Gray Television and Meredith Corp. each enjoyed big days on Wall Street today, on word that the company buying Quincy Media, Inc., which acquired Raycom Media at the start of 2019, is purchasing Meredith Local Media’s 17 broadcast stations.
At the Closing Bell, GTN was up 9.1%, to $22.17, thanks to a $1.85 improvement on heavy volume of nearly 3 million shares.
For MDP, a 13.2% gain from Friday was seen, pushing the company’s shares to $35.21. Volume was 1.48 million shares against average trading of 467,160 shares.
For a complete look at Monday’s closing prices for media stocks, visit the Wall Street Report on the homepage of RBR.com.
It describes itself as “an innovative media company serving the greater good of the communities it serves.”
That would be TEGNA, the company formerly known as Gannett that owns broadcast TV stations across the U.S. On May 4, it is making its IAB NewFronts debut.
We’ve got an early look at what to expect.
She rules evening radio — and has for decades — with her unique approach of uplifting the lives of listeners all across the country.
Now, she’s returning to where it all began … sort of.
Delilah is buying the Oregon radio station where she first took to the airwaves.
COMING IN THE MAY 10 ISSUE OF RADIO INK
MAKING RADIO MAGIC: MIW LEGEND DELILAH — Premiere Networks President Julie Talbott says it’s not a cliché to talk about Delilah as a companion and someone who brings comfort. “Reaching millions of listeners with a calm, inspiring voice not only provides an entertaining outlet, but also an uplifting and encouraging environment for this dedicated audience,” she notes. For more, click here.
The author of this commentary is a director in the Global Automotive Practice at Strategy Analytics.
Just a few years ago, Jacobs Media Strategies conducted a study for the National Association of Broadcasters identifying the critical shortcomings facing the broadcast industry in its management and delivery of metadata for its content and advertising.
Prior to the encroachment of the digital age and streaming, this didn’t seem like such a high priority.
To its credit, the NAB sought out Jacobs to conduct an audit of digital station content as rendered in automobiles to assess the varying levels of digitalization across the radio dial.
Conducted about four years ago, the Jacobs audit was carried out in three markets and found significant shortcomings in the availability and rendering of metadata in vehicle infotainment systems.
The mere fact that such a study would be conducted at all was clear validation and recognition of the primacy of in-vehicle radio listening.
Just as radios of all kinds — clock radios, boom boxes and Walkman-style portables — have all but vanished, automobiles have increasingly become a key focal point for consuming audio content, second only to smartphones.
Most estimates suggest that in-vehicle radio listening today accounts for 50 percent or more of all radio listening, at least in the U.S. This figure is generally seen as somewhat lower outside the U.S.
The NAB has long recognized the importance of car radio listening — especially after witnessing the rise of SiriusXM, which has built one of the world’s most successful and largest networks of subscribers almost entirely upon and through its relationship with auto makers. Rare is the automobile in the U.S. that doesn’t leave the factor or the dealer’s lot equipped with SiriusXM satellite radio.
The importance of the listening experience in the car is twofold. The listener in the car represents a captive audience — seatbelted in place and focused on the driving task. The infotainment system, previously known as the car radio, is the focal point for content consumption in an environment designed to mitigate distraction.
The big change that has thrust metadata to the forefront, though, is the reality that the “car radio” as we once knew it is gone. There is no radio dial. There is now an increasingly large digital display and a built-in wireless connection.
Now every infotainment system has become something of a “box of chocolates”, to borrow a line from Forrest Gump. No two infotainment systems are identical.
At the same time, Strategy Analytics research has shown that even though radio listening in the car is king, content consumption more broadly considered is increasingly fragmented. This experience is global and reflects the introduction of app-centric in-dash systems and smartphone mirroring.
The Jacobs Media audit highlighted the magnitude of the problem on the ground in cars on the road today. Jacobs concluded:
- There is room for improvement.
- The display of radio station text and image information is generally inconsistent, creating a sub-optimal user experience.
- The radio industry needs a standardized approach.
- Dynamic vs. static information. Some stations provide a static environment for their content, while others use a dynamic approach and “scroll” or “chunk” information, creating a sub-optimal experience that can be harder to read.
- Album art for FM-band HD Radio stations. There is a lack of consistency in the use of display pictures and illustrations when music is playing.
- Case consistency. Some stations use all caps, while others blend in all caps for some items and title case for others.
- There is a lack of consistency during commercial breaks. There is no industry standard for showcasing advertisers during commercial breaks.
- Inconsistent use of available fields. (RDS systems have two available fields for content display. The Program Service (PS) field has both static and dynamic capabilities and is comprised of just eight characters. It typically resides at the top section of the dashboard display. The RadioText (RT) field is comprised of up to 64 characters and is typically on the lower portion of the dashboard display.)
- There are missed opportunities to showcase HD1 (main channel) stations, especially in the spoken word formats.
- HD multicast channels generally lack branding of any kind.
- Format designations need to be reviewed and expanded. Too often, the name of the format of the station is incorrect, or is simply listed as “Other.”
In its report, Jacobs Media highlighted these failures with images from in-dash displays.
Four years later a company, Quu, has emerged to directly engage with broadcasters to help overcome the overwhelming metadata shortfall that persists to this day.
This matters because in today’s in-dash systems the radio is no longer the default screen. Drivers and passengers have to search for the radio, and may not even recognize it when and if they find it.
Quu is directly taking on this challenge, as is Xperi.
The latter has emerged on the metadata scene — actually Xperi has been toiling for the past 15 years to stitch together the back-end infrastructure now capable of delivering what can only be described as radio-as-a-service, or RaaS.
Xperi’s Raas platform, DTS AutoStage, aggregates station, artist and genre information suitable for in-dash display clarifying the consistent appearance of what a connected radio should look like while simultaneously enabling non-linear listening with search and program guides along with the ability to integrate events and interactive advertising opportunities, from organizations such as Instreamatic.
Xperi is perhaps best known as a digital radio advocate, with particular emphasis on HD Radio. But the scope of AutoStage is sufficiently transformative that it is enabling a redefinition of the concept of hybrid radio (a combination of streaming and broadcast) pioneered by Audi.
It’s true that each automaker has its own idea about what radio should and will look like in the car. At least with Xperi, automakers can start with a consistent look and feel applicable across the globe and capable of integrating analog and digital broadcast sources and rendering them in a familiar fashion in any car.
This Xperi value-add is essential in a market increasingly dominated by Android-based infotainment systems increasingly skewing toward app-based solutions, or smartphone mirroring solutions that exclude broadcast content sources. Xperi’s RaaS platform allows broadcasters to compete and allows auto makers to create differentiated systems, while preserving familiarity.
The weakest link — as demonstrated by Jacobs Media in its NAB audit and still in evidence today — are the broadcasters, many of which have yet to remedy the shortcomings in their metadata strategies.
As radio listening declines in automobiles — a phenomenon that Strategy Analytics has documented from consumer surveys conducted over the past 10 years across China, North America, and Europe — broadcasters will have no one to blame but themselves for that fading signal.
The message from the Jacobs Media study, from Quu, from Xperi and from Strategy Analytics surveys and customer clinics is clear: Fixing the management, delivery and rendering of metadata in dashboards is essential to the survival of broadcast radio.
Call it a “no-GO” for Educational Media Foundation. Sort of.
In mid-April, RBR+TVBR was first to report on the purchase by EMF of the former KZGO-FM 95.3, a Class A licensed to St. Paul, and the former KQGO-FM 96.3, a Class C3 licensed to Edina, Minn., from The Pohlad Companies. At the time, KZGO, given its market heritage as a religious station, was poised to see a return of the predecessor to “Go” — Christian Adult Contemporary “Praise Live.”
This happened, along with the return of the KNOF call letters. As such, EMF, which specializes in its national CCM networks, is selling what is now KNOF-FM in St. Paul.
Lawo has introduced a “second-generation” mc²36 audio production console based around a dual-fader operating bay featuring 48 faders in the same space as a 32-fader board. The update is seen as a move to broaden the console’s appeal for theater, houses of worship, corporate, live and broadcast audio applications.
According to the company, with DSP more than doubled from its predecessor, the new mc²36 with built-in A__UHD Core functionality, so that all developments in the future will happen on a single, unified platform, and Lawo continues to provide production file compatibility between all mc² consoles.
With the A__UHD Core, the new console offers 256 processing channels, available at both 48 and 96 kHz, and natively supports ST2110, AES67, Ravenna, and Ember+. It provides an I/O capacity of 864 channels, with local connections that include three redundant IP network interfaces, 16 Lawo-grade mic/line inputs, 16 line outputs, eight AES3 inputs and outputs, eight GPIO connections, and an SFP MADI port.
Operating and visualizing features include Button-Glow and touch-sensitive rotary controls, color TFT fader-strip displays, LiveView video thumbnails, and 21.5-inch full HD touchscreen controls. Its built-in full loudness control is compliant with the ITU 1770 (EBU/R128 or ATSC/A85) standard, featuring peak and loudness metering which can measure individual channels as well as summing buses. The new mc²36 offers integration with a variety of third-party solutions including Waves SuperRack SoundGrid without the need for additional screens or control devices required.
The new mc²36 makes use of Lawo’s IP Easy functionality, which in turn is based around the company’s proprietary Home management platform for IP-based media infrastructures. With IP Easy, the console automatically detects new devices and makes them available at the touch of a button. It also manages IP addresses, multicast ranges and VLANs, and includes security features like access control and quarantining of unknown devices to protect a network.
The company’s Q1 2021 earnings call is still on for Thursday (5/6). However, with Monday’s blockbuster announcement that it is acquiring all of Meredith Corporation‘s local media assets for $2.7 billion, Gray Television moved forward with the release on Monday of its first quarter financial results.
How did the company led by Hilton Howell Jr. and former Raycom Media head Pat LaPlatney perform in the first three months of 2021?
Communications infrastructure association NATE is calling attention to a “mandatory stop use” warning for certain models of Honeywell tower climbing harness.
“NATE Member Gravitec Systems Inc. just shared a Stop Use Alert on the Miller/Honeywell Harness 850KQC/S/MBK,” the association wrote in an email to members last week. “All companies are encouraged to check their inventory.”
Honeywell Personal Protective Equipment reported that its Harness 850KQC/S/MBK failed an arc flash test. “This test failure also impacts the use of other 850K models, as well as models in the 650K, 060076, 080007 product lines. While there have been no reported incidents due to this nonconformity, continued use of the product for arc flash protection could result in serious injury or death.”
So Honeywell issued an “immediate stop use” of the Honeywell Miller Heavy Duty Harness 650K, 850K, 060076, and 080007 Kevlar series “only when used for arc flash protection.”
As I pen this column, there’s an AARP Member who is presently driving north on I-95 from South Florida to the Empire State. Like other “snowbirds,” Bubbe from Boca has packed her car, put the cute little puppy in his belted-in canine crib, and has made her way to New York State.
Two days. Eighteen hours of driving. How much time will she spend listening to the radio?
There are many directions we can turn in commenting on this reality. Today, we wish to discuss the No. 1 value of Radio, and how efforts to hyperlocalize the medium may be counter-productive to its greatest asset: Reach.
International Datacasting Corp. says that it has provided its next-generation MAP Pro Audio satellite receivers and a NetManager network management subsystem to radio broadcaster Southern Cross Austereo for live content delivery to SCA’s affiliates in Australia.
According to a release, the MAP Pro Audio downlink receivers are “the first in the new generation of the modular architecture platform (MAP) products for radio, video, and data distribution via satellite and/or internet. It is designed to be both backward and forward compatible and easy to expand and upgrade with modular features as technology evolves.” It added that “NetManager provides in-band management and control enabling easy remote configuration control and over-the-air updates.”
SCA Lead Systems Engineer Phil Elzerman said, “Our existing platform that service SCA’s own sites are excellent, but has some limits — it provided good functionality but comes at a significant cost and is dependent on WAN connectivity for control. We went with IDC for our expansion because the MAP solution utilizes ‘in-band’ control, and also because we appreciate their willingness to meet the challenge of building a platform that would integrate seamlessly into our existing infrastructure.”
President and CEO Harris Liontas of IDC’s owner, Novra Group, said, “We designed the modular architecture platform of the MAP specifically to make sure it would be extremely flexible and adaptable to the changing requirements of broadcasters.”
Lumina Broadcast Systems Australia was the contractor.
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The National Association of Broadcasters opened its nomination window for the 2021 NAB Marconi Radio Awards.
The program recognizes excellence and performance in a range of categories including Best Radio Podcast, Legendary Station of the Year, Radio Station of the Year in various market sizes and formats, Personality of the Year by Market Size, and others.
Finalists will be announced in July and winners will be saluted at the Radio Show in Las Vegas in October.
A highlight of our recent Pro Audio & Radio Tech Summit was the session “Building the Virtual Air Chain.” Among the speakers was Alan Jurison, senior operations engineer for iHeartMedia and a member of the NAB Radio Technology Committee.
He explained a committee project intended to help broadcasters insert local EAS alerts onto HD Radio subchannels that normally are fed their programming from another city or from the cloud.
Jurison said that achieving this in the past has been cumbersome, requiring a local master EAS encoder/decoder and some kind of audio switching device to interrupt the audio.
“We have a wide variety of formats at iHeartRadio, and we like to feature them on HD2 and HD3 subchannels throughout the nation, but the automation system that’s running the national format isn’t necessarily in the market. So how do we get emergency alerts on it?”
The committee worked with hardware manufacturers and Xperi on an approach. The first device resulting from that work is the HDR-CC standalone embedded HD Radio capture client from manufacturer 2wcom.
You tie together the GPIO and audio connections from your local Sage, DASDEC or other EAS device. When an EAS alert comes through, the 2wcom device logs into the embedded HD Radio Gen4 importer/exporter and can replace all supplemental channels (HD2–HD4) with the EAS audio. After the GPI is released, the HDR-CC logs out and the importer continues with normal operation airing the original program material already in progress.
As a result, listeners to the HD Radio subchannels get relevant local alerts as required by the FCC rules and regulations. This could be achieved prior to Gen4 HD architecture, but involved complicated external audio switchers to achieve.
The committee tested this with iHeart ’90s music content. A system in the company’s Cincinnati data center was running RCS NexGen automation, a music log and streaming software. It fed through iHeart’s WAN infrastructure to its headquarters in San Antonio, and then on to an FM station’s HD Radio subchannel on WWHT(HD2) in Syracuse, N.Y.
It was successful, and iHeart has kept that in place, now using RCS’ cloud-based automation software as the source today.
“You’re still regulatory compliant,” Jurison said, “but you can have that audio come from literally wherever you’d like now with Gen4.”
You can watch that session for free at proaudioradiotechsummit.com.
Keep an eye on what the NAB Radio Technology Committee is up to. They’re also working with all the major processing manufacturers so that they can integrate Nielsen’s PPM encoding directly into audio processors without the need for external encoders; and they’re having similar discussions aimed at making EAS for non-HD channels more flexible and resilient as well.
On Thursday (4/29), rumors became reality as Allen Media Broadcasting, the fast-growing television company owned by Byron Allen, emerged as the buyer of 10 television stations Gray Television agreed to sell in order to receive regulatory approval of its $925 million merger with Quincy Media, Inc.
While the end of the Ralph Oakley-led QMI is certainly noteworthy and will reshape Gray even further, following the January 2019 completion of its mega-merger with Raycom Media, Gray’s latest “transformative” transaction is a blockbuster in the making.
Gray has agreed to acquire all outstanding shares of Meredith Corporation for approximately $14.50 per share in cash, or $2.7 billion in total enterprise value. Importantly, this will occur following the spin-off of Meredith’s National Media Group to current Meredith shareholders.
Following its mammoth divestment of the Local Media division, Meredith Corp. will be a company wholly enveloped in its National Media assets.
What does this mean for the Des Moines-based company and for Local Media Group President Patrick McCreery?
American patriotism does not belong to a political party. Do you disagree? Or perhaps discussion of this topic makes you uncomfortable? At least I’ve got you thinking about what it means to live in a democratic society.
Here’s a gut punch: Is getting the COVID-19 vaccine patriotic?
Medical authorities and most Americans say the “jab” is the only real way out of the pandemic. Some though feel that being coerced into vaccination is wrong in a free society, or believe the vaccine is not as safe as others Americans commonly get.
Not taking a stance on vaccination or being loud with encouraging messaging is a choice your radio station must discuss internally, if it hasn’t already, because this issue still hovers over our entire country as we seek to climb out of isolation, unemployment and fear.
Even at less-than-perfect efficacy, it is clear that vaccinations work beautifully to stem the tide. Not taking a stance is a choice, but your upper management should at least do so consciously instead of passively.Beyond the mask
We all understand that when stations take political positions, as talk radio does, a specific form of politics will echo through the attitude the station projects. And unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s especially true in these times of “identity politics.”
However, this vaccination question — especially locally — is so important that avoiding the topic does not give even talk stations a pass. In fact, the issue should be debated regularly on the air. From what I’ve been hearing, the talk corner of the dial is not fully rejecting the idea of vaccination. Some on-air personalities and many listeners are open to it.
While masks remain important, we’re not just talking about those anymore. The increasing success of vaccination brings a lot more to the table in terms of supporting the health of one’s fellow Americans and aiding our economic recovery.
The more people who are vaccinated, the closer we are to the herd immunity that we need to compensate for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or well-established religious reasons.
If nothing else, it’s time to clue in vaccine skeptics that, while the jab is a choice, there will certainly be personal repercussions of rejecting it.
Depending on particular state law, some companies and entertainment or dining venues may employ or admit only those who hold vaccine certification. There will be much debate and angst about the right of the individual vs. the right of a business to protect its customers. Even so, some domestic and most international travel without vaccination proof will be restricted.
And perhaps most important, beating back COVID-19 will most certainly affect in-person school attendance. Our country needs our kids safely back in school more than ever. If necessary, do good research to bust the myths using information from your local health department.Idea list
For stations ready to go all-in with encouragement, here are kickstarter ideas.
Showcase short sound bites of your own on-air personalities saying that they got the shot with local places now taking appointments. If you can get format stars or other local celebrities to do this too, it will amplify the effect.
Consider promos with stats and studies showing that vaccination is safe. Interview well-known local doctors, along with little-league coaches, youth advocates who want open schools and public health, cultural and other community leaders.
Go for community rather than government. If there’s a mass-vaccination place like a stadium, do live remotes or regular cut-ins with updates on wait times and interviews with locals who just got the shot.
Highlight local business owners who want to encourage people to vaccinate so that they can fully reopen. If you’re able to obtain the percentage number of vaccinations in your city or county, highlight this percentage daily, or weekly, to show progress.
When you start to dive into all the things a station can do, the list gets long. In your heart you surely know that this type of advocacy is something radio stations do very well. Radio is the ideal platform for propagating community health and well-being. What could be more patriotic?
The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is now accepting nominations for the 2021 NAB Marconi Radio Awards and will be accepting submissions until May 31.
Established in 1989 and named for inventor and Nobel Prize winner Guglielmo Marconi, the prestigious awards recognize overall excellence and performance in radio.
Station and on-air personality nominations may be submitted for the 23 awards presented in the following categories:
- Legendary Station of the Year
- Legendary Manager of the Year
- Radio Station of the Year by Market Size
- Radio Station of the Year by Format
- Personality of the Year by Market Size
- Network/Syndicated Personality of the Year
- Best Radio Podcast of the Year
The NAB Marconi Radio Awards finalists are selected by an independent task force of broadcasters and will be announced in July. Winners will be recognized during a special event at the Radio Show, held October 13-14, 2021 in Las Vegas, and co-located with NAB Show.
Contact Tobi Hall with questions regarding the Marconi Radio Awards, nomination process or station eligibility.
In a repeat of an already successful partnership, Procter & Gamble Co. in June will again team up with iHeartMedia for the return of “Can’t Cancel Pride,” a virtual relief benefit for the LGBTQ+ community as part of the company’s Pride Month observances.
The benefit is scheduled to feature performances and appearances from “the most influential voices in the community,” and what iHeart promises to be “the biggest names in culture and entertainment.”
“Can’t Cancel Pride” formally returns on June 4 at 9pm, in each time zone. The event will stream on iHeartRadio’s YouTube, Facebook, Instagram TV pages, iHeartRadio’s PrideRadio.com and broadcast on iHeartMedia radio stations nationwide. It will also be available on demand throughout Pride Month — until Thursday, June 30.
The event began in 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic’s spread across the U.S.
This year, “Can’t Cancel Pride” will also again partner with The Greater Cincinnati Foundation to administer and distribute financial support raised by the event to LGBTQ+ organizations with a track record of positive impact and support of the LGBTQ+ community.
This includes GLAAD, SAGE, The Trevor Project, the National Black Justice Coalition, CenterLink and OutRight Action International.
The 2020 inaugural virtual relief benefit helped raise visibility and funds for LGBTQ+ communities most impacted by COVID-19; the pandemic had a damaging effect on the fund-raising efforts that LGBTQ+ organizations rely on to survive. It has also closed community centers, prevented support groups to meet in person and has had an adverse effect on a number of industries in which so many LGBTQ+ people make their living.
Partnering with six organizations with a long track-record in creating positive change within the community, “Can’t Cancel Pride” raised over $4 million.
Hosted by Elvis Duran and Laverne Cox, the one-hour benefit special featured performances by Adam Lambert, Ben Platt, Big Freedia with Tank and the Bangas, Katy Perry, Kim Petras, Melissa Etheridge, Sia, Ricky Martin and Carla Morrison, as well as John Cameron Mitchell, Neil Patrick Harris, Darren Criss, Andrew Rannells and more.
In addition to music, “Can’t Cancel Pride” also featured special appearances from Billy Porter, Bebe Rexha, Cara Delevingne, Ciara, Dan Levy, Hayley Kiyoko, Kermit The Frog, Lena Waithe, Matt Bomer, Nico Tortorella, Peppermint, and Tituss Burgess.
Full details and lineup announcement for the 2021 “Can’t Cancel Pride” are forthcoming.
In late February, Nexstar Media Group announced that President of Broadcasting Tim Busch will retire on May 31.
On Monday (5/3), it revealed who will be rising to take on Busch’s soon-to-be former duties.
Affiliates of the public radio satellite system in the United States are in the process of completing a major receiver switchover.
The project involved deployment of XDS headend hardware and the XDSv7 Content Management system from manufacturer ATX. “Collaboration with NPR was paramount in helping ATX enrich and improve its XDS Radio Platform with new and advanced enhancement,” said Jose Rivero, an executive with the company’s Media Broadcast business.
Radio World asked Michael Beach, NPR vice president of distribution, about this project in March.
RW: What was the scope of this project?
Michael Beach: More than 300 public radio stations interconnected through the Public Radio Satellite System (PRSS) installed two new ATX receivers. Those downlink sites in turn feed about 1,200 public radio stations throughout the country.
RW: What specific equipment is being swapped out or upgraded?
Beach: The specific equipment at the stations includes two ATX XDS PRO4S Integrated Receiver Decoders. The receivers are integrated with our proprietary software, ContentDepot, which enables content management, scheduling and automation integration. These ATX receivers are replacing two IDC 4104 Integrated Receiver Decoders at each station.
In addition, we’ve rebuilt our Network Operations Center (NOC) in Washington — the hub of our system — and made significant upgrades to our Backup Network Operations Center (BuNOC) in St. Paul, Minn.Dale Neiburg monitors functions in the NPR Distribution Services Network Operations Center control room in the basement at NPR headquarters in Washington. Photo: Allison Shelley/NPR
RW: What are the key benefits to stations of the change?
Beach: The new ATX system enables us to add new services immediately, and to add others over time with some additional development work.
For example, as soon as we implemented the new system, we were able to activate a backchannel internet connection. This allows instantaneous remote status monitoring by the NOC at NPR headquarters. That means we know immediately if a station is having signal issues or has gone offline.
Another feature of the new PRO4S receivers is that they will automatically receive a feed across the internet in the event that the satellite signal is lost for any reason.
The receiver also helps NPR consider future bandwidth-delivery options over terrestrially-based networks. Using the new system, stations can not only subscribe to national radio content, but also schedule when the content will be played out of the receiver locally.A view inside the Backup Network Operations Center (BuNOC) in St. Paul, Minn. Photo: Allen Baylus, Doug Bevington, NPR
RW: We heard that there were some bumps along the way. What problems cropped up and how were they resolved?
Beach: The scale of this project was huge. It included a rollout to all public radio stations in the network and required a large equipment change at our main and backup facilities.
The effort required careful planning and execution because it involves an overhaul of equipment, software upgrades and working with almost 400 organizations, many in different time zones. This all needed to be coordinated while running a network 24/7, and a switchover to the new system without causing any stations to go off the air.
Then add a pandemic, just before we planned to ship the receivers.
The effect of the pandemic meant that many organizations closed their physical stations and moved staff to work remotely either for weeks or months. Many are still working remotely. Since station engineers were working remotely, deliveries had to be delayed until last fall, and then installations were delayed.
Each public radio station is independent of the network, so local station technical designs vary. This means that the receivers require a different, unique effort to fully integrate into each broadcast station’s audio chain.
In some cases, local engineers may have waited until late in the transition phase of the project when we offered both the old and new interconnection systems side by side in dual operations. If the integration effort required more than the local station engineers envisioned, then wrapping up the work in time for the completion of dual operations on Feb. 26, became a challenge for some. We continue working with individual stations that did not complete their integration on time.
Our project management office and account reps worked tirelessly to determine workarounds and time-saving options with our engineers.Public Radio Satellite System interconnection diagram
For example, the pandemic meant we needed to delay travel to complete installation work at the BuNOC in Minnesota, too. When our engineers were finally able to travel, they drove nonstop from Washington to St. Paul to be as careful as possible and avoid nonessential interactions.
Our engineering team adjusted their schedules, too, making improvements in our NOC and also guiding engineers who were able to get into their stations through installations. Our NOC technicians and help desk adapted to phone and Zoom calls to try to make this transition as smooth as possible. Station leaders across the country and their engineers continued to be terrific, understanding, and patient partners throughout the project. That’s gratifying, especially considering that they each had challenges they were dealing with in their worlds, too.
It’s been an amazing team effort across the entire PRSS, and a reason that we’re such a strong network of technology and people.
RW: What is the budget for this project and who bears the cost?
Beach: The project is part of a four-year, $25.8 million contract between NPR as the system operator and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The cost of operating the system is funded by the users — public radio stations and public radio content producers. The total scope of the contract includes the local receivers, a major revamp of the main and backup technology in Washington and St. Paul, lease of satellite bandwidth for content delivery, and replacement of some aging satellite antennas at local radio stations.
RW: What is the expected lifespan of a new deployment of receivers across the U.S.?
Beach: The station receivers have an expected life span of four to five years. However, NPR is maintaining a limited inventory of replacement receivers, and has an arrangement with the system vendor for repair or replacement as needed.
RW: What else should we know?
Beach: The new total network design allows the PRSS to provide better service to stations through a network monitoring system to help troubleshoot local receiver issues 24/7. The ATX system also better positions the system for network topology changes — including the transition to a terrestrial delivery system as those costs become more affordable.
Stations now have increased flexibility to create multiple unique playout schedules from the receiver, including the ability to time delay live content. We’re also working closely with stations who are offering ideas about new features they’d like to see.
We have reached President Joe Biden’s first 100 days in office, and vaccine distribution may go down in history as one of his signature achievements. What does that mean for radio stations and reopening?
When Joe Biden arrived in the White House, the coronavirus spread was a top concern in the minds of many Americans. More than 400,000 people in the U.S. had already died from the virus, and vaccinations had sputtered. The Trump administration shouldered much of the blame for the slow response, and voters seemed to want leaders to go on the offensive. Biden promised a bold plan of 100 million COVID vaccine shots in the first 100 days.
With spring in the air, Biden can claim victory for that pledge. The United States has administered over 200 million COVID-19 vaccines in his first 100 days in office. The breakneck pace and sheer accessibility of vaccination today — states like Texas and others have made vaccines freely available to everyone — is sparking hope in somewhat of a return back to normal.
Offices, including those of radio stations, are part of the normalcy conversation. Dozens of major corporations and municipalities have announced plans to fully reopen this summer. For media outlets, including public and community radio, the discussion about reopening to staff, volunteers and the public is in full swing.
What are the issues radio stations should consider when weighing out reopening their studios and facilities?
First and foremost, it is best that stations follow recommendations of their cities and counties for reopening. City and county leadership are monitoring infection rates daily. They can give your station tips on issues like office capacity and what other nonprofits and businesses are doing. They may even be able to point you to a group of organizations like yours and how they’re mapping out reopening, and to what degree.Getty Images/Yaroslav Mikheev
You may also wish to decide how open you want your station to be. Vaccinated staff may feel comfortable around unvaccinated individuals or those whose status is unclear. Vaccination is not a 100% guarantee that a vaccinated person won’t contract the virus. So, you may want to explore this matter with staff and your human resources people. Will you want to do a temperature check with guests? What are your cleaning and social distancing protocols? These are among the topics you will need to resolve.
Voluntary or mandatory vaccination is another question you may want to consider. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Department of Labor have previously noted vaccines may be required as a safety measure. If your station wants to make vaccines voluntary or mandatory, you will need to ensure that you are making appropriate medical or religious accommodations as they are necessary.
The National Federation of Community Broadcasters recently issued a variety of templates and a checklist for community radio stations considering reopening. Such documents may prove beneficial to stations starting the long journey toward welcoming back our communities to radio studios.