Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Making the Internet Less Fair

Sometimes it's easier to listen to KSER, or many other radio stations, on your computer instead of on a radio.

At the moment, in theory, when you visit a website or stream audio or video all things are relatively equal. Whether you're watching a movie on Netflix, downloading a book from a giant corporation like Amazon, or listening to your local independent community radio station, we're all sending our 'product' through what the late Senator Ted Stevens called a series of tubes. The rest of us just call it the internet. And for the most part we're all on equal footing.

But all that might change, depending on what the FCC decides on the issue of 'Net Neutrality.'

Unless you're a media attorney, understanding all the details of the debate on 'Net Neutrality' can be challenging.  Amy Goodman had an excellent synopsis of the debate this week on KSER, explaining the basics of the issue and the political angle that happens to involve the son of Colin Powell. If you didn't hear it, you can read her commentary here.  Or, just look at this Tom the Dancing Bug cartoon by Ruben Bolling.

Like many of these debates, it seems what the people want takes a back seat to what the big corporations want. Is there a user of the internet who would prefer that powerful corporations can buy better internet speeds? Does the average person want smaller companies, local start-ups or individual bloggers to get left in the dust or possibly shut out completely?

You probably know that Comcast is merging with Time-Warner Cable making it an even bigger cable behemoth. This week AT&T announced it's buying DirectTV in a $67-Billion deal.  A few weeks ago the FCC did decide against allowing radio companies to own more radio stations in an individual market. In the bigger markets, the maximum number of stations one company can own is eight. The radio industry wanted that raised to twelve. For now, the FCC has said no to the increase.

But there is one ownership rule the FCC may eliminate: cross-ownership of radio and newspapers. There's been a long-time ban preventing companies from owning both a local newspaper and local radio stations. There are some exceptions, 'grandfather' clauses in a few markets. But now the FCC has tentatively concluded there is no reason to keep the radio/newspaper ownership ban in place.

Is that a move the people want? One organization that is fighting to lift the ban is NAMB, the National Association of Media Brokers. Wonder what they'd have to gain?

If you don't think some of these rule changes make sense, you can call or write your member of congress. But remember, they're being lobbied daily by the big corporations that will benefit from the rule changes. 

Personally, I'm just going to keep donating to KSER to make sure that we have local community radio and hoping KSER always has equal access to that 'series of tubes.'

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

When Pirates Are the Best Option

Have we gotten to a point where some listeners - even government officials - think that an illegal 'pirate' radio station is the best option for local community news and information?

In Boston this week, Touch 106 was raided and shut down by the 'Feds.'

Touch 106 was a "pirate" radio station. They had no FCC license. In fact, the federal government had tried previously to shut them down but couldn't gain access to their building. Prior to the shutdown, Touch 106 had operated illegally, but not unsuccessfully, for eight years.

From time to time, illegally operated 'pirate' stations get shut down. But what makes the Touch 106 story so interesting, is the reaction from listeners and community leaders.

Even Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick told the Boston Globe he was incredibly disappointed, "Touch is a very important voice in the community."

Leading radio trade publication Radio Ink referred to Touch 106 as "The Benevolent Pirate" and quoted radio consultant Donna Halper as saying, "The Touch story speaks to a much bigger issue: the FCC's lack of interest in promoting live and local programming and it's willingness to allow a handful of giant conglomerates to simulcast and voicetrack rather than be a presence in the communities they are supposed to serve."

There's even a petition on Change.org to bring Touch 106 back to the Boston airwaves.

The FCC, as you might imagine, has a different take. The station was operating without a license, they were apparently interfering with other legally operated stations that were broadcasting on or near the same dial position.  That's why federal agents raided the studios and confiscated most of their broadcast equipment.

But what does it say when listeners and many government leaders (even the Governor!) are suggesting that the best local community service provided by broadcasters is being provided by an illegal pirate?

One Boston city council member said he was going to do everything he could to get the station back on the air, calling it, "A community institution, information resource, and vehicle for civic engagement and social change."

Those are the same words we'd use to describe KSER and KXIR. The difference is, we've been operating legally since 1991, serving the North Puget Sound as an information and cultural resource.

Of course, it might be more 'dashing' to just operate as a pirate station - and a lot cheaper. We wouldn't have to pay FCC attorney fees. We wouldn't have spent more than $350,000 to construct a tower and launch KXIR at 89.9 on Whidbey Island. And now, with that second station, and with continued support from listeners like you, we want to improve and expand our service to the communities we reach.

Perhaps if  more communities had locally-owned independent public radio stations like KSER and KXIR, some elected officials and governors wouldn't find themselves in the awkward position of defending pirate broadcasters.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Eight is Enough

For now, at least, the big commercial radio companies are stuck with ownership caps.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled this week there is no need to raise the number of stations a company can own in an individual market.

If you're old enough, you recall a time when a broadcast company could only own two radio stations in your town - one AM and one FM. For decades that limit served the industry well. Then deregulation occurred in the mid-90's and, suddenly, companies were allowed to own up to eight (8) stations in a major market. And in many big cities, that's exactly what happened. Not only did the biggest companies get bigger, but, in some cases, they would buy the eight stations with the strongest signals in town.

Before deregulation and consolidation, radio companies complained about competition from other media, in particular, cable television. But recently, those same radio companies have been moaning about another source of competition: the internet. That's why several years ago, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) got involved.

The NAB is a trade organization that represents the commercial radio industry. They lobbied the FCC to lift the 8-station ownership cap. The new number they wanted was twelve. It was argued that in order to be competitive, companies needed to own more and more of the radio pie.

While two used to be enough - and then eight was enough - the big companies said twelve was the new magic number. But this week, the FCC said 'no' to the NAB and ruled that the 8-station cap would remain in place.

It's way too late to save many of the great local broadcast companies that used to be part of many communities. Most are long gone, gobbled up by larger national chains with loosened ownership restrictions. That's why you might hear the same person doing traffic or weather reports on three or four (or more) stations; why the music playlist you hear in Seattle is exactly the same as what you'll hear in Portland or Miami or Denver; why in many towns that used to have robust radio news teams, there is little local news coverage at all.

Of course, radio doesn't have exclusivity when it comes to a flood of consolidation and deregulation. Many industries have been through similar upheaval. At least for now, however, the big corporate broadcast companies are on hold when it comes to growing caps.

But don’t expect the NAB or the handful of big commercial radio corporations to give up. For them, eight is not enough.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Supreme Gift to Corporate Media

If you happen to own a major broadcast network, you just had a very good week, thanks to five guys in robes.
Some are calling it "Citizens United on Steroids." This week the Supreme Court, in the case McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, struck down caps on donations that individuals can make to candidates or political parties during any two-year election cycle.

If you listened to Amy Goodman's Democracy Now on KSER and KXIR this week you heard extensive coverage and analysis of the Supreme Court decision. If you listened to or watched much of the corporate media outlets you probably heard some headlines but not much in-depth reporting.

There's a simple reason why you won't hear much on corporate media: Money.

You probably know that the 2012 Presidential election was the most expensive election in US history. One study reported that $6-Billion was spent on the 2012 election - that's $700-Million more than any prior election. And, now, 2016 will probably set another record.

So where does all that money go?  Some goes to direct mail, billboards and web advertising and viral marketing. But the lion's share of campaign advertising money goes to broadcasting...corporate owned television stations and networks in particular.

It seems, at election time, everyone complains about the flood of political commercials on TV. Everyone, that is, except the owners of the television stations and networks. That's because it's a financial jackpot for the corporate broadcast owners. These are the same owners, of course, whose news departments either downplay or completely ignore coverage of stories like the latest Supreme Court campaign finance ruling.

Even Republican Senator John McCain was dismayed by the ruling, "I am concerned that today's ruling may represent the latest step in an effort by a majority of the Court to dismantle entirely the longstanding structure of campaign finance law erected to limit the undue influence of special interests on American politics."

You can read the insightful analysis of Robert Reich on the McCutcheon ruling and what he calls the vicious cycle of wealth and political power here. Maybe "House of Cards" character Francis Underwood is not an exaggeration.

Of  course it's not just this Supreme Court ruling that gets short shrift in the corporate media; there are plenty of other stories, like the Occupy movement or global climate change that receive limited coverage.

The next time you're watching a television newscast and wondering why Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus get so much coverage while supreme court decisions are ignored, just follow the money.

Or listen to Amy Goodman.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

More Big Money Floods Big Media

Thanks mostly to you, we operate KSER and KXIR on about $500,000 for an entire year.

And while that may seem like a lot of money, it's really not so much compared to the budgets of most radio stations. And it's next to nothing compared to two big national media players that have made headlines this week.

First, there's PBS, and their New York flagship station, WNET, which is producing a series of TV programs called "The Pension Peril." Turns out "The Pension Peril" is reportedly being funded by former Enron trader John Arnold, a man some claim is behind a major effort to slash employee pension funds. David Sirota penned a detailed accounting of the story for the website PandoDaily.

Apparently, Arnold's 'Foundation' donated $3,500,000 to WNET.

That $3.5M for just one TV program would keep KSER & KXIR going for seven years!

But for an even more eye-popping media payout, take a look at the Comcast deal to buy Time-Warner Cable. Comcast is America's #1 Cable Company. Time Warner is #2. At Slate, reporter Matthew Yglesias explains why it could be a very bad deal for consumers.

The Comcast purchase of Time-Warner is a $45-Billion deal.  Heck, for just a measly $1-Billion we could operate KSER and KXIR for a couple thousand years. That would probably keep us going until Ed Bremer and Amy Goodman are ready to retire.

Maybe all the naysayers are wrong about Comcast and PBS. Perhaps cable-leader Comcast swallowing runner-up Time-Warner will end up being a huge benefit for consumers. Maybe your cable bill will go down soon. Maybe someone with a vested interest in altering the country's pension landscape will provide us all with a clear path to improved retirement. Maybe had it been warmer, the Broncos would have won the Super Bowl.

But if the naysayers are right, I'm glad there are reporters like David Sirota and Matthew Yglesias who are exposing these kinds of stories. It's also a good reason, in an age of more and more media consolidation and giant media conglomerates, to make sure there are independent media voices.

In the North Puget Sound, KSER and KXIR are the only two community-owned broadcast stations. We provide you with independent voices like Ed Bremer and Amy Goodman. But we can only do it with your support. And we don't need $45-billion, or even a $3-million PBS TV gift.  We only need a modest $1,400 a day to keep two radio stations on the air providing independent voices for you and the communities we serve.

If you'd like to make a donation to ensure there's an alternative to the corporate media kingpins, you can do it with just a few mouse-clicks right here.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Radio's Money Trouble

If you read some of the radio trade publications on a regular basis you might begin to think that the commercial radio industry is limping along toward extinction, about to be eclipsed by smart-phones, mp3 players and digital dashboards in new cars.

After all, there's more and more consolidation which has led to fewer owners and far fewer jobs for those who used to make a career in radio. But when you look at the numbers, things don't exactly add up.

The commercial radio business had a very good 2013 compared to prior years. In fact, two of the top three radio markets were up and the third was down only slightly.  How much money are we talking about? A lot - look at these revenue totals for the top three markets last year:

Los Angeles  $630,719,000
New York      $587,000,000
Chicago         $419,700,000

You don't have to be a math whiz to figure out that commercial radio, in just those three cities, generated more than one-and-a-half Billion dollars last year - $1,637,419,000.

And when you hear stories about radio professionals losing their jobs, just like in many industries, you hear about little or no notice and little or no severance pay. But that's not true for everyone in the radio business.

The largest radio company is Clear Channel, and their former top executive just 'retired' suddenly. According to documents filed with the SEC, John Hogan's separation agreement includes:
  • Severance payment equal to $3,297,000, paid over 36 months
  • Payment of $1,000,000, paid over 12 months, beginning on first anniversary of separation
  • Continued healthcare coverage for 36 months
  • Continued secretarial services for 6 months
  • $20,000 in outplacement services
  • A housing allowance of $25,000 per month for up to 9 months
  • Up to $25,000 for Hogan’s reasonable legal fees

With all that money going to commercial radio and to displaced executives, you might be impressed to know that your local independent public radio station operates in a much more frugal fashion.

KSER and KXIR operate on about $500,000 for an entire year. Of course we don't play 20 minutes of commercials every hour - not even one commercial. We rely on your support to remain truly independent, to be able to bring you programs like Sound Living with Ed Bremer and Democracy Now with Amy Goodman.

The top three commercial radio markets generate $4,486,000 in a single day.  In a little over two hours on any given day they exceed our entire annual operating budget.

So we're hoping you'll think about the value you receive from KSER and KXIR with your donations. And we hope if you listen but have never donated, you'll take a moment to do so online right now.

Maybe we can get one of those 'retired' commercial radio executives to donate!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Smooth Launch for 89.9 KXIR

After more than a half-dozen years of research, applications, hard work and fund-raising the KSER Foundation launched its second radio station Tuesday evening, November 12, 2013.

KSER is now being simulcast on KXIR at 89.9 FM. The station is licensed to Freeland and the newly-constructed tower is located in Greenbank on Whidbey Island.

The addition of this second frequency allows the non-profit KSER Foundation to increase its reach and do more focused community service broadcasting. We had a standing-room-only crowd in the KSER Community Room Tuesday evening for the KXIR launch celebration

Celebrating the Launch of KXIR 89.9 FM
Former KSER Board President Karen Crowley led a packed room of listeners, volunteers and staff in a KSER on-air countdown to launch of KXIR.  At 6:45 p.m. the first KXIR Station Identification was delivered by founding KSER Board President John Thielke. And longtime KSER News & Public Affairs Director Ed Bremer conducted the very first KXIR on-air interview with current KSER Foundation Board President Brenda Mann Harrison.

At 7 p.m. we were honored to have the first official joint KSER & KXIR Station Identification delivered by Mel Sheldon, Chair of the Tulalip Tribes.

For several months we will continue to simulcast KSER & KXIR while we conduct more community forums and surveys to obtain community feedback on how to best serve the community with two independent public radio stations. We'd welcome your feedback.

Many communities throughout the country don't have even one truly independent community owned radio station. The North Puget Sound now has two.

You can learn more about KXIR, including how to offer your financial support for independent public radio, on our website at KXIR.org.