Getting back into Part 15 Radio – Wish me luck!
Posted on June 10, 2010
So here we go again. I am currently planning what will be my 3rd foray into the world of part 15 broadcasting. The first attempt, Laser 90.5 ended with a visit from the FCC. I promptly shut it down and bought a Hamilton Rangemaster. I fought with that transmitter for a year or more, only to find out that the poor performance I was getting was due to a problem with the circuit board after I sold it. (Dirt cheap, I might add.) The guy had it fixed and as far as I know, its on the air somewhere now.
With the trouble I’ve had, I have to wonder why it is that part 15 radio still interests me. I suppose that part of it is the nostalgic value of good local radio. Radio was widely used around our house when I was little. My mom used to listen to a great AM pop station, my dad would listen to an AM country station that had a show called The Party Line. This was a call-in show where people would list things they had for sale. It had a theme song that is ingrained in my head to this day; an instrumental version of Snow Bird, I think.
Then my brother and sister listened to the radio a lot, too. They introduced me to the interactive aspect of radio listenership; Calling in requests! Yep, if you can imagine it, back then you could call the request line and the person you were listening to on the radio actually answered the phone in person, even if you called at eight or nine at night. There were some great local DJ’s on the air back then. They were real people who lived in our town. They knew the area and they had a lot of fun on the radio while doing a great job of providing local services and information. I really idolized those guys, so when I turned 15, I got a job at the local AM my dad listened to. My first job was doing the Party Line.
I started my career in radio during the last several years before deregulation allowed all the corporations to buy up all the locally owned stations in our small towns and communities. I had some fun times and made a career in radio for 20+ years, so I’ve worked in both radio environments: locally owned and operated, as well as corporate. The locally owned stations were much more fun, and we really did connect with the listeners. When everything was popping and you had the station sounding great and the phones were ringing off the hook, it was pretty close to the coolest thing ever. But then it happened.
The Reagan administration deregulated radio and allowed companies like Clear Channel and Cumulus to form.
After the big corporations moved in, the computers came with the voice tracking ability that allowed talent from outside the area to custom track a “local” show. Some of them are good at creating the illusion. They go on the Internet and get information about the town, mention local landmarks, telling stories about where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing around town, they make up names and play “requests” for these fictitious people. They’ll thank local businesses and talk about what a great places they are. It’s really all quite dishonest. Because of this practice, local personalities who had been on the air for years either lost their jobs or were reduced to voice tracking their own shows and doing more production and office work as well as the occasional live broadcast to give a local face to the station. It’s cheaper to pay a guy an extra $7,000 a year to voice-track a daily show than it is to pay a local talent a living wage, so the corporations are doing what they are designed to do; cut costs and maximize profit. I lasted through my 36th birthday when the company I was working for (the initials are C.C.) was sold to a private group of investors and my position was eliminated.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for capitalism and the right of a corporation to make money. I won’t even argue that making money hasn’t always been the main driving force behind radio, even with the local owners. What I will say is that when you allow an outside entity to come in and dictate the format down to the music you can and cannot play, the things you can and cannot mention (yes they blacklist certain local events that won’t give them exclusive rights to “own” it.) and what hours will be available for live broadcasts versus voice tracked shows, well you have a real problem. Local radio used to be the product of the local community from where it came, and as such, it really did contribute to the local culture. It was custom tailored to suit the community and provided a real service to its listeners. I miss those days.
I suppose that’s why I’m a fan of what part 15’ers are trying to do. While we’re limited to very small scale operations, we have the opportunity to try and capture just a little of the old magic of what real local radio sounded like. I’d really like to see more low power FM and AM lenience from the FCC, and I think (or at least really hope) it is coming. In the meantime, it is really exciting to think about what could theoretically be accomplished with a network of part 15 AM transmitters.
Over the next few weeks, I will be putting together my part 15 FM, and hopefully can construct a tower for an AM before the end of Summer or by Spring of 2011 at the latest. If there’s any interest, I’ll keep everybody posted on the building of the station here, posting pics of the transmitter and studio construction, and any other relevant material. I’m looking forward to becoming a more active member of Part15.us. I will appreciate any feedback, encouragement and tips along the way.