Battle of the Platforms

Boxing gloves

We had an excellent comment from one of our blog readers recently on our blog post Is Radio in Crisis? “…….We need to get back to what made radio great in the 30s and 50s (and 60s and 70s) instead of trying to ‘beat’ the technology game. The PLATFORM is not relevant. The PROGRAMMING is.”

Platform battles aren’t limited to Podcasts vs. AM vs. FM vs. HD, etc. There’s also a battle for the platforms that include/exclude content. This is especially true when it comes to internet radio. When we first started offering internet radios back in 2006 everyone was just trying to stream. The streams weren’t great but you could get a lot of stations and there was a desire for adding listeners regardless of how they got there. The content available on internet and WiFi radio is pretty incredible.

As the technology progresses, different issues continue to appear. Some sites use flash players for their streams, which can’t play on devices without screens where you can press play (like our radios). Other networks, decide that they want you to listen through their app or device so they choose to limit the distribution of their content unless you are able to negotiate a licensing deal. Others change the format that they stream in to a less widely supported format or brand new format again limiting the devices the stream can be heard on.

There are content aggregators, meaning they don’t actually own any of the content. They gather it; host the database and often the website where it can be accessed; and work with chip manufacturers that create chips with access to their content on them. These then are embedded in devices like our radio. These aggregators can usually turn content on/off and add/remove streams (if it’s in an accepted format) – like Reciva, Frontier Silicon and TuneIn. Some have negotiated “premium” subscriptions that allow you to hear content that is otherwise not available via streams due to outside licensing agreements (like professional sports, archived shows, etc.). However, these premium services are often only available through their app or their web portal. There are also networks that own their own content like iHeartRadio (also known as Clear Channel) and Radio.com (CBS Radio Network). Maybe this provides some insight into why we call it the “Battle of the platforms”.

Our job here at C. Crane is to help listeners connect to their station, show or host regardless of the platform. There are times where an internet radio is the only viable solution such as when a person moves from Los Angeles to Florida but still wants to hear LA broadcasts. Or when Rush Limbaugh or George Noory  are no longer playing on a station they can receive, often we can help the listener find this content on another station.

It’s been interesting sharing “our job” with some of the content providers. Often there seems to be a disconnect within the networks themselves. Digital media in many cases is an entirely separate division or company. Sometimes the representatives don’t know the AM/FM market outside of call letters or what it says on their published papers. Some networks are changing staff, and appear to be working toward some better integration but there is a long way to go from what we see. Eliminating the platform wars and making it easier for companies to get listeners the content they want to hear would be a huge step in the right direction.

More than anything we try to be an advocate for the listener (because we listen too!). If you haven’t tried an internet radio, now might be a perfect time. Whether you choose one of our radios or another manufacturer, make sure to find out if the radio will play the content that you are trying to hear and supports any other functionality that is necessary for you to be happy with the radio (like Pandora, Bluetooth, clock or alarm, etc.).

For more information on what you might here on internet radio, read some past blog posts

Before You Give up Listening to Radio by Ken Hoffman, Columnist Houston Chronicle

A Secret Garden of Music

Check out this video on What You Might Hear

Also, if you’re having a tough time deciding, check out The Pros and Cons of WiFi and Internet Radio

How can we help you find a station you have lost, a host you are looking for? Contact us – we’re here to help!

Is AM Radio Still Relevant?

C. Crane started in 1983 selling AM antennas. We have progressed so we now manufacture a range of high quality radios of most types. We were one of the first U.S. distributors of Internet radios, but the vast majority of customers still prefer the instantaneous free convenience of radio.

If you don’t have time to read this but want to help keep AM stations capable of long distant night time broadcasts here is a link to KFI who has organized a petition to keep it the way it is: http://www.kfiam640.com/features/save-am-radio-1919/

Is AM Radio Still Relevant?

The FCC is proposing radical changes to AM radio signals. They have already adopted some of the proposed changes, but others that could have a more noticeable impact are still under review and are now open for comment. Currently smaller stations generally have to reduce power and sometimes change the direction they broadcast their signal so they don’t interfere with more powerful stations. What this means is larger 50,000 Watt stations like KGO, San Francisco; WGY, New York; KDKA, Pittsburgh; WGN, Chicago and many, many  more are capable of transmitting several hundred miles at night and early morning.  Those stations have a “protected” status during those specified hours.  They’re known as clear channel stations (not to be confused with Clear Channel Broadcasting).

This proposal is being called the AM Revitalization plan and some of the reasoning behind it stems from what is called the AM radio noise floor level. With the increase in all things electronic (think smart phones, televisions, Bluetooth and even LED light bulbs), the noise produced by all of these things has impacted AM Radio and not for the better. In many areas (you may be in one of them) the noise is so bad that AM, and in some cases FM, is almost not listenable.  Another argument in favor of these changes is to allow room for more local stations or to expand coverage for existing local stations.  In theory, this expansion would give listeners a wider choice of programming. A lesser understood impact may include these larger powered stations losing up to 46% of their listenership due to the change in the late night coverage where their signal currently travels hundreds of miles. One of the biggest concerns for losing this protection is the unintended consequences.  The FCC claim of how these changes will work out is actually a theory while the reality of implementation will be different. Unfortunately this is not a “try again” situation if the results are considered horrible by some listeners. It is a situation best served with the idea of “doing no harm”.

C. Crane has talked first hand with over one million AM radio listeners concerned with improving their AM reception. There is a considerable group of listeners who enjoy or by circumstance choose to use radio as their primary source of news and entertainment. They many times live in a more rural setting listening to distant stations. They are generally satisfied watching the world go by with radio as a companion. We would compare them to a sleeping bear that might take a remarkable exception to being poked with a stick. You might take this as a challenge until you meet some of these fine people and realize the misplaced destruction caused by eliminating their signal of choice.

There is a lot of discussion about AM being dead or being much less important than it was before cellular phones, WiFi, satellite radio and even FM Radio. There are many people who can’t afford, don’t have or don’t want access to WiFi or cellular services.  The proposed FCC changes could irreversibly affect those who rely on that AM radio signal each night to be informed and entertained.

You may not know why AM radio is very important to the United States, Canada, Australia and China but it is because all of these countries are too big to be covered with a free source of news. All of these countries also have a large relatively unknown group who listen at night. Taking clear channel stations away would affect a great many people.

Possible remedies to improve AM reception:

The FCC could consider a power increase for local stations one at a time. If you look at the comments on this topic, you can see it is too complex to make this kind of change with one general stroke of the pen. A one size fits all approach isn’t going to work. Guidelines can be developed to help the submission process and make this work better for all.

Local stations can stream when their signal goes down in power. The cost is low. A small subscription and/or advertising would be more than adequate.

New technology has given us at least one possible simple solution but it would take 10 years to implement. Bandwidth filters for receivers are quite good and inexpensive now since one chip supplier went into making AM/FM chips. They also make one that has a noise blanker that will likely work well on radio noise. So if broadcasters were able to keep their signal contained to bandwidth specifications and receivers matched it could work much better than it does now for the listener. If it works as well as we expect then the FCC could reduce the AM bandwidth to 8KHz and add more stations. Intelligent offsetting the stations geographically would mean less interference. All we would need is receivers capable of 1 Kilohertz resolution which would be mandated by the FCC.

Last reasons for AM stations

We all take the Internet for granted and in our opinion it is unlikely it will ever fail catastrophically. If it did fail the U.S. has no backup system which would plunge our great country into complete chaos. Until we are sure it can’t fail why eliminate 50,000 watt clear channel AM stations. They would be the only possible backup source of information capable of spanning the nation. Our military still installs and uses sophisticated High Frequency AM radios as a backup for a reason.

Here are some places you can go to learn more and form your own opinion

http://www.timesunion.com/business/article/A-wave-of-discontent-over-AM-radio-proposal-6854910.php#photo-9458937

http://chicagoradioandmedia.com/news/8012-fcc-s-proposed-am-revitalization-plan-could-have-impact-on-many-chicago-radio-stations

http://swling.com/blog/2016/02/am-radio-proposal-has-class-a-broadcasters-upset/

http://www.radioworld.com/article/questions-for-the-fcc-about-am-class-a-protections/277341

There are stations and individuals for and against these proposed changes. Some arguing that the only local programming is religious, some stating that in localized emergencies, only local stations report on it and others offering what seem like reasonable compromises or suggestions. One thing is clear: Times are changing and there is a limited opportunity to be heard.

We are curious on your take, tell us your opinion – please share in the comments, but if you really want to be heard, you can file a comment either electronically or through the mail http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/proceeding/view?name=13-249  Comments are being accepted through March 21st 2016 and replies through April 18th.