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College Radio Watch: Digging into College Radio History in Sacramento and More News

12 hours 5 min ago

On this week’s radio show/podcast we had a fun discussion with one of the founders of Sacramento State University’s college radio station KSSU. We learned about the challenges and obstacles that students faced in the late 1980s when they embarked on a project to bring student radio back to campus. It’s not unusual; many students have had to exhibit similar levels of persistence in order to launch college radio stations over the decades. In addition to sharing that story, KSSU co-founder Jim Bolt also talked about his efforts to archive the station’s early history. I appreciate this project too and hope that it will inspire more stations, even brand new ones, to document their origin stories.

More College Radio News Funding and Infrastructure Anniversaries and History Technology Programming Events Alumni

The post College Radio Watch: Digging into College Radio History in Sacramento and More News appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Radio Station Visit #164: KMNO Mana’o Radio in Maui

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 08:20

On a dreamy Hawaiian vacation this August, I carved out some time to visit community radio station KMNO Mana’o Radio on the island of Maui. My colleagues Matthew Lasar and Paul Riismandel have both written about the station in the past and last year Paul did an impromptu visit, piquing my interest even more.

Boxes of CDs at Mana’o Radio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

As I plotted out a family trip to Maui, scheduling a visit to KMNO was a great excuse to visit the town of Wailuku. We spent the morning sampling artisan doughnuts and meeting the gregarious owner at Donut Dynamite, hiking in the lush Iao Valley, and roaming through funky thrift stores and antique shops.

Iao Valley in Maui. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Located in close proximity to the town’s commercial strip, Mana’o Radio is a short walk to a record store, Request Music, as well as shops, restaurants and cafes. Having spent much of our trip in touristy zones, it was refreshing to check out the more locals-oriented Wailuku.

Mural on wall in Wailuku. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Embracing the spirit of aloha that we felt on our trip, Mana’o Radio was a lovely respite on a hot afternoon. In the air conditioned station lobby, General Manager Michael Elam met up with me and my family to share the story of KMNO. Shelves of music comprised one side of the lobby, with desks and cabinets on the other side. A door leads into the on-air studio, where a DJ was hosting a program during our visit.

Michael Elam at Mana’o Radio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

An all-volunteer operation, KMNO is led by a six-person board and has around 45 volunteers. Eschewing pledge drives; Mana’o Radio instead relies on underwriting and special event fundraisers. Elam said that it has been “truly listener supported since day one.” Even better, he added that the station is financially stable and lauded by the community. Just a few weeks before my visit, KMNO was named “best radio station” in local publication, Maui Time Weekly.

Audio equipment at Mana’o Radio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Originally a low power station beginning in 2002 (KEAO-LP), Mana’o Radio’s initial FCC application stated,

Manao Radio was incorporated in the state of Hawaii on August 28, 2000. ‘Manao’ is a Hawaiian word which means ‘thought, idea, opinion, theory, meaning, mind; to think, suppose, meditate, deem, consider’. It is one of many non-English words used frequently in Hawaii, often in the phrase ‘sharing manao,’ or the exchange of thoughts, feelings, and expertise. Pre-contact Hawaiians had no written language; knowledge was passed through the oral tradition of sharing manao. We chose the name ‘Manao Radio’ because we see this station as a modern extension of this tradition; an opportunity to educate the community through multicultural sharing.

Mana’o Radio sign at the community station. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Mana’o Radio later cancelled its LPFM license and obtained a full power FM license, upgrading its signal in 2014 to 1200 watts at 91.7 FM. Elam told me that just last year, they added a translator and are now able to reach the entire island of Maui, which he said has around 160,000 year-round residents.

Sound board at community radio station Mana’o Radio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Elam explained that the station’s mission has expanded since its early days as a low power “hippie station.” While it still caters to that audience, programming has expanded recently and they’ve had an influx of new DJs in the past one to three years. There are hip-hop and electronica shows now and a beats workshop at nearby Request Music was in keeping with KMNO’s desire to support live music and local Maui musicians, according to Elam.

Flyer for Maui Beat Session. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Although Mana’o is primarily focused on its local listeners; it’s not lost on them that the station broadcasts in tourism-focused Hawaii. With its online stream, Elam opined that they would love to have visitors take the station home with them.

Front of Mana’o Radio building in Wailuku, Maui. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

With all local programming, KMNO airs a wide range of live shows and plays automated music playlists during the late night hours (midnight to 3am). Genres over the course of the broadcast day include metal, jazz, Celtic music, classical, blues, rock, soul, country, and more. While tuning in to the station throughout our Hawaiian vacation, we enjoyed the mix, including a fun old school hip hop show, some newer indie rock, and tidbits of Hawaiian history, which run twice a day.

CDs on the shelf in on-air studio at Mana’o Radio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

A number of shows have a traditional freeform aesthetic, blending a range of genres. DJ Forest, who was on the air when we stopped by, talked about his underground radio past in the San Francisco Bay Area (at KPFA and KTIM to name a few). As I learned about the places that many Mana’o Radio DJs had migrated from, it brought to mind the fascinating melange of folks who have been drawn to Hawaii.

DJ Forest in the studio at community radio station Mana’o Radio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Mahalo to Michael Elam for the interview and tour. This is my 164th radio station tour report and my 35th community radio station recap. View all my radio station visits in numerical order or by station type in our archives.

The post Radio Station Visit #164: KMNO Mana’o Radio in Maui appeared first on Radio Survivor.

After the Death of iTunes Real Internet Radio Is Back on the macOS Music App

Wed, 11/20/2019 - 14:01

Back in June I openly worried about the future state of internet radio on the Mac with the arrival of macOS Catalina and the demise of iTunes. While iTunes has its faults, it still provided a simple way to tune in stations from around the world without using a web browser, whether you found the station in its own directory or plugged in the station’s stream URL yourself.

I’m happy to report that the situation is not as dire as I’d feared.

An early release of the Music app on both MacOS and iOS featured only a handful of carefully chosen stations outside of Beats 1 Radio and Apple’s own curated stations, the latter only available with a paid Apple Music subscription. However, now the Music app now gives you access to a very comprehensive selection of both terrestrial and pure-play internet stations across the U.S. and from around the world.

This is very good news, though Music isn’t yet a full-fledged iTunes replacement. The first big difference is that the Music app doesn’t really let you browse the world of internet radio. Sure, there’s a “Radio” button in the menu, but what you get is mostly populated by Beats 1 and Apple Music stations, along with a smattering of big public and commercial stations. Scroll down and you see a menu item, “Radio Stations,” that seems promising. But click on it and you just get more featured Apple Music stations, along with a list of genres that – you guessed it – deliver even more Apple Music stations.

The Vagaries of the Search

So where are all the real internet radio stations? Search, you must, young Jedi.

Indeed, I was able to find pretty much every station on my local Portland, Oregon radio dial. When I surveyed other Mac internet radio apps earlier this year, I discovered that stations owned by either iHeart or Entercom were often missing. That’s because these two radio giants have started pulling their stations off rival apps. iHeart only wants you to hear its stations on iHeartRadio and Entercom only wants you to hear its stations through

The Music app solves this problem by plugging into the iHeartRadio, and TuneIn directories. At least in the U.S., when combined, these directories cover just about every broadcast station that has a live stream, as well as most internet stations that wish to be found. When you search for a specific station, the app displays what directory the result came from.

But search has serious limits. When I searched for “college radio” it returned only about 40 results. Included were ESPN College Football and some other results that indicate the search was only performed on station names. If you were hoping to find your local college station but don’t remember the call letters, you’re likely out of luck.

The same thing was true when searching for jazz or heavy metal. All is good if the genre is in the station’s name, but otherwise you’ll only see a small percentage of stations that might otherwise qualify.

This is curious, because all three directories Music relies on do classify stations by category or genre. The metadata is in there, but Music doesn’t search it. Combined with the inability to browse internet radio stations, this makes Music a poor way to discover internet radio stations.

Still, if you know a station’s call letter or name and its in the iHeart or TuneIn directory – a pretty good chance – then the app is a fine way to listen to internet radio without a browser. In fact, if this is your use case, because it combines these three different directories, Music is your best choice for a desktop internet radio app.

Triode – a Promising iTunes Replacement?

I was reminded to check back in on this topic because I just learned about a new internet radio app for MacOS, iOS and tvOS. MacStories positively reviewed this app, Triode, calling it, “an excellent addition across nearly the full range of Apple’s platforms.”

I excitedly tried it out, only to run into the same limitations that hamper the other apps I surveyed: no stations from iHeart or Entercom. On the one hand, as a lover of great non-commercial stations and strange, eclectic internet radio, this isn’t necessarily a huge restriction.

I was immediately impressed with Triode on startup, as it displayed a wonderful selection of truly great independent terrestrial and internet stations, including San Francisco’s and SomaFM, Denver’s jazz KUVO, New Jersey’s WFMU, The Current from Minnesota Public Radio and Radio Survivor affiliate here in Portland. It’s wonderful to see these recommendations rather than just a pile of big city, highly rated commercial and public stations.

When I searched for “college radio” I got back dozens upon dozens of results – more than I had the patience to count. Same for metal, jazz and blues. Clearly, Triode is searching station descriptions, categories and genres, not just names.

If you don’t find a station in the directory you can add it to Triode if you know the stream URL. Now that’s very iTunes-live behavior.

Nevertheless, I suspect that the lack of big U.S. commecial stations is a drawback that will make this more of a niche app rather than a true competitor for Apple’s own Music app. Radio nerds who love independent stations and don’t want to pick through Apple’s subscription-only offerings to find their favorites are the target audience.

While Triode is free, you can only save stations as favorites with a paid subscription for 99 cents a month, $9.99 a year or $19.99 for a forever plan. By comparison, this is a feature you get for free with TuneIn as long as you’re willing to set up a free account. Plus you’ll get access to pretty much the same catalog of stations. A Triode paid subscription also delivers high resolution album art displayed for each track, a feature whose utility holds little appeal for me.

Consolidation Is To Blame

Now, the limits of Triode’s directory aren’t the fault of the app developer. The guilty parties are iHeartRadio and Entercom, two of the largest radio companies in the U.S. which also don’t want their stations found outside their own app platforms.

Of course you can still listen to these stations on your computer… for now. Ultimately it’s consolidation that keeps independent radio apps from having access to these companies’ streams. Luckily, there are still thousands upon thousands of smaller and independent stations more than happy to be found and streamed through whatever app you might be using.

The situation parallels what we’re seeing in video streaming. Where just a few years ago you might only need to use one or two apps or subscription services – like Netflix and Hulu – to get a pretty wide variety of movies and programs, now you need like six or seven.

I’d hate to see other radio companies follow iHeart’s and Entercom’s lead and set up their own closed app platforms, requiring a listener to have five or six different apps installed just to hear all the stations on their local dial. It could be enough to drive folks away from internet radio.

Or maybe just drive them to their trusty terrestrial radio receiver, which already gets all these stations.

If only their smartphones had a plain old radio tucked inside….

The post After the Death of iTunes Real Internet Radio Is Back on the macOS Music App appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #220 – The College Radio Station ‘That Shouldn’t Exist’

Tue, 11/19/2019 - 23:21

When Jim Bolt was in college at Sacramento State University in 1989 college radio was exerting unprecedented cultural influence in the U.S. But this campus no longer had a radio station. Though he had heard stories of an earlier student-run AM station – KERS – he couldn’t get to the bottom of why it no longer existed. In the same period the university transferred its FM license over to Capitol Public Radio.

Convinced that the school and the Sacramento community deserved real college radio, he and a group of fellow students pushed hard for two years to finally get KEDG off the ground and onto the AM airwaves in 1991. Today that station continues to thrive online as KSSU. But the struggle to bring college radio back to Sacramento State is why he says it’s “a startup that shouldn’t exist.”

Jim tells this founding story and explains why he and his fellow co-founders endeavored to keep the founding story alive with words and archival materials. He shares hard won advice for college students looking to build their own stations, and for alums who want to preserve their broadcast legacies.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #220 – The College Radio Station ‘That Shouldn’t Exist’ appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Walter Benjamin diary: on earthquakes and radio time

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 14:54

“Have you ever had to wait for a prescription at the pharmacy, and watched it being made? Gram by gram or decigram by decigram, the pharmacist weighs out all the substances and powders needed for the finished medicine on a scale with very delicate weights.”

So began Walter Benjamin’s October 31, 1931 Radio Berlin  broadcast, the subject of which was an earthquake, of all things. How, you might ask, did he get from his rather pedestrian question about powders and pills to the Great Lisbon Earthquake of November 1, 1775?

“I feel like a pharmacist when I tell you my stories in my radio broadcast,” Benjamin continued. “My weights are the minutes, and I have to weigh them with great precision, so many of these, so many of those, to get the balance right.”

You see, he explained, if he just described the earthquake one incident after the next, “I doubt you’ll find it very amusing.”

‘Amusing?’ I exclaimed to myself after reading those words. Who expected me to be amused by one of the worst temblors in history? But Benjamin was  explaining his sense of the nature of radio, a medium that he felt  did not have the time to narrate events like a history book. It had to get to the point. And the Lisbon Earthquake of 1771 had not one point, Benjamin thought, but four.

A representation of the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1775

First, he continued, we remember the quake not just for its size, but that it destroyed what was then one of the greatest cities in history. Portugal in the mid-18th century was one of the colonial powers. Not until the 1960s and 1970s would it finally lose its holdings in India and Africa. “The destruction of Lisbon at the time would be comparable to the destruction of Chicago or London today,” Benjamin noted.

Second, people experienced the catastrophe all over Europe and Africa. It was felt in Finland. It was felt in what is now Indonesia. “The strongest tremors ranged from the coast of Morocco on one side to the coasts of Andalusia and France on the other,” Benjamin disclosed. “The cities of Cadiz, Jerez, and Algeciras were almost completely destroyed.”

Third, eye witnesses from the time insisted that all kinds of strange natural phenomenon preceded the catastrophe: hurricanes, cloudbursts, floods, and “massive of worms emerging from the earth.”

Fourth, we have generations of observers chronicling and remembering the quake in pamphlets that they distributed as long as 150 years after the fact. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant collected accounts of the fateful day. An Englishman wrote a lengthy description of his flight from his Lisbon apartment to a cemetery that he thought might be safer.

“From the hill of the cemetery I was then witness to a horrific spectacle: on the ocean, as far as eye could see, countless ships surged with the waves, crashing into one another as if a massive storm were raging. All of a sudden the huge seaside pier sank, along with all the people who believed they would be safe there. The boats and vehicles so many people used to seek rescue fell into the sea.”

Benjamin served up all this information, I should add, for a children’s radio show. I guess he decided that the kiddies needed a good scare that Saturday morning. But what I find most intriguing is the author’s sense of radio time. “So much for that fate day, November 1, 1775,” Benjamin concluded. “The calamity it brought is one of the few that mankind still faces as helplessly now as one hundred seventy years ago. . . . My twenty minutes have come to an end. I hope that they did not pass too soon.”

For Walter Benjamin, chronological time and radio time were two different phenomena, and the later literally had no time for the former.

This the fourth installation of my Walter Benjamin radio diary.

The post Walter Benjamin diary: on earthquakes and radio time appeared first on Radio Survivor.

College Radio Watch: Music Discovery, New Station and More News

Fri, 11/15/2019 - 08:00

There have been radical changes in music distribution and consumption in the past few decades, which has certainly altered the college radio experience. A piece in the Independent Florida Alligator at University of Florida, “From Mixtapes to Algorithms: How Listening to Music on Campus has Changed,” states:

The way students discover music has evolved and would now be unrecognizable to those who once relied on college radio for new music. Students’ options today are limitless, and this has had an effect on the way students listen to and discover music. College radio stations previously maintained the supreme status of the ‘cool’ place to discover new music recommended by in-the-know students.

It points out that the current student-oriented radio station at University of Florida, GHQ, “…aims to be an all-encompassing music listening experience,” adding that, “Unfortunately, even the most popular radio stations on XM cannot introduce to the masses new music in the way a viral meme can. Just ask Denzel Curry or Lil Nas X.”

While I can’t verify if viral memes are the ultimate music discovery tool; it is true that students are learning about music from myriad sources, both on and offline. The piece also notes that “In a world where you can find everything online, the best way to discover new music may still be recommendations from your friends.” Interestingly, that’s also the reason that college radio continues to be an excellent place for music discovery, particularly at stations with DJs who curate their own playlists. Those radio show hosts are similar to trusted friends and help many people learn about intriguing artists, even in 2019.

More College Radio News New Station, Audio Production Club, and Station Revival College Radio and Music Culture Profiles of Stations Listeners Events Programming Funding and Infrastructure College Radio in Popular Culture History and Anniversaries Alumni Awards and Accolades

The post College Radio Watch: Music Discovery, New Station and More News appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #219 – The Next Chance To Get an FM Station License; a College Station 60th; All-Digital AM

Wed, 11/13/2019 - 18:04

In April 2020 the FCC will open up the next auction for FM radio licenses. This is the next, and only currently scheduled opportunity to build a new radio station in the U.S. Jennifer, Eric and Paul discuss this news, along with celebrating the 60th birthday of KFJC-FM at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. We reflect on how KFJC and other college stations were trailblazers in programming and service, functioning a lot like public radio in the years before National Public Radio was created.

We also dive into the proposal to allow AM radio stations to all-digital, using HD Radio. These stations would be unreceivable on the millions of radios that don’t receive digital HD signals. We survey the supposed benefits of the idea, and the deficits.

Finally, we celebrate another momentous occasion, the 25th anniversary of a terrestrial station simulcasting on the internet. And, wouldn’t you know it – both stations credited with being first are college stations.

Show Notes

.@DVD points out that today is the 25th anniversary of @wxyc debuting the internet simulcast stream of its broadcast radio signal. This was indeed the birth of modern streaming media as we know it (not just streaming audio, but streaming media, period) 1/4

— Andrew Bottomley (@abottomley) November 7, 2019

The post Podcast #219 – The Next Chance To Get an FM Station License; a College Station 60th; All-Digital AM appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Radio Station Visit #163: Community Radio Station KGNU in Boulder

Wed, 11/13/2019 - 08:51

Summer began for me with a short trip to Colorado, which prompted a road trip to see the sights of Boulder, including famed community radio station KGNU 88.5 FM/1390AM. Founded in 1978, the station has staff of less than ten, but an active roster of around 400 volunteers and a broadcast that reaches from Boulder to Denver and beyond.

Entrance to community radio station KGNU. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

KGNU was recently on my radar after I learned about its long-running hip-hop program, “The Eclipse Show,” (reportedly the longest running hip-hop show anywhere) during a 2018 Radio Survivor interview with Hip-Hop Radio Archive founder Ryan MacMichael. Following that episode, we spoke with one of the hosts of the Eclipse Show, DJ A-L, to learn more about its 40 year history. As it turns out, the program’s history as “an alternative black radio show” (beginning in 1978) and current incarnation as a live music mix show parallels the history of KGNU; which piqued my interest about the station even more.

Collage of covers of KGNU Radio Magazine from anniversary display at KGNU. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Coincidentally, KGNU kicked off its recent 40th anniversary celebration (read about the station’s early history here) with a New Year’s Eve hip-hop show, followed by a series of events, including a gala and a museum exhibit. Over the airwaves, the station did weekly music flashbacks (“40 Years in 40 Weeks”) and monthly programming flashbacks (“Flashback 40”), highlighting historic archives, including early LGBTQ and feminist programming.

Flyer for KGNU’s 40th anniversary “Listening Together” exhibit. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Music and public affairs programming are important aspects of KGNU, with the FM schedule comprised of news/public affairs during traditional commute times (weekday mornings and afternoons) and for much of the daytime hours on Saturdays. Music rounds out the FM schedule and is also the entire focus of a special KGNU stream called “After FM,” for listeners who would like to tune in to KGNU music programming round-the-clock.

Turntable at KGNU. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

In addition to “The Eclipse Show,” another long-time program on KGNU, “Reggae Bloodlines,” has been on the air since 1978. Other music shows run the gamut from blues to electronic to folk to opera to jazz to experimental sounds.

Reggae CDs in KGNU music library. Photo: J. Waits

On my visit to KGNU, Station Manager Tim Russo showed me around the Boulder digs and sat down for an interview with me. Connected with KGNU for around 20 years (and Station Manager since 2015), he first got involved while a student and campus activist, telling me that he recognized that radio was a way to “amplify” voices.

KGNU station manager Tim Russo in the community radio station’s CD library. Photo: J. Waits

I was particularly excited to see the ways that KGNU works with local organizations, including numerous groups focused on youth. They’ve run youth radio camps, have worked with high school groups, and have a multi-year Media Gardens projects working with bilingual young people on art and radio projects.

Artwork at KGNU from a community partnership. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

KGNU has also brought high school students into the station alongside a training program (including bilingual storytelling) that takes place in the schools. Russo pointed out that they are already noticing an increase in interns from that partner high school and that it’s important for KGNU to learn from young people how to make the station a more “relevant” place for them.

Vinyl record art hanging at KGNU. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Russo articulated KGNU’s desire to “keep the doors open” to youth and also allow for all volunteers to try new things and innovate. He said that it can be challenging for new folks to break into the programming schedule at KGNU, where there are more applicants than time slots. He’s hoping to create more opportunities and “side channels” in order to include more voices. In part, that’s where After FM and HD come in for KGNU. Those channels are available as “training and innovation spaces” and as places to try out new programming, according to Russo.

KGNU banner posted on the wall at the community radio station. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

KGNU’s ethos as a “community-powered” station is palpable. Russo elaborated that, “We’re very much a mission-driven organization and that’s to be an amplifier for underrepresented voices, culture and community. So we definitely say that KGNU for 40 years has been amplifying community voices, culture and music.”

KGNU spinner wheel. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

The desire to keep in touch with and change with the community is admirable. Russo told me that KGNU strives to be “perpetually relevant” and a place that is “reflecting the interests of the community” as a “cultural center” and “hub” for the community. “It’s much more than a radio [station],” Russo opined.

Mosaic on wall at community radio station KGNU. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survior

Thanks to Tim Russo and everyone at KGNU for the lovely summer visit. This is my 163rd radio station tour report and my 34th community radio station recap. View all my radio station visits in numerical order or by station type in our archives.

The post Radio Station Visit #163: Community Radio Station KGNU in Boulder appeared first on Radio Survivor.

College Radio Watch: Fall News Round-up

Fri, 11/08/2019 - 07:33

Welcome to a super-sized college radio news round-up, covering more than a month’s worth of college radio news. Before launching into this massive list of stories, I have to comment on a fascinating, hyperbolic quote about college radio history.

An AP News story in the Washington Post recounts nominees for the Songwriters Hall of Fame, stating:

R.E.M. shook up the music world with its experimental, edgy sound and then earned multiplatinum success and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The group got its start in Athens, Georgia, coming out of the region’s flourishing indie-rock scene. The band was credited for helping launch college radio with songs such as ‘Radio Free Europe.’

Who knew that R.E.M. helped launch college radio? While it has become a bit of a 1980s college radio cliche to talk about bands like R.E.M. that got their start over the college radio airwaves; this moment was by no means the “launch” of college radio. As Radio Survivor readers know, college radio dates back to at least the 1920s.

Certainly the 1980s are heralded as a strong period of college radio’s influence on the music industry, which is perhaps what this odd phrasing (“helping launch college radio”) is alluding to. Or it could also have been referencing the birth of “alternative” and “college rock” as music genres. The mainstreaming of “alternative” led to changes in the airsound of commercial radio stations, which starting playing bands that used to live on the left side of the dial on college radio.

College Radio in the Movies

Speaking of the 1980s, for those of you interested in films that portray college radio DJs, I just learned of another one. Girls Nite Out is a 1982 slasher film that has recurring scenes and themes related to a college radio DJ.

More College Radio News Station Profiles Infrastructure Profiles of DJs and Staff + Impact of Station on Students College Radio in Art and Popular Culture Events Anniversaries/History College Radio Day College Radio and Music Culture Programming
Alumni Awards and Accolades

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Can We Save AM Radio by Killing It? Considering All-Digital AM Radio

Fri, 11/08/2019 - 00:52

Can you save AM Radio by killing it?

The original broadcast band gets little love as it prepares to celebrate its 100th birthday. Plagued by electromagnetic interference from wi-fi routers, LED lights and all sorts of other modern electronics, and dominated by tired right-wing and sports talk programming targeting a shrinking demographic, there’s not much love for AM radio these days.

While the FCC has talked about revitalizing the AM band for something close to a decade, all that’s resulted is letting AM broadcasters have translator repeater stations on the FM dial. That’s not so much AM revitalization as welfare for AM broadcasters.

Another idea that’s been floating in the ether is taking the band all-digital. Just like the FM band, there are digital HD Radio stations on AM right now. Because AM stations have just a fraction of the bandwidth of FM channels, they don’t feature additional channels, like FM’s HD–2 and HD–3. Instead HD Radio stations on AM just have a digital channel accompanying the analog one which offers audio that is stereo and markedly free of noise and static, provided you have an HD Radio tuner and are in range of the lower-powered digital signal.

The idea behind an all-digital AM band is that stations would drop their analog signals altogether in favor of a digital HD Radio signal. The supposed benefit is that the new digital signals would be higher fidelity, free of noise, and somewhat more resistant to interference. The downside would be that they would be unreceivable by the hundreds of millions of analog AM radios in use around the country. Only HD Radio equipped car radios and the much-rarer home receivers would get the broadcasts.

As of now, approximately 50% of new cars are HD-capable. Taking into account that the average vehicle on the road is nearly 12 years old, a much lower percentage of all vehicles have the capability, meaning the majority of radio listeners still can’t hear HD Radio signals.

Nevertheless, for the first time this month the FCC is officially taking up the idea of letting AM stations go all-digital. The proposal, docket 19–311, wouldn’t force stations to go HD Radio. Instead, if approved, it would allow stations to choose this route.

Arguing All-Digital AM

To understand the motivations for this, we can look to a Radio World editorial, in which the petitioner behind this proposal, radio group GM Ben Downs, argues for the sonic advantages of HD Radio on AM. I admit that on its own the fidelity argument is hard to find fault with. But there are many more significant nits to pic. He takes up several common objections.

To the argument, “there aren’t enough [HD] radios,” he answers: “And if we broadcasters don’t step up, there won’t be any listeners either. Every year more and more HD Radios are hitting the market. Can we say the same about AM listeners?”

I think what he’s saying is that listeners are fleeing AM because of the noise and interference, but a growing segment of them are using HD-capable receivers that would relieve them of the sound constraints. I’m not certain there’s much evidence for this. Fidelity is not much of an issue for listening to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or endless listener calls debating NFL stats. Audiences interested in anything else naturally turn to FM.

Downs anticipates this critique, writing, “There are always people who say poor programming damaged AM. I suppose that’s possible, but those choices were forced on us by radios that had such poor performance we were embarrassed to try to compete against FM music stations with what we had to work with.”

That seems a selective view of the past, at best, and ahistorical at worst. FM music radio became predominant in the early 1980s, way before the AM dial became so noisy. Moreover, I’m not sure when this mythical time of wide-spread high fidelity AM receivers was, but that’s one I wished I’d lived in (and I was a radio listener in the early 80s).

He also takes up the argument that, “I’ll lose listeners when I switch [to all-digital],” answering: “The beauty of the AM revitalization process was that it allowed us to pair our AM stations with FM translators. Your translator can carry the audience load while the audience becomes accustomed to all-digital AM.”

I find this just as paradoxical as the idea of FM signals for AM broadcasters representing any kind of “revitalization” for the band. My question is: if listeners have to hear your station on the FM dial, why would they ever go back to find it on AM? Would they even know to do so?

While much of radio listening has moved to the car, and HD Radio is far more prevalent in vehicle dashboards than in home receivers, my own experience is that most listeners are relatively unaware of HD Radio. Their tuners may bring in the signal, but since it sounds roughly identical to the analog one, it’s all in the background. I don’t think most seek it out. This is evidenced by the fact that there are no HD–2 or HD–3 stations – only receivable with an HD capable receiver – at or towards the top of the ratings for any U.S. market.

Now, I agree that the fidelity difference on AM is more pronounced and noticeable. But I’m still not sure that listeners really notice the difference as their radios shift between analog and digital signals. Any AM listener is accustomed to the signal strengthening and fading as they travel, and the analog to digital shift doesn’t really sound all that different.

Importantly, we’re only talking about listeners in vehicles here. AM stations that switch to all-digital will most certainly lose nearly all their listeners outside of a car. No doubt there are nerds like me who own HD Radio home receivers, or some die-hard fans who will go out to buy one of the handful of HD-capable models when it becomes necessary. But the vast majority will just listen to something else.

I have a hard time seeing how going all-digital will save stations. More likely, it will just alienate listeners, and make those stations even more niche and less viable.

The Problem Isn’t Digital Radio, Per Se

I do want to be clear that, despite my cynicism, I don’t actually wish for stations to fail, nor do I think digital radio is a bad idea. I think it would be good for the U.S. to have a truly viable digital radio service. However, it would be better as an additional service, rather than a replacement for analog radio. Something more like the DAB service prevalent outside the US.

Even with its limitations, there are significant advantages to analog AM radio. It’s a proven technology that has lasted a century, and there are millions upon millions of receivers out there. Heck, it’s so simple that you can build a crystal set receiver that doesn’t even require electricity. Moreover, AM signals can easily travel hundreds to thousands of miles.

All of this means that AM is an efficient want to broadcast to large groups of people over a large area. That is particularly important during emergencies, natural disasters or other times when communications by cellular phone or internet is compromised.

Who Loses When Stations Go All-Digital?

What I’d hate to see during a wildfire, hurricane or earthquake thousands of people resorting to their emergency radios, only to find that where there used to be a reliable source of local information there is only digital hash.

Though I have doubts that all-digital AM broadcasting will be any more successful, nor as sustainable as analog, I certainly prefer it to be optional rather than mandatory. On the one hand I suppose it’s not terrible to let station owners to make their bets and choose their own fates.

On the other hand, these consequences are not borne only by stations alone. Communities continue to depend on broadcasters, and there is still something of a remnant public service obligation in exchange for the monopoly license to use a frequency on the public airwaves. If going all-digital ends up driving a station out of business, what’s the likelihood that another one will take over the license and take its place?

I honestly don’t doubt the sincerity of many all-digital AM proponents, that they honestly would like to see a higher fidelity, “improved” service on the dial. However, they may be naïve.

Is This Even About Radio?

A more suspicious take would be that a drive to all-digital AM has nothing to do with radio as an audio service. Rather it’s an effort to turn the band into a data service, with audio as a justification, but more of an afterthought. That’s not unlike the required, but mostly useless video signal of channel 6 low-power TV stations, that mostly serve as “Franken FM” radio stations sneaking onto the FM dial at 87.7 FM. Think of all-digital AM as a cheap way to send traffic, weather and other commercialized data to in-car receivers without the need for mobile internet.

That said, I also have doubts about how many broadcasters would take advantage of all-digital operation. I have difficulty seeing top rated big-city AMs dump the millions of analog listeners that keep advertisers coming back just to gain a little bit of fidelity for a minority of the in-car audience.

The question becomes: Is all-digital AM Radio actually AM Radio? If we’re being pedantic, no, it isn’t. AM means Amplitude Modulation, which is an inherently analog technology. If all the stations on the AM dial were to go digital, that would in fact mean the death of AM broadcasting in the U.S., along with the death of many of the technology’s advantages.

It’s possible this wouldn’t be as tragic as I predict. Maybe analog FM and more robust internet technologies would pick up the slack. Maybe even such a transition would stimulate the production and sales of more HD Radio receivers.

I’m not committed to being a luddite, and I wouldn’t mind being wrong. I just won’t bet on it.

The post Can We Save AM Radio by Killing It? Considering All-Digital AM Radio appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast # 218: Archiving Public Media

Thu, 11/07/2019 - 16:49

On this week’s episode, Karen Cariani, the David O. Ives Executive Director of the WGBH Media Library and Archives, joins us to talk about the work of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB).

A collaboration between the Library of Congress and WGBH, the AAPB not only archives public radio and television; but it also makes material searchable and accessible through its website.

Show Notes:

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The Eton Mini Grundig Edition Is My New Travel Companion

Thu, 11/07/2019 - 00:26

One of life’s little pleasures is tuning around the radio dial late at night before drifting off to slumber. I especially enjoy this while traveling, touring foreign radio dials, encountering strange and distant signals.

This means that a small portable radio is my constant traveling companion. I prefer to travel light, so said radio must also be as tiny as practical. In the last couple of years the Tivdio V–115 has been my choice, given its small size, AM, FM and shortwave tuning, reasonable sensitivity and ability to record air checks to a microSD card. I’ll refer you to my YouTube review for more details.

Even so, my ears are always wandering, urging my eyes to admire other receiver suitors. About a month ago the Eton Mini Grundig Edition caught my attention, and at a sale price of less than $25 delivered. Grundig is a venerable name in radios, and the Mini has received decent reviews, so I bit.

Small and Capable

The radio lives up to its name, measuring up to about the same size as an iPhone SE, including a decent speaker and retractable antenna. It comes with a nice nylon case to help protect it in your bag.

Though the Mini includes shortwave, the coverage is more limited than my Tivdio, only covering two bands, from 5 – 10 MHz and 11.65 – 18 MHz. That said, shortwave is more of a “nice to have” than a necessity for my travel radio, so this limitation is fine with me.

Taking it along for an extended trip to New York City and northern New Jersey, I was impressed at how well it pulled in FM stations inside my Midtown Manhattan hotel. It was no problem tuning in public radio WNYC, along with college radio from NYU, Columbia University and Fordham. The same could not be said of the room’s supplied clock radio.

Though small, the Mini’s speaker is adequate for a travel radio, with pleasing sound that’s loud enough for hotel room listening. You’re not going to disturb your neighbors, and that’s probably a good thing. I also appreciate its simple thumbwheel tuning. It’s not quite as convenient as the number direct-dialing keypad on my Tivdio, but the Tivdio’s buttons are stiff and make a loud click, which can annoy others around you if you’re scanning the dial wearing headphones.

For late night listening a sleep timer is a necessity, since I’m likely to drift off, sometimes to the soothing sounds of inter-station static. The Mini comes so equipped. I also appreciate its control lock that prevents it from turning on inside my baggage, draining batteries and annoying fellow passengers.

Patience Pays for DXing

After dark is the time for AM band DXing, and here I found the Mini’s performance curious. When I first spun the dial, I was only picking up the strongest local stations. Then I started clicking through frequencies more slowly, stopping when I heard a faint signal. Leaving the radio tuned, the signal grew in volume and strength – patience paid off. I suspect this is an artifact of the DSP-based tuner, keeping the volume more muted with a weak signal so as not to assault the listener with loud static, then gradually increasing sensitivity as needed.

Moving from noisy Manhattan to the relative quiet – both in terms of noise and RF interference – of upper Passaic County, I enjoyed many fun DX finds. Keeping the gradual technique in mind, I had no problem bringing in signals from Quebec, Michigan, Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, Upstate New York and Boston. I didn’t formally log the stations because I was already tucked into bed with the lights out.

On Halloween night I dived into the shortwave band a little after dusk, wondering if I might encounter some pirates. I wasn’t hopeful, and so I wasn’t disappointed when none emerged from the ether. I was, however, pleasantly surprised when Radio Havana came blaring through at 6 MHz.

At home in Portland, Oregon, I’ve found shortwave reception inside my house to be very hit and miss, and mostly miss. I do think geography is partly to blame. New Jersey is simply closer to many more shortwave stations than Oregon. Nevertheless I was impressed with how good the Eton Mini’s indoor shortwave reception is.

On the whole, the Eton Mini Grundig Edition proved itself a capable and pleasant traveling companion. The one thing I miss is the easy ability to record airchecks direct to a memory card like my Tivdio can. However, I think the Mini outclassed it with AM sensitivity and selectivity, provided you’re patient and allow maybe a half-minute for a station to slowly come into focus through the static. Also, the Tivdio’s recording circuit can be a source of interference, which means it can thwart recordings of weak signals which will just disappear when you hit record. Moreover, if I’m listening to the Mini through the speaker I can make quick-and-dirty aircheck recordings using my smartphone or a portable voice recorder (yeah, I often travel with one of those, too).

There are better performing portable radios, and ones with more features or frequency coverage. But I don’t think I’ve encountered one this small and also this good. Carry on and tune in.

The post The Eton Mini Grundig Edition Is My New Travel Companion appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Happy 60th to College Radio Station KFJC

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 15:31

This fall has been a hectic time at the college radio station, KFJC-FM at Foothill College, where I am a volunteer DJ and Publicity Director. On October 20th, the station turned 60 years old and we celebrated with various on and off-air activities.

With my interest in college radio history, I felt compelled to do a bit more digging in order to tell some tales about KFJC’s past. So many college radio stations have done inspiring history projects and I’d been wanting to do a history blog in the style of WPRB’s History Blog for quite some time, as I like the way the Princeton University station features moments from its past in a non-linear manner.

So, in the midst of the annual fundraiser and as the anniversary loomed, KFJC launched its history blog where we are starting to share historical goodies. As I’d hoped, the 60th anniversary has been a rallying point for station alumni. Even before the blog debuted, they were sharing stories and images on social media, some of which have now been incorporated into the blog.

At KFJC’s 60th Anniversary Open House, alumni from nearly every decade of the station’s existence were on the scene. Some even brought bits of history, including a vintage T-shirt and a briefcase full of KFJC ephemera. Founder Bob Ballou wasn’t able to make it to the party, but he checked in over email. Every year he sends his congratulatory greetings on KFJC’s anniversary, which always makes me smile.

It’s nice to take the time to reflect back on a station’s past, as often we find parallels with the present. As KFJC was making plans for a big surf music show at a campus venue, I was shown a flyer from the KFJC archives for a 1960s-era KFJC forum and live broadcast from the very same room at Foothill College. While the content was markedly different (loud surf bands in 2019 vs. “The Art of Being Female” forum in 1965), it’s somehow reassuring to feel a kinship with station predecessors doing work in the same spaces.

Where is College Radio Watch?

So, with my hyper-focus on KFJC and other work this fall, the weekly college radio news updates here have been on hiatus. While I like to maintain a record of the latest college radio news, it takes time to do this every week. Did you miss “College Radio Watch”? Is it something that helps you in your work or in your understanding of the college radio scene? Drop us a note to let me know.

The post Happy 60th to College Radio Station KFJC appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #217: Radio Spectrum and Transmission Art

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 20:09

Amanda Dawn Christie is an artist enamored with radios and radio waves. The Assistant Professor, Studio Arts at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada) joins us on the show to discuss her most recent transmission art project, Ghosts in the Airglow, in which she created work at the HAARP facility in Alaska.

Christie also shares with us the backstory of how she starting working with radio and radio waves, describing her fascination with radio towers and shortwave and recounting her numerous radio-related art projects.

This episode first aired in April of 2019. To hear the longer verson click here.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #217: Radio Spectrum and Transmission Art appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #216 – Archiving LGBTQ Radio History (Rebroadcast)

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 21:00

Our guest is Brian DeShazor, an independent radio researcher and founder of the Queer Radio Research Project. Formerly the Director of the Pacifica Radio Archives, DeShazor has taken a special interest in uncovering and highlighting the LGBTQ voices that have aired on community radio in decades past.

On the episode, we discuss the history of queer radio programming as well as DeShazor’s work to bring some of the hidden LGBTQ stories to light.

This episode originally aired on April 2, 2019 as episode #187, which is slightly longer.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #216 – Archiving LGBTQ Radio History (Rebroadcast) appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #215 – Lessons Indymedia Has for Us Today

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 21:51

Today our online networks are largely owned and operated by corporations that spy on us for profit, but 20 years ago leftist activists built a very different kind of online network. It was called Indymedia. It was one of the first online spaces where people could self publish photos and text as well as audio and video. The network was designed for people to report their own news. Each local Indymedia website was linked to and run out of a physical space (Independent Media Center) where people gathered to work on telling their stories and to form community.

Our guest is April Glaser, technology and business journalist at Slate. April previously worked at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Prometheus Radio Project, Radio Free Nashville, and the Tennessee Independent Media Center.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #215 – Lessons Indymedia Has for Us Today appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Pacifica Radio: some recent positive developments

Sat, 10/12/2019 - 17:27

Please know that the opinions expressed here belong entirely to me. My Radio Survivor colleagues Eric, Jennifer, and Paul bear no responsibility for what follows. Any and all outraged responses should be sent to the email address listed in my profile below (expressions of agreement are also welcome, of course).

After a twenty year extended vacation from competence and sanity, forces within the Pacifica Foundation and its network of five listener supported radio stations have taken the first crucial steps towards rescuing the organization. I do not know whether they will succeed. I do think that they are on the right track. Or, to be more accurate, the right two tracks.

Here they are, Tracks One and Two, with my assessments.

Track One: By-laws reform. A group of Pacificans have proposed and are distributing a desperately needed revision of the foundation’s excruciatingly democratic by-laws. I cannot bring myself to say much more about these monstrous governance rules than I already have over the years. Following the Big Pacifica Blowup of 1999-2001, the survivors created a board system of over 120 people, elected by the network’s listener subscribers and staff. We are literally talking about a cast of thousands governance system that has cost the organization between three and four million dollars to keep in the idiotic manner to which it has become accustomed. And, as any high school student vice-president could tell you, its girth has paralyzed the organization time and time again.

In its place, the reformers propose a far leaner eleven member Board of Directors. Six will be chosen by the Board; five will be elected by the respective listener-subscribers and staffs of the network’s five radio stations. You can read the proposed by-laws yourself. Some of the by-laws team members helped create the current board system and appear to have learned something from its shortcomings. I like many things about the draft, especially its exclusion of station programmers from the Board, an obvious conflict of interest.

On the other hand, I am not crazy about the continuation of listener-subscriber/staff elected Directors. I anticipate that most of the candidates for these positions will be, at best, ignorant about the other four stations. I expect a bunch of crazy hotheads to front load the contests with noxious blather. And I wager that most listener-subscribers will cheerfully ignore the elections, as they do now.

But at least the elections will be decided by Ranked-Choice Voting, rather than its annoying and dysfunctional cousin, Single Transferable Voting (STV), or IUV as I call it: Incomprehensible Unexplainable Voting. Pacifica’s current ballot counting method, STV, seems to be obsessed with making sure that every wing nut gets their day. I remember a Pacifica board member I experienced as particularly bonkers asked some years ago to explain STV. “I don’t know how to describe it,” he candidly replied. “But without STV I wouldn’t be sitting on this board.” That was the best description of STV I have ever heard.

In contrast, in a straight up Ranked-Choice contest, the candidates who win will more likely be those supported by a critical mass of the station community. Not the best way to pick Directors, but hardly the worst. Bottom line: these proposed governance rules are so much better than the current Pacifica by-laws that there is no comparison. The organization desperately needs governors who can make decisions relatively quickly, especially now. So if you are a Pacifica station listener-subscriber or staff member, please endorse these by-laws (as have I) so they can replace the current monstrosity as quickly as possible.

Track two: WBAI. As everybody who pays any attention to Pacifica knows, last week Pacifica’s Executive Director took over Pacifica station WBAI-FM in New York City and replaced its schedule with network programming. You can read the CIA coup version of what happened over at The Nation magazine. My favorite line: “All of this occurred without a vote of Pacifica’s National Board.”

Regrettably, Pacifica does not have another two decades to deliberate over the future of WBAI (see my Track One comments). To my amusement, I now find myself in agreement with someone with whom I have been at odds for most of the recent Pacifica past: Carol Spooner (she once compared me to Glenn Beck). As a member of the aforementioned new by-laws team, Spooner notes that as of September 30, 2017, WBAI was in hock to Pacifica and the rest of the network to the tune of $4 million. “WBAI’s total net deficit as of that date was ($6.6 million),” she wrote in a recent letter to the National Board, “including $2.36 million in accrued rent.” (Spooner’s whole letter is republished at the end of my comments).

This loadstone comes in the context of a huge and, in my opinion, very ill advised $3.25 million loan that Pacifica took out in April of 2018. Facing a terrifying court decision allowing a WBAI transmitter landlord to flush out Pacifica’s exchequer in pursuit of millions of dollars in back rent, the organization should have declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Instead, Pacifica borrowed from Peter to pay Paul. “That loan is secured by everything Pacifica owns, and it comes due in full on April 1st, 2021,” Spooner warns. “So far, there is no clear plan to come up with the funds to pay.” 

And she continues:

“The rest of the network did the best we could to help WBAI . . . We (the rest of the network) sold the National Office building (paid for by KPFA listeners as part of the mortgage on the KPFA [in Berkeley, California] building). We (the rest of the network) loaned them money. We (the rest of the network) picked up as much of the slack as we could with national expenses and increased Central Services payments. We (the rest of the network) got them a new transmitter. And, finally, we (the rest of the network) mortgaged the KPFA, KPFK [in Los Angeles], and KPFT [in Houston, Texas] buildings (and everything else we own, including intellectual property at the Archives, all our furniture, fixtures, equipment, etc.) to get the loan to payoff Empire State and break the lease.”

Sorry folks, but enough is enough. The Executive Director in question, John Vernile, told The New York Times that he wants to “rebuild” WBAI, rather than sell the station license. “We are not out of the woods yet,” he said, “but this puts us in a place where we have a shot at bringing everything back in full.”

Is this the best strategy for community radio in the USA? I do not think so. To my mind, Pacifica should declare bankruptcy, sell WBAI’s frequency license, transfer the remaining Pacifica stations to local non-profits, and let the history of listener-supported community based radio migrate to new leaders who hopefully have learned something from the mistakes of the last 25 years.

But I believe that Vernile, Carol Spooner, and their colleagues are sincere in their intent. I think that the by-laws team and Pacifica’s latest management team are serious about trying to rescue the organization, more or less as it is. They have demonstrated that they intend to make the very difficult choices necessary to accomplish that goal.

Please, listen to their voices before you buy into the hysteria – or those who pontificate that “something had to be done, but not this.” Something had to be done which was at minimum this. I see these efforts as significant and hopeful. For the first time in a long time I am encouraged.

Here is Carol Spooner’s statement to the board, republished in full:

“Dear PNB Members,

I urge you to vote to support John Vernile’s very painful, difficult and courageous actions at WBAI last Monday. 

I believe the best hope for Pacifica now is strong and stable executive leadership with a cohesive board to back him up. The lender (on the $3.25 million loan) is watching Pacifica carefully, and very worried about their loan, I am sure. Seeing that strong action has been taken to stop the bleeding at WBAI, and seeing that the board supports that action, would be reassuring to them. Then, I believe John Vernile would have a reasonable chance to negotiate with them about extending the term of the loan. Without that, I would not be surprised to see them foreclose on their loan (as is their right under multiple conditions we have not been able to fulfill so far).We, the whole network, have done our best for WBAI. It wasn’t enough, and has exhausted the reserves and resources that are necessary to get the rest of our stations on a better footing.The audits tell the story, and I’m sure the lender carefully reads them. As of the last audited financial statements (9/30/17) WBAI owed $4 million in inter-division payables to the National Office and the other Stations. That included unpaid Central Services and other funds advanced to WBAI to cover expenses. WBAI’s total net deficit as of that date was ($6.6 million), including $2.36 million in accrued rent. You can see for yourself here:

Ten years before (as of 9/30/07) WBAI’s interdivision payables were $502,389, and they had a net deficit of ($99,603). See for yourself here:

That is a total loss of $7.1 million over the past 10 years at WBAI. The individual station info is in the “Supplemental Information” at the back of the audits.Both Hurricane Sandy and the Empire State lease took a terrible toll on WBAI. 

The rest of the network did the best we could to help WBAI … the national office cut everything they could, and more. I say more because for a couple of years there they didn’t have the staff or money to do critical things like do the audits (the 2017 audit was filed 2 years late!).We (the rest of the network) sold the National Office building (paid for by KPFA listeners as part of the mortgage on the KPFA building). We (the rest of the network) loaned them money. We (the rest of the network) picked up as much of the slack as we could with national expenses and increased Central Services payments. We (the rest of the network) got them a new transmitter. And, finally, we (the rest of the network) mortgaged the KPFA, KPFK, and KPFT buildings (and everything else we own, including intellectual property at the Archives, all our furniture, fixtures, equipment, etc.) to get the loan to payoff Empire State and break the lease.But our financial condition continues to deteriorate across the network. Listenership and donations continue declining. We have to change. We have to keep WBAI on the air with programs from elsewhere, while we strengthen the rest of our stations. Then, if the lender gives us a couple more years, we can reinvest in WBAI and bring back local programming … stronger and better I hope.

So, again, I strongly urge you to support John Vernile. Our lender is watching. It is important for any negotiations with them that John have the strong backing of his board for stabilizing Pacifica and turning things around. Without that, I really do fear that all will be lost.

Best wishes and many thanks, ~Carol Spooner (PNB Member 2002-2004)”

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No, Vinyl Records Aren’t Outselling CDs – Do the Math

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 02:01

Last month news spread that, “Vinyl Is Poised to Outsell CDs For the First Time Since 1986,” as Rolling Stone reported. The source of that prediction is the recording industry’s own mid-year report, which showed vinyl sales racking up $224.1 million on 8.6 million units in the first half of 2019, creeping up on CD’s $247.9 million on 18.6 million units.

You don’t have to stare at those numbers long to notice one disparity is significantly bigger than the other. It’s true that vinyl records accounted for only $23.8 million fewer than CDs. But the units moved tell another story. In fact, more than twice as many CDs were sold than vinyl records – 116% to be more precise.

I don’t know about you, but that looks to me like vinyl records are still a long way towards outselling CDs. Rather, each of those records sold generated more revenue than each CD, $26.06 per record vs. $13.32 per CD.

Those numbers should look pretty accurate for anyone who’s bought new music lately. Whereas in 1989, when the CD was ascendant and a new record generally cost at least a few bucks less, the situation has reversed in the intervening three decades. And that makes sense if you account for the industrial history at work here.

As vinyl sales dropped in the 90s in favor of digital discs, companies pressed fewer records, and pressing plants gradually shut down. While CD sales have slowed in the last decade, they haven’t yet experienced the kind of drop-off that vinyl did. Although the last ten years have seen a vinyl resurgence, aging plants struggled to keep up with demand, and new plants came on line, all increasing costs. CDs, on the other hand, became a mature technology, with production costs having pretty much bottomed out in the early 2000s, and not having increased much since then.

At core, this disparity is due to the fact that vinyl now costs more to manufacture than CDs. On top of that, I suspect that demand and the popular perception of records as a more premium product conspire to help push and keep prices higher.

So, it isn’t really the case that vinyl is outselling CDs. “Outselling” means that something is exceeding something else in volume of sales. Instead it’s the case that vinyl is outearning and generating more revenue than CDs.

Based upon those per-unit revenue numbers, if vinyl were actually proportionally on pace to outsell CDs in volume sold, they’d be generating more like $438 million on about 16.8 units.

Picking Apart False Narratives

Why do all this nit-picky math? Because I think a false narrative is being spun here. It’s the narrative that CDs are dying at such fast pace that even a once-thought-obsolete technology like the vinyl record is going to surpass it.

I care because it’s the same kind of narrative that’s been used to smear radio for the last generation or so. This, despite the fact that some 90% of the population still listens to terrestrial radio.

Now, I’m not a luddite (which seems like a strange thing to call someone who’s defending the digital compact disc). I don’t dispute the fact that radio listenership and CD sales are declining. Given the ubiquity these technologies enjoyed in the year 2000, pretty much the only way to go was down, especially with the proliferation of new, often more convenient and diverse technologies. But that slide does not mean the technologies are dead or obsolete.

I have a particularly sore spot for FAIL culture and tech triumphalism, which go looking for receding tech or trends to pronounce ready for the trash heap of history. The pernicious aspect of this is that it causes some folks to think maybe they’re backwards or out of it for continuing to enjoy their CDs or radios.

For CDs specifically, what I see happening is people dumping their perfectly good collections, ones that were often painstakingly acquired and curated, and at great expense. I get that streaming is more convenient; I listen to more streaming music than CDs. But even if I’ve pared down the collection, I’m not going to just chuck away favorite albums like that. You never know when Spotify is going to lose the rights to your beloved music out of nowhere.

History Repeating Itself

I’m having flashbacks to the early 90s, when I knew so many people dumping their vinyl collections – often for free or very little money – in favor of rebuying many of the exact same albums on new, supposedly superior, shiny digital discs. Being both a poor student then, and also vinyl enthusiast, I scooped up dozens of great albums for a fraction of what they originally cost or even what they go for now, new or used.

I’ve definitely talked to other Gen Xers who admit to now rebuying yet again favorite old albums on vinyl reissue, that they once had on CDs that replaced their original vinyl copies. Oy, the revolving door!

Look, if you’re into downsizing and Marie Kondo-ing your music collection, I have no beef with that. Streaming Spotify takes up significantly less space than any CD or vinyl collection. As long as you understand that some albums may mysteriously disappear from your streaming playlist and are fine with that, then forewarned is forearmed.

But dumping CDs because there’s a popular misconception that they’re inferior or obsolete, that’s what doesn’t make sense to me. Especially since decent CD players are easier to get and less expensive than all but the flimsiest record players (never mind smartphones), not having a player shouldn’t be your excuse. In fact you probably have a CD player and just haven’t realized it – it’s your DVD or Blu-Ray player.

18.6 Million Is a Hell of a Niche

I have no doubt that physical media will become increasingly less prominent and more niche. But still, 18.6 million CDs sold in 6 months (some 37 million in a year) is a hell of a niche!

Even if most people stop buying new CDs altogether, there are still billions of discs on the used market, in flea markets, thrift shops, garage sales and free bins. In fact, the online music database and marketplace Discogs says CDs saw the biggest increase in sales amongst all formats on its platform in the first half of the year. Unlike the RIAA’s numbers, which only count new product sales, Discogs counts both new and used.

While vinyl records were the most popular physical music format on Discogs, keep in mind that the medium is twice as old as the compact disc. We should expect there are at least twice as many of them out there to be traded and resold.

Even so, nearly forty years of compact discs adds up to a nearly unfathomable amount of music out there to be heard. Moreover, a decent percentage of it was never released in another format, and still isn’t available for streaming. That means there’s a treasure trove of undiscovered or to-be-rediscovered nuggets out there for the finding.

Some of those treasures might be in your attic, basement, storage unit, or – even better – your CD shelf.

And, maybe I’m not the only digital luddite. Only a couple of weeks after the “vinyl is surpassing CD” news, Billboard reported that new compact discs from Taylor Swift, Tool and even Post Malone are flying off the shelves. This apparently is causing labels to reconsider their physical media strategy, as stores beg for more product to sell, especially of new hit albums.

Is a “CD Store Day” far behind?

Need more convincing? Earlier this year I outlined “10 Reasons Why CDs Are Still Awesome (Especially for Radio)” and expanded on the topic on our podcast.

The post No, Vinyl Records Aren’t Outselling CDs – Do the Math appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #214 – Net Neutrality Is a Local Issue Now

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 00:13

Net neutrality received a very mixed ruling from the DC Circuit Court of Appeals last week. The Court largely upheld the significantly looser rules passed by the FCC in 2017 under the leadership of Republican Chairman Ajit Pai. But at the same time the Court said the Commission overstepped its bounds in attempting to forbid state and local governments from passing their own open internet rules.

Prof. Christoper Terry from the University of Minnesota is back again this week to help us understand the implications of this blow to net neutrality. He’s joined by Tim Karr, Senior Director of Strategy and Communications for Free Press. We learn how the Court justified the Pai FCC’s dismantling of Open Internet rules the Obama-era Commission had passed just two years prior, rules that survived a previous challenge in front of the same court.

However, hope for an open internet lies with state and local governments, which have been passing their own rules in the last two years, and are now specifically cleared to do so by the Appeals Court. We’ll understand what those efforts look like, and why Tim Karr is optimistic about the future of net neutrality.

Show Notes:

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Radio Station Visit #162: College Radio Station KSDT at UC San Diego

Fri, 10/04/2019 - 19:07

At the end of a long day of travel, I found myself in the relaxing digs of streaming college radio station KSDT at University of California, San Diego (UCSD). In a quiet spot on campus, the station’s lobby door opens onto a pathway within the old student center complex. It’s near the student-run television station (Triton TV) and various socially-minded student services reside nearby, including a food pantry, LGBT Resource Center, Student Veterans Resource Center, Food Co-Op and a long-time collectively-run bookstore (Groundwork Books).

Entrance to college radio station KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

On a sleepy June evening, just a few days after graduation, Programming Director Adriana Barrios and Media Director Emanuel Castro Cariño greeted me in the KSDT lobby for a chat and a tour. The station was on a brief summer hiatus, with live shows returning in July. In the absence of regular DJs, KSDT was running an automated mix of music from a big hard drive dubbed “Satan.”

View of campus from KSDT studio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

While there’s no set music genre for KSDT, the station does work to support independent, underground artists. Castro Cariño described the station sound as “eclectic,” praising its “weird audience” of listeners, including a fan in Poland who enjoys the station’s surf/garage show. Barrios said that while there are quite a few shows playing “indie pop” and “SoundCloud rappers,” she’s encouraging people to bring in genres that aren’t common at KSDT since they have so much available time on the schedule. “The more diversity in music, the better,” she relayed, summing up her programming philosophy.

7-inch records at college radio station KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

An enthusiastic fan of college radio, Barrios talked about her visits to stations in Boston and throughout California (thanks to University of California Radio Network conferences). Inspired in part by what she and other staffers have seen at other radio stations, KSDT is combing through its archives to uncover its 50+ year history.

Sticker at KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

As is the case at many college radio stations, the current participants at KSDT don’t know too much about the station’s past. A decade ago, a 2009 UCSD Guardian article uncovered historical tidbits, namely pointing out that the station has never had a licensed over-the-air frequency. From the earliest days, KSDT operated over very low power, initially broadcasting to dorms in 1968 via AM carrier current. By 1973, the station was able to expand its reach to the broader San Diego community thanks to cable FM.

Vintage KSDT sticker at the college radio station. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

A 1987 Los Angeles Times article pointed out that KSDT “…has a potentially massive listening audience. You can pick it up at 95.7 on Cox Cable FM, 95.5 on Southwestern Cable FM.” The L.A. Times explained that cable FM was a service utilized by a small percentage of cable customers in 1987, stating, “A spokesman for Cox said a lot of people just plain miss cable FM. Out of 278,000 Cox subscribers, only 3,000 get the FM service. He, of course, would like a higher number, as would KSDT. (It costs $3.95 a month.) KSDT reaches only a few dormitories, wired to receive the signal through electrical outlets–you just can’t get it over the airwaves.”

Vintage LPs at college radio station KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

As they toured me through the station, Barrios referred to vintage KSDT stickers emblazoned with long-forgotten frequencies from the station’s cable FM and AM carrier current days. She and Castro Cariño also pointed out file cabinets containing historical documents and reel-to-reel audio tapes housed in the station’s music library.

News archives amid KSDT 7″ records. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Barrios shared that KSDT is in the process of recovering its history by going through files and piecing together the story of the station’s past. As for the rationale, she opined that while KSDT is certainly looking ahead to its future, they also want to make a conscious effort to ground themselves in where they’ve come from.

50th anniversary sign at KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

It’s a group effort, with several folks at the station interested in delving into the station’s archival material, including video. KSDT’s Winter 2019 ‘zine even featured record reviews of some LPs from the KSDT library dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. Barrios would also like to work on engaging with KSDT alumni is a more significant way and creating a plan for how to involve alumni DJs was on her summer to-do list.

View from lobby into KSDT studio/record library. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Just past the lobby, KSDT’s spacious on-air studio has a large window overlooking a patio, with picnic tables and an eatery nearby. When broadcasting, speakers outside the studio beam the KSDT stream to passersby. Within the studio, there’s the requisite broadcasting equipment and the surrounding walls and shelves hold the recently alphabetized vinyl LPs, 7″ records, and even some vintage reel-to-reel tapes.

LPs at college radio station KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

The studio has another window overlooking a small office (with plenty of sticker-covered surfaces) as well as a roll-up door/window that can be raised to create an open expanse between the lobby and the studio. A short hallway leads from the lobby to a music practice room.

Sound board at KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

A student-run college radio station, KSDT has a staff of 12 students and around 100 DJs every quarter doing one-hour shows. Additionally, the station runs a music practice room with a membership of around 50 to 70 people. A unique project (I’m not aware of a practice room run by any other college radio station), I was told that the practice room is the only space on the UCSD campus outside of the music department that provides instruments and space for musicians to practice. Castro Cariño recounted that a few years back it was a “passion project” by the students who ultimately built the space.

KSDT Practice Room. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

A haven for both musicians and audio engineers, the practice room is stocked with drums, a piano, guitar, various percussion instruments, amps, cables, and microphones. In addition to being a helpful space for artists, it also benefits the station by bringing musical talent in to KSDT.

Audio equipment in the KSDT music practice room. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

With summer break underway, Barrios was preparing for her senior year at UCSD while Castro Cariño was heading out into the world as a college graduate. At KSDT since his sophomore year, he said that while some might say it’s “bittersweet” to be moving on, he’s ready for the next phase and even has some ideas percolating on how to do community radio back in his home town. In part, he’d like to try to replicate the inspiring community that he found at KSDT. Reflecting back on his first moments at the station, he was struck by its “homey” feel, explaining that it was one of the places on campus where he felt “socially calm,” “at home” and “at peace.”

Emanuel Castro Cariño in KSDT music library. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Barrios didn’t anticipate how important KSDT would become for her when she jokingly proposed hosting a show she called “Fake Indie, Real Talk” her first year of college. She told me that she didn’t know much about music and was intimidated by the seemingly music savvy DJs. Just wrapping up her second year at Programming Director when we met, she told me, “I’m so happy I applied as a joke,” adding that KSDT is “probably THE coolest thing on campus.”

Adriana Barrios at KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

It’s also a place where people seem to really care about the work that they are doing both on and off air. Barrios started up a new “training quarter” program in fall, 2018 to provide more structure for new DJs. The components of the program include orientation (including training on how to spin vinyl records), DJ shadowing, and a series of non-prime-time solo hours on KSDT.

Sticker-covered door at college radio station KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Additionally, as part of the effort to make their time in radio a bit more of an educational experience, KSDT has a programming review process in which interns listen to shows at a particular time of day and provide feedback to the DJs/hosts. Barrios explained, “It’s really hard to do radio when you’ve never done radio before.” New DJs are given suggestions on how to improve their shows across a range of areas. Barrios described the reviews as “holistic,” with Castro Cariño adding that much of what they are aiming for is helping on-air hosts to be better communicators.

KSDT ‘zine in the college radio station’s lobby. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Both Barrios and Castro Cariño talked about how special it is to participate in college radio, citing being part of a creative community as a huge plus, especially at a university that they described as “STEM-focused.” It’s a sentiment that’s a common refrain at student-run radio stations and rings true for me as well: college radio can be an escape from the day-to-day stress of academics and a place to connect with fellow music lovers, artists, and soon-to-be radio nerds (in the best possible way).

Sticker-covered table at KSDT. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Thanks to Adriana Barrios and Emanuel Castro Cariño for spending a Tuesday night hanging out with me and schooling me about all things KSDT. This is my 162nd radio station tour report and my 107th college radio station tour. See my radio station visits in numerical order or by station type in our archives. I recap my San Diego-area college radio travels on Radio Survivor Podcast #202.

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