Guest Perspective/Bob Bittner
There's a nationwide organization called the "Future of Music Coalition", whose energy is directed against conglomeration in the radio biz, and for diversity in radio formats, and encouraging the airing and exposure of new and varied artists. They recently issued a study saying that 75 percent of all commercial radio stations in America air only 15 different formats. Another one of their findings is that local-ownership of stations has dropped by about a third, in the past 30 years.
Responding to that was the National Association of Broadcasters who said in a press release: "The Future of Music Coalition's long history of producing questionable research and dubious data to fulfill its agenda-driven mission is apparent for all to see." Is the pot calling the kettle black here? The National Association of Broadcasters has issued annual reports in recent years touting that broadcasting stations have dramatically increased public service time year after year. Most listeners might be scratching their heads on that statement.
Other conclusions from the Future of Music Coalition are:
* The top four radio station corporate owners have almost half of all the listeners in the United States, and the top 10 corporate owners have almost 2/3rds of all listeners.
* Niche music formats are usually provided by smaller radio groups or individual owners. Such niche formats mentioned are: classical, jazz, bluegrass, Americana. Folk, New Rock and even Adult-Standards fits into the orphan-format category.
* In 155 markets, radio listenership has declined by 22 percent in the past 18 years. They suggest that corporate consolidation is possibly to blame. That's a very valid point, but we all know that there is a another contributor to this, and that is new technology such as ipods and computer music downloads/and/sharing which makes radio sometimes irrelevant to many young people.
Another study says that white males own 87 percent of all radio stations. And women represent only 1 percent of people at the head of corporate radio groups. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps says of minorities and women: "It's not that they're riding in the back of the bus, they're not even ON the bus."
The Federal Communications Commission has reached a settlement of the recent-years' "pay-for-play" investigations. Four companies are ponying up significant cash as a penalty. Clear Channel had to pay $3.5 million, CBS $3 million, Entercom $4 million, and Citadel $2 million. All companies have promised "reforms." On May 14, the Chairman of the FCC said the investigation is not over. They're currently looking at other large radio broadcasting companies.
How's radio been doing billing-wise? Here in America, its been flat in the past 18 months, with some sub-categories dropping. All of this after a continual rise in revenues over the past 10 years. However, in Canada, radio station revenues are up almost 6 percent in 2006 at the same time ours went flat.
Radio hobbyists have put together a list of unlicensed radio stations in the Boston area. A list of 26 AM stations and 25 FM stations; not all of which are presently on the air, and some who broadcast only at night, or weekends.
For an unlicensed station to be legal, its signal should not go more than several city blocks, a small distance which is an unfamiliar trait of many of their signals.
Those so-called infomercials heard on radio in half-hour blocks, disguised as radio talk-shows, peddling diet pills to get-rich-quick schemes... Ten years ago, they were only on the smallest stations in America. Well, they're big in New York City.... even on most of the 50,000-watt AM radio stations, late at night. Those things started out and are still aired on the smaller stations in New York at any time of the day, and of course, in Boston too (but not HERE on this station). I wonder why the Federal Trade Commission is asleep on this.... Seems like they're in the latter-middle part of an ordered 8-year-long nap.
A group called the "AM Daytimers Association" has submitted their approval for a proposal for rule-making to the FCC - to allow some low-power-at-night and no-power-at-night AM stations, to have a moderately-low-powered FM repeater station. This means, stations like WJIB and WJTO might be able to have their signals repeated on the FM dial. This is one of the very few efforts to assist smaller AM stations. But there ARE restrictions to this idea, and it is quite possible that the whole intent of the idea may be corrupted by Wall-Street broadcasters to somehow use it to their advantage thereby squeezing out the stations which really need it the most. See info on this on-line:
Radio formats in 2006.... the count is in.... how MANY stations are airing which formats... Number 1 is country music with over 2,000 stations doing it. A distant second is News/Talk with about 1,350 stations. Third is rock & pop oldies (late-60s to mid-80s) with 730 stations. Fourth are all the different kinds of Spanish language stations, with 715 stations, and fifth is adult-contemporary music stations usually heard on FM, with over 650 stations. Adult-STANDARDS stations, like this station, well we didn't make the list, but I'm sure we're near the bottom of the pile. But we probably beat the number of all-Farm-news stations.
Last November and December, 412 stations went to an all holiday/Christmas music format; a record number. Remember, 10-or-more years ago, a seacoast New Hampshire FM station did that, and we all laughed?
You've all heard about the Dom Imus debacle. Well another New York City on-air duo made some similar remarks about an Asian ethnic group LONG BEFORE Don's comments, and those previous anti-Asian comments were virtually ignored by ethnic advocacy groups. But when that same program aired again AFTER the Imus episode (as a radio taped re-run), then they protested, demanding that the on-air duo be fired. Just an interesting tidbit of how "it worked once for someone else (with Imus), now its our turn." This is not to say that I condone ANY of the on-air comments made in New York City.
A talk-master on another New York City big station said that in HIS contract, there's a provision that says he can be terminated for offending any significant part of the community, but if he's not offending someone every day, then he's not doing the job that his wink-wink-nod-nod employer wants him to do.
This is a situation that plagues most talk-show hosts these days, which keeps them tensely on the edge of their seats every time they sit in the studio.
In early-June, an appellate court ruled that the FCC's laws against indecency in broadcasting, were invalid; which essentially negates restrictions on indecency. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, is preparing legislation for Congress to step in, to give them control over the court decision, and even over the FCC, in an effort to keep obscenity OFF the air. Right now, technically, broadcast stations may broadcast most obscenities, but there's no rush by stations to test this out, at least not right away.
Congress is also looking to ban most pharmaceutical products on radio, TV, and print advertising, at least for a three year period, so the situation can be studied. The drug companies spent a whopping $5.5 BILLION dollars in the media last year. Imagine what it would be like the see the 6:30 p.m. network news without those ads. Anyway, this started out as a proposed three year moratorium on just NEW drugs, in an effort to see how they work before mass-marketing of them.
Satellite radio's subscriptions have slowed down significantly in 2006 and even more-so in this year so far. Some of it has to do with Internet listening, which is free, and another aspect of this is hesitation ... hesitation by consumers who know about the desire of both satellite providers to merge into one.
And that's another story in itself. Citing believed-future financial difficulties, Sirius and XM want to merge. Over 10 years ago, the FCC purposely granted the two separate licenses, in the public interest to allow competition.
Now that they want to merge, they must get government approval which might be quite difficult. Hindering such are two happenings. First, the fact that some of the satellite DJ's have been making racist remarks and skits; and it has been confirmed that land-repeater transmitters have been running way authorized power AND there are land-repeater transmitters that aren't even authorized! Such of the legal transmitters ARE needed to repeat the satellite signal into the abysses of large city streets, between tall buildings, since the satellite is not "straight up" in the sky.
Music & the Internet
Ever wonder who the money goes to when you download a song for 99-cents? Here's how it breaks down: 5-cents goes to the credit card company, 7-cents goes to the singers/or/band who recorded the song; 13-cents goes to Apple for hosting, billing and bandwidth; and a whopping 73-cents goes to the record company.
The major record companies, through their common organization, the RIAA, has been brutal to Webcasters - people or companies who stream music programming on the Internet. Recently, they WON their suit against Webcasters, resulting in new sky-high royalties (almost three times what they are now, and in some cases, as much as 12 times) which are said will put most Webcasters out of business. Actually, its not "business" that most of them are doing - its more of a hobby with artistic attributes. These new fees that have been approved by the Copyright Royalty Board (which are retro-active to 18 months ago, and all due July 15), are being challenged in court right now. But it still doesn't look good for Webcasters. The appeal has been filed by RealNetworks, Yahoo, Live365, and Pandora, who say in letters to every member of Congress, that "the new royalty rate will cause immediate bankruptcy of the majority of the Internet radio industry and will actually reduce royalties to record companies and artists as services go dark and royalties are never paid by them." If this court-approved rate hike stays in place, then starting July 15, the only entities that will be Webcasting would be the largest corporations and some scattered people who would not worry about being sued because they have little or no assets.
This may very well be "the plan" by the major record companies - to be able to control all Webcasting, and additionally all recorded music performed publicly in the USA. While presently, Webcasting of radio station signals is exempt from this court action of extremely higher rates, the record companies are now gearing up to attack the Webcasting radio stations too, to get them to pay more than they are now. AND, there's talk about the RIAA going after all music-formatted radio stations for just broadcasting on their over-the-air signals, too! ... Stations like THIS ONE. This is not to be confused with the current royalties paid by traditional stations to the WRITERS of the songs.
This however is an effort by record companies (the RIAA) to get Webcasters AND stations to pay the record companies, where then those record companies would dole out a minority percentage to the actual performers that play the music, and I really mean, a MINORITY of it going to the artists, the players and singers of the music.
Right now, non-Webcasting stations (like this one), enjoy paying NO royalties to the record companies, but we do pay to the song-WRITERS. Those are the fees I told you about in March, where WJIB's royalties went from $5k-plus to $33k-plus. Over the past 80 years, there has been an uneasy agreement between all radio stations and record companies that stations, while not having to pay the royalties to the record companies, is in trade for radio stations creating sales for the record companies. After all, without stations' airplay over the past 80 years, record companies would not have sold many records/CD's at all, excepting for recent developments on the Internet.
If all of this seems confusing, IT IS. All due to American 21st Century greed, with different industry groups always trying to extract as much money as they can from other industry groups. And all of this greed regarding music got a jump-start from one thing: The invention of the digital transmission of music, where it was stated by record companies 15 years ago that it was so easy to copy music instead of buying it. But now, the record companies are going after EVERYONE involved in music, even if music is not easily copyable such as off traditional radio stations (By the way, if you want to use your cassette recorder to record music off this station, it's OK, as long as its for your own use and not re-distributed as a sale).
And now, it gets even worse. On the international stage, many Webcasters are finding ways to curtail their music streaming to be only within U.S. borders, due to the fact that the same thing happening here, is happening "there." Scores of different countries are wrestling with this same legal problem, and results, when and if they occur, will likely be all different from each other. This is important, as many acts aired in America are from other countries. This is a good time to be a copyright lawyer and/or lobbyist.
In addition to the record companies trying to change the laws in order for them to collect as much money as possible, the Performing Rights Organizations are trying to do the same. ASCAP and BMI, who represent their own interests and the WRITERS of the songs, filed suit in order to classify every individual song download as a "public performance," therefore they too, would get royalties for each download. On April 25, a federal judge saw through that and denied such, much to the glee of AOL and Yahoo who fought the suit.
Music & the Internet
While digital radio is suffering a very slow start, digital TV is rolling right along. Also known as HDTV, many stations are broadcasting now on two channels; the first one being the ones we're familiar with, and the second one, not so familiar. The real news in TV-land here is that every non-digital TV in America will no longer be able to receive local TV stations come February 2009. That is the month that the FCC is requiring TV stations to turn off their traditional signals, which has been in use since the 1940's. So no more NewsCenter5 on Channel 5, no more WBZ-TV on Channel 4. And "7, the News Station" will be "something-else, the news station."
For those of you who have traditional TV's, which is most of us; all is not lost, since there will be converter boxes available for you to install to make your TV's still functional.
Retail stores are still selling traditional TV's and the FCC is quite irritated with them ... Not so much for selling them, but for the stores not informing would-be purchasers that these TV's have a limited time-span use in the future.
The V-Chip, so far, is useless, says the Parents Television Council, who lobbied hard for it. Or at least they say that the $550-million that the TV industry spent on educating parents about it, didn't work at all. They blame parents' indifference and even more-so, the networks for presenting shows that the organization says is not suitable for children.
Cable TV is now at a 16-year-low. In just one month, November 2006, cable television saw a loss of over 2.5 million subscribers, mostly due to increased penetration of satellite-delivered services.
For about $4 a month, you can now get a service that enables a mono-lingual person to speak in French by hearing bits of it so you can parrot it, as if to let others near you to hear you. It gives you snappy one-liners to impress people at parties, and even shows little pictures of women that a guy could claim are "his." The company is appropriately called "Mobile Faker," and its on the west coast.
It just well may be that in the near future, if a newly-released movie show someone smoking IN that movie, it might get an "R" rating by the Motion Picture Association of America. Such is being considered right now.
But even more interesting is that one large cable company has had discussions with some Hollywood studios on the topic of allowing that cable company to air their newly-released movies on "opening day" at theaters. The two largest theater companies responded by saying they'd refuse to show movies that debut on cable on the same day.
In closing ...
Despite all the messes going on in today's broadcasting industry, some of which I've talked about here, it's worse in Venezuela, where broadcasters had free speech rights, at least on South American standards. But now, its different. The most-watched TV network in Venezuela has just been shut down by Presidente Hugo Chavez. The network and its stations had been airing opposition to Chavez's speeches and policies.But Chavez said they were becoming a threat to the country, so he personally stepped in to prevent its licenses from being renewed. Now, they are no longer broadcasting. The stations are now, according to Chavez, going to be "public service channels." Critics there say they'll really be "servicing Chavez channels."
That's it for this Media Report....
Written by myself, Bob Bittner, and aired exclusively on 740-WJIB Cambridge, Massachusetts...and...730-WJTO, Bath, Maine.