Cause and effect

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Another year is almost at its end. I'm not going to reflect on the fast passage of time, and how exciting it is to be a part of radio's history at this moment. Instead, I want to look at some recent radio events and explore their resolutions.

Radio from above

Everyone has his own opinion about satellite radio. I find that this topic is an easy way to break the ice in a group of radio professionals. The usual argument comes down to the viability of a subscription-based service and the programming content. That aside, judged on technical merit, the systems that the two providers use work well. Still, there is plenty of speculation about the longevity of the two providers.

Recent financial reports have discussed the long-term business plans of both providers, saying that both companies are on the verge of bankruptcy. Both companies deny these speculations. Many feel that General Motors will buy XM, integrating the service into its automobile line. This has some merits but doesn't really change the situation. The service needs subscribers. GM is already a point of sale for the service.

My feeling is that in the end, one company will make a move to buy the other. Depending on the mood of the Justice Department, this may or may not happen. Regardless, there will be only one provider at some point down the road.

Radio from across town

The recent rulemaking concerning changes to Part 74 of the FCC Rules brought welcome news in some ways. The main positive point is that it allows stations to operate digitally modulated STLs without also obtaining an STA. The main drawback is that applications now must be coordinated through the same procedures used for Part 101 applications. The broadcast auxiliary spectrum has increasingly shared space with other services, which has created some questions about responsibility and authority in these bands. The ruling forces these questions to be answered. Look for a tricky transition and lots of misinformation as the new processes come into being.

Radio from the Web

Between the DMCA and the never-ending battle over royalty payments, Internet radio has been dragged to nearly a standstill. Small netcasters are allowed to negotiate their own deals with rights holders. This is good news for the little guys. Why stop at the small Webcasters? Let's allow the industry to handle its own affairs and negotiate its own deals. I'm all for someone getting his fair share for his work, but the minutia of record-keeping and reporting tied to the charges will continue to strangle Internet radio and keep it from reaching its full potential.

Radio from a digital pipe

It's been 10 years in the making and it is finally becoming a reality. IBOC has been accepted, albeit with a wide range of opinions and feelings. I don't see the compelling wow factor to IBOC, but we're on the front of this train. While there are capital costs and licensing fees, there are some strong potentials. The contrary view is that if we do nothing, there will still be no wow factor. Some strong radio groups are making their move to IBOC, which speaks loudly to me. I see slow and guarded implementation of IBOC through the beginning of 2003 that will pick up later in the year. When will we see a final sunset on analog services? It's too soon to tell. The predictions of eight years seem too short to me.

Radio from the source

An item that quietly moved through the business pages shows that Clear Channel has begun working directly with several manufacturers to arrange equipment purchases, bypassing the equipment dealership. Naturally the dealers don't like this. The decrease in volume for the dealer can come back to other broadcasters when equipment prices are raised. In the end it's all free enterprise, so I don't fault the largest owner from trying to get the best deal for itself. Many groups have held preferred customer status with dealers in the past. This is the next step. Clear channel owns five times the number of stations as the next largest owner, so I don't see this as the start of a new trend.

With a new year ahead of us, we can all look forward to the next exciting radio development. And despite what I said at the beginning, these are exciting times after all.

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