One bad apple

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On the eve of NAB2004, I am making the final preparations for my week-long stay in Las Vegas to focus on our industry’s biggest event. For the staff of Radio magazine, the work involved in preparing for a four-day convention starts in January. We devote space in the March and April issues to the convention. We compile a weekly e-mail newsletter for several weeks leading up to the convention. The NAB convention fills our days as we review new product announcements, exhibitor news and session highlights. But once the April issue is sent to the printer, we’re still not finished. Our pre-convention work is done, but now we have to focus on our activities during the convention and make plans for the convention review after it’s all done. This is a lot of effort for four days of the year.

So, now I look ahead to what this year’s convention will bring. In preparation, I try to determine what the big item of discussion on the convention floor will be.

Will it be IBOC? Perhaps. The FCC is allowing the use of separate antennas with an STA. Several manufacturers have provided peeks into their new products. Several sessions are devoted to the technology. It doesn’t take any special insight to know that IBOC will once again be an important topic. However, this is a familiar topic and I don’t expect a great deal of new discussion. Will it be RBDS? Also a strong candidate. The recent explosion of RBDS installations is generating interest in the 10-year-old technology. RBDS provides information that satellite radio listeners have learned to expect. Meanwhile, some consumers are confused by the technology, thinking that it is digital radio. Regardless, transmitting RBDS today is an analog step that can be adapted for IBOC tomorrow, so it will also be heard regularly in discussions. Unfortunately for us, the big topics this year will likely not focus directly on technology. Consolidation will return as a frequent topic for aisle banter, but it won’t be the star.

The big topic this year will be indecency, thanks to the FCC and the consumer media that keep feeding this monster. It’s amazing how a little skin during a primetime broadcast can become a point of obsession for so many bureaucrats. Is this by any chance an election year? Because decency is tempered by opinion, there is no easy answer here, which is why the debate will rage on and on.

I am pleased that Congress plans to increase the fines for airing indecent material. Not only will the licensees have to pay more, the performers will also be held financially responsible. AFTRA opposes this action, stating that it will limit free speech. AFTRA also states that on-air personalities are forced into airing indecent material because of programming decisions. Sorry, I don’t buy that. No one writes the script that forces a show host to say certain words. In the end, an individual’s own sense of decency should take over before airing a potentially offensive bit. Likewise, we shouldn’t expect to hear children’s programming on an adult-oriented morning show.

The debate over decency standards cannot be resolved through legislation or FCC rules. There is too much opinion involved. Parents that are concerned about their children being exposed to indecent material need to take positive action. Supervise the children’s access to questionable material. Teach the children what is decent. While out of place in the family-oriented telecast, the incident during the Super Bowl was tame compared to what is readily available online or on cable.

While the decency issue goes on, there is a technology angle to be considered. Now that stations are walking on eggshells to ensure that their programs are clean, the lowly profanity delay has risen to a renewed level of importance. So while the chit-chat turns to rhetoric, watch the rejuvenated interest in the technology of delaying an audio stream.

I guess there is a technology angle after all.

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