|A new Nielsen headache?
Voltair might get some competition.
Just what Nielsen doesn’t want – more controversy around the PPM. Orban’s Jay Brentlinger buttonholes Nielsen’s Matt O’Grady after yesterday’s Atlanta Radio Show presentation. He tells O’Grady “If my competitor does it [keeps selling the Voltair audio processor that supposedly helps out with PPM reception], we’re going to feel compelled to get into it.” Orban would rather not. But following the noon-time presentation by Voltair/25-Seven’s Geoff Steadman and Nielsen’s own 1:30 talk, Orban is plainly frustrated. Here’s why, in a conversation that took place away from the mics, but heard by this NOW Newsletter and a very few other folks (including some concerned-looking Nielsen reps) –
“In your testing data, is Nielsen going to allow one station to have a Voltair and one not?”
Orban co-owner Jay Brentlinger – also a station owner in PPM-measured Phoenix – pounces on Nielsen EVP Matt O’Grady with some pointed questions. Like, “How could you have a level testing field” in the just-announced DC and Baltimore study, if Nielsen doesn’t know which stations are using Voltair? (More about Nielsen’s DC/Baltimore test plans in a moment.) Brentlinger says up until now, Orban’s been supportive of Nielsen and “passive.” But he thinks Nielsen’s being way too passive now with Voltair. After O’Grady suggested Jay talk with his client rep and then slipped away to another meeting, Jay tells NOW that “either the lawyers have got them tightened up to the point that they can’t speak and can’t address the issue” or...he left that blank. He says if Orban started making a product that competes with Voltair, it would be with reluctance. Jay says “I don’t think [using a black box like Voltair] is the right thing to do. I think the audio gets compromised.” Would Orban think about proceeding if Nielsen’s own new “enhanced CBET” software helps level the field? Brentlinger says nobody knows how that will work, or whether Voltair works with it. He asks “How are you going to prove that,” in a test where Nielsen’s running blind about Voltair? More from yesterday’s back-to-back presentations from Voltair-maker 25-Seven and Nielsen coming up. But first, let’s take a break from all the ratings tech-talk –
All-news KYW Philadelphia wins the NAB Marconi for “Legendary Station.”
It was almost exactly 50 years ago, September 21, 1965, when KYW went all-news. It was supposed to convert even before New York sister “1010 WINS,” but there was an issue with a station swap. Now CBS-owned KYW, fresh off exhaustive coverage of the Pope’s recent visit, gets the news about the Marconi. Overall, last night was a sparkling evening for Hubbard Radio, which hauled down six awards. Cox did almost as well, with five. Some other winners at last night’s bash, emceed by Rickey Smiley – Eric & Kathy of Hubbard’s WTMX Chicago, Major Market Personality. Hubbard’s all-news WTOP Washington, Major Market Station. Hubbard’s hot AC KSTP-FM Minneapolis, Large Market Station. Cox-owned news/talk KRMG-AM/FM Tulsa, Medium Market Station. And Lenawee Broadcasting’s full-service AC WLEN Adrian, Michigan, Small Market Station. Hubbard kept accepting Marconis all evening, including “Rock Station of the Year” for Chicago’s WDRV. Check the complete NAB list here. Musical entertainment was provided by singer/BMI-pacted songwriter Gavin DeGraw.
The post-Dickey era for Cumulus begins with a New York-based CEO.
Mary Berner moved Reader’s Digest out of its ancestral home in suburban Pleasantville, New York while she was re-structuring the broken company. There’s no sign that Cumulus will fold up shop in the Dickeys’ chosen home of Atlanta. But this NOW Newsletter hears that she’ll be officed out of New York, for her new position running Cumulus. They’re supposedly searching for space now. You wonder how many other Cumulus functions will move north, over time. In a way, that brings many stations full-circle, because they were once run (under predecessor Citadel) by Farid Suleman out of Forstmann-Little’s Manhattan office. This week’s coup at Cumulus dominated hallway chatter at the Radio Show, and Chicago media surveyor Robert Feder poses an interesting theory – “If the Atlanta-based broadcaster wanted to inflict maximum damage on itself - and subject its founder and chief executive to the worst humiliation - it couldn’t have picked a better time and place” than the Atlanta Radio Show. You almost wonder if Non-Executive Chair Jeff Marcus planned it that way. One of Lew Dickey’s more recent market manager hires was CBS exec Peter Bowen in Chicago. Feder says “there’s a personal connection between Bowen and new Cumulus CEO Mary Berner, who grew up in Winnetka. ‘The families are very close friends,’ a source said.” A connection to a different radio-industry executive is college. Berner went to Holy Cross in Worcester, overlapping some time there with Marketron CEO and former RAB chief Jeff Haley.
There are three votes at the FCC in favor of a translator window for AMs – but it doesn’t matter.
None of those three votes belongs to the Chairman. Only Tom Wheeler controls the agenda, and it’s pretty clear that he X’d out the staff recommendation for a special translator window for AM stations. Republican Commissioner Mike O’Rielly carefully tells a Radio Show session that he’s “only referencing press reports, because I am prohibited from sharing the contents of any circulating item” on the 8th Floor. But he clearly favors a window, and he mentions fellow Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai as someone who’s shown “leadership” on AM revitalization. Also Democrat Mignon Clyburn, who drew strong applause at the 2013 Radio Show with her call for a window. It’s unclear where Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel is on the subject. But this NOW Newsletter’s reported that Chairman Wheeler rejected a number of staff-submitted ideas for AM – and that a translator window was one of them.
For AM stations who want translators, how about a “Window-Lite?”
FCC Audio Division Chief Peter Doyle tells yesterday’s Radio Show panel that in place of a full-scale translator filing window, the Commissioners could “allow relocations of translators of up to 250 miles.” They’ve studied it and concluded that a “Window-lite” approach would “vastly increase” the supply of signals for AM operators. And would provide relief faster than putting together a full window. Besides, the FCC Wireless Bureau (which would handle logistics for a window) is just a teensy bit busy right now with the spectrum auction slated for late March. Basically, the 250-mile approach would waive the current minor-change rule. AM may get other gifts from the FCC in the item that’s circulating among the five Commissioners – but access to translators is clearly the favorite option for broadcasters.
Nielsen to test upgraded PPM encoding software in two markets…
With the other 46 markets to join Washington DC and Baltimore, probably starting in November. Look for the first two markets, conveniently adjoining the Nielsen office in Columbia, Maryland, to do an A-B test starting around October 12. That test would be between the “legacy” PPM encoding and “enhanced” software. (You could think of that as a Nielsen response to Voltair, though they’d never say that.) Nielsen explains at yesterday’s presentation that its “enhanced CBET” (for critical band encoding technology) is designed to increase the code detection rates, and its Arun Ramaswamy shares charts showing that in very early tests, it showed “an average 15% increase in Average Quarter Hour persons.” That translated into a 0.1-point gain in AQH rating – not share, remember – for about 40% of the stations/dayparts/demos. But this part is really important – getting more of those every-4.8-second tones detected by a meter doesn’t mean more listening. Arun says “All you really need is a single code” in a particular minute to get credit for that minute. Nielsen’s Beth Webb says enhanced CBET improves detection of a PPM signal, especially in high-noise environments. Nielsen’s handling this very deliberately, working with stakeholders like the outside auditor, the Media Rating Council, a technical committee, and of course its radio clients. Enhanced encoding is part 1 of its announced PPM initiative. Part 2 is new encoders, with a real-time quality display (like Voltair), coming in 2016.
“There are two types of listeners,” says Voltair’s maker – humans and meters.
And the meters are what the Voltair processing unit is attuned to, says 25-Seven’s Geoff Steadman. No fireworks from him at yesterday’s standing-room-only crowd gathered near the meat-and mashed-potatoes serving area of the Radio Show exhibit hall. Just an earnest presentation from somebody who’s worked in radio all his adult life. He does joke about not asking for a show of hands from his customers, and the audience laughs - nobody would admit in public to being a user of his $15,000 unit. Steadman says last week’s 2.0-software release is part of a process of continual improvement, and that some of those new ideas come from customers. He says Voltair can be “a programming tool…lay the data against your playlist,” and discover that Zac Brown Band’s “Loving You Easy” doesn’t encode for PPM as well as some other songs on a playlist. So you don’t play it back-to-back with another song with that characteristic. We learn more about Voltair, from Telos Alliance member 25-7 -
PPM encoding is all about “QOS” – because you can’t just set it and forget it.
Arbitron performed a simple Quality-of-Service check when it first installed PPM encoders nearly a decade ago. If it worked, it worked, and that was it. Several experts in the audience at yesterday’s Voltair session tell NOW that even then, Arbitron could’ve built an analysis tool into the encoder unit, and perhaps cost is one reason they didn’t. Voltair has that, and the real-time display can be hypnotizing. 25-Seven’s Geoff Steadman believes “pass-fail” isn’t good enough, because “There’s a big gulf between D-minus and A-plus, and we want an A-plus” in terms of a well-encoded signal. He’s not saying that Voltair users will get credit for listening that didn’t happen. Just that the box can help them get the credit they deserve. Steadman says “sometimes innovation is disruptive,” on the way to “a better ecosystem for measurement.”
Atlanta Radio Show outdraws last year’s Indy show.
You can’t say city’s more popular than the other, but certainly many citizens in the Southeast can easily drive to Atlanta. (Of course once you’re inside the beltway, good luck with the famously-bad traffic…) Last year the NAB/RAB-sponsored Radio Show pulled 2,079 people at the downtown Indianapolis convention center. This year – registrations hit 2,170.
One of the good things about the 2015 Radio Show – It’s in one large hotel.
Last year’s flock of attendees at the Indianapolis Radio Show were split among several hotels, because no single venue was big enough. Most events happened at the Indiana Convention Center, a lovely place, but from there you were crossing the street to the Hyatt or the Marriott or the Crowne Plaza. So you probably missed running into some people you’d like to meet, in a lobby or watering-hole. This year in Atlanta, no such problem. The downtown Marriott Marquis is capacious enough for both convention purposes and housing needs. If you prefer the Hilton or another hotel brand, it’s literally just a skywalk away, and you don’t need to go outside. (And going outside at night isn’t recommended. You hear stories of problems on the street.) Another occasional issue at the Marriott couldn’t be avoided – the Otis elevator people are in the middle of a year-long maintenance project, and there were almost always some elevators out of service, in a 50-story hotel. The 2016 Radio Show should have the same setup as Atlanta. It’s in downtown Nashville, in the new Omni hotel. Dates are September 21-23.
Quotes from the 2015 Radio Show -
Taking his company public is “not on my to-do list,” says Jeff Warshaw of Connoisseur. He gets a laugh out of the Pillsbury Broadcast Financing panel when he says running a public company “doesn’t look like much fun.” He was sharing the platform with public company execs Caroline Beasley of Beasley Broadcast Group and David Field of Entercom. Warshaw admires his Connecticut neighbor Townsquare Media (“a wonderful company”), but says “their stock price has not done” as well as expected.
“Pandora’s gotten way too much credit” for its position. Jeff Warshaw said that, and Caroline Beasley of Beasley Broadcast Group agrees, pointing out that Pandora’s total spot revenue is only “about 2% of the radio industry.” They both agree that many folks’ perception – a word that popped up a lot at the Pillsbury session – is that Pandora’s killing commercial radio.
“PPM is a complex ecosystem.” That noontime statement by 25-Seven’s Geoff Steadman was later echoed almost exactly by Nielsen’s Matt O’Grady – the system is “a lot more than a PPM collecting the data.” Steadman listed items like “programming content, signal-chain order, on-air processing, the panelist’s acoustic environment and listening habits.”
More Nielsen September-book PPMs –
Pittsburgh – The eye-popper here is CBS Radio’s “93.7 the Fan” KDKA-FM, surfing a wave of Pirates baseball enthusiasm. The station runs from a 6.7 share in Nielsen’s July book to a 7.5 in August – and now an 8.5, for third place overall. That’s the frequency’s largest share, in either PPM electronic measurement or diary, in 25 years. In the Summer book of 1990, 93.7 was top 40 “B94” WBZZ. The Fan’s news/talk sister KDKA looks pretty nifty, too – up 6.0-6.1-8.0, in fourth place. First place is again iHeart’s classic hits “3WS” WWSW (10.0-10.8-10.1). Second is classic rock sister WDVE, 8.7-8.6-9.1. The score in the country war is 4.9 to 3.2. The 4.9 belongs to CBS Radio’s seventh-place “Y108” WDSY (4.8-4.6-4.9). The 3.2 goes to iHeart’s “Big” WPGB (3.4-3.0-3.2). Soft book for Steel City’s AC WLTJ (3.2-3.1-2.5). Classic hits 3WS attracts the highest weekly cume at 767,700. All shares in this section are age 6+ AQH for Nielsen’s total broadcast week. The “September” book was actually in the field from August 13 to September 9.
San Antonio – The top three all repeat in order. That’s Cox classic hits KONO-FM (7.1-7.6-8.4), Cox country “Y100” KCYY (7.0-6.6-7.4) and iHeart’s country “KJ97” KAJA (6.0-6.2-6.5). The #4 and #5 stations all step up smartly. Those are iHeart’s AC KQXT (4.7-5.3-5.9) and Cox rocker KISS (4.2-5.0-5.2). It’s “no-contest” for the cume lead for classic hits KONO-FM, which draws nearly 712,000 people in a market of about 1.94 million.
Sacramento – A spectacular 10.0-share by Entercom’s classic hits “Eagle” is the largest share it or any other Sacramento station has ever achieved in PPM. KSEG rises 8.8-9.5-10.0. Second is iHeart’s news/talk KFBK-AM/FM (8.0-7.4-7.6) and third is the first of the market’s country stations. CBS-owned KNCI picks up 4.6-4.4-5.1. Its competitors are iHeart’s “B92.5” KBEB (3.4-3.4-3.3) and Entravision’s “Wolf” KNTY (2.3-2.4-2.6). CBS Radio’s AC “Mix 96” KYMX ranks sixth with a 4.5 share – and is #1 in cume at 539,700.
Salt Lake City – Four wins in a row for Capitol’s hot AC “Now 97.9” KBZN (7.8-7.6-7.3). Second is Bonneville’s AC KSFI (7.7-6.9-6.4), dropping but ahead of iHeart’s top 40 KZHT (7.5-7.5-6.2). In the country standings, there’s tied-for-fourth KSOP-FM (owned by KSOP Inc.), 4.5-4.9-5.7). Then Cumulus’ tenth-ranked country “Bull” KUBL (4.3-3.9-4.3), KSOP’s classic country KSOP (2.4-2.2-2.2) and Broadway’s “Eagle” KEGA (1.3-1.2-1.4). In talk, there’s iHeart’s quite consistent KNRS-AM/FM (5.4-5.4-5.5) and Bonneville’s heritage news/talk KSL-AM/FM (5.0-4.5-5.4). Hot AC “Now” magnetizes the highest cume at 653,800.
Cincinnati – Most folks can merely dream of a 10.2 share, but iHeart’s “Big One” talk WLW expects something bigger, in baseball season. It remains #1, but drops 13.0-12.2-10.2. Hubbard has the #2 country WUBE (8.2-8.2-9.5) and hot AC “Q102” WKRQ (6.6-6.4-7.2). Cumulus owns classic hits WGRR (7.0-7.3-6.9). At 625,500, hot AC Q102 is padding its cume lead.
Scott Lindy will enjoy coming home to Atlanta, where he previously programmed for both Lincoln Financial Media (hot AC “Star 94” WSTR) and Clear Channel (cluster ops manager). He’s recently been with Cumulus-Indianapolis, and his move is the linchpin for a number of smart-looking PD moves by Cumulus Senior VP/Content & Programming Mike McVay. Scott will program country “Kicks 101.5” WKHX for Cumulus, and serve as a corporate PD. His current gig at country WFMS Indianapolis/95.5 will be filled by Steve Giuttari. Steve’s been recruited from Townsquare, where he’s the country format leader and brand manager based at Albany’s WGNA/107.7. With Scott Lindy headed back to the 404/Atlanta area code, current Kicks PD Greg Frey will segue to a Corporate PD position, specializing in country stations and the “growing country line,” says Cumulus. What’s interesting is – this may be the first country press release out of Cumulus in a year or more that doesn’t mention “Nash.” Neither the Atlanta nor Indy properties are branded that way, but Greg Frey isn’t ID’d as addressing “Nash” for the company that’s going through lots of post-Dickey changes.
Making the connection – “Over the years as a contract engineer and audio consultant,” says Jay Walker, “I’ve come across some interesting ‘quick fixes.’ I discovered one at an FM in Colorado. It had a decent signal power-wise and the audio wasn't the worst I'd heard, but there was one small problem: it was mono. The station had all the 'right' tools, Optimod, composite STL, etc. but no one could figure out the problem. It didn't help that the studios were in an AM facility with decades of un-documented wiring. After checking through literally hundreds of feet of wiring, I finally found the issue and got the most gratifying response from the on-air talent on the air. He said, ‘#%$! It's stereo!!!’ Seems that years ago, a PD wanted an aircheck recorder with automatic level control. Someone made the trip to Radio Shack and purchased a cheap mono recorder. Yup. This full power class C FM had the program lines tied together, bridged to the mono input of the recorder. A quick snip of the trusty 'dykes' and the FM was in stereo for the first time in years.” Remind you of a radio story that makes you smile? Email “You Can’t Make This Up” – Tom@RTK-Media.com.
Steven Tyler and “Music & Mimosas” are this morning’s windup party for the Radio Show – though some folks re-booked their travel to get home early, ahead of tropical storm Joaquin. Kudos to the NAB and Radio Advertising Bureau for their latest collaboration, one that began years ago with the first combined Radio Show in Washington DC. Also kudos to the first-time “Radio Show Scholars Program,” which brought 130 college undergrads and graduate students to their first Radio Show. That was underwritten by Alpha, Bonneville, Cherry Creek Radio, Connoisseur, Emmis, Hubbard, iHeart, Katz, Neuhoff, Nielsen, Radiate Media, Salem, Times-Shamrock, Triton Digital and Univision Radio. That’s an idea that deserves to be repeated and expanded, next year in Nashville. And it could also be adapted at the state and local level, to give young people a taste of the business. It was a pleasure for us at RTK Media (Robert Unmacht, Kristy Scott and me) to meet so many NOW readers in Atlanta. See you back first thing Monday morning - Tom