Posts Tagged ‘broadcast’

Disney Revives Radio Serial Format

June 30, 2010

Disney is know for reinventing or revitalizing media on a regular basis. Decades ago, it was Steamboat Willie, the cartoon short that introduced a certain mouse we all know. More recently, High School Musical has taken the televised musical from risky to mainstream in record time. Now it seems Disney is preparing to breathe life back into the old school radio serial.

“My Dream,” is slated to run for twenty episodes beginning next week on Radio Disney. The story follows a 14-year-old girl, Kayla, as she pursues her dream of becoming a singer and songwriter.

More details according to David Bauder of The Associated Press:

A new episode debuts each weekday at 9:25 a.m. on Radio Disney. Listeners who miss them can hear the 90-second episodes later on the station’s website or via mobile phone.

The idea recalls serials that were popular in the early days of radio, a format that was essentially destroyed when television arrived. Radio Disney says it will wait to see how the first serial fares before committing to others, said Ray De La Garza, the network’s vice president of programming.

“We thought, `let’s create something that can keep the kids entertained and wanting to come back day after day,'” De La Garza said.

Full disclosure here: I’m a big fan of the old-fashioned radio serials. That being the case, I’m excited to see Disney doing this. While the subject matter may be a bit youthful for me personally, I think that Disney has the best chance to revive the format. I also think that with all the brouhaha about music royalties lately, many stations might be more willing to experiment with audio plays and serials like this.

What do you think? Is the time ripe for a return to the serials of old?

Image: CURZU@ / CC 2.0

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“Con Salsa” Radio Show in Boston Celebrates 35 Years!

June 21, 2010

This week, we celebrate a landmark for Latino radio in general and WBUR of Boston in particular. This past weekend, WBUR’s Con Salsa show celebrates 35 years on the air. According to The Boston Herald, the show is going to ring in its anniversary with a big club party tomorrow:

“Con Salsa!”, a Saturday evening show on Boston University’s public radio station, 90.9 WBUR-FM, is sponsoring a Tuesday concert with Cuban timba band Pupy y Los Que Son Son at the Wilbur Theatre to mark the event.

The show has a history of being a community hub as well as an entertainment program. The call-in portion of the program has a long pedigree of highly personal messages being shared over the airwaves: marriage proposals, confessions of infidelity, messages for troops overseas, and much more. As a matter of fact, the show has quite a reputation for being a forum in which people share messages with those in the Massachusetts jail system, a topic I wrote about back in February 2009.

Image: Theresa Thompson / CC 2.0

Performance Rights Act, A New Wrinkle

June 14, 2010

The Performance Rights Act (PRA) has been a fairly constant topic here and on other radio-centric websites. The push for additional royalties it represents has a broad array of implications for broadcasters, labels, and artists.

Imagine my surprise, after writing extensively on the subject for so long, when I find a completely new and worrisome aspect of the legislation that had heretofore eluded me.  I stumbled across this excellent analysis of the PRA debate by Stephen Koff , The Plain Dealer‘s Washington bureau chief, that was syndicated on Cleveland.com.

It covers things in a very even-handed fashion, but most importantly it gives us the following observation:

Meanwhile, Rex Glensy, a former entertainment lawyer who teaches at Drexel University’s law school, says a radio performance royalty could alter the dynamics of record contracts. If there’s money involved — especially more money for the artist than the label envisioned — it’s bound to happen, he says.

He uses the example of Barbra Streisand performing a Cole Porter song and releasing it on CBS Records. Right now, the only party getting radio royalties would be the estate of Cole Porter.

Under the recording industry proposal, Cole Porter’s heirs would still get their money, but additional revenue would go to Streisand and the record company.

“You know what will happen?” Glensy says. “All of a sudden Barbra Streisand is going to hear a knock at her door and see CBS saying, ‘We want to renegotiate your contract.'”

That’s the problem with changing anything related to copyright, Glensy says. It inevitably affects every other piece of the business.

I’m personally thunderstruck that I did not think of this earlier. As with most legislation, it is the cascade of secondary and tertiary effects that can wreak the most far reaching changes.  I’m pretty sure that most of the artists supporting this misguided legislation are unaware that things could play out this way either.

Image: tacomabibelot / CC 2.0

Prince Turns 52, Releases New Song “Hot Summer” on Radio

June 12, 2010
Prince's Yellow Cloud Electric Guitar

Prince's Yellow Cloud Electric Guitar

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Prince has just celebrated his 52nd birthday! Seems like it was only yesterday that we all wanted to “Party like it’s 1999” or hop in a “little red Corvette” for a joyride. Now it is decades later and the artist formerly known as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” is once again just Prince. Another thing that has come full circle is that his music is debuting not on the Internet, but over the  airwaves.

On June 7 (Prince’s birthday), Minnesota Public Radio show The Current debuted “Hot Summer,” a new Prince track reportedly written in response to the record heat that gripped the state last month. As Rolling Stone music writer Daniel Kreps reports, this is not new for the ever protean star:

In recent years, Prince has often turned to radio to premiere new music, starting in December 2008 when he unveiled four songs off his Lotusflow3r triple-disc set on Los Angeles rock station Indie 103. After returning to the Twin Cities, the public radio supporter also offered the Current a new song called “Cause and Effect” in February 2010. Prior to that, inspired by the Minnesota Vikings’ march toward the Super Bowl, Prince quickly wrote and orchestrated a fight song for the football team titled “Purple and Gold,” which was then handed to a Minnesota local news program to debut.

Whether you like his music or not — and I must confess I usually do — Prince’s stature as a giant in the world of modern music is indisputable. He has been the recipient of  four American Music Awards, six Grammy Awards and one Golden Globe Award, and his singles have made him legendary around the globe.

I think it speaks volumes that a star of this caliber, and one with the amazing array of industry experience that Prince possesses, should consistently choose radio as his delivery mechanism for new music. It shows a natural awareness that even in the Internet age, radio still reaches far more people overall.

Image: InfoMofo / CC 2.0

Blagojevich’s Radio Show Pulled During Trial

June 4, 2010

Followers of Chicago radio are well aware of the show that embattled former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been hosting since shortly after the scandal broke. WLS-AM has pulled the show from the air pending the completion of Blagojevich’s corruption trial.

The hiatus was announced during his appearance on the Don Wade and Roma Morning Show last Wednesday. The Huffington Post reports the following statement made on the show:

“Out of respect for the legal process, WLS radio is putting the Rod Blagojevich Show on ‘hiatus’ effective immediately,” Operations Director Drew Hayes wrote in a statement read by Wade and Roma. “After the trial has concluded, we will review the status of the program.”

Whichever way things go, this should be fascinating radio coverage, especially as Blogojevich intends to take the stand.  Chris Meincke at ABC Chicago brings us Mr. Blagjevich’s own words on the subject:

“I never could understand these politicians who said they never did anything wrong and then when they’re given the chance to say they didn’t do anything wrong, where it matters in court, they don’t do it. So, yes, I’m gonna do it and Patti’s gonna do it. We have the truth on our side,” said Blagojevich.

It has been very interesting watching the course of his radio program, and I wonder if we will see it return to the air. I also wonder if his on-air presence will influence the jury selection. After all, radio is everywhere and he has had more than ample time to disseminate his views.

If found guilty I doubt his show will be renewed. But if he is innocent? What do you think?

Image: RichieC / CC 2.0

Black Radio and The Performance Rights Act

May 26, 2010

Since its introduction, I have written extensively here about the Performance Rights Act (PRA). The PRA, sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. John Conyers, would require traditional radio stations to pay performance royalties as well as the ones that are already paid to the songwriter. On the surface it seems like a good idea, but examination reveals its flaws quite readily.

One of the most worrisome flaws being the effect that the legislation could have on minority-owned stations. Of course, like everything else pertaining to this act, there is viscous argument on the subject. Elliot Millner at BlackVoices hit on some excellent perspectives in his recent post on the subject:

The main beneficiary of the Performance Rights Act (if passed) would not be the recording artists whose music is being played; it would be the record labels, who would reap the benefits of most of the royalties collected, just as they receive the majority of the money from artists’ album sales. Also, the main beneficiaries of the Performance Rights Act not passing would not be black radio; it would be large broadcast radio corporations, both black-owned and others, which would escape having to compensate artists for using their music.

Despite the fact that the post contains an overall hostile stance towards large broadcasters, you’ll notice he agrees with my stance that the labels, not the artists, would be the primary beneficiaries of the PRA. I propose that this underscores the validity of my assertion.

He goes on to share his excoriating opinions of big broadcasters, but then at the end of the post comes a fascinating observation:

This is yet another unfortunate instance of divide and conquer: Instead of attacking the entities (record labels) that are whoring them both, radio broadcasters and artists have chosen to go to war with each other. Ultimately, the only winner in this drama will be the record companies, who will continue to prosper (relatively speaking) in tough times, while those that should be waging war against them continue to foolishly attack each other.

Now, I’ve often commented on the fact that it’s a shame that so many artists are unable to see how the labels are leveraging them. High-profile spokesmen are terrific for any cause. I had not, however, given consideration to the “divide and conquer” aspect of the struggle.

Despite our differing on a few things, I think that Mr. Millner and I agree on several aspects of the situation. Somehow I don’t think getting “played” by the labels will be as good for the artists as getting played on the radio has been.

Image: Daehyun Park Rights: CC 2.0

Internet Killing Radio? Not Likely, Says Fool

May 21, 2010

It is always worthwhile to take a look at what the investment community thinks of an industry when assessing its status. Not always right by a long shot, but it’s usually a decent indicator of that industry’s health. With that in mind, I try to look at what investors and their advisors are saying about radio on a fairly regular basis.

Rick Aristotle Munarriz of the high-profile investment website The Motley Fool finds the rumors of radio’s imminent demise to be grossly exaggerated. He responds to The New York Times article I wrote about a few days ago, and brings up some interesting points that I had overlooked.

As Internet connectivity reaches out for the highway, there are still concerns that will limit its adoption and subsequent growth. Highest on this list is the price of connectivity, a severe barrier in these economic times:

Connectivity doesn’t come cheap these days. Music developers aim first for Apple‘s (Nasdaq:AAPL) pricey iPhone before trickling down to other devices. A monthly iPhone plan through AT&T starts at $70, and that’s for just 450 voice minutes and no text messages. The pricing schedule ramps up quickly, topping out with a $120 plan for unlimited minutes and texting. AT&T does offer attractive family plans for additional lines, but we’re essentially talking about a device with a limited audience in terms of affordability.

I can attest to this as an iPhone user myself. Add in the fact that the coverage is spotty, particularly in high density areas like New York City, and you begin to see the picture. He also addresses the new trend of mobile hotspots. While these can potentially enhance in-car Internet access, the one he reviews carries a hefty $60 per month price tag after purchasing the unit. Not exactly a small subscription fee.

So in all honesty, it’s hard to imagine more than half of the country paying $100 or so for smartphone plans, or $60 a month for mobile hotspots. The potential market is big enough to dent terrestrial radio, but it won’t obliterate AM and FM altogether.

An astute observation. As bandwidth expectations and more sophisticated handsets increase, I think we will see these prices escalate rather than decrease. It is, as I stated in my prior post, great to be able to get my hometown and college radio stations from halfway across the country. It is also lucky for me that I am one of the ones who can afford to do so, a proposition that becomes much more expensive when you take it on the road.

Image: briser50 / CC BY 2.0

Performance Rights Act: Civil Rights Leaders Weigh In

May 19, 2010

When people think of civil rights issues, they tend to think of the obvious things: racial profiling, job discrimination, etc. In real life, things are rarely quite so neat. This is a truth that civil rights proponents are well aware of. Lately, many of the higher profile names in this arena have begun to cast their eyes upon the Performance Rights Act (PRA). Politic365 recently did a special report about this, leading off with this quote:

[…] as Rev. Al Sharpton told Politic365, “often it is the quiet bills, the obscure bills, the so-called “specialized” bills, the bills no one seems to know much about, that can hurt Black folks the most if we’re not paying attention.”  A textbook example, according to Rev. Sharpton and other civil rights advocates interviewed byPolitic365, is the “Performance Royalty” legislation that many advocates believe would throw Black radio into a deep tailspin.

Anyone familiar with the ways of Washington is aware of the way that bills are often attached to higher priority legislation in order to pass. It is a daily occurrence on Capitol Hill. In addition, the impact of this legislation on minority-owned radio has long been a bone of contention, inspiring truly bipartisan efforts on both sides of the issue.

But now the heavy hitters from the civil rights scene are weighing in on the legislation and their thoughts on the PRA are not exactly complimentary. Here is another example drawn from the same report:

MMTC [Minority Media and Telecommunications Council] warns that “misinformation is circulating in the civil rights community suggesting that the legislation will not harm minority radio.  In fact, black and Spanish radio would be hit the hardest by this legislation because these stations face the greatest challenges” – including weaker signals, advertising discrimination, and the FCC’s failure to enforce its equal employment opportunity rules.  MMTC reports that it has conservatively estimated that the legislation would throw at least a third of minority owned stations over the cliff into bankruptcy.  The National Association of Media Brokers (NAMB) agrees, adding that “the imposition of a performance royalty on free, over-the-air broadcast stations will be crippling to the broadcast industry in general, and be particularly devastating to minority broadcasters and their audiences, as well as to other new entrants to the industry.”

This is particularly distressing if you take into account the research findings referenced in the Politics365 special report. According to that report, the value of  radio airplay directly translates to approximately $2 billion in annual music sales, and that number excludes radio’s promotional impact on concert and merchandise based income.

Opponents of the Performance Rights Act include civil rights luminaries such as the Rev. Al Sharpton, Dick Gregory, and Tom Joyner. In addition, fifteen members of the Congressional Black Caucus have also expressed their concerns, including Elijah Cummings, Danny Davis, Al Green, John Lewis, Charlie Rangel, and Bobby Rush. That is one impressive roll call if you ask me.

In the end, though, it was Rev. Sharpton who posed the vital question of the day:

“Why in the world would the Democrats at the Commerce Department do this to Black radio – and to radio period?  It doesn’t make sense from a political, social or economic perspective.  If it passes, this bill would have a devastating effect on Black communities.”

What do you think?

Image: marriageequalityCC BY 2.0

The Performance Rights Act: NAB CEO Gordon Smith Speaks Out

April 27, 2010

As usual every few days, it is now time to cast a jaundiced eye on that misguided piece of legislation called The Performance Rights Act. [If you missed it, the PRA is an attempt to add a royalty for performers to the royalties already paid to ASCAP and others by broadcast radio. Search the blog and you’ll find numerous postings on the subject.]

Today, National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) CEO Gordon Brown takes the battle to The Washington Post where he enumerates the flaws in this legislation, many of which I’m happy to see coincide with my own.

He starts off with one of my particular gripes — the fact that half of this money, touted as going to the artists, actually goes straight into the pockets of the record labels. For those of you paying attention to economic pattern displayed here, that means that most of it is leaving the country immediately. That’s not what sets my teeth on edge, though.

What about the rest of the money? That goes to the artists, right? Not necessarily:

With 50 percent in the labels’ pocket, the remaining money would be divvied up by SoundExchange, an organization launched by the RIAA to collect and dispense royalty payments to artists. The disbursement would be split 45 percent for the featured artist and 5 percent for the background musicians — if SoundExchange can locate them. But given media reports that SoundExchange had trouble finding the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the location loophole seems to be a rather big “if.”

And there we have my biggest issue with all of this, paying the artists is the job of the record labels — one they do not have a history of being good at.

The record label claim that this legislation is about “fairness to artists” is dubious. D.C. native Herb Feemster of Peaches & Herb” fame — as well as artists ranging from Benny Goodman to Pink Floyd to Cher — had to file lawsuits against their record labels to recoup unpaid royalties.

Contrast the record label exploitation of artists with that of radio stations that advance the careers of musicians with free airplay and concert promotions. With a growing audience of 239 million weekly listeners, free and local radio remains an unparalleled promotional platform for music, generating untold billions in album and concert sales and merchandising opportunities.

You see, I’m in my mid-forties. I remember in my high school and collegiate years it seems like there was always a battle between some artist who had not gotten paid and his label. The Jimi Hendrix estate went through all kinds of absurdity over issues like that. Never once, then or when I was producing shows, did I hear anyone complaining about radio unless it was because they were not on it.

I’ve been an activist on behalf of artists for a long time now, as most people in New Orleans can attest, and as such, it pains me to see the RIAA preaching concern for their artists as a smokescreen for efforts to shore up their failing business model. Just because they are on the ropes in the post-Napster / iTunes age does not mean that our industry should be jeopardized to pay their bills.

Image: abstractstvCC BY-ND 2.0

Cumulus Going on Station Buying Spree

April 23, 2010

I recently wrote here about Cumulus Media going on a radio station purchasing spree that could total up to $1 billion. In the week and a half since I posted that article, RTTNews and RadioInk managed to get Lew Dickey, CEO of Cumulus, to do an interview on the subject:

“We believe that the time was right,” Dickey stated, noting that assets are far cheaper than they were even three years ago. “The industry is in essence, peak to trough, taken about a 30 percent reset, and so consequently we believe that now is a good time to be in the market looking for good, quality properties.”

It’s great to see positive activity in this sector. I think we are all sick of the endless stream of woes generated by our national economic ills. It signifies something positive both within the radio industry and for the economy as a whole, at least in my opinion. After all, this is being made possible by a partnership with Crestview Partners, a private equity fund that specializes in media investments. I doubt they would become involved to the extent that they have committed themselves if it did not seem a worthwhile investment.

Asked about his outlook for the economy and how he was able to convince Crestview to make such a sizable investment, despite the overall caution of many lenders, Dickey said that over the next five years, the economy will see growth, with retail sales and local advertising following suit. Meanwhile, he sees radio as having a good chance to increase its share of local advertising, due, in part, to the dwindling readership in other mediums.

Obviously Crestview finds this a good bet, roughly $500 million worth of one. RTTNews reports in that same article that most of the proposed acquisitions will be in the Top 50 and Top 100 markets, areas in which Cumulus is currently weakly represented.

So what do you think about this upcoming wave of acquisitions?