Monthly Archives: November 2010

Valerie Geller: “Beyond Powerful Radio”

Valerie Geller

Valerie Geller

Much of today’s radio audience is not like those who listened in the past. “They have a short attention span, they’re multitasking while listening, so they don’t give us their full attention.” That’s  the conclusion of  Valerie Geller, media consultant and author of four books about radio. Her next publication, BEYOND POWERFUL RADIO – A Communicator’s Guide to the Internet Age: News, Talk, Information & Personality – Broadcasting, Podcasting, Internet and Radio is set to be released in March.

As Geller notes, much has changed in the media landscape, but the fundamentals remain the same. “Tell the truth, make it matter and never be boring.”

To thrive in this new environment, she adds, personalities need to think visually, paint word pictures and become powerful storytellers. They need to take risks , and dare to be great. It is also important to experiment with formats, topics and presentations.

Geller disagrees strongly with the popular notion that there is a lack of available air  talent. “Talent is everywhere, just watch  YouTube, read a newsblog or listen to some of the online streams. There are thousands of people just waiting to be discovered.” She adds that many program directors need to do a better job of utilizing these resources to recruit and nurture new talent.

Two personality types need to come together to make great radio, according to Geller, generators and reactors. “A generator is someone who has a million ideas, but they may not all be good, while a true reactor is someone who doesn’t have the ideas, but the minute you give them one, they come back and say funny, wonderful things.” In traditional radio, these roles were played by on-air talent, but in the online environment, the audience can participate as either generators or reactors.

In an age when anyone can put media content on the Web, Geller reminds her readers that a station or network’s brand is one of their greatest assets. “The fact that news stories have been vetted to journalistic standards gives content a level of credibility that many Internet-only sources can’t attain.”

“We are living through a time of tremendous change,” concludes Geller, “and with that change comes great opportunites for those who are willing to take risks.”

KTAR News/Talk/Video

Stations that want to extend their brand into new media need to do more than simulcast the terrestrial signal. Bonneville’s KTAR, a news/talk operation in Phoenix, has reinvented how a radio station presents the news.

According to a report in Mark Ramsey Media, the station made a modest investment in video equipment and inaugurated a video channel on the Web beginning election night. KTAR’s video channel was original content, not a simulcast from the radio side.

Street reporters filed stories from political victory parties, and then faced the cameras and did live hits on video, streamed via Skype. Back at the station, personalities let the radio studios to do 10-minute segments on video. The interchange provided ample opportunities for cross-promotion of both radio and video channels.

The experiment seems to have been a success. KTAR’s Russ Hill explains, “We have plans to produce a video channel available online and on mobile devices that will feature original programs eight hours a day. The service is scheduled to debut in the first quarter of 2011. Programming will include exclusive Web content utilizing both radio talent and other personalities from the Phoenix market.

With a modest outlay for video gear, there are number of upsides for the station. The video stream reaches out to a younger demographic more accustomed to getting its news and entertainment online. Personalities from radio will be transformed to multi-platform talent, making them more valuable. Perhaps most important, the entire operation can be monetized, providing an additional revenue stream for KTAR.

Hill is enthusiastic about the future, “We are now finally getting serious about doing more than capturing radio people doing radio on video. No one really wants to see that. Our first stab at it was on election night. For the first time, we utilized other people on our staff and did exclusive Web video content. Our first attempt won’t win us any Emmy awards, but it has started the ball rolling in our shop that is going to produce some pretty remarkable things in the months ahead.”

American Youth Study 2010

Radio’s future lies with the critical 12-24 year-olds, and according to a recent report by Edison Research, there’s good news and bad news. First the bad. Despite all the industry hype and promotion, only four out of ten 12-24s have even heard of HD radio. Now the good. They’re listening on mobile devices such as cell phones.

12-24 year old cell users engage in a broad variety of behaviors on phones, with 18 percent listening to Internet-only radio such as Pandora, and 16 percent listening to the streams of terrestrial stations. They spend about three hours per day on the Internet, and much less listening to the radio.

More good news. Radio remains the leading source for learning about new music, with friends and YouTube coming in second and third. In fact, radio streams are referenced by more than a third of 12-24s as a source for new music. Its strengths are the hits, new music and to find out what’s popular. About 60 percent of respondents enjoyed hearing personalities and DJs along with the music. Over the past decade, today’s 22-34 year olds have grown away from Rap and Rock, and show a preference to Top 40, Country and Christian.

The biggest challenge for stations seeking to hold on to the 12-24 demographic comes from innovative new Internet technologies  such as Pandora. One in three have tried it, and the numbers are growing. Pandora has a self-reported 13 percent weekly cume, more than all other Internet and AM/FM streams combined. Its most popular features are the ones that make it different from radio, especially the ability to create ‘radio stations’ based on favorite songs or artists and the ability to skip songs.

The report makes several recommendations. More stations need to actively pursue this demographic, or watch it fade away. Consumers and advertisers still see radio as a youth medium, but owners, not so much.

Internet audio is essential, but it must go beyond streaming the on-air product. Study Pandora and steal the best ideas. The industry needs to work together . Standardization and co-ordination can create multiplier effects. Finally, a challenge to HR, recruit more young people to work in the radio industry.

Mike McCabe on AirAura

“It was like night and day,” exclaimed Mike McCabe, Engineering Manager for CHYM-FM in Kitchener, Ontario. Mike is referring to the sound of his station before and after the Vorsis AirAura digital audio processor was installed.

Kitchener is a medium market, and CHYM has a large at-work listenership, requiring a dynamic, competitive sound. With the assistance of Vorsis head Jeff Keith, McCabe was able to duplicate the sound of his previous processor in AirAura GUI Light as a jumping off point. He then used AirAura ProGUI  to fine-tune the station’s sound.

The transparency of AirAura’s DSP circuitry enabled McCabe to hear things he’d never heard in CHYM’s audio – not all of them good. “Many of our music downloads from record companies are very low quality, often with fully-clipped waveforms. The right channel is frequently more emphasized than the left”.

This led McCabe to revisit production procedures, with the staff doing clipper restoration and normalization to improve audio quality. McCabe used AirAura’s visualization tools, particularly the FFT views, to educate the production staff. In the end, AirAura simplified the production workload. “There’s less listening and adding EQ or AGC. We just put it in natural, and it comes out natural, with a Vorsis flavor,” explains McCabe.

Tightening production values also enabled CHYM to eliminate the AGC amp, which has been in place to compensate for sloppy board work, thus enhancing the station’s sonic purity. “Digital levels have been standardized,” adds McCabe, “so everything goes into the AurAura at -12 dBfs.”

AirAura has only been online at CHYM-FM for four weeks, and McCabe emphasizes that achieving that perfect sonic signature is a work in progress. “People are always coming up with new sounds and new ideas for getting there, audio processing is a very dynamic medium. It’s actually too much fun, you could be tweaking all the time.”

Monetizing Online Radio

Conventional wisdom says you can’t make money with online radio. Andy Ruback, GM of NRG Media’s Lincoln NE cluster says that’s just wrong. In an interview with industry consultant Mark Ramsey, he describes a strategy that led to the profitable business model implemented in Lincoln. “We created a value-added concept that gives people a reason to go to our online radio stations,” explains Ruback.

Making unique online content is a key component. Rather than running PSAs, unsold time is filled with short programming segments that complement the station’s  format.  Ruback elaborates that the rocker in the cluster airs a 2 minute “This song was #1” segment, while the country station plays music by local artists  which is not heard on the terrestrial signal, and the 70s hit station has short narratives  about popular recording artists. The rest of the material aired by terrestrial and online stations is identical.

Simplicity is another cornerstone. Only 14 advertisers are allowed, and each receives 14 minutes per day for six months. Time can be used in any combination of 30, 60 or 120-second segments. Advertisers also share gateway prerolls on the stream and receive banner ads on the website. Ruback elaborates, “One of the goals was to make  online sales simple enough so the average client can understand it.” Limiting the number of advertisers and commercials  also enables the traffic and production departments to remain at the same size, meeting another of Ruback’s goals.

The next phase for the Lincoln NB cluster will be to develop internet-only programming, and Ruback already has some ideas. “Our online audience may want to listen to the morning show after show, or an internet-only sports show.” He adds that the online space is also a great test bed for programs that may migrate to terrestrial radio.

Online radio rolled out in Lincoln on September 1 with $67,000 in presold revenue. Current sales are around $90,000, while the goal for 2011 is $150,000. Ruback concludes, “Our vendors tell us that if radio sales were a Billboard chart, we’d be at the top.”

Mark Ramsey is President of Mark Ramsey Media. Listen to his entire interview with Andy Ruback at

5 Things You Didn’t Know

Kelly Parker

IP audio systems are getting better all the time. If you haven’t worked on one for a few years, you may be in for a few surprises.  Kelly Parker, Systems Engineer and product development specialist for the WheatNet IP system describes the top five things that many engineers don’t know about IP audio.

#1.  Most IP audio systems can talk directly to major automation vendor’s interfaces. This means that expensive GPIO cards and additional wiring are no longer needed. In some cases. It is necessary to create or modify commands in INI files, but this is not difficult. App notes are available on the Wheatstone web site.

#2.  Software drivers have replaced sound cards. This is a great point of savings for most stations. Nowadays, simply buy a driver from your IP audio vendor. Audio and control signals run on the same cable. Parker adds, “Control logic can be associated with a particular audio channel, and the two can be routed together.”

#3.  Silence detectors are software-based, and can be associated with any destination.  This eliminates lots of additional hardware. These detectors can be programmed to switch to backup audio sources after a preset period of silence. They’ll also let you know there’s a problem. Notification can take the form of text or e-mail.

#4.  Most IP audio vendors include internal audio mixers with their systems. Sources and destinations can be switched over to this internal  mixer, freeing up the control surfaces for production, voice tracking or other uses. “This is a great bonus to stations with tight real estate,” explains Parker, “Because with it, you can build facilities with fewer studios.” Most IP audio systems can also reconfigure control surfaces for air studio, production or talk programming during different times of the day.

#5 Studio documentation is a thing of the past. Wiring used to be documented with large Visio or CAD flow diagrams and spreadsheets tracking wire numbers. “Using IP audio means all sources can be interconnected with all destinations in an almost infinite number of combinations,” adds Kelly, “so that doesn’t make sense any more.”

Study provides Tech Insights

Radio has always thrived at the nexus of creativity and technology. The explosion of new technologies over the past decade has led to many different business models – streaming, banner ads and covering local events. A recent survey of broadcast technologists conducted by Alethea Research and sponsored by Wheatstone Corporation has yielded some surprising, and not-so-surprising findings.

Not surprisingly, almost all respondents believed the Internet will be a big part of radio’s future. While streaming has become commonplace, stations are just beginning to exploit the many opportunities the Web provides for interaction with listeners.

While streaming was the top choice for making money, it’s not the only option. Multicasting, social media, podcasting and mobile apps are also being used. Whatever the technology, it needs to be combined with the right people, resources, technology training and sales training if it’s going to make money.

The survey revealed an alarming technology gap between stand-alone stations and those that are group owned. Stations in groups seemed better able to finance the deployment of new revenue generating technologies. They spent about twice as much as their stand-alone counterparts on technologies such as websites that deliver video, promotions with mobile phone apps and streaming multiple channels. Groups seem to have better access to the capital necessary to invest in new revenue-generating technologies.

When it comes to monetizing the web stream, it seems to be a ‘now or never’ proposition. One group is making it succeed as a business, or expects to in the next three years, the other never expects to see a profit from streaming. The good news is that a majority of the respondents are in the ‘now’ category.

It will be a slow process, but within 15 years, most stations expect to have more online listeners than RF. Despite this prediction, few see themselves as online content providers, but that could change. Over 76 percent of respondents say they’ll never turn off their transmitters. The RF signal presumably gives them an advantage over their online-only competitors.

Respondents agreed that success depends not on duplicating the existing RF service over new media, but in finding ways to add value to the listening experience, such as targeting special interests or exploiting interactivity.

Who is Jeff Keith?

Jeff Keith

Jeff Keith

“It all started with repairing a Gates Sta-level.” Explains Jeff Keith, Vorsis Senior Product Development Engineer.  The 40-year broadcast veteran served 30 of those years as a broadcast engineer.  He later moved to the manufacturing end of the business when he was recruited by Frank Foti to work at Omnia in 1999. He joined Wheatstone Corporation in January of 2007 to launch the Vorsis line of audio processors.

Keith took a few electronics courses in high school, but considers himself “90 percent self-taught.” Much of his education involved building electronic equipment, including several Eico kits   and over 100 Heathkit devices for the school’s electronics lab. He soon graduated to scratch building his own equipment. He now holds top-level SBE and master engineer NARTE certifications.

His interest in radio broadcasting eventually led to the construction of a 200-watt pirate AM station. “The general manager of a local station found out and promised me an engineering job if I would shut down the bootleg operation,” recalls Keith.

Although he’s built all types of equipment, he developed a special passion for audio processing. He began by modifying a Gates Sta-Level, then other processors, and finally building limiters of his own design.

Keith recalls a defining moment in his career that took place while working at an Altoona PA station. “Every night when I was driving home from work, I would listen to CKLW, and their audio sounded incredible. I could never get our sound even close to that.” His curiosity piqued, Keith finally called the Windsor, Canada station and spoke to the legendary Ed Buterbaugh, who was chief engineer at the time. “Ed explained, ‘Think about what crossover networks do in a speaker, and then think what would happen if you put them in front of limiters.’ Right then, a light bulb went on in my head and the wheels started turning.” Keith soon built his own multiband limiter and proceeded to have the best sound in the market.

His design work began with vacuum tube devices, then solid state, and currently revolves around designing DSP-based processing algorithms. Reflecting back on his 30-year career, Keith notes. “Electronics has always been my hobby. I’m lucky to be able to get paid for doing what I really love.”