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Stations Going Dark – Reimagining Radio Frequency Usage

The most recent FCC database suggests that approximately 292 stations have been dark for over two months, including 66 AMs and 226 FMs.

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More than 20 radio stations were dark for at least some time due to Hurricane Ian. Most will come back if they are not already broadcasting again, but it made me think about stations that have gone dark across the country. It seems that another station signs off almost weekly.

The most recent FCC database suggests that approximately 292 stations have been dark for over two months, including 66 AMs and 226 FMs – of which 109 are translators, and 45 are LPs. Of the remaining 72, several are non-coms with licenses held by educational institutions, such as WSUP-FM/Platteville, WI., licensed to the University of Wisconsin.

Every time the industry gets a health report, it is grimmer than the prior one, whether it measures audience attitudes, listening levels, or revenues. Eventually, something must give. 

If the country enters another economic downturn and the industry’s revenue drop again, is there anything left to cut? If not, will there be a great reset? Could one more dip in revenue cause the industry to reach the point where it is no longer viable for so many stations to broadcast under the current advertising-driven model? If so, what other uses are there for the broadcast bandwidth?

The industrial centers of American cities made me think about reinvention and how it could apply to radio frequencies.

I’ve lived most of the past 30 years in either Philadelphia or Minneapolis. They are quite different places, but they have one thing in common: they are both situated on great rivers. Philadelphia sits between the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers. The Mississippi River separates the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. 

Philadelphia’s founders had the good sense to keep the land along the Schuylkill pristine. It’s a parkland for all residents to enjoy. Except for beautiful Boathouse Row, nothing is built along its shoreline within the city limits. The Delaware River was a different matter. It became Philadelphia’s industrial hub.

Likewise, land along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis became its industrial center. For much of the 19th century, Minneapolis was the world’s flour milling capital.

At the time these and other American cities were founded, waterways were crucial for industrial development. Rivers provided transportation for delivering raw materials and distributing the finished product to market. Water was a source of power and a place to dump waste.

Today, of course, there are more efficient methods of transportation and (arguably) power. We no longer (at least in the U.S.) dump untreated waste into rivers, lakes, or oceans. Further, these locations are the most crowded parts of metropolitan areas with roads that pre-date modern vehicles and inadequate parking. It became inefficient for most industrial companies to remain on these sites. 

By the 1970s and 80s, manufacturers abandoned most facilities on river shores in urban areas for more spacious and modern suburban and rural locations. Deserted factories and industrial facilities dotted American cities, including Philadelphia and Minneapolis. The EPA designated many of these sites as brownfields, requiring extensive cleaning and restoration efforts. Brownfields are an issue I learned about and worked on during my four years in the office of Congressman Mike Turner (R-OH).

If you’ve watched Rocky (the first one), there’s a scene where Sylvester Stallone is running along the railroad tracks that gives a fairly good look at what the banks of the Delaware River looked like by the mid-1970s. There are about 15 seconds of it opening this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZKhpbfR-LE

Minneapolis wasn’t much different along the Mississippi River. If you live in a major metropolitan area with a waterway, chances are good that it was similar. 

Prime real estate in large metropolitan areas is usually expensive. If the land is contaminated, the price must be meager. Eventually, the prices fell in Minneapolis and Philadelphia. Both cities found developers who reimagined the usage of their formerly industrialized and, at the time, inhospitable riverfronts.

Today, Philadelphia’s Delaware riverfront is an entertainment district with restaurants, parks, areas for picnics, seasonal pop-up parks, historic ships, and piers that are also recreational spaces. There is a seasonal ice-skating ring, carousel, and Ferris wheel.

The Mississippi riverfront in Minneapolis is also a vibrant entertainment zone with its Riverwalk. The largest of the flour mills is a museum that preserves the city’s milling history. Developers built condos, and apartments close to the river, making it one of the trendiest places to live in Minneapolis. 

With the help of developers and entrepreneurs, Philadelphia and Minneapolis reimagined abandoned and contaminated land. Today the riverfronts in both cities represent some of the best each offers.

Are there lessons to be learned from the reimagination of riverfront property and urban redevelopment?

The U.S. is entering another period of economic turmoil, with interest rates making it harder to carry debt and little left at stations to cut. Is radio’s great reset coming?

Will we see more stations go dark or licenses turned back in? If so, AM stations will be the first to happen in mass. 

Has the AM band become the equivalent of the city’s industrial sites?

Programming on AM stations continues to migrate to FM, similar to when companies left sites along the river in search of better locations.

As operations manager of WPHT-AM/Philadelphia, listening to the station at home was brutal. The coverage map showed there should not have been a problem. The head of engineering for the cluster came over and quickly diagnosed the problem. My TV, which by the way, was a high-end model, was causing interference. I even had it plugged into an electricity filter, all to no avail. 

It’s nearly impossible to listen to an AM station on a radio. Almost any kind of light bulb or electronic device will create noise. The AM band has noise pollution. It’s as deadly to listening levels as the toxic waste industrial production left behind along the Delaware and Mississippi Rivers.

I’m not suggesting anything drastic is imminent. Still, I wanted to see what alternative uses imaginative people would come up with for the commercial radio bandwidth.

Next week’s column will reveal ideas from a leading voice in radio engineering, one of the brightest branding experts in the world, and an authority on human behavior who is also a data scientist.

Their answers are fascinating. That’s coming next week in part two of Reimaging Radio Frequencies. 

BNM Writers

Should The News Be Minimized on The Holidays?

“I do wonder who is watching or listening or reading and what the return on efforting news programming on holidays really is.”

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This is not by any means a new topic of discussion but I do enjoy bringing it up and batting it around because I think it’s worthy of regular consideration and deliberation. Perhaps it deserves even just a fresh batch of whining and complaining by those of us stuck in a newsroom, in front of a camera or microphone or standing out somewhere in the cold.

There’s no debate that what we do has a level of importance that fluctuates from time to time. There are countless professions that we cannot do without for even a portion of a single day. That said, working the holidays is not unfamiliar or even a question for many people out there.

I, myself have spent most of my adult life in professions where working on Thanksgiving, Christmas, the High Holidays, Independence Day among others was just part of the job. It still amazes me how many people would react in astonishment when I declined an invitation or mentioned in conversation that I was working that day.

Like they couldn’t comprehend the possibility. Must be nice.

Now, let’s be clear about this; covering a parade or a holiday festival or religious services on a particular day is not what I’m focusing on here. Imagine the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or New Year’s Eve or the 4th of July fireworks without reporters and crew coverage.

More people would actually have to go to these things.

No, I’m talking about regularly scheduled newscasts and field reports on these mornings, afternoons and evenings.

Why?

I don’t see it.

More specifically, who is measuring the need for this programming? I cannot identify sitting behind a desk (probably inside an office…what’s that like?) and concluding that there must be 4:00pm-6:30pm newscasts on Thanksgiving Day.

5am news on New Year’s Day is out and out sadism.

“Good morning and Happy New Year…here’s what’s happened in the twenty-three minutes since you went to bed.”

Yes, by all means, let’s open our presents with the soothing tones of morning drive news in the background or lounge in the living room after the two-ton turkey dinner and watch the daily rundown of criminal activity lovingly framed in holiday graphics.

Do people want to drive to Grandma’s house while listening to the latest in Tuesday’s home invasion- assault investigation, this morning’s hit and run fatality or the city council vote on funding a halfway house near the elementary school?

Actually, the inspiration for this semi-rant comes from a conversation I had with a woman I was speaking with about holiday getaway travel. She very innocently asked me why there is news on the holidays. “Who is watching…who is listening on a day like that?” I told her I really couldn’t say. Of course, this was someone who told me she didn’t even pick up a newspaper or peruse social media for a news update on any given holiday.

“On Christmas”, she said, “no news is good news.”

To a significant degree, I’m on board with that. I do wonder who is watching or listening or reading and what the return on efforting news programming on holidays really is.

This is not about those having to work although employee consideration should be part of the equation. There will always be the need to have someone in the newsroom but minimizing that requirement could never be a bad thing.

Many operations do work with reduced staff during the holidays and that’s great. Twenty-years ago the radio station group I worked for dropped most programming during the year-end holidays, simulcasting holiday music across all the stations only cutting in with station IDs, tracked greetings from staff and news updates only if necessary.

I suppose one could argue that people need to know what’s going on all the time so we are providing a necessary service but really, everything we do is on-demand whether we like it or not. Nobody is listening or watching or reading unless they make a conscious effort to do so. They have to turn the TV on and hit the channel, dial the car radio and click on the website. We have no say.

For me, somebody somewhere has to show me that there’s a need and a want for what we do on those special days and at those special times. Convince me.

In the meantime, move the turkey and stuffing closer to my side of the table and keep the cranberry sauce and yams over on your end.

And I’ll be up bright and early talking to the Black Friday shopping crowd.

Don’t get me started.

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Seth Leibsohn Expected to Move to Phoenix, Didn’t Expect Radio Show

“There wasn’t a huge demand for a white male teaching Aristotle’s teachings. I kind of like the idea I can still teach on the air.

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We’re all made up of a unique genetic recipe. Take a graduate student of political philosophy, add a pinch of love of contemporary politics, a dash of popular culture, maybe a trumpet, and you have Seth Leibsohn.

“I was a good trumpet player in high school,” Leibsohn said. Still, that alone wasn’t enough for him to pursue it as a career, even though his parents were fine with him chasing something he enjoyed, even supportive. “Some parents try to push you into a career, but my parents never did. I thought I might be able to play the trumpet as a career, but ultimately decided I wasn’t as good as my trumpet heroes. I’ve heard golfers have hung it up in a similar way.”

Quoting Del Griffith in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, ‘The finest line a man’ll walk is between success at work and success at home.’ To be truly happy you’ve got to have both. Seth Leibsohn couldn’t agree more.

“I don’t know many people who are thrilled with what they do for a living,” Leibsohn continued. “I believe you work to pay bills, not for life satisfaction. Billy Joel said there is no magic secret and everybody has happiness within themselves. If you’re truly happy with what you do, you have it all beat.”

The Seth Leibsohn Show airs live on KKNT 960 The Patriot in Phoenix from 3:00-6:00 PM weekdays. Then the show is replayed as a podcast. “The podcast is essentially the show I do,” Leibsohn said. “It’s fun. I never thought I’d be on the radio. I started in D.C. with a national show with Bill Bennett, The Bill Bennett Show, as co-host and guest host.”

You may recall Bennett was appointed the drug czar in 1989 under President George H.W. Bush.  Bennett still does a podcast and Leibsohn appears as a guest about once a month. He was Bennett’s chief of staff for many years.

Leibsohn decided to move back to Phoenix in 2011 to take care of his parents.

“After I arrived I was approached to host my own show,” he said. “I like that it doesn’t have to be relegated to a local audience. I get calls from Texas, Chicago, Ukraine. Leibsohn describes himself as a ‘different’ radio host, “I started in academia,” he explained. “There wasn’t a huge demand for a white male teaching Aristotle’s teachings. I kind of like the idea I can still teach on the air. The show is a vital seminar, with a bigger classroom.”

Leibsohn works hard on the show as he doesn’t have a producer. “I have to find my own guests, which I average about one each day. Television show hosts don’t have to track down and book their own guests. I start reading from the moment I wake up, searching for something interesting, a guest that can provide some insight to a topic.”

He’s long been a staunch advocate against the legalization of marijuana. He headed the group ‘Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy’, which was instrumental in preventing the legalization of marijuana in Arizona. He has co-authored several articles with Bennett regarding the dangers of marijuana, which was picked up by numerous newspapers including the Los Angeles Times and The Tampa Tribune.

Doing whatever he can to rid the streets of drugs and the pollution of our children is essentially what make’s Libsohn tick. It may be more accurate to say it drives him.

When talking about ridding streets of drugs throughout the country, I was impressed that Leibsohn wasn’t hypocritical. He said he wasn’t above having a good time with friends in college, but recognized there was a time to stop.

“I partied with the best of them,” he said. “Then I saw four of my best friends, who were both far smarter than me academically, ultimately fail in their lives. They just couldn’t give up the partying and substances and succumbed to a lot of drug use.”

Another bolt of realization about the destruction of drugs for Leibsohn stems from his sister struggling with substances her entire life. “I guess I had more of a vector about what it could do to you. Drugs cause so many problems in our society. It’s an ongoing battle to protect our children.”

Working on reducing substance abuse in America has long been a passion for Leibsohn. Working with Bennett helped fuel that desire. Leibsohn spent time working for the Higher America initiative with Jeane Kirkpatrick.

Never a fan of Hilary Clinton, Leibsohn said he agrees with the former First Lady on one thing.

“Hilary said Mexico is a problem regarding illegal drugs, but if the citizens of America didn’t want the drugs, it would be a problem. People want this crud. Since we lost the anti-drug messaging system in America, the problems have spiraled out of control.”

Remember the old ad, ‘This is your brains on drugs?’ That’s the messaging Leibsohn is talking about. Leibsohn said when Bennett was drug czar, 10,000 Americans were dying each year. Since then the death toll has increased 1,000 percent.

“We reduced drug use by 65 percent in 1992,” Leibsohn said. “I attribute that to the messaging. It was hugely important. We embedded the anti-drug message at the movies, in schools, there was a Hollywood sobriety chic. We did for drugs what mothers did for drunk driving.”

Leibsohn cites Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he wrote, ‘Human desires increase with their means of gratification.’

“The narration in the television show Narco opens with the narrator talking about cocaine. He said they had a supply problem keeping up with the demand for the drug in Miami.”

Leibsohn intended to run for Congress in 2018, but his staff screwed-the-pooch.

“My campaign management didn’t get enough signatures,” Leibsohn said. “I made sure everyone who contributed to my campaign got their money back.” He said he has no biting need to run for office again.

Our conversation swerved into another contentious topic–immigration from Mexico. Leibsohn said our immigration problem is currently out of control.

“There are a lot of reasons for the problem,” he said. “I don’t think there’s one single answer or solution. I do know we’re giving billions of dollars annually to illegal immigrants. When the monthly numbers come out regarding the prison population in Arizona, the illegal immigrants count for a huge portion of those criminals.”

He said there have been good examples of cleaning up cities, like New York. “There are things that work,” Leibsohn explained. “We have to replicate those efforts and dump the things that don’t work. Indianapolis is another city that turned things around. There are theories that work when applied.”

Leibsohn spoke of disparate impact, when policies and rules have a disproportionate impact on a particular group.

“I think a lot of Left-wing prosecutors abhor statistics of racial minorities. In effect they turn a blind eye, a deaf ear when it comes to crime. I had hoped by now we could get beyond race, see policies enacted in my lifetime.”

We also talked about what constitutes American conservatism, which is delineated by low taxes, free markets, deregulation, privatization, and reduced government spending and government debt. Leibsohn thinks the definition of American Conservatism is more nebulous than that.

“I think American Conservatism has never had a good definition,” he said. “Perhaps the most prominent recent conservative was William F. Buckley Jr. He never wrote a book on American Conservatism as he said it was too diverse.”

Regarding pinpointing what American Conservatism actually is, Leibsohn said it’s really clay in the hands of those you ask. “Some say it’s a group that believes in limited government,” he explained. “There are some who will fold religious beliefs into that, some may add sociology.”

He said throughout his life, he’s always been in search of discovering the meaning.

“In Buckleys’ National Review Magazine, he debated this all the time,” Leibsohn explained. “He had always been in search of the meaning. In his magazine, Buckley debated this all the time. In my own view it should be a movement based on America’s founding fathers ethos–equity and liberty. There’s not a lot of agreement on these things today.”

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Producers Podcast: Andrew Marsh, 101 ESPN

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Andrew Marsh of 101 ESPN in St. Louis details the unorthodox background that has helped him thrive in the producer’s chair for The Fast Lane.

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