Friday, July 27, 2007

Will you be David Rehr's pen pal?

Was National Association of Broadcasters head David Rehr humming the Box Tops’ version of “The Letter?” My guess is that it was the Arbors' cover.

Rehr spent Wednesday and Thursday firing off letters to President George W. Bush, the FCC, and the Senate Commerce Committee.

Let’s go straight to Rehr’s letter to Bush.

It was in response to a question asked of him earlier in the week, when he was visiting Opryland in Nashville.

The major labels, which all have Nashville offices, sent their minions to a press conference in hopes of tricking our Commander-in-Chief, into delivering a pro-music biz soundbite.

One of the label weasels got to ask whether he believed artists should be paid royalties for radio airplay.

Being unfamiliar with the issue Bush replied, “Help! Maybe you've never had a President say this? I have, like, no earthly idea what you're talking about. Sounds like we're keeping interesting company, you know? Look, I'll give you the old classic: contact my office, will you?”

That one got Rehr’s blood fire-brewed like a Stroh’s.

Bush added, “I like listening to country music, if that helps.”

Except the Dixie Chicks.

Rehr’s letter was to familiarize Bush on his battle with the major label’s lobby group, the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) against their proposed statutory “performance right” royalty to artists that would force radio to pay for music played on the radio.”

Rehr wrote, “On behalf of the 6,900 radio station members of the NAB, I am writing to ask that you oppose this effort. Not only would this new performance tax upend the longstanding mutually beneficial business relationship that exists today between record labels, recording artists and broadcasters, but it would have a serious financial impact on broadcasters that could affect their ability to serve their local markets."

Stop right there.

Did he really think that Bush would understand the gist of his letter?

You can hear Bush’s response.


Rehr’s next epistle – five pages long - went to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. He urged the FCC not to support a merger between rival XM and Sirius satellite radio companies.

Among other things, he accused XM and Sirius of basing “their merger on a public relations campaign, slogans over substance, (and) promises without proof.”

Regardless of where one stands on this merger issue, the NAB’s just as guilty of slogan’s run as satellite radio.

Wasn’t it Rehr’s group that came up with, Sirius + XM = Monopoly – Do the Math, Hollow Promises, and Merger to Monopoly, among others?

In fact, he had to be cautioned. Rehr, who used to head the National Beer Wholesalers Association, wanted to use these slogans:

When you say terrestrial, you said it all.

For all you do, this terrestrial radio is for you.

Where there’s life, there’s terrestrial radio.

Terrestrial radio- It won’t slow you down.

If you got the time, we’ve got the terrestrial radio.

Terrestrial radio – it doesn’t get any better than this.

Proving why he’d never make a good copywriter, Rehr said of the merged satellite company’s plans to offer its format channels a la carte, “These new concessions are nothing more than a shameless attempt to curry the favor of the government regulators.”

He added, "No matter what promises Sirius and XM may offer, they are not sufficient to overcome the resulting harms to consumers when a monopoly is created by the Commission. In addition, XM and Sirius’ track record at the Commission shows that such promises are hollow because in pursuit of their own self-interest, XM and Sirius are willing to bend the law and reinterpret any promises to suit themselves instead of the American public."

Memo to David Rehr: The last time I checked the NAB had one of the strongest PACs on Capitol Hill.

Rehr’s best line was, “The merger parties’ argument that satellite radio and local radio are interchangeable is nonsense. If the two services were truly substitutable products, why would anyone pay $12.95 a month if they could get what they want free from local radio stations?”

The fact is they can’t.

And David, did you have to mention that there are those who are so fed up with terrestrial radio that they’re willing to plunk down x-amount of dollars for a satellite radio receiver and pay the monthly thirteen buck fee?

Doesn’t that say there’s a need for their service?

Someone’s got to proof read the boy. Either that or Rehr ought to stay off the suds until after he writes these letters.

Does he still get free samples from the beer companies he used to rep?

We now move on to his third letter. This one, to the Senate Commerce Committee, was an attempt to defend the so-far botched task to inform the public on its analog-to-digital (HD) TV transition.

Congress allocated $5 million to launch the campaign. The Einsteins at the FCC, NAB, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administrator are collaborating on the project.

Is that too many cooks or too many kooks?

Those not PAC’d by the NAB in Congress believe that TV viewers are neither prepared nor aware of the analog-to-digital switch that takes place on February. 17, 2009.

The SCC claims 60 percent of the public are not aware of the looming transition.

The NAB prefers to call them plebeians.

Their campaign snubs the elderly, poor, and non-English speaking citizens - those least likely to know of the change.

A 2005 Government Accountability Office report revealed that over 20 million U.S. households rely solely on over-the-air television and forty percent of those households include at least one person over 50.

"The time to act is now; before the digital transitions devolve into a digital disaster," said Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, (D- Hawaii), the committee chair. "We must work together to ensure that no citizen is left behind in the transition to digital television."

Inouye should’ve said, “Get the hacks out of the way!”

Non-digital TVs will require converter boxes once TV stations drop analog broadcasts entirely.

Rehr’s response was, “I get a little frustrated sometimes when people stand up and tell us all the things we should be doing.”

Testy, aren't we?

He called his analog-to-digital TV info campaign a “Herculean effort.”

Frail is more like it.

Credit Rehr for one thing. He resisted the temptation to mention HD Radio in his missives.

Maybe he’s come to grips with the fact that it’s the biggest stiff he’s seen since the beer industry tried to market fruit-flavored beer a few years back.

Like HD Radio, that product was such a stiff that chances are you never even heard of it.

Seems like there’s a lot of that going around.


Rehr’s letter to Bush:

Rehr’s letter to the FCC:

Rehr’s letter to Sen. Daniel K. Inouye and the Senate Commerce Committee:

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Spectrum Analysis

Here’s one that may have slipped under your radar.

So, the most significant radio story came down the pike at the end of the week and only a few in the radio industry took notice?

Last Friday, Google told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of its intent to bid for the 700MHz spectrum, if certain proposed auction rules are adopted.

If they agree to the rules, Google will participate on the bidding at the FCC’s $4.6 billion reserve price. By law, the auction has to take place by January 28, 2008.

The government needs the money raised from the auction after nearly eight years of reckless spending and a national debt that’s been increasing an average of $1.33 billion per day for the past ten months.

So what’s the frequency, Kenneth?

New use of this spectrum will make high-speed wireless Broadband available almost anywhere and provide low-cost service to even the most rural of regions.

It will force cell providers to drop price. Supply and demand will be on the consumer’s side.

That’s why it’s being called the most important and valuable wireless spectrum available in the U.S.

This isn’t just beachfront property. This is the whole beach.

I take it back. It’s the whole ocean.

The spectrum is currently used by UHF channels 52 through 69. Those stations have to vacate it by February, 2009 – the month when all TV stations must go digital or die.

Eventually Internet radio and TV will be on a level playing field with terrestrial, which will create a market for free-standing Internet radio and television units.

You won’t have to be tethered to a computer or cell to listen or watch.

Internet radio (and TV) will be available in cars with audio comparable to satellite radio.

Over time it could render current copyright laws outdated since everything from music to movies will become borderless.

That’s not music to the RIAA’s pointy little ears.

Old media and the music and film industry will have to adapt to the new technology – not the other way around. They’ve resisted change and always proved wrong. Recorded music on the radio? 45 RPMs? Cassettes? Video players? CDs? DVDs? Tivo?

Terrestrial radio has never considered Internet radio a direct threat. That’ll change.

It’s like that village blacksmith at the turn of the last century boasting that the newly-invented automobile will never put the horse out of business as the primary means of transportation. A few years later that same blacksmith is trying to defend his business by shooting at tires on passing cars.

In Europe and Asia - far ahead of us in streaming audio and video - free-standing Internet radios are already being sold at retail.

Hotels are a burning hot market for Internet radio. Many European and Asian hotels, most notably those catering to the international business traveler, have converted from their old terrestrial models to free-standing Internet radios. Just last week the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong made the switch.

In-room Internet radio allows hotel guests to listen to news, information, and music from anywhere in the world to their own hometown.

Consider the prospective market for foreign and exchange students.

Then there’s the Eurotrash market and the spoiled broods of Saudi and Kuwaiti princes who dispose of more income in one day than most of us will in a lifetime. They’ll buy dozens of them to hear Internet stations that’ll play all that has-been trashy disco/rap they can’t get enough of.

Though Internet radio is worldwide, stations catering to smaller regions and even individual neighborhoods and ethnic environs will emerge in the U.S. since small market terrestrial radio is now a rarity.

Except for countries like China and Iraq, where they’ll cut your ears off and shove ‘em down your throat if they catch you listening to unapproved programming, it’s a borderless, worldwide market.

Among the global manufacturers of free-standing Internet radios are HipShing (which has deals with Thompson, Sanyo, Phillips, Hitachi, and others), Acoustic Energy, and Roku, which just did the deal with Peninsula.

There’s no U.S. market for free-standing units. Not yet.

Let’s open to the Book of Jobs.

There was good reason why Steve decided against adding a terrestrial AM-FM radio tuner on the iPhone. He’s a futurist and knows that when Internet access is no longer moored to a Wi-Fi hot spot or a specific carrier, his unit will provide a direct connection to thousands of Internet radio and TV stations.

September 29, 2009. Time flies.

A couple of geniuses chided me on what they believed was the Google story of the week – the stock drop.

So they missed Wall Street earning expectations. Big deal. It happened in part because of their aggressive recruiting and hiring of the best and brightest while simultaneously releasing a substantial measure of new offerings. What a problem to have.

It beats owning Clear Channel stock.

Their executive staff can’t even remember what the color black looks like.

They bought a new accounting program. It’s called Addition by Subtraction.

And what about Google and Apple?

I’ll bet they’ll start their own political parties by 2008 and their own countries by 2012.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.

New York columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote the book in the late sixties about some not-so-wise guys loosely based on mobster Joey Gallo and his gang. The movie version came out a couple of years later, launching the careers of Robert DeNiro and Jerry Orbach.

Gallo? He checked out when he took five to chest at his 43rd birthday dinner at Umberto’s in New York’s Little Italy in 1972.

For nearly forty years The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight's been linked to Gallo. But now that title’s up for grabs.

Who are the contenders? Too many too name.

Let’s start with a couple.There’s Mitch Bainwol and his pit of serpents of the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA). They’re incapable of delivering a direct aim. Given the opportunity, they’ll always opt for jackboot tactics.

How about their illegal downloading law suit against Tanya Anderson, the handicapped 44-year old African-American single mother from Oregon? When the RIAA was proven wrong, they sheepishly dropped the law suit and claimed it was an honest mistake. Facts schmacts.

But Anderson didn’t acquiesce and now she’s countersuing the RIAA for Oregon RICO violations, fraud, invasion of privacy, abuse of process, electronic trespass, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, negligent misrepresentation, the tort of "outrage", and deceptive business practices. Her counterclaim also demands a trial by jury. Can’t wait for that one.

One of the stunts the RIAA pulled was calling her eight-year old daughter’s elementary school, claiming to be her grandmother. I hope there’s tape.

Imagine Bainwol asking his RIAA minions, “Which one of youse guys can do a convincing granny voice?”

Is it just me or is there something really creepy about this organization trying to set up an eight-year old kid?

Then there’s that illegal downloading lawsuit the RIAA filed against Deborah Foster of Oklahoma City. When she denied involvement, the RIAA expanded their complaint to her daughter, Amanda. Since she didn’t defend herself, the RIAA won a judgment against her by default.

It didn’t end there. When the RIAA refused to stop harassing Foster she got influential lawyers involved. Since then, U.S. District Judge Lee West dismissed the law suit against Foster and ordered the RIAA to pay Foster nearly $70,000 in legal fees.

No great loss. The labels represented by the RIAA easily blow $70K a day on expenses, which they charge against artist royalties. Breakfast’s on Bon Jovi, lunch is charged to Linkin Park, and dinner’s covered by Nelly Furtado.

On Thursday, the RIAA made more lawyers wealthy by sending pre-litigation statements to 23 universities in their effort to quell illegal music file sharing on college campuses. It gives students opportunities to resolve copyright infringement claims at a discounted rate before formal law suits are issued. That’s called a dollar chasing a dime.

There’s more.

Negotiations between SoundExchange, the collection wing of the RIAA and Internet radio, represented by the Digital Media Association (DiMA) are dead in the water. The RIAA believes the definition of “negotiation” is that opponents must nod heads and say in unison, “Anything you want, sir!”

I doubt that Congress will run interference much longer, which is what the RIAA is counting on. And if they do anything of substance – by the time they get to it, we’ll be talking off-shore.

Our next candidate for The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight slogan goes to – you guessed it - Clear Channel Communications.

They’ve been straight with absolutely no one.

Clear Channel’s a great example of an imperial overstretch that was predestined for ruin and disgrace.

First, there’s the recent incident in the Cleveland market.

John Lanigan has been a fixture on morning drive since 1972 – and for most of that time he’s dominated the top spot in both ratings and revenue.

A couple of weeks ago Lanigan started hearing from friends and listeners who had qualified to take part in a phone survey about local radio.

Among the questions:

“Would you listen to WMJI if Lanigan wasn’t on?”

“Would you listen to Lanigan if he was on another station in afternoons?”

“Would you listen to (co-host) Jimmy Malone and (news director) Chip Kullik if Lanigan wasn’t on the show?”

“Would you listen to WMJI in the morning if Jimmy Malone wasn’t on the show?”

Lanigan put the callers on-air, which, in turn, spawned comments from listeners appalled by Clear Channel’s latest fiasco.

I heard that the pampered poodle spent that day locked in his office, hiding under his desk.

At least Lanigan, Malone, and Kullik know the ID of their future assassin.

The real slaughter isn’t in Fallujah, it’s taking place at Clear Channel.

They did another round of management whacks this past week. And, as usual, they did 'em with such class.

Betcha didn’t know that they even categorize them by name.

Here’s one’s called the Fredo Corleone maneuver.

Let’s drop in on Clear Channel radio’s Minneapolis manager. He’s on a fishing vacation with one of his top clients. He’s gets an emergency call. The voice on the other end of the line tells him that the fish aren’t the only ones getting the hook.

Wonder how many “sleeps with the fishes” jokes were conjured up by the brass in ol' San Antone?

Clear Channel’s done more whacks than Lizzie Borden.

Moving right along.

You have to admire their consistency as a company comprised of scofflaws when it comes to the rules and regulations.

Remember that mea culpa Clear Channel promised after then-New York state attorney general Elliot Spitzer’s office and others connected the dots and followed the e-mail trail on the company’s pay-for-play schemes?

Among the many promises the company made to the NYAG’s office and the FCC was that they would make every effort to expose new material on independent labels to create a level playing field for all artists and labels.

Clear Channel set up an on-line application for local, independent, and unsigned artists to submit music for airplay and promised to dedicate 1,600 hours of the programming dedicated to this genre.

Here’s the catch.

The requirements included a licensing agreement, where the artist had to relinquish all digital recording rights to Clear Channel. They could've said it in three words: We own you.

Clear Channel created the digital version of Lou Pearlman.

Its airplay scheme, which like pay-for-play, provided airplay consideration to only acts willing to sign away all rights to Clear Channel.

There is no honor among thieves, or Clear Channel, but I repeat myself.

When the non-profit Future of Music Coalition picked up on Clear Channel’s latest penny-bending vig and took it to the FCC, the boys from San Antonio quickly backed down, claiming (cue the violins) that they never intended to harm independent artists.

You can’t fault Clear Channel. They were sidetracked by another one of their revenue generating schemes. You know the one about e-mailing prospects on receiving $30 million from a deposed Nigerian diplomat.

The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.

The title’s up for grabs and we’ve only covered the first two candidates. Believe me, there’s more where they came from. Lots more.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Radio Industry: Barely Illegal

Remember those happy days of yesterday-year when radio was first to turn on young demos to new music, fads, and fashion?

Now, it’s dead last on anything related to popular culture.

By the time radio discovers something new, it’s already over with the masses.

Did you read last Friday’s Wall Street Journal?

There was that piece about Clear Channel’s Premiere Radio Network compiling and pitching marketing data on the top illegal music downloads as a new tool to resolve flagging CHR and Urban playlists.

Radio’s still not reading the room and its dilemma with the space-time continuum has barely corrected itself after five years of aimless drifting.

Mediabase, a division of Premiere, one of two companies that tallies tangible radio airplay, is working with Big Champagne (, a peer-to-peer researcher on the venture.

They’re even peddling their results to competitors in markets where they don’t have a direct CHR or Urban contemporary rival.

Premiere claims deals with over 100 stations for its illegal download compilations, including some owned by Radio One and Emmis.

They’re finally getting it, almost.

New songs illegally downloaded are the most popular, which means stations playing new and current music should be playing those tracks – and not necessarily having playlists frontloaded with those pimped by labels or scoring on their hopelessly dated call-out research.

Did I tell you the one about the PD who lived and died by call out? He went as far as to plan his playlist based on test scores alone. He didn’t want to know titles. He even hated the format. He was an automaton. I had no choice but suggest that he be shown to the elevator at the end of the hall.

After some major realignment (including hiring a highly innovative PD that got it) the station soared in both in ratings and revenue.

No guts, no glory.

What many in radio repudiate is that illegal downloads have already replaced radio as the source for hearing new music amongst those under 30.

Show me a naysayer and I’ll show you someone who fears change.

It was a perfect storm of circumstances falling into place at a moment when new media morphed into mainstream media.

That trend was perceptible five years ago when illegal downloading had come into its own with the proliferation of Broadband and file-swapping sites.

The radio industry ignored it and the record labels handed the market to the pirates. Their chieftains refused to learn and accept the new digital world.

They’ve been playing catch-up ever since and still can’t buy a clue.

How about the Universal Music Group and their threat to stop selling their music through the iTunes store?

Bono should be concerned, especially when his management was front-of-the-line when it came to recognizing where the audience was migrating. While Universal was occupied with churning out pussycats, Bono was releasing anything and everything his band ever recorded on to iTunes, including stuff Universal couldn’t be bothered with.

That silhouette spot they did for iTunes, which put “Vertigo” in heavy rotation on TV? They did it for free. Promote it and follow the money. Little wonder why U2’s one of the wealthiest bands on the planet.

For the past few years, the top downloaded titles were not analogous with terrestrial CHR and Urban radio playlists. The downloaders were ahead of radio’s curve – and they, instead of radio, began influencing their peers on new music, which, in turn made radio’s tardiness uncool to the demo.

That’s one of many reasons why radio feels like its getting a daily trampling by the bulls from Pamplona.

Illegal downloading charts and info are readily available from a number of sources, most of them free and on the Internet – for every format and then some. If you don’t know where they are – you’d better learn quickly.

We’re a country of haves and have nots. Those that can afford a computer and an iPod or reasonable facsimile are hearing new music first from downloading and Internet radio.

Those that can’t listen to radio.

Terrestrial radio will never be exactly as it once was when the world was quite different from what it is today – but it could still be viable. There’s an average of four per household. But, unless there’s good reason, the kids ain’t turning them on.

Would they listen to terrestrial radio more if it played the right music and was plugged in to today’s pop culture?

Of course.

Why did young people migrate from radio?

You mean in addition to those clueless, corporate programmers that wear those ill-fitting suits, use fractured syntax, and rarely visit your market but make all the programming and marketing decisions for it?

Glad you asked.

Pay-for-play favored artists and labels willing to buy their way on to the charts, which is exactly what they did.

Since there are only so many slots for new adds, payola served as a tool to keep other songs, often those with greater appeal, off their playlists. As a result, radio ceased being the soundtrack for its listeners.

Those advocates for “legal payola” as a continuous source of non-traditional revenue did little more than set stations up for the inevitable fall.

I’d like to compare their memos to market managers to the ones Kenneth Lay and Ken Skilling wrote to their managers regarding Enron’s business ethics policy.

Some believe the recently exposed radio payola scandal provided another point in favor for Elliot Spitzer's gubernatorial victory in New York state.

Passive call-out research passed away when cell phones replaced land lines with younger demos. They were sooooo twentieth century and history years before radio figured it out.

Radio didn’t get the Internet either. I’ll never forget the GM that told me back in 1998 that “the Internet is the CB radio of the nineties" and spending anymore than five minutes a day on a station’s site is time wasted.

Say you do ensnare a live respondent on a land line. In today’s world, a young person having the time and willing to listen to twenty to thirty song hooks over a land line ought to get a life. Everyone else has.

Terrestrial radio needs to reach and influence the peer leaders. The first-one-on-the-block type. Just like the new music and trends they pass on to their peers – you’ve got to win this crowd over to promote your radio station as worthy.

They set the trends. They influence.

Let’s stop here for a moment so we’re clear on this.

Radio should not base a playlist solely on download results. You still need passive research – but unless you do it on-line you’re not going to get an accurate read.

There are active and passive zip codes. It’s knowing your market and which is which and how to reach the proper percentage of each on-line.

You also need chutzpah, forward-thinking and a little bit of futurist in you.

There are exceptions to the rule. AC and Classic Hits remain passive. Those formats are audio wallpaper. It’s music for people that don’t exactly like music. The trouble with these formats is that you have to spend big bucks on other media to remind the snoozers what station they’re listening to.

There are a few exceptions and I’ve heard a few – very few - forward-motion ACs that get it. In all cases, they have strong on-air personalities.

Why is Hot AC dying? Like it or not, that format exists in both worlds. You have to know where one ends and the other begins. Few do.

Another piece of free advice. You define what your format parameters are. Forget the labels and trades. You have to be what you need to be and not what they want you to be.

So, the good news is that you realize research has to originate on–line.

The bad news is that you’re late.

Remember when the radio station you listened to was a vital component of who you were?

Today, what’s radio? Oh, yeah…that thing we listen to if we have nothing else to listen to. Or it’s something my parents used to listen to in the car before they got (multiple choice here): A. a docking station, B. a CD player, C. Sirius, or D. XM.

Note that I didn’t mention HD Radio. No one does.

Air personalities? Lack of farm teams killed off a whole generation of ‘em. Inventive, innovative air personalities can increase TSL for terrestrial radio.

Listeners want to be turned on to the new by those they like and trust.

Let's look back at the original KISS-108 in Boston when Sunny Joe White was running it.

Only those living in Boston got its somewhat outlandish CHR-club-dance-fashion format.

Sunny Joe White didn’t do call-out research – even then when it was still a viable tool in those ancient times. He found his respondents in clubs and concerts and would informally poll them on music and trends. And he’d combine that research with his gut and by monitoring the competition.

KISS-108 had hardwearing competition over the years – most doing straight-ahead by-the-book CHR radio. They never came close. Ratings or billing.

You can accept the verity of downloads driving new music formats today or ignore it and face the consequences.

The radio industry can be saved – but it has to stop killing itself with friendly fire.

As Walt Kelly’s Pogo said eons ago, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Friday, July 13, 2007

Good News Weekend

Good news…kind of.

It’s a reprieve!

Shake your rebooty! Internet radio will not be silenced on Sunday.

SoundExchange (SX), the collection branch of the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) agreed to a temporary window of opportunity for Internet radio by permitting webcasters to stay on the air without fear of legal retribution, until a compromise between both parties is reached.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) brokered the deal at the request of the House Commerce Committee late yesterday.

Markey’s figured out that the RIAA packs more blubber than your average whale.

More good news…kind of.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) put his head back in its shell for the weekend after being blocked from attaching measures to an FCC funding bill, which, if passed, would give the FCC back the right to play judge and jury.

Its six-figure fines are designed to chastise stations and networks for any expletives broadcast- even if it happens by accident. That includes mics picking up blaspheming from crowds at baseball games, tennis matches, and NASCAR, just to name a few.

The measure also tacks on new rules to violent content on television. Browback feels he's an expert on the matter since he's a lifetime member of the NRA. Just ask Mitt Romney.

Like Internet radio broadcasts, it’s far from a dead issue. Sen. Dan Inouye’s Commerce Committee claims jurisdiction and has placed it on next week’s schedule. Inouye is a moderate Democrat from Hawaii. In these changing times, a moderate Democrat is a moderate Republican in drag.

What can be said about Christian Coalition marionette Sen. Sam Brownback and others of the same ilk? They believe their own hype of living in an evil exploitive world. It serves as their protection. They view others as being petty and vindictive the way themselves are.

What’s the old saying? If you become a friend of fools you can be elected to anything.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

We know what's best for you

When I was young and of that age when one first becomes conscious of swear words my father told me that their use in conversation showed one’s limited vocabulary.

I agree. Swearing for shock value isn’t just wrong, it’s stupid.

Chances are that your kids’ first few encounters with whatever you define as profanity or indecency will come from someplace other than radio, television or recorded material.

Whether it’s public, private, or parochial school, your kids are going to be exposed to profanity and dirty jokes long before they’re twelve. Some will access adult sites, adult video channels or, perhaps, surreptitiously view a parent’s porn stash.

It’s a fact of life. Deal with it.

That being said, I am a proponent of parents and guardians teaching kids right from wrong. If you can’t teach your own kids how to live in this world – what does that say about you?

Do you really expect the government controls to make this a safer world for your kids? So far, their track record is overwhelmingly dreadful.

If you trust them I’d have a hard time trusting you with your kids.

I’m sick and tired of media getting the blame for all social ills. Media reflects society. When it doesn’t, it fails.

Those that feel The Sopranos, Rescue Me, the Shield, Weeds, Nip/Tuck or NYPD Blue reruns are profane - fine. It’s your opinion. You don’t have to watch it. Turn it off. Don’t want your kids to watch them? Activate your V-chip or cable/satellite controls that restrict certain programs from being viewed by your kids.

It’s that easy. Really.

Just don’t dictate to me what I want to watch or hear. Kapish?

Question: Why is it that those complaining about too much government control are the ones most vocal about obscenity in the media?

Second question: Which way do you want it because you can’t have it both ways?

True, the radio industry left itself wide open for protests brought on by pushing the envelope on grossness instead of creativity.

There’s only one Howard Stern. You’re not going to copy, emulate, or in any way duplicate his show. When other stations learned what Stern was billing, they trotted out dozens of knock offs. The practice was doomed to fail. Stations were frontloaded with marginal air talent trying to out shock-jock Stern.

There is a place for Howard. There’s a place for Opie and Anthony. If that doesn’t happen to be your place – change the station. If Clear Channel is blanketing its active rock stations with shock jocks in all dayparts – change the station. In fact, in their case, most already have.

Moving right along. Have you heard the latest one about Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS)? You’d think he’d be satisfied in getting his way with the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005 going to effect next week. But Noooooo!

He’s effectively fashioned a base of support with the right-wing Christian coalitions and he’s going to exploit their espousal for all it’s worth.

That’s what GOP Presidential candidates do. Play the Bible card.

Earlier this week he churned out more mush when announcing his ambition to give the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the right to enforce profanity on radio and television.

The FCC had cited the Fox Network for well-documented live broadcasts where the f and s-words were uttered. The U.S. Second Court of Appeals stepped in, and in a 2-1 decision, reprimanded the FCC; saying it lacked the authority to do so and that networks can’t be held accountable for incidents that occur on live television broadcasts.

The court did leave an opening for the FCC, allowing it to better define and justify its profanity policy. Given their track record, it’s unlikely they’ll come up with any real elucidation on the subject since their only goal is to be judge and jury and facts get in the way.

Since the Fox incidents, the networks have been running most of their live programming on a few seconds of delay, which allows them to bleep allegedly offensive words. Now, that may change. And it should.

Brownback said he’ll offer two amendments to a general government appropriations bill today. On Tuesday, he stated that he would, “continue support For the FCC to fine broadcasters who air indecent, profane, or obscene content.” He’s also adding a violence clause, which would “fine broadcasters for airing excessive violent content during the hours when children are most likely to be in the audience."

I wonder if he means daily news footage from war in Iraq.

Like most of what comes out of Brownback’s office, his definitions on profanity and violence remain vague. We know what we want we just haven’t figured out how we want it.

The zealots at the Parents Television Council (PTC) released a bulletin to members, urging them to contact legislators to support the profanity ammendment.

The real reason Brownback’s courting the Christian right has everything to do with their fat bankroll. And Sammy wants their largesse.

Brownback should read his own Bible. Specifically, Luke 12:48: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” The Christian right are masterful at taking anything and shaping it into the symbol their condition requires. That’s how they got to own Bush to dance to their tune.

Bait and ye shall receive.

Brownback’s already a slave to those insane-eyed religious right wing fomenters, which make the Moonies, the Hari Krishnas, and jam band addicts anodyne by comparison.

It must be said, though, that if Brownback does get his way and President George W. Bush signs it into law, the amendment would invalidate the court’s decision and broadcasting will revert back to its Darkest Age.

If it fails, it’s believed that the FCC, with Bush’s solid backing, is ready to take this to the full appeals court or the Supreme Court.

Other than a waste of time and taxpayer dollars this one’s not going to happen – as long as the broadcast industry gets the support needed by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). It’s best to kick the crap out of someone who started the fight with you.

David, where are you? It’s getting hot, hot, hot!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Rehr Ended

Next week will not be a good one for radio or television.

The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005 goes into law next Friday, July 20. The maximum penalties for obscene, indecent and profane broadcasts will jump from $32,500 to $325,000 for each violation or each day of a continuing violation.

There’s a cap to what the Federal Communications Commission can extort…er…extract. Any continuing violation cannot exceed $3 million for any single act.

Those numbers aren’t typos.

Bet on the right-wing Christian coalitions having plans in place to launch their attack on anything they deem even remotely obscene. They have to be salivating like hyenas while awaiting their first victim.

Their idea of heaven is sanitized, insipid programming and the freedom to censor. It’s trading in patriotism for hatriotism - the act of hating whatever the government tells you to hate.

What got them all riled up? Try Janet Jackson’s barely-there breast on Super Bowl XXXVIII (doesn’t that seem like it happened twenty years ago?) and their well-documented f-bombs by Cher, Nicole Ritchie, and Bono on live TV.

The bill was introduced back in 2005 by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS).

The chain of events leading to this law started when the National Association of Broadcasters, the lobby group for radio and television, disregarded the emergent campaigns against indecency from organizations like the Parents Television Council, the Christian Coalition, The Coalition for Human Decency, Culture and Family Institute, Morality in Media, Family Research Council, Citizens for Community Values, and even the Salvation Army. They teamed up and called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to enforce what they called “commonsense decency standards.”

The high priest of Capitol Hill conservatism Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) used parliamentary procedure to bypass committee to bring Sen. Brownback's indecency bill to a nearly empty Senate floor. Under the rules, with no one objecting, the bill passed through the Senate by unanuimous consent.

Since it was an election year, no flesh-pressing, glad-handing, hand-shaking, office-seeking or office-holding politico would dare challenge an indecency bill.

You know the drill in U.S. politics. It’s the reds v. the blues. You’re either for indecency or against it. So, the most of the House put their interns and pages back in an upright position so they could march down the hall to vote on this bill.

It passed by a 379 to 35 vote, and was signed into law by President George W. Bush on June 15. 2006.

"I believe that government has a responsibility to help strengthen families,” said Bush during the bill signing revelry last year. “This legislation will make television and radio more family friendly by allowing the FCC to impose stiffer fines on broadcasters who air obscene or indecent programming."

I must be mistaken. Didn’t Bush run both of his presidential campaigns on restricting government influence - not increasing it?

Was he for it before he was against it? There seems to be a lot of that coming from his side of the fence these days.

Bush invited a Who’s Who of Pro-Censorship stewards to his political promiscuity bill signing bash. In addition to Brownback and Frist, the guest list included Senators Ted Stevens (R-AK), George Allen (R-VA), and House Majority Leader and Congressmen John Boehner (R-OH), Fred Upton (R-MI), Bobby Rush (R-IL), Chip Pickering (R-MS), Joe Pitts (R-PA) and Joe Barton (R-TX), the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The scent of smug self-regard had to be overwhelming. This group is evidence enough that intelligent design is improbable.

Question: Would it be considered an indecent broadcast when Bush said "See, the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit, and it's over" to Tony Blair since it was picked up by a open mic?

How about that incident a couple of years back when a live mic picked up Vice President and string-puller Dick Cheney telling Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to perform an impossible sex act on himself that begins with the letter f?

Then there was that incident in Naperville, Ill. when Bush, oblivious to the live mic in front of him, spotted New York Times reporter Adam Clymer in the crowd and said to Dick Cheney, "There's Adam Clymer, major league asshole, from the New York Times."

How about his first public gaffe, which occurred at the 1988 Republican Convention, when Hartford Courant associate editor David Fink asked Bush, "When you're not talking politics," what do you and (your father) talk about?"

"Pussy," he replied.

Actually, the answers to these questions are found in a quote from a Bush appearance in Austin, Texas a number of years ago: "The legislature's job is to write law. It's the executive branch's job to interpret law."

Bush could’ve gotten away with his earliest gaffes but in 2004 the FCC ruled that any use of the variations of the f-word and the s-word, just to name two, is reason enough to levy fines on broadcasters, even if it’s a slip of the tongue.

My question is where was David Johansen look-a-like David Rehr in all of this?

Since 2005, David Rehr has served as President and Chief Executive of the National Association of Broadcasters, the lobbying group for radio and television companies. He came to the NAB from the National Beer Wholesalers Association, where he served as its President. He has no broadcast experience. No problem there. Record Industry Association of America chairman Mitch Bainwol had no prior involvement in the record industry other than occasionally buying a Barry Manilow album or two.

Back to Rehr running beer. At the 2005 National Beer Wholesalers Association convention in Vegas, he claimed, “There are foes poised to destroy us. We need to fight for beer’s rightful place in American culture (and) regain what is rightfully ours."

Microbrews and imports were part of his enemies’ list.

He assailed the American Medical Association (AMA), for trying to get the NCAA to bar beer commercials from college sports programming. “There were more than 120,000 accidental deaths caused by physicians last year,” he said. “You would think that might be a little more pressing than beer advertising."

Fortune Magazine chose Rehr in their Power Rankings of the 25 most influential lobbying groups in Washington, DC. After he joined the NBWA, its Political Action Committee became one of the top ten money-shoveling PACs on Capitol Hill.

In Washington they call it coincidental connections.

Rehr is also a “Bush Pioneer,” having raised over $100,000 in individual contributions for the Bush-Cheney reelection drive.

So I ask the question again – Where was David Rehr? Specifically, where was he when everyone from Brownback to Bush put the screws to the broadcast industry?

At the time of Rehr’s coronation, he said. “I look forward to continuing the great work of radio and television broadcasters on Capitol Hill and in the public arena." What happened? Too many beer keg parties with the Ibiquity HD Radio folks?

This past week found the directionally-challenged Rehr in hiding. Instead, the NAB trotted out a spokesperson, Dennis Wharton, to respond to the new law. He wimply said, “In issues related to programming content, NAB believes responsible self-regulation is preferable to government regulation. If there is regulation, it should be applied equally to cable and satellite TV, and satellite radio."

Maybe Rehr assumed that being a “Bush pioneer” would have the Prez paying back the favor by burying the bill and not signing it into law until a few alterations were made to his liking. Instead, Rehr got the message. The pioneers get all the arrows.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Bane of the RIAA

You almost want to feel sorry for Mitch Bainwol, the caporegime for the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) that lobbies for the four major multinational label groups – two of which are foreign owned. Bainwold answers to the labels’ bosses, under-bosses, and their consigliore.

To paraphrase the Four Tops, that poor bastard just can’t help himself. Instead of scraping it off his shoe, he keeps sniffing and stepping even deeper in it.

If you’re just joining us, here’s the story so far. The RIAA retained a company known as MediaSentry to invade private home computers for the purpose of collecting personal information. Based on information purportedly wheedled from these personal home computers, labels and RIAA filed lawsuits against tens of thousands of anonymous “John Does.”

MediaSentry is owned by SafeNet, Inc, a company that receives a steady stream of projects authorized and approved by President George W. Bush and – yes, you guessed it – his string-puller, Vice President Dick Cheney.

Now, allow me introduce you to Tanya Andersen. She’s the 44-year old woman from Tualatin, Oregon the RIAA tried to sue for illegal music downloading two years ago.

The RIAA wanted to make her an example of what hell they’d put anyone through caught illegally downloading music.

Ms. Andersen was unaware of her predicament with the RIAA until she received a letter in February, 2005 from the California law firm of Mitchell Silverberg & Knupp, accusing her of illegally downloading music and making it accessible to other illegal downloaders through peer-to-peer sites music. They also told her that she owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the labels through the RIAA.

The labels via their collection agent, Settlement Support Center, fallaciously insisted that they had evidence that Ms. Andersen downloaded and distributed over 1,000 audio files.

Stop right there.

Did I mention that she is a single mother, disabled, and has a limited income from Social Security?

Did I also mention that Ms. Andersen purchased the least expensive computer sold by Dell, which she ordered from a television offer in the summer of 2002 for $499? It had the smallest hard drive they make; no CD writer – and its CD-Rom work didn’t work.

When the RIAA’s claim of possessing evidence of music downloading and file sharing on Ms. Andersen’s computer was debunked as a total falsity they quietly dropped the lawsuit. Sorry, for the inconvenience. We didn’t mean to terrorize you for all those months. It’s just an honest mistake.

You know those instances of getting a song hook stuck in your mind? The one playing in Bainwol’s head over and over and over is “Who’s Sorry Now” by Connie Francis. “You had your way, now you must pay/I’m glad that you’re sorry now.”

The reason?

Tanya Andersen is fighting back. She has countersued the RIAA for Oregon RICO violations, fraud, invasion of privacy, abuse of process, electronic trespass, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, negligent misrepresentation, the tort of "outrage", and deceptive business practices.

Ms. Andersen's counterclaims also demand a trial by jury.

When the RIAA was building its case against Ms. Andersen, it allegedly attempted to coerce her into a settlement by threatening to summon her eight-year old daughter for deposition.

It gets better.

One of Bainwol’s minions allegedly called her daughter’s elementary school, claiming to be her grandmother. Aren’t there laws against coercion, especially when it involves impersonating one’s grandmother to an eight-year old child?

I’m surprised he didn’t release Doberman Pinschers on the kid.

What does the usually bullying and highly vocal RIAA saying about the countersuit?

There’s a kind of hush all over the RIAA.

Bainwold’s still smarting from the realization that many of his plans turn to dust when put into action.

Remember the scandal and ongoing Federal investigation into Hewlett-Packard last year, which resulted in the forced resignation of some of the company’s top executives? The RIAA’s in the same neighborhood. As the world’s largest technology company by revenue, H-P believed it could play above the law. Just like the RIAA.

Others are now filing countersuits against the RIAA for similar incidents.

You’d think Bainwol would back off on the RIAA’s deceptive practices?

Uh uh.

Not when your personal Jesus is Dick Cheney.

The RIAA teamed up with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for a heavy cash and carry lobby job on legislators in California to legalize pretexting.

What’s pretexting you ask? Three words: Invasion of privacy.

It’s privacy stripping; the practice of pretending to be someone else to obtain personal information from a person – including their banking and telephone records.

It’s lying to an eight-year old that her grandmother’s on the phone when it’s really the RIAA.

Pretexting is a type of fraud, which is usually covered and deemed illegal by state laws.

Both organizations argue that they need to lie and use false identities to trap illegal downloaders and wants exemptions granted to anyone who owns a copyright, patent, trademark, or a trade secret.

In a recent L.A. Times article, Brad Buckles, one of Bainwol’s RIAA soldiers said “the recording industry had never – nor would it ever, assume someone’s identity to access that person’s phone or bank records.”

A prerequisite to becoming a rascally RIAA rep is to have a short memory as in “I don’t recall.”

Mitch, you’ve got to learn to leave the law-breaking to those who know how to it.

Ever hear the saying information is power? That’s true in the world of crime and the world of politics. Mitch, we know that there are times when it’s tough to find that point where one ends and the other begins.

Didn’t you learn anything from your days as a coat holder and go-fer for Ronald Reagan, Bill Frist, and Connie Mack?

Rule number one. Know your target before you start shooting.

Mitch, in case you haven’t noticed, Capitol Hill is changing.

Bush couldn’t even carry Crawford today.

Even Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, and Karl Rove can’t even get away with that stuff anymore.

Poor Scoot had to fall on his sword – and patiently wait for a pardon since even George W. Bush couldn’t get him one overnight. The only reason Scoot’s not serving time is because Bush lucked out with July 4th falling in the middle of the week. Capitol Hill's on vacation. By the time the Hill gets operational again it’ll be yesterday’s news.

See, Mitch, the RIAA is different. It’s true Dick Cheney was personally responsible for American policies that subjected terrorist suspects to cruelty and denied them the right to a fair trial. He could get away with it – but your downloaders aren’t exactly Guantanamo Bay and Abu Gharib material, y’know.

They’re downloading the White Stripes and Fergie for Christ’s sake!

Let’s travel back in time to the late 1970s.

Among other things, the RIAA is considered the official registrar of record sales. It used to determine gold (500,000 copies) and platinum (one million or more) albums based on how many copies were pressed and shipped.

It allowed labels to award themselves instant gold and platinum albums on the date of their release.

When the late Neil Bogart, who ran Casablanca Records, was scheduled to be on the Today Show to push Cher’s just-released 1979 disco album, Prisoner, he ordered one million copies pressed the week before so he could make the claim that the album went platinum on the day of its release. “Out-of-the-box” it’s called in record-speak.

Though a million copies were pressed, it was Cher’s poorest selling album – and within weeks Casablanca was buying up warehouse space to store its unsold albums. It is said that less than 100,000 copies were legitimately sold in total. It was Cher’s biggest bomb (though her rock band album, Black Rose, was right behind it).

RSO Records did the same a year earlier for their atrocious soundtrack to the ill-fated Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie. Did you ever see it? You’re no alone. No one did.

Most labels adopted this practice. They took out full-color double-page ads in Billboard and other music trade publications announcing their latest “shipped platinum” release, which was just about every album they churned out in that era. The joke in the industry was that albums shipping platinum were returned double-platinum.

When the bean counters started questioning the label promotion and marketing departments on why they were buying up so much warehouse space, the vinyl hit the fan – and the practice came to a sudden halt.

Just this morning CNBC reported that one of the Ford Motor divisions is in deep trouble for falsifying product shipment figures to shareholders. Turns out the Ford division shipped parts that weren’t ordered to what is called “phantom warehouses.” They were written up as sales but, in actuality, they were goosing the shipping numbers to make the division appear that it was doing better than it really was. It’s the same scam the labels and the RIAA pulled.

To save face, the RIAA started basing their gold and platinum notification based on the number of copies shipped to retailers – though discrepancies still occur. Neilsen SoundScan is a service that registers actual sales by scanning bar codes. Often, the actual sales figures of albums will differ from the shipping units claimed by the RIAA. Y'see, the RIAA doesn't count returns.

Considering its baseborn history why would anyone trust the RIAA to deal with the Internet radio royalty payment issue?

It’s like that line in "Get It like you like It" by Ben Harper: "Wrong is the new right."

That’s where Bainwol still has the juice. He knows what lobbyists are for. He was one. The Washington Post called him a “Top D.C. Lobbyist and Man in Demand” and Capitol Hill’s Roll Call newspaper chose him as one of the 50 most influential “politicos” in Washington.

Never underestimate the value of a cash bribe or, for that matter, a block of free Stones, Police or U2 tickets in the front row and backstage passes after the show to those on Capitol Hill that have to pay back a few favors to their high roller contributors.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

HD Radiosophomoric

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