- January 10, 2007 at 5:03 am #6797techpuppyParticipant
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This coming weekend (starts Friday) is the National Conference for Media Reform. This year it is being held in Memphis, TN. MORE
There are lots of scheduled guests and speakers including 2 FCC commissioners. http://www.freepress.net/conference/ This is the first time I’m going to be able to attend. Is anyone else from this site attending or presenting? The conference covers all types of media but I’m hoping to meet others interested in community radio.January 14, 2007 at 1:09 am #14625techpuppyGuest
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Wow! What a first day! This event just isn’t long enough to do everything. I am worn out!
Kazie (one of our directors) managed to get us seats immediately behind the VIP seats in the auditorium Friday. We were only a few rows from the podium, although with speakers like these there’s not a bad seat in the house. In fact the auditorium seating was completely full leaving some people standing in the back and listening to the speakers in an adjacent room. Attendance exceeded 3000.
The event kicked off with a general welcome to the event. Followed by Memphis mayor Dr.Willie Herenton. He said that local Memphis media should attend the conference as they might learn something about community news coverage.
The Opening Plenary featured Bill Moyers. He spoke about the Plantation system of journalism that is in place in the US at present. He said that the media doesn’t do a good job of informing the public or explaining issues unless it suits their corporate owners. As an example, NBC is owned by GE which does quite well in wartime conditions. So whereas the great promise of broadcasting was to educate and inform, much has now turned to entertainment programs promoting products/services. Instead of programming created for the good of the public (the alleged owners of the airwaves) we are now exposed only to news and opinions that suit the needs of corporate owners or affiliates.
If the news doesn’t suit those corporate entities, then the story is simply ignored. In some cases a story is covered, but opposing sides are discredited with labels or misinformation. For example in the weeks leading up to what turned out to be the war in Iraq only three percent of the hundreds of news stories from NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, CNN and FOX questioned the invasion of Iraq even though over a quarter of Americans were opposed to the invasion. According to Moyers, the media is serving a select few elite and not the public. He points out that only the top one percent of Americans received 50% of the increased wealth since 2001. Yet the media has chosen not to detail the truth behind the “death tax” and other tax cuts and benefits to the richest people/entities in America.
By the way, the complete audio of the events at the conference are available at http://www.freepress.net.
After a lunch break the afternoon Plenary featured Rev. Jesse Jackson. An overflow crowd listened intently as he delivered his message. He likened the Bush/Iraq affair as similar to a man stuck in a hole who instead of asking for a rope to get out asks for another shovel. He also had comments about media in the US and emphasized the lack of diversity. The media is making a big deal of the increase in the minimum wage. Yet not one media outlet has mentioned that an increase in the minimum wage means nothing if you don’t have a job. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost, yet little mention is ever made of it.
Rev. Jackson also said that at times trying to work to promote diversity in media can be daunting. It may involve dissenters labeling you as a leftie, liberal, etc. This isn’t an argument to discuss an issue. It is used solely to discredit your work or opinions as not being valid. He encouraged all attendees and others to continue to work to force mainstream media to deal with all issues that affect the public. He said it was easy to feel that the work of an individual was insignificant. To counter that he asked the crowed to imagine themselves in the auditorium in total darkness. It would make you feel completely alone. Yet if only one person lit a match everyone would see it. It might seem like a small gesture, but it does get attention. Now imagine if all of us were to light matches. We can make a difference if we do not get sidetracked by others who are better served by a an inadequately informed public.
More about the conference and panel with two FCC commissioners tomorrow!January 14, 2007 at 8:20 am #14626Greg_EGuest
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I worked at a local TV station for 6.5 years, and very closely with the news department. I’m not going to say that everything they mentioned in the lectures is wrong, but I would ask that you keep in mind that each and every speaker has their own agenda to push, and that agenda may or may not actually be for a more fair and balanced newscast.January 14, 2007 at 1:10 pm #14627RattanGuest
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To find, record/report, maintain, and distribute the mixture of news and entertainment and interest items we can loosely group under the word “media” takes money. Whether it’s going out over a radio station, tv station, newspaper or whatever.
We talk mostly about radio here, and the lion’s share of money for most radio comes from advertisers/sponsors. They pay the bills, so they do exert a strong influence over what is in the media. If they don’t like it, they could put their money elsewhere and those people working in media would be out of a job rather quickly.
Since large corporations spend the most money sponsoring and advertising, they end up with most of that control. Now, while it’s true that ultimately the corporation’s money comes from the individual consumers, each consumer is a very tiny part of the corporation’s income and as such an individual complaint or suggestion won’t affect their actions much.
It’s just the way things are right now.
Back when many radio stations were locally owned and operated and mostly supported by local advertising revenue and sponsors, it was a bit different. Just like the local butcher shop didn’t like to lose even one customer, that local butcher shop’s ad was important to their local station. The programming was often more diverse, because it reflected a larger number of interests that supported it financially.
But if you have a large company buying up the smaller businesses or forcing them out of business over the years, the picture changes to become more like what we’re seeing now.
But it’s not like it’s hopeless, either. Some people in politics do seem to support the idea of media reforms (though you have to remember any politician will act to support what his voters want, sometimes not the same as “the public good”). And let’s think about that match that Rev jackson spoke of for a moment..
A basic kitchen match generates about enough energy (according to some sources I checked) to raise one pound of water one degree F. Which is called a BTU when speaking in terms of heaters and so on. Now a kitchen match burns for what, maybe 30 seconds? But if you kept lighting them for an hour (call it 120 matches) it would approximately equal 1/3 of a watt of power for that hour.
Or if you lit about 40 in an hour, it’d equal about 100 millwatts, like your 100 milliwatt part15 AM rig. So every hour your AM part15 rig is on the air, that’s lighting 40 matches an hour, or one every minute and a half.
Now that would be very noticeable in a dark auditorium, and if enough people do it, then that darkness isn’t total by any means.
So you have matches, and if you like that image for individual work towards media reform, use them constructively to bring more balanced media for people in your listening range. Sure, it’s good to support people working to change legislature to do it, but you also have the means to be woking on changing media yourself.
It’s easy to sit back and say “we don’t like this, it would be better if it changed.” A little more work sending postcards or emails of support to those in politics who seem inclined to support the way you’d like to see things and to your representative in the government can help. It’ll take more work to actually keep up with putting out programming that is the way you feel media should be. But that’d be the difference between lighting those matches or sitting in the dark and listening to people say you “could”.
My numbers were approximate, and my math may be a bit off. But you get the idea.. The 100 milliwatts at your AM transmitter’s RF final is equal to some matches.
For FM part15, it’s less matches over a given period of time, but still some.
DanielJanuary 14, 2007 at 7:05 pm #14630techpuppyGuest
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Greg_E – The purpose of the conference is not to promote a political agenda, but to make sure that the media makes access available to all. I have worked in radio for years and I understand the pressures of advertisers. But, for instance, in Memphis the ABC affiliate did not mention the conference at all in their news. Instead they had a story about a piece of ice in a Texas store’s freezer that some thought looked like the Virgin Mary. Another story dealt with a tattoo convention in Austin. Why so many Texas stories? The station is owned by Clear Channel. The choice of news in this case wasn’t based on the community or advertisers. Instead it was a cheap way of filling newstime that didn’t involve the local community. As an FCC commissioner pointed out, the public interest, need, and necessity is not being served in many cases on the public airwaves. Many media corporations effectively lobbied for free digital frequencies, yet have done nothing to open more opportunities for better access or programming even though the technology would easily support it. Are all big media corporations bad for the public? No, but there’s lots of examples of such. You’ll have to admit that overall the major media isn’t doing a good job of reporting.
Rattan- I agree. The last speaker today said that media change is possible and working with existing media can also bring about change. The great part of this conference was that Prometheus radio was here and there was an engineering firm that did preliminary frequency searches at no charge for those wanting to start a new non-commercial FM. It was fascinating to watch and there were many areas that have open frequencies.January 15, 2007 at 7:43 am #14631Greg_EGuest
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The following post may be considered very cynical, but in my opinion very true:
No, I do agree that the reporting focuses on some very trivial matters and often glosses over the matters that have a direct impact on the station. The reason the Memphis Cheap Channels station is probably reporting on things out of state is that they may be doing the news from Texas, not sitting in a local studio at all. The station I worked for was also Cheap Channels, but so far the news department will not bow to the corporate and sales pressure (as much), though they still don’t cover some of the important things and choose fluff instead. It’s based on what the viewers want, and the average viewer is so incredibly dim that the fluff is good enough. Look at all the “reality” shows that are on. Name one that has real substance. This is what the average dim American wants. These average people are the people that Neilson sends the rating books to, and those are the only people that matter.January 15, 2007 at 4:30 pm #14635scwisGuest
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Thanks for these great reports from the front lines of community media.
Experimental broadcasting for a better tomorrow!January 15, 2007 at 7:04 pm #14636Greg_EGuest
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This is what Cheap Channel had at the station where I was, except we were the hub for 7 stations:
They have since added a couple more stations to the hub. They also tried running the news for a couple of stations out of the same studio, but that failed grossly. So they killed the news at one station, and fired all the staff.
The local Time Warner news had a local presence, but then they moved all the anchors out of town, there are still reporters that are local. They spent millions on an old unused building to repair/renovate, and then after the contracted tax break time, moved things out and cut back on staff. They often rely on interns to actually go out and get the news and operate the equipment. Good for the interns, poor for the economy of out of work TV people. Internships should be a guided hands on learning experience, not just free labor.
I’m not really sure where Cheap Channels radio is headed, and since all the radio and TV are for sale, who knows… Where they were going was something very much like XM or Sirius where there is one big building and the “jocks” voice track for many different stations from a central point. I can tell you that the CC computer network is large and vast, they were very close to having a central music storage point, and all songs would be called from that server to play out locally. Again the sale leaves all this unleveraged.
All in all, the end of being really local is coming, much of this is forced by the cost of digital upgrades, the other part is needing to continue to show the more than 3% increase in profits each year, instead of being happy with a few break even years.January 18, 2007 at 8:53 pm #14659techpuppyGuest
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Hi Everyone! I’m late in getting back online as when I got back from Memphis found that we had no electric due to the ice storm. We are lucky in that ours came back on last night. There are still tens of thousands in our area with no electric and due to the trees, poles and lines down some may have to wait up to two weeks for their electric.
Now back to topic: The National Conference for Media Reform is excellent. If you get a chance to attend the next one, be sure to do so. You’ll gain valuable knowledge and meet other people with your interests in media. Before the conference was over many local Memphians(?) joined in on the activities.
The conference was set up with a large auditorium for speakers and several smaller rooms for panels and workshops. Generally everyone met for the main speakers and then atteneded the panels/workshops as they desired. Attendees got a tote bag filled with publications, organization information, and my favorite the book “Fighting For Air” by Eric Klinenberg.
The book details the state of broadcasting by major media groups and how some of it hasn’t gone well. In January 2002 a Candian Pacific Railway train with hazardous chemicls derailed near Minot, ND. Almost a quarter of a million gallons of Anhydrous Ammonia was spilled. The quoted calls to 911 are disturbing. People choking on unknown fumes call in and are told to stay in their house and tune into local radio for more information. Almost 2 hours later more calls come in from people telling 911 that there is no information on the radio. It was true. The Minot stations were owned by a (major media corporation) which had replaced locally produced programming with their canned programmin. As people gasped for breath they could only tune into the standard programming of canned music. The EAS system did not work at those stations. They even tried using the old EBS system but it also failed. More than 15,000 people were exposed to the toxic fumes with unknown future health problems and there was one fatality.
In Virginia during hurricane Isabel in 2003 a major media corporation which owned local stations would not provide a requested back up number from county officials. Power was out in many areas and the water was not safe to drink. Officials wanted to broadcast warnings to residents not to drink the water and provide other safety information. An official finally got through to the owner, but was told that they would have to call another office. That office was closed. The following morning they were told that it was too late to get the information on the morning news. They offered to buy ad time to get the information out, but were told that the ads on the station were going out regionally and there were no openings. The county decided they needed a better way and offered to put money down as a retainer for a future crises. They wanted the ability to buy a minute or two every hour on the hour during a disaster. They were turned down because the corporate owner would then have to have someone in the studio of the station and they don’t.
During the conference I attended a panel which had the author Eric Klinenberg. He said that he listend to every 911 call in Minot and the fear and confusion by callers was sad. For anyone who doesn’t understand why people are upset over media consolidation, this book is a must.
Gary_E in his post above is right that the Memphis station I mentioned might not even originate their news from Memphis. I don’t fully agree that the proliferation of reality shows is entirely ratings based. Even NBC announced last fall that they were turning away from dramas and comedy programs and toward game and reality programming because of the enormously reduced costs. Even if their ratings aren’t the top, they’re high enough to get good paying advertisers and more of the money paid by them is profit. When there’s nothing else to watch the ratings of such shows will go up. In addition, because of the lower productions costs, the networks are able to reduce the number of re-runs. Now to further increase their profits some networks are reducing or elminating compensation to local affiliates for carrying their programming. In some cases (like March Madness), the network has even demanded payment FROM local stations to carry the event. More than one station has changed network affiliation as a direct result. It all comes down to the report and profit to shareholders.
There are so many examples and it is so easy to take aim at the failures of media in America. The main point is that there is growing discontent with what’s on the public airwaves. The information and news is limited. Local programming is nearly non-existent. Access to the airwaves is restricted. In my opinion that’s why so many legal part 15 stations and illegal pirate stations have started.
Since I’ve got power back I’m going through my notes and will post more shortly about the speakers and events at the conference.January 18, 2007 at 9:24 pm #14660Greg_EGuest
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One thing to mention (and I would have quoted it but that feature no longer seems to work).
The networks have indeed tried to eliminate compensation to the affiliates. Not only that but they wanted to charge the affiliates for the programs. We simply said no, and the network backed down.
As far as the disasters that go without report and emergency messages… Yes that’s a huge problem that the FCC created when it changed the rules that allowed the big companies to pull their local people away. You may see this happen more often in the future. Of course if your EAS doesn’t work, and you didn’t notify the FCC to get a waiver, you are in big trouble. This is especially true if you are the local primary contact point.January 18, 2007 at 10:28 pm #14661techpuppyGuest
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The panel discussions and workshops were very interesting. Some of our group attended the same sessions and at other times we split up to compare notes later. The conference had a rather intense schedule from my point of view. Saturday had events running over 14 hours. It’s just not possible to attend every event.
One of the most enlightening panels was with FCC commissioners Jonathan Adelstein, Michael Copps, and former commissioner Gloria Tristani. The FCC is supposed to ensure that the media and communications companies serve the “public interest, convenience, and necessity.” Quite honestly I never thought I’d get the opportunity to be in the same room as any FCC commissioner, let alone be in a situation where I could ask questions and meet them personally.
They were there to discuss their role and current and pressing regulations. Of course in many “current” activities they could not comment.
They discussed net neutrality and how important the comments from the public were in keeping the internet nuetral. Over 3 million letters in support of net neutrality were received by the commission. It was a response that couldn’t be ignored.
The issue of removing more restrictions on station ownership will almost certainly come up again. As will the net neutrality issue.
Most interesting to me was the way the FCC works as it relates to commission decisions. I didn’t realize the FCC Chairman was so powerful. Until the chairman puts an item on the schedule it doesn’t get any action. This means that the commission chairman can effectively stall or kill any measure that he doesn’t support. That’s where letters to the FCC and congress can help. Congress can put pressure on the chairman, but usually doesn’t unless there is intense public interest. So the idea of low power AM looks as if it would require action by the chairman to become viable. The commissioners can very well have stacks of possible regulations, rulings, etc on their desks and can do nothing with them until the chairman takes action.
Commisioner Adelstein also said that the FCC is perhaps one of the most structured organizations when it comes to discussion and voting. He surprised many when he asked a question during a hearing. At a recent hearing a speaker made a statment about a problem with many towns in regard to a potential ruling. Adelstein asked for an example of a town. The speaker was aghast that anyone questioned the information. He generalized a response. Adelstein again requested just one single town as an example. The speaker could not do so. As it turns out the information by the speaker was erroneous. Still, Adelstein pointed out, it was considered inappropriate of him to question the information being presented at a hearing.
Commissioners Adelstein and Copps are widely known as the commissioners with the most interest in public service and making sure the public is getting something in return for use of the public airwaves by broadcasters.
Broadcasters practically demanded free additional spectrum for digital broadcasting with the promise of offering more diverse programming. Rather than one single broadcast each could now transmit up to five channels of programming simultaneously. However few broadcasters have carried through with this innovation. It could have been used for more local programming or even something similar to community access. (This applies to many public as well as commercial stations.) Some at the commission feel that broadcasters have failed to honor their promises of better serving the public. I personally remember the NAB ads that ran when digital TV was being worked out. The ads threatened that if the additional channels were not provided free of charge, then stations would have to charge for you to watch the local news. Better still, anyone who as much as called for information found themselves on a petition to the FCC in support of the giveaway. Just a couple of weeks ago many DTV stations dropped subchannels because of the requirement of EAS on each as well as educational/instructional programming.
Another hot topic of discussion was the internet. The commissioners said that they felt every single American had the right to high speed internet access. The push to make sure that voice telelphone service is available everywhere has been a success and now it’s time to do the same for internet. The outdated commission rules were mentioned. At the moment if one person in a particular zip code has high speed access, the rules interpret that to mean EVERYONE in that zip code has access. In addition the rules currently define high speed as 200 Kbs which is somewhat outdated by today’s standards.
The commissioners took questions and answers from the audience and stayed to visit personally with many. (And by accident I ended up with one of the most unflattering photos of commissioner Adelstein possible.)
Gary_E – Congrats to your station! Also in regard to the EAS system in the Minot incident: Both the EAS and EBS systems had been tested in the previous week. However the night of the wreck the EAS system would reset before they could get information on the air, possibly due to power surges.
More later!January 18, 2007 at 11:21 pm #14664Greg_EGuest
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Actually, that was at my last job, and happened just before I left. It was all part of the HD cost containment that every network and local had to go through.
I have to agree about the radio digital stuff. NONE of our local stations have done anything except rebroadcast their primary channel or other channels in the “Group” (cheap channels has more than 5 stations in town). One of the stations has a loop of 3 or 4 songs that is continuous. Never anything else. Somehow that must be a violation. Coming from a place that is locked out of an FM channel because of lack of space, this all erks me more than a little. And it irks me that the NAB, SBE, and big corporate radio killed the micro FM class (similar to the old class D but with more channels on the dial).January 18, 2007 at 11:32 pm #14665techpuppyGuest
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One of the best exhibits and presentations at the conference for me was from Prometheus Radio. For those of you who are not familiar with the group, they actively promote and have fought for low power FM as well as more community owned stations in the U.S. They’ve also set up stations in other countries to serve commmunities. If this is of interest to you then you should visit their website. It has a wealth of information about applying for a license, what to expect, and how to do it.
Prometheus had a series of maps at the conference. An engineering firm printed out a map of areas with possible FM Non-Commercial frequencies available. The maps had a resolution of 2 miles and indicated none available, possible, and very likely.
Prometheus gave a seminar on applying for a station. It was fun to see and meet the people I’ve read about in their newsletters and on their website.
An engineering company was working with them at the conference and basically did a frequency search for anyone interested to see if there was anything available as well as how much power might be approved, etc. I won’t go into details here on what I saw, but several areas have the potential for some very powerful NCE FM stations. (If you live in or near a major city, probably not.) In case you didn’t know, a “full power” non-commercial station can be authorized for as little as 100 watts or as much as 100,000 watts depending on location, frequency, etc.
A filing window for these applications will open most likely in April or May of this year. The filing window will be only a week. The idea was that this should reduce the number of duplicate applications for the same frequencies. In the past many have simple waited for someone to file for a frequency and then practically copied their application changing only the applicant information. The short filing window should greatly reduce or eliminate that.
On the other hand, the window is approaching fast. An initial frequency search could cost as much as $500 and the engineering for an application could be around $3000 to $4000.
If you’re interested you have a lot to do before the filing window. Unofficially this window’s applications will probably take most of the available NCE frequency openings. Another filing window probably won’t take place for up to 20 years.
There is a lot of interest in establishing new community oriented FM stations. This would be an ideal opportunity to take your part 15 operation to the next level IF there is an open frequency in your area. By the way a “full power” NCE license takes precedence over FM translators, even exisiting ones. Just because there are a lot of translator stations in your area doesn’t mean that there are no frequencies available.January 19, 2007 at 2:25 pm #14674Greg_EGuest
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Did they mention if this window was for 100 watt LPFM or 10 watt LPFM? 10 watt stands a chance for us, 100 watt is never going to happen.January 19, 2007 at 8:19 pm #14679techpuppyGuest
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This window is for stations from 100 to 100,000 watts. Sometimes a station can have it’s transmitter outside of a town to use an available frequency, yet still cover the the town or city with a good signal.
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