music on CDs and  downloads.  Radio, meanwhile brings that same music ('advertising' it) to the public's ears, FREE. 

We buy our own music. It is not provided by the music industry. We pay for the electricity to play it, the talent to introduce it, and the FCC licenses that bring it to the general public at no charge to you the listener! 

This proposed financial  load on local radio is just not possible!  Many stations like WION serve our communities 24/7 on a minimal staff, producing "radio miracles" that are visible in our  in raising money for local causes, helping local businesses survive with creative, lively advertising, and in providing live and local information in times of local emergencies.  Smaller, local stations excel in all these fields even better than big-city stations, and we're the ones that will be hurt the most by a "performance tax."  

Speaking as a smaller station, we can't just 'appropriate" money from somewhere in our budget to feed the latest music industry stars, because they  want larger buses, better houses, and more guitars!  The music industry seems to think local radio  can be a source of "easy money" to them.

On the contrary!

We, as local stations are called on more and more each year to operate on smaller staff sizes, to produce our craft heavily utilizing multi-tasking,  and investing  in extra technical help to squeeze more years  out of our existing broadcasting equipment,  all of which we're expected to do while still providing  outstanding service to you! Every year our regulatory fees to the FCC go up, and every year our costs to run all the "gizmos" that bring you your favorite station go up, too.

In WION's case,  you know  as listeners, our station has  increased our service to you over the past 5 to 10 years, even in the face of a poor economy!  Instead of cutting back,  this small town station has added streaming and mobile apps, a new fm signal, beautiful am-stereo, bigger coverage, better online presence, and more involvement in the local community.

Please help us fight "big business" (in this case, the music industry) at our small-town local level and preserve  the element of "Americana" provided by your hometown having a station that cares about you and your community.

Contact your federal legislators. Thank the ones who are signed on to  the "Local Radio FreedomAct" and let those not on that list know that you value your local radio station and want it left unburdened by unfair financial bullying from the music industry.   We work hard for you, and hope you'll do the same for us with an e-mail, call, or letter to support local radio and defeat any effort at what amounts to a "performance tax."

If a radio station can be forced to pay for playing songs, your business could be in line for the next outrageous tax, and we'd like to still be here to help you when that happens! 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

ANTIQUE TO ANDROID: AM RADIO IS STILL A “SOUND” BET!


(from "Carlyle Tech" Blog)

The discussion over the AM band's viability gains more publicity each month. Manufacturers are reducing the quality of the AM sections in their radios, home receivers, and in-dash stereos.  Broadcasters are apathetic about  improving AM's quality without some hope of investment in improved equipment by manufacturers (broadcast and consumer) and, there's the ever-looming discussions about moving AM broadcasters to another band. It's been called the “Chicken and the Egg” question on many a radio internet discussion board as broadcasters point fingers at the manufacturers...and vice-versa, with the FCC empanelling discussion groups on the matter.  We, the (smaller) AM broadcasters are then left
to wonder, “Who makes THEM the expert on AM, and are they really qualified to discuss our future if they're not working in the trenches of AM today?”

If, on the other hand I was the one who was asked if AM can be revitalized, my answer would be a definite "yes!" And the how and why?   "With careful attention to detail, and... Because you can!"

What happened to the day in which we, as broadcasters  performed our respective jobs to the best of our abilities because it brought pride in our product and  work?   Add some good talent to the overwhelming availability of quality used  (secondary-market) broadcast equipment;  and there's no reason even small stations with small budgets can't sound their best 100 percent of the time!

Our AM, (the first of 3 stations I now own) is a prime example of “it can be done!” It's also a great example of AM's still being a viable entertainment and information source. Our station was revived from the dead. Off the air from the death of the former owner. Two weeks to go before license revocation. Tired transmitter, pathetic processing, and the worst wiring of audio, ever!  But...we dug it up the corpse. Got it breathing. Told our town it was alive, and that we were here!

There was no client list. No clients at all. No accounts receivable, no web presence, no logo, no listeners, and...for the most part, no faith in our survival. I'm sure there was many an office-pool against our lasting very long, but we did survive, and now we're going on 9-years of AM!  Yes, as some of you may know, we have an FM translator, but we've only had it for 3 of those years.  Stay with me, and I'll tell you how this little station came to be a shining example of local AM broadcasting, and with great sound, to boot!

Part of the job of AM station owners is educating the audience. Educating them that we exist!  This job can be both time-consuming and difficult.  In our case, we had to re-educate our town to the fact that AM can sound great.  Since operating the station was a full-time job for me and the same was planned for my business partner in the future,  we naturally wanted the best sound we could create on a limited start-up budget.  We asked our engineers to find the best older processing possible,  since the budget wouldn't afford newer equipment.   We chose classic CRL from the 1980's and 90's, and never looked back. From our sign-on in 2004  until today, we've kept our AM sounding bright, clear, crisp, clean,  yet warm and inviting!  Because of carefully choosing our used processing, while we were new in town listeners to the "new" WION often remarked,  “I'm hearing things in the music I've never heard before!” and yet this was long before we turned on CQUAM Stereo!

More recently, those CRL and other analog processing boxes from the 1980's and 1990's have been reworked with new components, and refurbished for more years of use, and they're working their hearts-out for us like brand new, providing a nice smooth yet strong sound for our AM signal and our newly-added internet stream.

A couple years into owning and operating WION, we investigated the possibility of correcting an historic error in judgment by both the original ownership and the FCC regarding the station's coverage, and returned our daytime signal to Non-Directional, bringing in a larger daytime audience and more coverage on a major interstate. Yes it took investment on our part,  along with good engineering and legal representation. Those are two areas in which an owner should never cut corners. A few years after that, came the work of acquiring an FM translator, moving it from south of town to our own property, and upping its power.  For us it was  a two-step process, and not inexpensive for a small operator, but we did it! (Again with the patient help of great engineering and legal representation.)

I will not say the FM saved our station. I will, however state for the record that in its first year, it brought in 17 new clients from a nearby town which is under-served by our AM due to today's noise on the AM band,  yet the town is still in our primary coverage area. The Translator's main purpose was to satisfy those people who would NOT tune-in AM because of it's “stigma” as a talk-only band with horrible sound quality. Which brings me to what AM really needs: (after owners who care) An awareness campaign at least as large as the recent digital TV conversion campaign, one that is backed and pushed by the FCC, the NAB,  state broadcasters' associations and AM station owners. 

AM, believe it or not is new to some people!   We've had youngsters of our clients ask their parents, “what is AM, anyway?” And that is one thing which tells me there is a need to educate our country about AM's existence and potential. (Probably for the first time, since the AM band never needed this before.)  But, we won't win people over with badly processed and ignored AM signals and web streams.

Anyone who has visited the internet stream of WION-AM in Ionia, Michigan has been amazed at the sound. Most most people would never know it's AM.  Full AM stereo.  With attention to detail in its delivery.  We tell  people it's AM for the purpose of public education to AM,  and to help  create a positive spin on AM stations like ours.   We've had NO complaints from any listener, and no comments from the public such as, “I don't like listening to AM.” or, “I'd listen on the stream  if it wasn't AM.”  On the contrary! Our AM stereo signal on the web is proving to today's modern digital-era listeners that analog AM can sound spectacular.

So, if the FCC is going to have a panel of “experts” discussing the future of the AM band,  my question to them would be, “Why doesn't the FCC start helping AM broadcasters win the public's ears with a public-awareness campaign of at least the size and impact that was given to the digital TV conversion?   We don't need to move to another band! We need people to know that many small and large towns turn to AM for emergencies, information, and general entertainment. Many areas of our country have ONLY an AM station for their radio service. Some residents rely heavily on it. Others still need to be told it exists. Either way, public education to AM's existence and potential will help!

As far as sound quality goes, you're welcome to laugh if you want,  but I'll risk saying it: Many a “digital” station doesn't sound as good as our little 'ol analog AM 1430! (which, at night, by the way still uses feed cables for two towers from the 1960's, and an equally old matching network connecting to our three towers and still sounds great!)

Our recipe? Attention to detail, combined with pride in our work all the way  from the studio to the towers. This means that first of all,  we are owners that care about our station.  We have to be. We're not part of a corporate monster that can toss stations and people aside to save money. We invested our LIVES in our station. Electronically, it all starts with owners' knowledge of the potentially excellent quality of sound that  AM broadcasters can produce for the public. Then, add the deployment of quality equipment (well maintained used will work fine) and, excellent legal and engineering backup. The result is excellence in radio "sound" and programming quality.

From a business standpoint we've also witnessed  that when a quality product is on the air, it attracts quality people to the door who want to be part of our team!  That's why both our salespeople came to with us, how our team of engineers came to us, and how we've grown for nearly nine years. People enjoy being part of a “winning” business team.

The one thing I've not addressed in our own “recipe” for being a success with listeners is the programming.  It's "that word" that gets thrown around all too loosely anymore. We have to be local.  We can't be what every other station on the dial is being today. If we, as station owners only give our towns the same syndicated programming that the next town has,  our stations are doomed to be forgotten.

 We could have programmed typical AM fare consisting of talk shows; (mixing up times and sprinkling in network news)  but we didn't. We operate a local morning and afternoon show, all locally programmed music with a music scheduler and local music director, then we add-in  network news of our choice for top-of-the-hour updates, and carefully selected feature programs for weekends.  Parts of the day have "information blocks” that keep our listeners tuned to us.   Some features are even locally produced. It's compelling programming that brings our listeners back day after day.  We verify this by maintaining a “listening business list” of  offices, stores, restaurants, auto service establishments and others who regularly interact with our station by phone, fax, and e-mail.  That list proves we're getting our station heard by business owners, their employees and their businesses' clients.  It's also a great sales tool, given that we're not a rated market.   None of our clients ask, “where are you in the ratings?" but they DO ask, "who listens to you?" 

What we have created in our station is exactly what used to exist in the 1970's and 1980's. A GREAT sounding AM station broadcasting in CQUAM AM stereo because we CAN.  A station with a good following locally, a solid list of clients, and never a complaint on the street to our staff.

Now that were streaming actual AM stereo on the web, not a single complaint has been received of it being AM.  In fact, it gets compliments on the sound, originating in my office from an ordinary consumer AM stereo receiver.

So you see, it can be done. Yes it's a good idea to augment your AM with an FM translator.  Yes, you augment your AM with streaming so you're available 24/7 to your local and long-distance audience, but it all starts-with a good quality AM station.

And what do we as AM operators need from the FCC and Congress?
  1. Help with Public Relations. Why NOT start an AM awareness campaign in the U.S.?
  2. Less regulations on AM stations hopping FM translators to be used as fill-ins.  Make it easier for AM's to buy translators from farther away so we can get them IN to our primary coverage area, and deploy them without the the rules on intermediate hops.
  3. Protect our Translators. If proper engineering was studied when adding a translator, (as was the case with ours)  frequencies are well chosen. Give protection to our FM translators such that we don't live in fear of having to eventually change frequencies or lose the service.
  4. Stop allowing stations to be “spun off” into trusts by big corporations  doing big deals, only find crying that nobody will buy them or deal with buying from the "biggies." This practice has  contributed to the corporate attitude of : “Small AM's aren't worth running or saving” which seems to be the view of some big broadcasters  after mergers.  How about working with small broadcasters (or those waiting for licenses) to help them acquire the "spin-off" stations so they're operated by people who WANT them? 
  5. When a government mandate comes down that costs the small broadcaster money, how about helping us with financing?  The Federal Government mandated the new EAS system, then offered NO help to broadcasters for the purchase or implementation of the new system.  Many a broadcaster, including we, had to literally beg at our bank to finance the new E.A.S.  Yet, when it came to television, the same government offered to buy converter boxes for everyone from the rich, to those on welfare.
  6. Stop thinking “Digital is the Answer” to everything.  (stop acting like changing to a digital MEDIUM is the answer to AM's issues. it's not.) and let us broadcast the best damn signals, sound and programming we can by removing the fear of our (AM) method of broadcasting being thrown-away by “expert panelists” who are likely not working in the trenches of every day AM radio. 

    Oh, and one last thing. If we're truly a “green thinking” country, then nobody should be considering moving our broadcasting off of the current AM band if for no other reason than to NOT fill our landfills with millions and millions of (AM) radios sold since the 1920's. (like what's happening now with TV's.)

    Visit our station website to learn about our station, listen via the pop-out player, or go to the "listen" page for better options in 'net listening. WION turned 60 years old on February 1st, 2013 with a huge on-air celebration as we marked 60 years of the same call letters in the same town all that time!