The NAB: Old technology, lousy content, national security?
Aug 29th, 2010 by scaredpoet

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is a lobbying group that caters to something that hasn’t been relevant in many people’s lives for years: terrestrial, FM radio. And there’s a really good reason why FM radio hasn’t been relevant to lots of people for a good long time: FM radio sucks.

The NAB is of course aware that people aren’t listening much to FM radio these days, and they want to do something about it.  Of course, a common sense thing would be to improve the content that FM radio stations provide: like, say, good music from artists people actually want to listen to.  But common sense doesn’t seem to be something that the NAB has a lot of.  So instead, they’d rather do something else: force phone manufacturers to embed FM receivers in all cell phones and mobile devices, in the hopes that people will be compelled to listen to their crappy content. To do this, they’ve gone to Congress:

...mid-way in the article was something which really caught my attention. Part of the “deal”—and like all things political, it is a deal—would require that all cell phone handsets must have an FM-radio function built in. Wait a second, I thought . . . whether implemented as a separate IC, or added to an existing RF/mixed-signal chipset, it will add cost, power consumption, antenna-design issues, and more to the handset design. And all for what purpose, exactly? To force people to listen the FM band? Yeah, right, that will do it, absolutely.

One of the arguments behind this mandate is the tried-and-true, instill-fear argument that every desperate party turns to: national security and public safety.  The argument goes that people will need to turn to FM radios in the event of a serious crisis or national emergency.  Makes sense, right?

But the public safety argument is merely a red herring.  This isn’t about public safety in the least. The NAB is trying to legislate the foisting of old technology on electronics vendors in the vain hope that it will compel people to listen to FM stations, without their constituency having to make any effort to draw listeners back to them.

But even if those folks at the NAB really were compassionate, well-meaning souls who just want to make sure everyone stays safe and informed, where should this type of nanny-state legislation stop? How about we pass laws that require every US resident to subscribe to a minimum level of cable TV service, since over-the-air or satellite TV might be subject to weather conditions or transmitter failures due to terrorists attacks, and new video technologies like FiOS and UVerse are simply too new? How about we also mandate that every household subscribe to copper POTS wireline phone service (again, Fiber is “too new” and untested) and connect rotary corded phones to that service?

What those fine, well-meaning (I’m sure) folks at the NAB don’t understand is, people like me aren’t listening to FM not because we don’t have FM radios, but because the stations we can receive on those radios provide us with no reason to listen. Perhaps if they innovated, and provided compelling programming, and didn’t play the same 6 songs over and over between 20+ minutes of a commercials per hour, their audience numbers would grow.

What’s worse, most of these FM radio stations no longer have news departments of their own, having sacrificed them as cost-saving measures, in the (quite ironic) belief that people won’t want to listen to the news all the time. As such, most FM stations are not equipped to provide news and information on their own in a serious crisis or emergency. In fact, during past crises, since September 11 on, many have tended to cut over to the audio of CNN or similar news feeds. So… what’s the point? A potential listener like me could just go to CNN to get the video that goes with the audio.

There are of course, pure news stations on terrestrial radio, but the majority of them are on the AM band, and so, such stations would still not be accessible to mobile phone users with their required-by-law FM receivers.  So much for that.

There are entities like satellite radio, online broadcasting stations and online music stores that don’t mandate by law that everyone be forced to own equipment capable of receiving their content, and yet they do just fine. The NAB could learn from their example.

Why Sirius XM is going to kill itself
Jun 19th, 2009 by scaredpoet

Smashed radio

Back in the day, I had a love affair with XM Satellite radio. In late 2001 when it launched, it was an awesome platform for music and entertainment that really offered a significant alternative from the crap that passes as radio as of late.

That all changed when the Big Merger happened. Sirius, XM’s major satellite radio competitor, was just about everything XM wasn’t. People subscribed to XM for deep, sometimes obscure audio content that rarely if ever saw airplay in modern airwaves. Sirius, on the other had was for people who wanted to pay to listen to some washed up old radio hack in his 50s get creepily perverted with young strippers. Whatever side of this fence you were on, having to mingle with the other camp was not something anyone had to pay for either service looked forward to.

Sure enough, both services suffered after the merger completed and content for both platforms merged. XM lost its identity, and in many respects Sirius lost its own by trying (and failing) to emulate XM.

Through this, I persevered, and kept paying my dues and listening. Admittedly, this is mainly because I’m an O&A fan. But additionally, I stay a subscriber because I spend quite a bit of time in my car and sadly, despite the horrid shape satellite radio content is in these days, it’s still leagues better than anything on “free” terrestrial radio, which has managed somehow to decline into an even worse state than
it was when satellite first began challenging the norm.

Say what you want. Sure, there are iPods, and iPhones and MP3 players and CD collections and even Slacker to keep people entertained. Lots of critics for years have claimed that the ‘net radio will kill satellite… just you wait! And yet it hasn’t happened. Why? Because satellite radio does one thing ‘net radio and MP3 players and personal music collections can’t: provide fresh, live, new content pretty much anywhere you go. Go on. Try to go on a multi-hour road trip while streaming or Slacker from your cell phone.
guaranteed you will hit a dead zone or non-3G spot somewhere that will jam up the works. And yet that silly little XM or Sirius box will keep working.

Even so, satellite radio is in deep trouble. In a stinging rebuke from the merger, almost half a million subscribers flushed their radios down the toilet last quarter, the first time either company has ever had negative subscriber growth. And Sirius XM doesn’t have podcasts, or iTunes or streaming audio to blame for this. In fact, they can only blame themselves.

Why? Pricing. You have to pay a monthly fee to get satellite radio. At first, it wasn’t so bad. $9.99 and later $12.95 a month to get about 170 or so digital channels anywhere in the US or parts of Canada, plus free internet streaming. If you’re an audiophile, want to keep track of CNN while you drive or travel, or just like good radio without being bombarded with annoying commercials, that’s not a bad deal.

But then the post-merger nickel and diming began. Despite promising the FCC that pre-merger customers could “lock in” their rates, and allegedly saving millions by merging two companies and axing most of the very good, but fiscally-redundant on air talent, the company began to raise prices. Got extra radios on your account? That’ll cost more than it used to. Enjoying your “included” internet streaming? Well, we’ll keep “including” it for ya… if you pay extra.

Now, Sirius XM has released their iPhone app. Satellite radio on your iPhone… amazing! And the app itself is Free! Free free!

Oh yeah, but if you want the app to actually do something after you’ve installed it, well, that will cost you, about as much as if you went out and actually bought a satellite radio. If you’re already a satellite subscriber, well, it cost even more. And by the way, if you’re one of the aformentioned diehard Sirius Fans that listen to the aging creepy guy, well, he’s nowhere to be heard on this app. Apparently, $500 million isn’t enough for the guy to release rights to allow his content to stream on “mobile devices.” Go figure.

Sirius iPhone App with no channel.

Sirius, what the hell? Do you REALLY want to push yourself out of business? You might be able to play these games when you’re the only ones who beam your content through space. But with the iPhone, you’re now in the same house as your competitors who do the same thing for free. Your ace in the hole, even if I don’t like him, is Your Man Howard, and he’s AWOL. And you expect people to PAY for this horseshit?!

Like millions of other people, I downloaded the SiriusXM app, and then realized that I had to pay more than I already do for the privilege of making it do anything. As I imagine millions of others are also going to do, I then deleted the app from my phone, and rated it one star.

Oh, by the way, there are rumors that pricing is going to go up again in July. While it’s the result of the RIAA wanting to get their grubby mits into everyone’s revenue with royalty fees, the company is choosing to directly pass those rates on to consumers in a period when most are already in a tighten-your-belt mentality, instead of, say, trying to save money by renegotiating certain onerous, unjustifiably expensive contracts. If this turns out to be true, people who enjoyed all the things Sirius and XM offered them before the merger will have to pay 50% more for the “privilege” of having the same level of service. And even the idea of “same” is debatable considering the post-merger decimation of content and talent that listeners have had to suffer through.

Way to go Sirius. You’re well on your way to killing the platform. I’m going to have to think hard before giving you

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