Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Buzzard:
Inside the Glory Days of WMMS and Cleve-
land Rock Radio--A Memoir
Gray & Co., publishers




On sale NOW!
available at

Friday, October 26, 2007

Radio: XM and Bob Dylan - Gotta Sell Somebody

I don’t care whether it’s selling out or buying in.

Bob Dylan was, is, and always will be a brand name.

He knows it and you know it. That’s why he's not Robert Zimmerman.

The year was 1995 and Bob Dylan was under attack for leasing his unsanctioned baby boomer anthem of 1964, “The Times They Are A’ Changin’” for a TV commercial for Coopers & Lybrand, a big six accounting firm and, in Canada, for the Bank of Montreal.

Some were infuriated, some were heartbroken, and most, I have to believe, didn’t care one way or another.

To Dylan, it was a strictly business.

Upkeep of his Point Dume copper-domed manse ain’t cheap, y’ know.

A couple of years later Dylan pacted with a Greek beer company for use one of his more obscure tracks, “Turkey Chase” from the 1973 Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid soundtrack.

The brew pitch flew under the radar of most fans and critics.

In 2004, Dylan flabbergasted his flock when he leased “Love Sick,” a track from 1997’s Time Out of Mind for a Victoria’s Secret TV spot run. His commercial cameo bordered on creepy since he looked old enough to be the grandfather of the lingerie-wearing model flirting with him.

Salon cleverly called it “Tangled Up in the Boobs.”

You can’t make this stuff up.

I would’ve loved to have been a fly in the wall at the marketing meeting where it was agreed that Dylan’s appearance in a TV spot could inspire 18 to 34-year old women to buy intimate apparel and reap dividends for Victoria’s Secret.

The latest venture into merging brand Dylan to a product is Cadillac.

In 2002, as part of their all-out quest for a hipness factor they cut a deal with Led Zeppelin to use snippets of “Rock and Roll” for a long-running radio and TV campaign.

Now, Cadillac is back with a deal cut with Dylan and this one is a full-tilt multimedia campaign that rolls in Cadillac with XM Satellite Radio, which is a standard feature in the gas guzzling 2008 Escalade.

XM is, of course, home to Bob Dylan’s weekly radio show.

Expect to see Dylan in TV, radio, print and on-line video ads. The campaign's already on CNBC, CNN, the History Channel, and VH1

There’s a thirty second version, a one-minute version and a two-minute version, and, no doubt, more to follow.

The print campaign kicks off with the November 2 issue of Rolling Stone.

Dylan also sold one of his XM Radio shows to Cadillac. It will feature an hour-long tribute to the brand, featuring his and other artists who've recorded songs that mention Cadillac, including Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac” and “Cadillac Ranch.” I’m not sure if the Boss wants to be inadvertently selling Caddies for Dylan – but he recorded the songs and Dylan’s playing them.

The same applies to Aretha on her “Freeway of Love;” “Maybelline” by Chuck Berry, and the Clash’s “Brand New Cadillac.” Like it or not, these artists will help Dylan hawk cars on XM and won’t get to share in the great white wonder’s newfound wealth.

Dylan’s no stranger to Caddies.

“Talkin’ World War III Blues” from the 1972 Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album, contained the lyrics: Well, I seen a Cadillac window uptown/And there was nobody aroun'/I got into the driver's seat/And I drove 42nd Street/In my Cadillac/Good car to drive after a war.

Dylan made another Caddy reference in “Summer Days” from 2001’s Love and Theft: Well I'm drivin' in the flats in a Cadillac car/The girls all say, "You're a worn out star"/My pockets are loaded and I'm spending every dime/How can you say you love someone else when you know it's me all the time?

Stop right there.

You say the XM channel Bob Dylan is on is supposed to be commercial-free?

No one rides for free – not even on satellite radio. It’s just another form of product placement or what they call in radio, non-traditional revenue.

"Some brands can transition from brands to an object as more people connect with the product," says Vernon Irvin, XM’s Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer. "Cadillac has done that."

Since Dylan picks a theme for his show and relatable songs, hawking Caddies, they claim, isn’t any different than other themes he plans for upcoming shows, which include California, fruit, something, nothing, parties, mail, and streets. “Cadillac being so woven into the American fabric, there's a lot of songs that incorporate Cadillac into the lyrics,” so says Cadillac’s Communication Manager Kevin Smith, whose job it is to sell all things Caddy.

So while Sting and those other environmentally concerned pussies are pitching Prius hybrids, Dylan’s message for the new millennium is to show the world you have big carbon footprints.

The campaign is scheduled to run until early 2008.

A few weeks back Dylan surprised fans and when his web site used the opening lyric card scene from the D.A. Pennebaker's 1966 documentary, Don’t Look Back, to promo his new greatest hits package. He even went high tech allowing his flock to send their own video e-mail messages placing their own words in the cards that once featured key lyrics from “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” It’s pretty clever. Not sure how Pennebaker feels about it, though.

Around the same time, Dylan did a modern times remix of “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” from his 1966 album, Blonde on Blonde, and shot a new video for it, which can only be described as a parody of himself. Clever – but a parody nonetheless. Unless, of course, you’re just pitching a brand.

The remix is on Dylan's just-released His Greatest Songs collection, available in three packages: a single 18-song disc; a three CD set with 51 songs - and a "Deluxe Premium Edition," which features the 51-song package - plus other goodies, including a 40-page booklet of extended liner notes and rare photos.

Dylan - Masked and Anonymous? Hardly.

Is there still magic in the tank? We’ll see.

...and now for even more free advertising. See how clever Dylan is?

Bob, is the check in the mail?

Dylan's two-minute Caddy spot:

A Bob Blast from the Past:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Kevin Martin - This Is Your Life

Kevin Martin, this is your life.

You were hand picked by our Commander in-Chief to finish what your bumbling predecessor Michael Powell started but failed to see through.

Deregulate media.

Lift all ownership restrictions.

What went wrong, Kevin?

Hell, your wife works for Bush string-puller, Dick Cheney. You should be one of the most influential wheeler dealers on Capitol Hill.

Instead, look at you. Worthless, hopeless, and vote-less.

Pushing Fumbles around doesn’t count. Everyone pushes Fumbles around at the NAB.

Granted, Capitol Hill is a mess.

Everyone will abhor everyone else until the primaries are over.

There’s little maneuvering you can do when you have a pit of pols in both parties out for the presidential nod. That's why no one's returning your calls.

And the guy that crowned you Chairman is such a lame duck even his party wants nothing to do with him.

Kevin Martin, this is your life.

Two words will follow you around for the rest of your life: No juice.

No juice as in no juice on Capitol Hill.

All you had to do, Kevin, was deliver full deregulation. Loosen up those stifling ownership rules before Christmas.

See, the reason deregulation hasn’t worked over the past decade is because there isn’t enough of it. Logical, isn’t it, Kevin?

You even set a deadline of December 18. That was so your pro-deregulation special interest group buddies would have a full week to fill your Christmas stocking once you filled theirs.

Instead, you have most of Capitol Hill along with anti-deregulation special interest groups, both liberal and conservative, calling for your Boy Sherman head. If the NRA doesn’t get you, NOW will. Who would’ve thought?

How about Trent Lott (R-MS) and Bryon Dorgan (D-ND) being on the same page?

Let’s talk about that letter from Lott and Dorgan, Kevin, which read, that you must put “sufficient mechanisms in place to ensure that local broadcasters are serving their local communities before considering any changes that would relax the existing rules governing media ownership.” Or this one, “The FCC should not rush forward and repeat mistakes of the past.”

And you thought one had to be a card-carrying liberal to talk like that?

Even Obama’s jumping into the frey. Did you get his letter where he called your December 18 drop-deadline “irresponsible” and your data “inadequate?” He may have slipped in the polls – but he’s still carrying a lot of influence in all the right circles.

It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the candidates – Democrats and Republicans – will begin to scrutinize your every devious move.

Kevin Martin, this is your life.

You’re supposed to set the agenda but others did it for you and it’s not the one you wanted.

They’ve even rearranged your schedule for the next couple of months. There’s that localism hearing on October 31 in Washington. Then there’s a media ownership session in Seattle on November 2. You’d better leave some wiggle room in your schedule, too. The Senate is also planning to have you spinning on a rotisserie next month.

Kevin Martin, this is your life.

It may not be a complete wash.

It’s Christmas and the lobbyists and other assorted influence peddlers hired by Rupert Murdoch and Sam Zell are bringing their bag of Christmas goodies to Capitol Hill in exchange for the elimination of the cross-ownership rules newspaper-radio-TV rules by the FCC and Congress.

Zell wants to buyout the Tribune Company and Murdoch wants to hang on to both the New York Post and his WNYW TV station in the same city.

It depends on how sorry your 3-2 majority cronies at the FCC feel about the decline and fall of newspaper circulation.

Whatever it takes.

Kevin, consider yourself lucky that you may – not will - may win that one – but then you’ll have Congress on you like a starving pit bull.

Your problems are just beginning, Kevin.

There’s that GAO report that tells of your selective leaks to certain media groups on your behind-the-scenes dealings at the FCC. You’ve kept that one out of the news – but not for much longer.

Kevin, this is your life. No one else wants it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Radio: War of the Satellites – the sequel!

Last week was the 50th anniversary of the Sputnik launch. Three months later, in January ’58, the U.S. responded by launching its first satellite, Explorer I. That was enough for Roger Corman, the low-budget film producer, to rush out an on-the-cheap movie,War of the Satellites. Its purpose was to make a few bucks on playing off of the cold war hysteria, which had extended into the space race. Corman allegedly finished the movie in three weeks.

Satellite radio? That’s a different time frame. Try fifteen years and counting.

Let’s travel back to the year 1992: The Redskins beat Bills, 37-24, in the Super Bowl; the Blue Jays beat the Braves 4 games to 2 in the World Series; The U.S. lifted trade sanctions against the Peoples Republic of China; Nirvana’s Nevermind hit #1 on the national charts; Bill Clinton and Al Gore defeated George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle for the U.S. Presidency - and six companies applied for satellite radio spectrum licenses.

Now let’s swiftly move to 1997: The Packers beat the Patriots, 35-21 in the Super Bowl; The Marlins beat the Indians, 4 games to 3 in the World Series; the U.K. relinquished Hong Kong to Chinese rule; Spice by the Spice Girls was the biggest selling album of the year; Bill Clinton began his second term as President, and of the six companies that originally applied to the FCC for satellite spectrum licenses in 1993, only four remained to compete in the spectrum auction, which only two would win. Their names: Satellite CD Radio, American Mobile Satellite, Primosphere, and Digital Satellite Broadcasting Corp.

Primosphere and Digital Satellite didn’t make the cut. American Mobile Satellite’s bid for $90 million came in first and Satellite CD’s, second with $83.3 million.

Primosphere’s bid was $67.5 million, good enough for third but third place meant over and out.

Later, American Mobile Satellite wisely changed its name to the clever XM, and CD Radio, unwisely, to the utterly farcical Sirius.

But Primosphere didn’t go silently and asked for reconsideration.

What's Primosphere, you ask?

It’s a holding company for Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch, known for their long-term partnership in Q-Prime, an international management company. Maybe their names aren’t familiar but the acts they rep should be. How about Metallica, Shania Twain, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Snow Patrol, for starters.

Now, fast forward to 2001: George W. Bush begins his first term as President; the Ravens beat the Giants, 34-7, in the Super Bowl; Arizona beat the Yankees, 4 games to 3; the top selling album of the year was Hybrid Theory by Linkin Park; what happened on September 11th altered everything - and the FCC denied Primosphere’s application for review and also denied their request to reconsider their dismissal. The FCC said XM and Sirius had them locked – and, for Primosphere, the elevator’s at the end of the hall.

When the FCC refused to budge, Primosphere contributed to making wealthy lawyers wealthier by having them ask a federal appeals court to review the XM and Sirius license grants and the FCC sack of the Primosphere application.

The federal appeals court spent the following year shuffling papers, sharpening pencils, shaking the dust off of their shoes when it got too thick.

Let’s move quickly to 2003. The appeals court finally made their decision and rejected Primosphere’s challenge, stating the XM and Sirus license grants were legit.

In 2004, the can't-catch-a-break Primosphere told the FCC that it wanted to withdraw its 2001 review.

Confused? You ain’t read nothin’ yet.

Now, were back in 2007.

Primosphere, which refuses to die, claims that since the FCC had failed to act on its 2001 request, its satellite radio license application is still pending and wants it to be considered in conjunction with its merger application for XM and Sirius.

There goes the monopoly, dammit!

To prove their point, Primosphere introduced a statement made by the FCC in 1997, which read: (I)f the winning bidder fails to submit the balance of the winning bid or the license is otherwise denied, we will assess a default payment and reauction the license among other existing applicants. Translation: They are still an existing applicant for the right to launch and operate a rival satellite service. If granted, they will launch their own satellites and market its own service. The company added that, in addition to their bid, the FCC was still holding and banking their $140 million in satellite launch fees.


Kevin Martin’s accidentally-on-purpose poor clandestine FCC filing system and follow-through just may keep Primosphere’s plans alive. That wasn’t supposed to happen. Then again, a lot of things that aren’t supposed to happen that do happen at the FCC.

According to their plans, it would take Primosphere roughly five years to be up and running. But here’s their ace in the hole – they could be operational much earlier if given a portion of the spectrum used by XM and Sirius.

The company did their homework and cited a 1999 deal where the FCC gave approval for a satellite TV provider to lease a transponder from another provider on an existing satellite.

This didn’t sit well with Mel.

Sirius fired off its own complaint that Primosphere didn’t need FCC approval to withdraw its satellite radio application. When you’re out, your out – or as Sirius put it, There is no way for Primosphere to un-ring this bell.

What a dilemma. Who do you anti-trust?

If Mel had his way he and Gary Parsons would take Burnstein and Mensch for a ride and only two would come back.

XM and Sirius can’t insist on a monopoly so they’re pushing to have a review of Primosphere’s request to either be dismissed or put on hold until the XM-Sirius merger is completed.

The benefit there is that the Bush-controlled, Kevin Martin-run FCC, preferring to avoid conflict between well known entities and an unknown, would stall on a decision until the merger was complete, then revisit and squash the Primosphere request.

Then there’s the NAB.

Which side is Fumbles supposed to be on? Will the NAB insist that the FCC add another competitor to terrestrial radio to fend off threats of a steroidal merged, monopolistic XM-Sirius? This may put him in the awkward position of backing a new satellite radio start up.

Poor Fumbles. Everyone’s snickering at him – and not behind his back either.

The question must be asked. How much scratch Primosphere is willing to throw at influential lobbyists to keep themselves alive?

So, what we’re dealing with here are the ethics and truthfulness of Kevin Martin and the overall integrity of Fumbles.

This one has more twists and turns than The Departed.

Friday, October 12, 2007

NAB’s Fumbles: “Stop the clock, I want to get off!”

If I looked up ‘David Rehr’ on one of those classmates websites would I learn that he was the kid they picked on at school?

If I looked up ‘David Rehr’ would I learn that the two words he used the most in school was, “I’m tellin’?”

If I looked up 'David Rehr' would I learn that he never played sports because he always dropped the ball?

If I looked up ‘David Rehr’ would his yearbook read, “Most likely not to succeed?”

Fumbles, there comes a time when you got to get tough and that was when you were hired to head the National Association of Broadcasters.

Instead, we got a wimp.

You just can’t find good help anymore.

What is it about a unified XM-Sirius that frightens you? Step back, take a deep breath, chew on a Xanax and get control of yourself.

Stopping the clock? Mel nearly had a bilateral hernia from laughing so hard. Much ado about nothing. You agreed, albeit reluctantly, with the FCC on their 180 day deal merger decision.

You can’t raise your hand and say, “Not fair.” That didn’t work when the big kids shot spitballs at you or knocked the books out of your hands – and it’s not going to work now.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and when the going gets tough, Fumbles writes long letters and petitions. In this case, nine pages of drivel, which you can read here, tidied up in a cute pdf file:

Fumbles has even taken to calling it, “a government sanctioned merger.” He’s not making any friends in high places. Then again he never had any to begin with.

Do you know how to find the NAB offices without a map? Just follow the stench of fear.

Okay, XM and Sirius hired all the right lobbyists while you threw away your war chest on John Ashcroft. Get past that, Fumbles.

You want more time – let me repeat – more time - to examine internal documents you expect to receive through a Freedom of Information Request in hopes of finding some wrong doing at Sirius?

Fumbles, I know your obsessed with finding the memo, the note, or the e-mail that proves your conspiracy theories on their ground-based transmitters and repeaters?

You’d better hope that the tables aren’t turned on you – and a lot of the rule-bending radio faux pas that have occurred over the past decade – accidental or deliberate – aren’t revealed about one or more of your members.

Sure, there’s that SEC 10-K filing that had “certain Sirius personnel” requesting that “manufacturers produce Sirius radios that were not consistent with FCC rules.”

And I'm sure you'll find some little old lady who unitentionally picked up the Howard Stern show or the adult comedy channel on Sirius instead of the NPR or religious station she usually listens to - and her quality of life was forever damaged after hearing a couple of four-letter words.

Don’t you hate when that happens?

Here’s your dilemma, Fumbles. There’s been a fair share of – how can we put it – accidentally on purpose errors committed by the radio chains you represent. Maybe there were a few move-ins that weren’t exactly what one would call legal?

I know, I know, Fumbles. You share that predicament with the FCC, which just can’t keep up with the paperwork – as if by design – on all the buying, selling, trading, and swapping – mostly from a company whose initials are CC.

So you fear the FCC will equalize those evils by tossing one satellite radio’s way? Is that what has you cowering?

Satellite radio is not the enemy. Friendly fire is.

The NAB is supposed to be in a leadership role for the stations it represents. So try being a leader – not a tattletale – because if you play that card, you’re going to lose.

Maybe you’ve forgotten that Mel’s an ex-radio guy – and knows where all the post-deregulation terrestrial radio bodies are buried.

But he’s not your worst enemy. You are.

Let the merger happen. It’s not going to slaughter terrestrial radio. It may, in fact, help it.

Fumbles, consider this.

Who says a combined XM-Sirius won’t get competition from a new satellite radio contender? Ever hear of Primosphere? More about them another time.

Fumbles, we know that you're faxing and e-mailing your resume to any interested party. The bad news is that there aren’t any parties interested in you.

Unless the god Fumbles prays to comes through, he’s going to be living with – at best – a three to two vote in favor of the merger. The Justice department? They’ve already made up their mind. Sorry, Fumbles, you’re toast.

Most people know how to take something significant and restructure it into the symbol their circumstance requires. You’re not one of them.

Fumbles, we know that you've even solicited the Consumer’s Union to secure their anti-merger support. Shocking! You actually had to grovel to a liberal organization.

You're off Ashcroft's Christmas card list for that one.

You can’t predict the future, you can only create it. What kind of future have you created for the NAB, Fumbles?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Quality v. Quantity

I’m convinced that some high profile radio decision makers are suffering from severe hearing loss.

When radio listeners ask for quality programming, the decision makers hear quantity programming; hence HD Radio and its smorgasbord of insipid formats.

When listeners, weary of pitiable audio processing and pitch escalation on their terrestrial stations, ask for quality audio – radio execs hear it as quantity audio and cram in more HD side channels of auditory mediocrity.

When listeners ask to hear quality music, radio execs hear quantity music, so listeners have to suffer through the many variations of “classic hits.” The nearest thing to a radio industry ideological dispute is what to name the format - Jack, Jill, Mix or Magic.

When listeners ask for quality news, they hear quantity news, convinced that they’re fulfilling those needs with truncated, facts-optional, newscasts with murder on the ones, weather on the twos, traffic on the threes, sports on the fours, and armed robberies on the fives.

When listeners ask for quality (fill in your own suggestion), they hear quantity and (fill in your own favorite embarrassment).

We could go on for days, weeks, months, years.

Let’s single out production for a moment.

Remember when radio was considered the last great illusion? That, like the written word, you could play on one’s imagination? In radio’s case it was about creating audio with imaginative production and proficient writing.

Some of you may even remember Stan Freberg’s testimony to radio’s cinematics. With skillful writing and sound effects to match, Freberg drained Lake Michigan of all water, replacing it with hot chocolate and a mountain of whipped cream. It ended with a group of helicopters in formation dropping a giant maraschino cherry on the summit of that whipped cream mountain. The promo, which was for the advantages of advertising on radio, closed with, "Let's see them do that on television!"

Here’s the kicker. This was 1957! Fifty years ago today! Freberg produced that one with a reel-to-reel, tape, a razor blade, and round pots. No multi-track, no digital read-out – and, back then, a description of basic Pro Tools would’ve sounded like something out of The Jetsons.

That’s what radio should be doing today. Bring back the creative. Bring back the art of playing on one’s imagination. You want to save radio? Have it to what it does best.

Instead – and I’ll site an example from a few months back - when a highly talented production director (I won’t tell you the market; it’s too obvious) who had created some memorable spots for local clients was replaced by an automaton. This automaton produces local spots at a slightly quicker clip, which is why the other guy got downsized, but he also has zero production creativity. As a result, all spots on this cluster of stations now sound alike and it’s not uncommon to hear his wearisome voice on two, three, even four spots in a row. Quality control? Are those two words supposed to go together? Now, a few clients – including one major player – are making plans to place their business elsewhere – to TV and cable – because they need a“visual” for their product, which that cluster can no longer deliver. I ought to know. They called me to ask why an allegedly financially strapped radio chain would turn away business.

Let’s not even begin to delve into the some of the miserable copy these production guys have to deal with. In the days before radio sales departments looked like a Greyhound Bus station on a Friday night, account executives actually cared about a client’s finished product.

There are those born with specific predispositions that slant them to beliefs, which are foreordained and not in any way the results of logic and study that they think they bring to issues.

That’s the only excuse I can come up with to explain the many faux pas committed by several of the current crop of radio decision makers.

Or as Bob Dylan put it in “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” That he not busy being born Is busy dying.

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the capability of these clowns to screw up.

You’d swear there are a whole lot of creative radio types that have been frozen in a cryogenic vault for the past 10 years.

Those who are working keep their skills under the radar and just do what they’re told.

Creativity. From an asset to a liability in just one decade.

That will, of course change.

I’m going to print up bumper stickers for just that occasion. They’ll read: “1996: I was a seller, not a buyer” and “Follow me to the Fire Sale.”

In the interim, is it even worth the effort explaining the difference between quality and quantity to those running the show right now?

Nah! This bunch? You can’t even confuse them with the facts. They couldn’t even buy a clue. It’s not in the budget.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Radio: Internet Radio or HD Radio. You choose!

The first video is a pitch from Ford for their new optional SYNC, which, among many other things, allows one to listen to any Internet Radio from anywhere in the world.

The second video comes from an actual HD Radio test drive demonstration in the Chicago market. The only thing lacking was a station playing Bruce Springsteen’s “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On).”

I searched in vain for a Ford pitch video on HD Radio but, wisely, they didn’t do one.

Which one would you rather have? SYNC or HD Radio?

What would you want your company to be allied with? SYNC or HD Radio?

Here’s the choice - supplementary channels of varied audio quality from the same radio chains that deliver today’s unimaginative terrestrial radio formats or worldwide radio of every imaginable format and style where the passion is in the performance?

(I know I’m stacking the deck and swaying your decision – but, please understand. I never have and never want to be associated or connected with any current HD Radio product from Ibiquity and the HD Radio alliance.)

Let’s say you’re one of the rarified few that actually found what you believe to be a half-decent HD Radio channel. Chances are you’ll find the same exact station streaming on line – and considering it’s a side channel – it’ll probably sound better on- line than on an HD Radio. And you won’t lose the signal when you’re driving by tall buildings or near hills and mountains.

Amazing, isn’t it. The HD Radio Alliance filled the unreservedly worthless job of running the joint with the unreservedly useless Sgt. Bilk-o, ex of Clear Channel where he was just as pathetic.

How can he knowingly subject the radio industry to further traumatic events?

Can’t wait for the blame game to begin. It didn’t happen because…..

I wonder how Sgt. Bilk-o sleeps at night knowing that while the iPod will go down in history as one of the most effective marketing campaigns since Windows – HD Radio’s will be forever enshrined as number one in the High Tech Hall of Shame.

And we used to be convinced that the failures of Circuit City’s DiVX DVDs, the CueCat, and the Eyetop Wearable DVD Player could never be topped?

Maybe the sanctimonious Sgt. Bilk-o can recycle the excuses for the failures of AM Stereo and FM Quad – except that even they were more successful in reaching consumers than his folly.

At this stage, Sgt. Bilk-o has to be wondering what, if anything, will mark his time on earth.

Maybe he’s asking himself who will mourn HD Radio’s passing.

And, most of all, who’ll apologize for the time and money spent, the years the radio industry bought into it, and the deceitfulness suffered because of Ibiquity and the HD Radio Alliance's misguidance.

Friday, October 5, 2007

FCC: Ratted out!


In the magical land known as Washington, D.C., the dreaded (to some) General Accounting Office revealed that the hackery known as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been tipping off certain key word – certain companies and trade groups to upcoming FCC votes, which afforded the favored inside information so they could get their lobbying efforts organized.

The FCC violating its own rules? Who would’ve thought?

What remains a mystery is who ratted out the FCC to Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and why?

Knowing the players involved you have to believe that most of this iceberg is still underwater.

The GAO report didn’t identify the companies or groups receiving the inside information from the FCC.

The account is the result of Rep. Markey’s review of rulemaking procedures. Four case studies from 2002 to 2006 had the FCC breaching confidentiality of its pre-vote procedures and that several businesses and groups were tipped off to forthcoming votes by the Commission.

Let’s see who the captain of the gravy train was during this time frame?

Actually, there were two.

Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell and current Chairman Kevin Martin.

Martin replaced Michael Powell, son of Colin, as FCC Chairman. Powell was given the bum’s rush – not for his endless bumbling and ineptness at the FCC – but after he was exposed for being wined, dined, and flown around the world in purported junkets courtesy of leading special interests groups and their lobbyists.

Martin was nominated and sworn to a GOP seat on the FCC by President George W. Bush in July, 2001. In 2005, Bush designated him Chairman of Commission and was sworn in on March, 2005. He was re-nominated for a second term by Bush in April, 2006.

Kevin Martin, a true liegeman to his Commander in-Chief.

What’s on his resume?

Despite his clueless appearance, he’s no Sugarfoot.

Before joining the FCC, he was a Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy; served on the Bush-Cheney Transition Team, and was Deputy General Counsel for the Bush campaign.

Prior to his entry into the Bushdom, he learned the FCC tricks of the trade as an advisor to FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth, whose term ended in June, 2000.

Furchgott-Roth. Gotta love the stories behind those hyphenated names, but I digress.

Furchtgott-Roth was a leading hack….er… advocate for broadcast deregulation and reducing the regulatory authority of the FCC. He also opposed the FCC's right to conduct competitive analysis of mergers before approving license transfers. He believes in trusting your fellow man as long as you own him or he owns you.

Martin also served in the Office of the Independent Counsel and was an associate at the Wiley, Rein & Fielding.

Stop here for a moment so we can review the tangled web of players in this firm.

Richard E. Wiley’s a former Chairman of the FCC. As you read this he’s working on the pending XM-Sirius merger. He’s also been lead counsel in the AT&T-BellSouth and Comcast-Time Warner-Adelphia mergers, and has been counsel on the CBS mergers with Viacom and Westinghouse, just to name a few.

Bert Rein was a former director of U.S. Chamber of Commerce and was actively involved in Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign and was a member of President Ronald Reagan’s transition team.

Freddie Fielding was a former council to Reagan from 1981 through 1986 but left the firm in February of this year to become a counselor to – you guessed right - George W. Bush.

What a small world and it gets even smaller.

Wiley, Rein & Fiedling was the law firm that filed an appeal with the FCC in October, 2006 to halt an investigation of 77 TV stations that were found to have aired VNR’s – video news releases – without disclosure, calling it "an unprecedented regulatory intrusion into newsroom operations."

VNRs are news segments created by ad agencies, PR firms, corporations, and even government agencies, which are provided at no cost to TV stations' news departments for the sole purpose of influencing public opinion or promoting commercial products and services.

VNRs, also known as “fake news,” provide fill for newscasts. Often, decisions are made to run VNRs on a local newscast originate at a corporate level and it’s rarely revealed to the viewer that the piece was produced by an influence peddler.

When you hear about studies that determine things like the discovery of toxic chemical landfills being linked to preventing tooth decay or why increasing the troop numbers for Iraqi war is beneficial to our country – that’s a VNR. Some are subtle enough to fool even the harshest critics.

You would be correct in saying that when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics did it on their media we called it propaganda.

The definition of the legal system in Washington: The more money you pony up, the more your rights get protected – and you get to pick your rights.

It also shows that no matter who’s occupying the oval office, the GOP still preserves its control of certain government agencies and commissions. Let’s not forget that the 1996 Telecommunications Bill was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton.

Democrat money rents; Republican money buys.

There are so many more stories to tell and dots to connect, which, predictably, appear to originate from the Bush White House, but enough history for one day.

The problem isn't that this administration repeatedly shoots itself in the foot. The problem is that it has too many feet.

You’re Kevin Martin and you’ve been caught aiding and abetting.

The U.S. Criminal Code considers that a federal crime: (a) Whoever aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures the commission of an offense, is punishable as a principal and (b) Whoever willfully causes an act to be done, which if directly performed by him or another would be an offense, is punishable as a principal.

Seven years ago the FCC voted to penalize lobbyists who leaked confidential agency information after classified information on high-profile mergers were leaked to the public. An unidentified FCC staffer allegedly was fired the same year for leaking FCC documents, which reviewed the AOL-Time Warner merger.

Wonder how Kevin’ll get out this one?

Who’ll fall on their sword?

Who’s the cat and who’s the mouse?

Here’s a rare case of a federal agency – or someone in it - committing a federal crime. Maybe one negates the other?

The real question is how this will play out in public. So far, it’s a non-story. Outside of a L.A. Times piece on Wednesday, there’s been no media coverage of this scandal.

Read the L.A. Times coverage here:,1,2381033

And do the civilians really care?

You’d believe that with the cost and efficiency – or lack thereof – of cable TV, high speed Internet (where many now have to pay a premium for a higher speed service), phone service, and the current state of radio and TV that its enough for the American public to rally and demand accountability and change from the rubber stampers at the FCC.

Or will apathy reign as portrayed by Phil Ochs late sixties song, And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody/Outside of a small circle of friends.

Considering that Halliburton’s still in business, maybe this one will just go away, too.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Radio: HD Radio gets Bilk-o’ed

It’s unique for one to lead an industry when his only knowledge of it is whatever copy is put in front of him to read.

Welcome to the world of David Rehr, a.k.a. Fumbles, the chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, which purportedly represents the interests of the radio and television industry.

Fumbles, here’s the dilemma of the industry you’re paid the big bucks to represent.

How do you know where radio is going if you don’t know where it’s been and why?

I feel Fumbles needs to rework his Radio 2020 campaign?

Try this modification. Radio 20/20, as in “hindsight is always….” (Thank you, commentator TAlexander for that one)

Say “product development” to Fumbles and he’ll point his stubby finger at the ethically impaired Peter Ferrara, President and CEO of the HD Radio Alliance, henceforth known as Sgt. Bilk-o. (Thank you to commentators anonymous and lock stock barrel for nominating his nom de guerre).

HD Radio, the savior of the radio industry. Insert laugh track here.

Did you hear about Ibiquity’s and Sgt. Bilk-o’s latest setback? I’ve lost count. What’s this? The twelfth in a series?

Let’s talk Citadel. Last time I checked they’re the third largest radio group.

They had to yank the plug out of their AM HD Radio audio when, in their words, the “results were disappointing.”

Ibiquity responded with a statement: We understand Citadel’s caution and are working with them to understand what they are experiencing and to address their concerns.

Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

iBiquity insists there were only a few complaints about their HD Radio AM folly. Let’s listen in on their response, The vast majority of the feedback we’ve received on AM nighttime broadcasting has been positive.

Of course. If there’s no one listening there’s no one to complain.

How many months has it been and we’ve yet to see an independent audit on how many HD Radio units you’ve actually sold? The word is sold – as in someone paid money to buy one. Unsold inventory doesn’t count. Returns don't count. Demos don’t count. Trade doesn’t count.

Sgt. Bilk-o and other members of the HD Digital Radio Alliance apparently overlooked the downside to lying. You have to remember the lies you told and to whom.

Take that panel FCC’s audio division head Peter Doyle was on.

Ibiquity, the HD Digital Radio Alliance, and Fumbles bragged about the 1,500 radio stations they allege broadcast in HD.

One problem. The FCC has only 1,300 licenses filed for HD Radio stations.

That led Doyle to ask, “If you’re one of the 200, please let us know.”

He’s still waiting.

Bilk-o did surprise us and release a claim that about – key word – about 500 HD Radio receivers were sold on QVC in “just over” twenty minutes. No further information, like actual qualifying of those numbers, and curiously, why did Bilk-o wait a full week before releasing the alleged – key word – alleged figures?

I had mentioned earlier in the week that I received a half-dozen e-mail bulletins on the new relationship between Ford and HD Radio. Though the press release was written to make one believe that every Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury would be equipped with an HD Radio – the reality is that it’s just an option – and only one of many audio options Ford offers. Let’s see HD Radio or SYNC (which provides wireless Internet, which means access to thousands of Internet radio stations). How many say, “I’ll take the HD Radio instead of other options offered?

One? None?

What I didn’t know and thank commentator Day of the Jackal for pointing out: The only reason Ford is allowing HD Radio as a $280 + $50 installation fee, is that Ford owns Visteon which makes HD radios, and that Ford is an investor in iBiquity. Even Ford doesn't have much faith in HD Radio, as it is a second-class, point-of-sale, dealer-installed option.

Nothing is ever as it seems with the HD Radio Alliance.

Who told the most lies last week? Sgt. Bilk-o at the NAB or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the UN.

Though he’s a former senior VP at Clear Channel, you can’t call Sgt. Bilk-o a has-been. Never-was is closer to it.

What’s the definition of tune-out? Try Bilk-o’s latest HD Radio campaign. I particularly like the one that calls HD Radio “cool” for teenagers and has one speaking in Valley Girlesque. So 1982. Just when you can’t imagine the HD Radio campaign getting any worse….

There isn’t even any creative in their creative.

I know I’m repeating myself – but there was this NAB Convention last week where nothing was accomplished. Radio listening continues to decline; HD radio still isn’t selling – and now the threat of radio paying royalties to labels is becoming very real. We’ll save the latter for another time.

Repeat after me, Fumbles. You can’t create revenue if you don’t have product to sell.

Let me illustrate it in a way you, an ex-beer promoter, can understand it. Most radio station’s creative today, most of which is run from corporate offices, is comparable to an empty bottle of beer. It’s empty! Who’s going to buy an empty bottle of beer? There’s nothing in it. Get it?

Fish stink from the head and that’s where change has to take place if this industry has plans to sell radio as a product by, let’s say, 2010.

We’re turning the clock back to 1985 when a power struggle at Apple forced out Steve Jobs.

His replacement, John Sculley, a former Pepsi-Cola CEO, raised the price of the Macintosh by $500; shunned upgrades in favor of selling existing brands, and misused R&D by tossing money at projects with little to no commercial appeal.

While Sculley dismantled the culture and creativity of Apple, Jobs started NeXT, whose workstation helped Tim Berners-Lee develop the World Wide Web.

Since Jobs returned to Apple, among other things, he reinvented the way we access and listen to music. Then there’s Pod-casting. You get the point.

And, no, Fumbles, though you’ve been quoted as saying otherwise, Jobs has no plans to add an AM-FM HD receiver to junk up his iPod and iPhones.

Did you ever hear Steve Jobs speak? He’s the opposite of Fumbles and Bilk-o. Jobs has passion. Fumbles and Bilk-o don’t even know what the word means.

Jobs sells his product. Radio doesn’t have a product. You can’t generate revenue without product. Need I continue?

HD Radio’s generated absolutely nothing for anyone except for engineering headaches, spreading a thin staff thinner, and mostly half-assed automated formats. HD Radio is not going to save the industry.

Radio’s audience demands change on the stations they can access. They don’t need another dozen or so stations. They want something that’s not being given to them. Let me spell that out for you again, Fumbles: C-R-E-A-T-I-V-I-T-Y and C-O-N-T-E-N-T – and that’s with a liberal dash of passion and honesty.

You know the old saying - In business, usually, what is obvious usually turns out to be true.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Radio: Dag-NAB-it!

Here’s what I want to know.

How does one get a job like the one David "Fumbles" Rehr has?

You get to preach to the converted, greatly exaggerate and even outright lie to Congress, and count heads knowing that you’re getting a substantial piece of the action.

I kept reading and rereading Fumbles’ comments at last week’s NAB confab. Every time I did, I learned less.

Start with what the NAB’s going to spend your money on - Radio 2020.

Cue up Peggy Lee. “Is that All There Is?”

Is that all there is/ Is that all there is/ If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing / Let's break out the booze and have a ball /If that's all there is

There was that threat to Internet and satellite radio, “We will beat you!” and how HD Radio is “really taking off now.”

Whoops, sorry. Those quotes were from the 2006 NAB convention. We've come a long way in one year. Haven't we, Fumbles?

Did you happen to read the Ad Week piece on radio? It came out a couple of days before the convention opened.

My first reaction was that Fumbles hired some p.r. firm to work the trade to time the story for his Charlotte bash.

After all, what could be better than a pro-radio article in an advertising trade to kick off the NAB with?

It should’ve been the perfect open.

But you didn’t hear anything about it, did you?

Don't you just hate those industry pieces that open with: Radio has fallen on hard times. Not exactly ‘fire up the troops' material.

Ad Week called upon analyst Jim Boyle from CL King & Associates, who said, "It appears the out-of-favor sector, in the eyes of investors, may see soft revenue for several quarters to come."


The article also read, There are also plenty of new media players out to eat radio's lunch. While it's difficult to quantify, buyers say some dollars from radio budgets have been reallocated to new media.

Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

Here’s the link:

Chalk it up as another in a series of Fumbles’ follies.

And speaking of follies, let’s get back to Radio 2020.

Fumbles calls it a cooperative effort between the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) and the HD Radio Alliance.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Fumbles predicted that Radio 2020 will reposition radio for a long, successful future, claiming that it is the result of an in-depth research project, which analyzed hundreds of reports through phone research (“do you like a lot, like somewhat, like…..”) and focus groups (“mark on the sheet like, like somewhat, like….”).

How were the respondents selected? Are you familiar with radio? Yes. Have you ever listened to radio? Yes. Did you ever hear a commercial on radio? Yes.

Then there was the on-line research…..oh, sorry. They didn’t bother researching those who were on-line.

And how did Fumbles interpret the results?

"Participants in the focus groups overwhelmingly stated that radio is very important in their lives," said Fumbles. "This was confirmed in the survey data as well. More than 80 percent believe radio is very important. And, nearly all said they rely heavily on radio to easily connect to a diverse world of entertainment and information, no matter where they are. This confirms what we've known all along: Radio matters to listeners."

Okay, Fumbles. So what’s this Radio 2020 all about?

"Radio 2020 will not only address radio's greatest challenges, but will also guide us on how to explore our greatest opportunities," Fumbles pontificated. "Radio's value lies in the fact that it's accessible -- it's everywhere and portable. It's the one medium where everyone can freely and easily connect to a diverse world of entertainment and information, anywhere and everywhere."
That doesn’t mean they’re listening but let’s not confuse the Radio 2020 campaign with the facts.

Fumbles announced that the next phase of this “exciting” (his words, not mine) campaign will market consumers through radio, print ads, and the Internet…, I take that back. No Internet. Just radio and print.

Don’t knock it. Look how successful the HD Radio Alliance campaign on radio and in print has been for that product.

Another one of Radio 2020’s goals is to create initiatives to foster new radio sales talent. They should call it In Search of potential young salespeople that don’t have an MP3 player or listen to streaming audio.

But I digress.

One of the many meaningless goals Fumbles announced was to “ensure that radio is on new, emerging technologies. It's our job to make sure broadcast signals are available on every gadget, everywhere."

This is different from the line Fumbles used last year when he predicted that the next model iPod would include an AM-FM radio.

Question. What did radio do to deserve this loser?

I have to admit that Fumbles does have his fans.

"As this plan has come together under David Rehr’s leadership, the findings and recommendations are amongst the best work I’ve seen in all media positioning," said Fumbles disciple and RAB President and CEO Jeff Haley. "Radio is a universal medium in its accessibility and content choices, even more so now that we are expanding onto additional distribution platforms. Advertisers are taking notice and we can build on that momentum by delivering a unified message about Radio's importance in Americans' lives."

And if that’s not enough, Fumbles trotted out the limping Peter Ferrara, President and CEO of the highly successful (That’s a joke, son) HD Digital Radio Alliance. He called Radio 2020, “a call to action about our future.” He added, “Our industry is robust with fresh ideas, new technology and amazing opportunity. Through this initiative we can work together to demonstrate radio's incredible value and relevance to the American consumer."

Robust? Don't you mean frail, ailing, feeble, weak? New technology? Oh, you mean HD 'cha! Riiiiight! Amazing opportunity? Got me there.

Radio needs a right now this minute plan.

Fumbles, do the math.

You’re saying it's going to take thirteen years to turn radio around?

Google just turned nine.

The iPod just turned six.


How many of today's radio industry leaders will be attending a NAB convention thirteen years from now?

Will there even be a NAB as we know it five years from now?

I must bring this one up. I got a half-dozen e-mail bulletins from the various pro-radio trades on Ford and HD Radio, which the way it was written would make one believe that every Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury will be equipped with an HD Radio. Read carefully - it's an option! So is SYNC. Never heard of it? You should. That’s another option offered by Ford. Let’s see which one will be most appealing to consumers.

Could someone give me the Vegas odds on how many dozen HD Radios will be installed in Fords over the next twelve months versus SYNC?

How about Sprint's new Xohm, which could put Internet radio in every.....let me save that one for another time. Too much information for one day.

Fumbles confirmed one thing. The NAB, the RAB, and, of course, the HD Digital Radio Alliance exist in a bubble oblivious to the world around it.

Don’t they remind you of time bombs? What’s bad about bombs, though, is that they may take a few people with them, too. In their case it could be an entire industry.

What wasn’t discussed at the NAB confab is far more crucial than the dog and pony show Fumbles put on.

How about right brain versus left brain, design versus commerce, sales versus creativity, truth versus lies. I could go on and on – and I will but enough said for today.

Sure, there were the obligatory discussions on the integration of radio and the Internet. The problem was that no one knew what they were talking about.

Let’s just say when someone asked at the NAB info center if there was a meeting on the marketing of creativity, he was met with the answer, “what?”