Radio is still free.
That’s something we gotta remember in all of this. As the three or four of you know, this week the FCC got rid of net neutrality. You may not really understand what this means, but in the end think of the internet becoming like cable television.
For now, since Barack Obama prompted net neutrality, it was illegal for internet providers to pick and choose which websites they deliver to your computer or phone. Now, they can not only pick and choose, they can charge for the ones they pick.
This is huge. Think of cable TV. Your cable provider doesn’t give you access to all channels, all the time. They give you a selection of channels. Some of these channels are included in the cost of hooking up to cable. Some channels you have to pay extra for.
Either way, if you watch the included channels or the premium channels, you have to pay for the access. That’s what I see the internet changing into. You’ll pay for access to the internet, like you do now, and then your internet provider will let you know which websites are free and which ones you’ll have to pay for. There will probably be an added caveat in that the internet provider will allow some websites to stream at higher rates than others. It would be a double-sided revenue stream in which the internet provider:
It’s a pretty good deal for the biggest of the big internet providers like Comcast and Verizon. That’s how it goes these days, by the way. When you’re trying to figure out which way that legislators are gonna go on an issue, figure out which direction benefits the most big companies, and there’s your answer.
Comcast may be the biggest winner in all of this, which is not surprising. It reminds me of the Notre Dame game. Have I told that story to the three or four of you?
Alexis and I went to a Notre Dame game about ten years ago. Now if you have never been to a Notre Dame football game on a nice Saturday afternoon in September, then you really have never been to a college football game. First of all, the ticket to park your car or van can cost as much if not more than the actual ticket to get into the game. People start arriving before dawn to lay out their spreads. Then tens of thousands of people flood Joyce South and all of the other lots around Notre Dame stadium and Touchdown Jesus.
There’s plenty of tent parties to go to, if you’re a somebody. And though Alexis and I aren’t necessarily somebodies, we do own the local radio stations. So in the pulsating throng of drunken merrymakers, we ran into a group of state legislators.
Now neither one of us hangs out with politicians, but just by virtue of interviewing them all of the time, you get to know some of them. So we talked with this group of four or five elected officials and their better halves… and then one of them asked us:
“Hey, why don’t you come with us to the Comcast tent?” So we did. We got to the entrances of the tent, said hello to one of the many Comcast backslappers who were there, and got in line at the buffet table.
“Geezus, Alexis, I’ve never seen anything like this, at least not at a Purdue game,” I said. “Look, they’ve got crab legs.”
I grabbed a plate – china – and filled my plate with crab legs and grilled asparagus and sat down. “Would you like something to drink, sir?”
“Sure, how about some red wine?”
And the waiter, in a white jacket, rattled off three or four choices. A Malbec, a Cab, a red wine mix from the southern coast of Italy, and one more. And then the waiter waited for my choice, as if I would know the difference. I chose the Cab. That’s always safe.
We sat at a makeshift bar and listened to soft Tom Petty in the background. If you closed your eyes and opened them, you would have thought you were at a Midwestern wedding. Comcast had to have spent a small fortune to entertain all of these people with crab legs. I must have eaten two or three pounds by the time it was all said and done. There was plenty of wine, asparagus, and even giveaway seat cushions and coupons for a month of free cable.
I sauntered over to one of the Comcast guys standing around in suits. “So I’m just curious – why do you guys do this?”
“We like to show our appreciation to our legislators. They work hard.”
“Really? That’s odd. I never really thought that.”
We talked for a while, and it turns out that Comcast was trying to get the state legislature to change a provision in Indiana law. It had to do with public access. The three or four of you might remember the days when Comcast had to open their studios a certain number of hours every week so that local people could record shows and then have them played on Comcast cable. That was called public access. Comcast wanted to get rid of it.
Now the fancy-shmancy shindig outside of Notre Dame stadium was just the beginning of the perks that Comcast was levying on unsuspecting state legislators from places like Peru and Fort Wayne, Indiana. There were others.
In the end, what the Comcast-Notre Dame experience taught was that what Comcast wants, Comcast gets. In the end, the state legislature inexplicably got rid of public access. Poof. Just like that. Whereas it once made sense to keep cable TV open to all sorts of expression, all of the sudden it didn’t make sense anymore. Comcast made sure of that by providing an endless supply of crab legs and fine Italian wine.
Where does all of this leave radio?
Radio is still free. You have to pay for cable, for HBO, for ESPN, for movies, for satellite radio, for Pandora, etc.
But you can reach over on your nightstand right now, hit the snooze button on top of your Bose, and listen to a rerun of me interviewing a Lake County sheriff from ten years ago. Not that you’d necessarily want to listen to that. But you could. And it wouldn’t cost nuttin’.
What I’m getting at is the change in regulations is coming rapidly, and it’s unclear who it’s gonna benefit the most. Comcast, for sure, but who else?
I still have this theory that at some point radio is gonna re-assert itself and radio stations will become quite valuable. This is, of course, a self-=serving prophesy in that we own two radio stations and, truth be told…. I have radio fantasies sometimes that we buy more stations.
There’s really no concrete path that I see in which radio stations become really valuable again. It’s just a feeling. It’s a feeling that’s being substantiated by the three major changes by the FCC in the last month. We’ve discussed these before:
We discussed #1 and #2 in previous rambles of mine. It’s the net neutrality that really has me thinking. There’s a couple of directions this can go.
As the three or four of you know, there’s really only two type of radio stations in America.
You may listen to public radio. It’s really good to listen to when you want to feel like an aristocrat of money or ideas for a while. Every once in a while you want to feel smug, so listen to public radio.
Public radio can ask you for money, donations, directly on the air. But they can’t ask you to go down to Bob’s RV and pick up a Winnebago to go on vacation in. Public radio can’t ask you to do a “call to action.”
Commercial radio stations, like the two that I own, can. But we can’t ask you for donations or, god forbid, charge you to listen to WJOB.
There’s the conundrum. You can charge for all of the things that I mentioned earlier, but you can’t charge for local radio. There’s just no way to physically throttle the signal so that only those who pay can hear it.
But you could, if the FCC would let you, ask for money directly from listeners. You could start a Go Fund Me account for each of your shows and your hosts could go on the air and do their show and every once in a while ask you to give them five bucks. Is that legal now? Maybe. I’m gonna look into it. I would definitely do that, especially if Alexis and I were thinking about taking a vacation.
“Hey everybody, what time is it? It’s 7:47 in the Calumet Region. That means it’s time to go to Albert’s Diamond Jewelers…. It’s also time, if you like my show this morning, to go to my Go Fund Me account and give me five bucks. Alexis and I want to go to Turks and Caicos.”
This is just one turn of events that could occur. But what really stands out these days is that as the FCC starts allowing cable providers to charge piecemeal for everything on the internet, radio is still free. I don’t know what that means, but it means something.
…. The part that I want to get to is an ongoing question that I wake up to a lot – How do you allow radio to become part of the social media equation?
Do you understand what I’m asking? I’m asking how to you do this:
This is a question that boggles my Berkeley-addled mind. Right now, radio sits on an outpost. You hit a button in your car, listen to a little radio, and then you get out of your car and go into Langel’s to pick up your pizza.
While you are standing in line as they staple your pizza package, you pull out your phone. You check your Facebook, your Twitter, your email, etc. Then you get back in your car and, while you’re driving, listen to a high school basketball game.
You just entered three different worlds.
And the radio and the internet world don’t intersect. They really don’t have anything to do with each other. And no one seems to care.
I care. That’s why I came up with the HeyJED app. No one’s using it yet, but in the end what it’s supposed to do is put radio in the middle of the social media equation.
This is just one of many ways in which radio can become part of the social media equation. I have equally half-baked ideas on how to accomplish the merger, which, if the three or four of you keep reading over time, you will get to know.
…. There’s another thing I want to address – this blog. I’ve been thinking about a general idea of where to take it. I haven’t come up with anything concrete yet, but I get the feeling that if we just put some regularity, some routine, into what we’re doing here, it might be easier for the three or four of you to follow what’s going on… and it might be easier for broadcasting students of the future. Remember, it’s not just the three or four of you, we’re also addressing broadcasting students of the future. We want to allow them to better understand what radio is like now and how it’s changing. I’m guessing that might of some interest to them in the future.
Anyways, a plan for 2018 keeps rattling around in my head. As I told you yesterday, I’m thinking of combining the genius of Casey Neistat and Jeff Moore to write a daily blog of My Radio Life for one year. Every day. Every day I will write something… and some days I will write several times. I will take you around with me everywhere I go.
I’m not sure if I would do this for an entire year. I might. Or it might be my birthday – January 12th – and I turn to you and say – “F this. I’m not writing to you anymore. My writing sucks. Nothing is happening in radio, and this blog is become a drag for you and for me.”
Who knows? I also toy with the idea of reading the blog into a microphone and posting the audio file at the top of the page so that you can listen to my ramblings in the car instead of stopping to read my stuff at a gas station or in bed on your phone. I’m toying with a lot of stuff rattling around in my head. The general theme is that we should do something a little more – dare we say it – organized for 2018. What that is, I don’t know.
It’s a Saturday morning. I’ve got to go down to the station to work on fixing up our video camera setup and to record a couple of Christmas things. Then Alexis and I are headed to the Munster Med-Inn, where her sister Martha lives. Martha has MS and has been confined to a wheelchair for a lot of years. It’s her birthday. We’ll have some pizza in the party room. We’ll take a couple of pictures and then we’ll all leave and the nurse will take Martha back to her room.
It’s sad, really. Martha went to Notre Dame and got her graduate degree at the University of Michigan, but for most of her adult life she’s been in a wheelchair. It puts things in perspective, that’s for sure. Alexis will cry on the way out of the Med Inn.
Then I’ll go to Purdue Northwest to announce some division II basketball. PNW plays Grand Valley State. It should be a good experience, but at 0-9, don’t expect a victory. At 7:30, Alexis and I go to another Christmas celebration. Last night, it was the David Gladish law office Christmas party. The night before that it was the NIPSCO CAP panel party. Tomorrow it will be the Millies next-door-neighbor party. It’s a busy time. Thank you for listening.