The Spectrum Buy Back Plan and Radio

I’ve been trying to nicely but firmly tell my friends in terrestrial radio that they have to change.

Put the best programming ever on the air at this critical point where the public is being bombarded by new media options.

Instead, they cut talent, management, sales and water down live local radio.

Put 25% of their operating budget into the Internet and the mobile Internet. Consumers are demanding products in this space not so much on traditional terrestrial signals.

Instead, there isn’t one radio company that spends as much as 3% on new media each year in spite of the fact that it is the growth business of the future.

Now, the ultimate wake-up call comes from Julius Genachowski’s FCC.

The FCC wants to make way for increased broadband needs prompted by consumer use of mobile Internet by buying back spectrum space from AM, FM and television operators.

This could provide Internet access that is 25 times faster and if you ask most people who use the Internet they would prefer to have a speedy Internet than a traditional radio or antenna TV service. And wireless speedy Internet, too.

Oh, and the FCC plan could raise $20 billion in revenue from broadband-hungry companies.

Let’s put it like this, as the years go on consumers are going to want these Apple products that are already sopping up bandwidth. As some of my readers point out, the real crisis is more than just the advent of on-demand new media, but how to cram it all into the existing spectrum.

The FCC, Congress and President Obama appear to be headed in this direction.

It probably will not surprise you to hear that the NAB is opposing it.

I’ll tell you I could be a staunch supporter of the NAB’s position to preserve spectrum space for good old radio if good old radio was actually good old radio. That is, this crap Cumulus, Clear Channel, Citadel and other lesser companies are trying to pass off as compelling live local radio is actually going to help the FCC win the day over spectrum buy back.

Radio operators have given up on live local radio so it should not startle anyone to see that the government is looking to radio and TV to give up spectrum space on the dial.

For television stations, they’ve already found a new home in the digital space and with programming beamed to satellite and cable systems one could argue that traditional over-the-air broadcasting signals are passe today.

Consolidators have reduced radio markets to a series of ghost towns where in essence nobody is home to live up to the very local license commitments operators made to get use of the airwaves.

It’s going to be tough for the radio lobby to argue that the predominant programming de jour – voice tracking from somewhere else --- is contributing to a good use of spectrum space.

Anyway, radio owners are hot to get their “stations” on iPods and cell phones so I can hear the argument now – who needs all that spectrum space for terrestrial radio? Or for the time being, who needs as much terrestrial radio as we now have?

I could write this column every day about another local station forced into repeater radio but you wouldn't want to see a grown man cry.

Here’s the cold hard truth.

NAB is going to lose this battle eventually just as it will lose the performance tax exemption in the next few years.

The world has changed, but radio has not.

Consumers covet their cell phones and their Internet. The radio industry thinks listeners can’t live without a radio when what they can't live without is their mobile devices.

On-demand is the growth industry ahead but broadcasters stubbornly stick to their fantasy that 24/7 broadcasting is essential. They talk a good talk but for most of them they don’t believe it enough to even program live and local 24/7.

The cable companies, phone companies and wireless providers are hell bent on expanding to meet the real needs of the American consumer and radio, once untouchable, is now more expendable – at least the spectrum space powering some of the 10,000 plus stations are.

If you’re madder than hell and want to take this out on somebody, look no further than your market leaders – Clear Channel, Citadel and Cumulus. They have already inflicted a lot of damage on live local radio and now what’s coming next is on them.

How can the industry argue that radio is a lifeline in communities around the nation when most owners are turning their operations into repeater radio live from somewhere other than the local community to which they are licensed to operate?

How can the industry testify before Congress on the need for local radio when they aren’t doing local radio? I’d love to see Dickey, Suleman and Hogan try to wiggle around that issue.

In other words, the radio industry that has been self-destructive for almost 15 years now has finally dealt itself a final blow.

It’s all unnecessary but it’s going to happen nonetheless.

Consumers want more mobile and Internet and less traditional broadcasting. Congress gets it and the President wills it so this issue is not going away even if Lew Dickey himself throws a tea party.

I guess that would make Dickey a teabagger but what he and his kind really are is carpetbaggers (a person perceived as an unscrupulous opportunist).

So now, on top of the greed that made them fire their listeners' favorite talent, cut local services, news and weather, reduce marketing ranks by making it impossible for salespeople to make a living and turn their fiduciary license obligations into a joke – they will preside over the biggest land grab in the history of broadcasting.

No, not the stations they stole from the public through consolidation.

The terrestrial signals that cable companies, mobile operators and phone companies will take from them -- the signals they made less precious by turning live local radio into a cheap repeater network.

Now, the government is coming to take them away, ha ha! They’re coming to take them away, ho, ho!

Obviously these broadcasters can't make a compelling case to keep the public's air frequencies (and yes, it does belong to the people, not equity owners disguised as broadcasters). Consumers need more broadband, faster speeds.




Able to sustain the digital needs that are going to require more spectrum.

Tom Taylor said in a recent article that “Now AM/FM/TV broadcasters know where they stand with the FCC – they’re second-class citizens”.

But it’s not real broadcasters who suddenly made terrestrial broadcasting second0-class citizens. They know better.

It’s the consolidators who had their way with live local radio.

Now, you mark my words, the FCC is about ready to have their way with broadcasters who can no longer make a convincing argument that they need spectrum space for repeater radio.

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