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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

You Think Bandwidth Is Expensive NOW!?

Get ready to open your wallet.  There’s going to be a huge growth in data traffic and it’s going to force all the ISP’s, networks and data transporters to charge more.  Why?  Because it’s going to take so much bandwidth that Julius Genachowski – yes, I know he’s out but he's the bandwidth-for-everyone champion – will be (as they say in Kentucky) batting his eyes like a bullfrog in a hailstorm. 
And another “why?”  
Because people always find a “way around.”  Another term:  “unintended consequences.”
When met with a challenge, creative folks always find a way around.  This time the challenge is unwanted monitoring of messages and other communication.  And the way around? Well, from what I’m reading, it’s scary.   
Here’s the thinking – and I’m seeing it on blogs and posts all over the place…people encouraging others to send the systems into overload.  They want folks to send so many messages that those seeking to monitor them can’t possibly track them all – even with programs from Algorithm City they’ll be frustratingly unable to look at it all.  But in order to overload the system, it’ll overload the system.  Hello, master of doublespeak.  Do you know what you just wrote?  
Yeah.  That overload will definitely frustrate the lurkers but it’ll also cost all of us.  First off in slowed communication as existing networks bog down and then in higher costs as networks have to add bandwidth to accommodate the additional traffic.  And they’re talkin’ about not 10 times but 10 THOUSAND times – or possibly a hundred thousand or a million or more times.  
Then, add to that the prospect that legitimate emails and attachments will be buried inside longer messages, “Nah, nah-nah-na-na-nah – try to find the real message,” which may increase the size of existing messages by a factor of X, where X=”a lot bigger number than you think.”  For that, how big does the pipe have to be?  
If you think that Netflix® video is slow now, just wait.  
What’s the real fix?  Take away the lurkers.  Let the medium run without the fear that someone’s monitoring it all.  Set rules that are very plain – and enforced – that limit lurking and monitoring.  So, regardless of which side of the lurker ops you stand, security or intrusion, be ready to spend some extra dough until the monitors return to sanity.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Now Ya’ Gotta Build It…Low Power FM (LPFM)

The filing window is closed; the commission has begun its review of Low Power FM (LPFM) applications. In short - or maybe not so short - order, construction permits will be granted. The first ones will probably be the "singletons" as some are referring to them...applications which satisfy all of the separation requirements and have no mutually exclusive applications.
Then comes the fun part: building the station. This is where smart thinking – and planning – can save some real money.  (Yes,  my group does these but regardless of who you work with, we can’t find a single reason for spending more than you have to in order to wind up with a functional studio/transmission system.)
Because of the nature of the LPFM service, cost is a major concern, but so is reliability and durability. After all, it has to stay on the air and many operators may have little or no experience handling radio gear. Here are some points to keep in mind:
When thinking through equipment, first plan your programming! If you're doing 24x7 live talk, you could get away with a couple of mics, a mixer, headphones, processor, transmitter and antenna. You could, but even with such a simple format you'll want to be able to pre-produce program intros and closings, station ID's, PSA's and information about donors and support. That will mean a separate production area with its own inputs like mics, music playback (CD, .mp3 players, a quality computer) and possibly a phone input/system to prerecord calls. And, in any case, you'll need to be EAS compliant. That means at least an EAS/CAP decoder.
About that phone, if you want to take live calls on air, you'll need a telephone interface – probably a hybrid, but not necessarily – for the air studio. Along those lines, you will probably want to protect yourself against fines with a program delay unit that allows you to terminate callers or other persons before their comments reach the transmitter should their words go outside the bounds of acceptability for the time of day.
Of course, it gets more complicated as you add programming types. A local concert will require remote equipment - mics, stands, mixer, headphones and a recorder. Want to do it live? Well, that means a way to get that concert back to the studio. What about live, in-studio music? That's a challenging format since it usually calls for a larger studio, multiple microphones, and a more sophisticated mixing console.
You may choose to automate part of the day. It may be voice-tracking by your own talent or by an outside feed. Programming may come from a digital line or satellite. It will need to be downlinked/downloaded and fed out over the air.
Each format has its own challenges - and costs. And that means working hard and working smart to keep those costs down. It means doing the research to find that a $200 XYZ box will do just as good a job as a $1500 unit. Quality is quality and LPFM shouldn't be shortchanged. But spending more than you need to is a waste.
Then you need to consider the transmission gear. The audio processor (yes, you'll need one to ensure compliance with FCC rules), the transmitter, studio-transmitter link and remote control (if the transmitter is separated from the studio), transmission line, tower and antenna. And don't forget to consider lightning and static discharge protection. Protection doesn't have to be costly and it's hard to dedicate funds to equipment that doesn't affect/improve the sound of your station. Of course, if spending the money on lightning elimination keeps the station on the air undamaged through lightning assaults, it actually does affect the sound.
Finally, add in prevent theft and vandalism and to make sure the airwaves aren't accessed by unauthorized individuals.
Here, in a nutshell is a checklist for getting your station built:
  • Iron out your programming plans
  • Work through the equipment you'll need for each format
  • Do a layout of studio, production room, meeting room, storage (Yes storage. You'll need more than you imagine)
  • Plan your transmitter location and determine how the audio will be transmitted from the studio to the transmitter
  • Summarize all of the equipment needed
  • Seek a reputable service to specify equipment to meet your needs and satisfy your construction permit and provide you the most flexibility possible within your budget
LPFM is providing valuable services across the country. When you receive your CP you'll be on the road to becoming a part of it.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

I Saw a Frame of Black Last Night!

It was intentional!  It looked like this:


 And it was preceded by the screen image gradually fading to it then back up again.
It was surprising, no, refreshing!
Have you ever listened to the average teen talking, ending each sentence on an upswing to tell you they had more to say, segue after segue. Today’s production and operations fit that personality well.  A constant barrage of semicolons and commas but never the period that a fade to black brings – that little breath your mind gets.
They now only to seem to exist in the theatrical world, smartly used as an emotional device.  (Although I don’t know what emotion some French films are trying to convey as they fade to black and stay there long enough for a cat nap.)  The same device was once used in the broadcast world, too – and for the same reason – change of thought, emotional impact, not cat nap.
I’m not talking about the “silent pullup” that was once commonplace.  (Trivia time:  what was a silent pullup and, for the prize, why was it employed?)  I’m talking about the good old transition of a FADE TO BLACK that was the punctuation mark on a scene.
Maybe it disappeared when early satellite relay was implemented.  Full screen black put a heavy load on the transponder – ate up power and contributed to higher heat “up there” – so directors, especially live feed folks like those who worked news and sports, were told not to go to black for significant periods.  Once sensitized to it, they began interpreting it as “never go to black.  Ever.”
But, even in television drama, I don’t see it much.   Certainly not in a commercial pod where every frame is filled.  Hey, if ya got nuttin’ else to say, stick up the URL or 800 number.  And I really think that’s part of the clutter.  Like running wind sprints but never being allowed to stop and take a breath.
Just for the heck of it, I went to YouTube and started looking at random clips.  I decided I’d make sure they were over 2 minutes in length figuring that anything shorter probably had a lesser chance of having an opportunity for a “dip” or fade to black.  Even with materials 2 minutes plus, I didn’t see any except at the open and close and, even then, they were few and far between.  I then jumped to some sites where the subject might include a video.  When I found them, I found the same display as I had seen on TV.  OK, full disclosure, I didn’t do a frame-by-frame analysis, but my recall told me it was the same.  Sure enough, wall-to-wall video.
So what, who cares?  Probably no one except me.  But it’s fun remembering that chance to settle for a fraction of a second – whether it’s watching the tube or listening to a teen.



Saturday, May 11, 2013

News from the Net - or How I Learned to Love the Printed Word

Tell me again about getting news from the Internet.
I go to a lot of sources in trying to get well beneath the surface of news stories.  That includes checking out as many sources as possible to verify information in stories that interest me.  So as I Cerf around the net (trivia question: why the spelling of “Cerf”?) I find myself troubled – not about the information I find but about the presentation.
If I am to believe reports about our education system, today’s graduates – and those from the last 10 to 15 years – are deficient in reading and reading comprehension.
And it seems nearly all the sites I frequent are doing their best to “address” the issue.  I used the quotes because it may be coincidental that they now seem to write at a 6th grade level.
Way back when I was taking some JO courses, we learned the difference between writing for print and writing for (then) TV and radio.  I remember the continuing admonishment that, “ only have one crack at it with TV news.  The audience can’t back up a paragraph to gather context or reread what you said. [Hey, it was late 60’s.  It was carved in stone.  It had to be, that’s how we stored stuff – that or the papyrus and stylus that Timmy, that rich guy, had.]
Yeah.  That’s all changed.  You can back up if you want to.  Frankly, I may have done it a few times for news.  More often, it’s to replay a comedian’s line on Comedy Central.
OK, OK.  I’m getting there.  So the sites still write aimed at 6th graders even though expanding the online vocabulary is easy if you figure in the access to online dictionaries.  We don’t expand anyone’s horizon, thinking, or even comprehension.  We stall them at 6th grade.
Len, you Bozo.  50¢ words for the sake of 50¢ words.  Not so fast.  Any number of times certain words just work.  They’re the right word.  They don’t have to have the word like included.  But everything gets dumbed down.
Guess what.  I buried the lead.  It’s here:  Now, on a number of sites, especially those tied to broadcast outlets, the “story” consists of a one- or two-sentence written intro followed by a video.  I’m not talking a documentary.  No.  More often than not, these are either standups (“News 2, we got a release about the mayor.  Hi-tail it over to city hall and do a standup.”) or the anchor person, as a lift from a recent newscast. 
That’s it.  Nothing in-depth.  No references, no interviews or b-roll that actually depicts the scene.  And everything at a 6th grade TV level. 
What’s wrong with that?  Aside from the cursory report?  Well, first, what can a standup really tell?  Why not post that release itself or how ‘bout the TelePrompter®  feed.  OK.  That’s a little far-fetched.  But consider something as simple comprehension. 
Human speech generally hangs around 120 to 180 words per minute and, if you have someone’s attention, comprehension is between 50 and 70 percent.
On the other hand, good readers clock in at 300-400 WPM (ignoring Evelyn Woods) and have comprehension between 70 and 85 percent.2   It was higher, on average, 25 years ago.  Maybe we had more practice. 
What does that reading speed mean?  It’s the equivalent of doubling or tripling your processor speed. 
Of course, that’s if we’re talking about print versus a standup reporter.  Certainly, written and produced properly, audiovisual media materials are capable of blowing away print.  Unfortunately, that’s not what we’re doing.  We’re simplifying.  Oversimplifying.  And in the process, telling less and less of the story.  Maybe that’s my real issue.  I don’t want to have to surf so much.

2Recall of Thematically Relevant Material by Adolescent Good and Poor Readers as a Function of Written Versus Oral Presentation, Sandra Smiley et. al.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

More Apps! I Gotta Have More Apps!

Well, in the course of upgrading to a phone that doesn’t require tape to keep the battery cover on, I went with a major supplier’s leader.  (BTW, if you’re looking for me to say that I stayed with T-Mobile, forget it.  They continue to amaze me with their business prevention department.)
But that’s not the topic here.  If you haven't noticed, though the "...there's an app for that..." promo is over, there is no end to the number and variety of applications now available for just about every type of mobile device.
Today, I’m just getting the word out to a few folks who, like me, may have upgraded, or have loaded apps on their phone and allowed “automatic update.”  This applies to every OS I can think of and it’s pretty important.
Many new apps – and upgrades of older ones – now try to blow a high hard one past you like Ricky Vaughn.  They bury an acceptance in the “other” or “see all” category.  It’s worded a number of ways (after you drill down that deep) and may say “phone access” or “line access” or just phone…but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that the app can ask your phone for its serial number, its phone number and the numbers of anyone you may be talking to while that app is in use.
In other words, you download say, a YouTube viewer.  It’s custom and you love it because there are no additional ads, it has great controls, and, hey, maybe even the colors are your favorites.  But, when you open it, it will phone home with info you your phone and your number.  And if you get a call in the middle of a video, it’ll get that number too.
To be fair, they are telling us.  But you really have to look for it.
Frankly, not too cool.  This is especially true since updates can slip this info by you, especially if you’ve set any apps to update automatically.
So I’m taking a closer look at everything, and I went back and reviewed all on my phone.  Someone tell me why a game like backgammon has to know my phone’s serial number, my phone number and who I’m calling or who’s calling me.  I actually lucked out.  I saw this as I transferred data and apps to my new phone.
Now what concerns me is (are) all the folks out there calling me with these apps on their phones.  I guess it’s no big deal.  I don’t have a bookie; I don’t do billion dollar deals on a cell phone, and, what else, well, nothing blackmailable so I guess I shouldn’t worry.  But just the thought that some clown can page through his phone-homes and see who’s calling me is a bother.
Do as you wish – address or ignore.  But, if you ignore this, please tell me you did so the next time we talk.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The NOT Customer Service

Online commerce – ecommerce – call it what you want…it’s great, isn’t it?  Don’t you wish a few more companies actually understood it?
For all you great firms who are proud of your online store (or have been told by your IT and marketing folks that you should be proud of it), I once again invite you to buy something from your site.  Oh, and when you do, use your online chat.  Yeah.  Do that.  Pour two large glasses of liquid, one of water and one of your favorite alcoholic beverage.  You’ll need the former because you’ll get pretty thirsty during the long and arduous task of extracting information from your online chat folks.  The latter?  Well, figure it out.  When you realize how poorly your company – YOUR BRAND – interacts with your clientele, you’ll down the whole thing.
I’ve been part of some really interesting exchanges in online sales chats. Most recently, when I questioned why a product hadn’t been delivered as promised and was, in fact, two weeks late, I was told, “Sorry, we don’t actually carry that.  It is in our catalog but is drop shipped from the manufacturer.  They may have a problem or be out of the item temporarily.”
My smartass response was, “…and that affects me how?”  I went on to ask why I didn’t at least receive an email telling me about the delay.  It was a response like, “sorry, we can’t do that.”
Can’t, won’t, don’t actually carry, not ours…isn’t that fantastic?  
I went on to tell the chatter that it had been 4 years since I had ordered from them; that it took me that long to get up the nerve to try again after they had totally screwed up the last order.  Then I added that I’d think about them again in another four years, maybe.  Didn’t matter.  Didn’t affect them, not that I expected that it would.
I asked a couple more questions; neither was met with an acceptable answer.  I also asked about canceling the order.  The chatter again had no answer for the chatee.  Instead, she (I assume, it was a female name) asked, “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
Again, the smartass kicked in and I responded with, “Else?  You haven’t helped me with anything yet.  You can’t tell me why the product is two weeks late, you can’t tell me when it will be delivered…you don’t even know if there are any in stock.  And you can’t even help me cancel the order.  So what’s with ‘else’?”  Then my usual angry signoff of.  Seeya.” [click]
So, once again, take the time to buy something from yourself.  That sugar-baked ham or teeth-whitener, or seatcovers.  Whatever.  Use your online chat and see what you have - or don't have - working for you.  But, please…no drunken dials to me about what you found.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

That Clog Called Management

There was a show in prime time around 1970 called Arnie.  Herschel Bernardi (probably more famous as the voice of Charlie the Tuna than for his dramatic work) starred as a loading dock worker who had suddenly been promoted to “corporate.”  A real worker becomes management.
It was an interesting albeit short-lived concept that might be worth review today.
Geez, Len, where are you going with this?
Herschel Bernardi
Keeping Arnie Nuvo in mind, step back and look at today’s management.  Clogged with lawyers, DBA;s and MBA’s – all trained to manage but few with knowledge of the business they’re in.  Now, with due respect to the JD and other degrees, let me say that the whole method of organization is wrong.
In the media world, the last thing we need is a manager who doesn’t know the specific business.  Or one who wants to put everything into discreet “silos” which are convenient for PowerPoints but, frankly, don’t work in the real world.
If you read any of the corporate “self-help” books, you find that the involvement of line folks in management is the exception rather than the rule.  Yet when you look at successful companies, you find that the ones that do have open relationships among everyone are the ones making it.  Go figure. 
When you’re making flanges as was Herschel Bernardi, you have a pretty controlled input-to-operation-to-output.  That’s just not the case in the media world.  It’s too broad, it changes too quickly, and it rests on that fickle thing called an audience.
So bringing in management folks who haven’t had contact with your particular business is usually a big mistake.  I’ve seen it too many times.  Decisions made by the Harvard- or Kellogg-book but which don’t work in the real world.  Best example:  broadcast station expansion.  That was fun watching the MBA’s and DBA’s running the numbers.  “Hey, it’s simple.  We take over 3 stations in a market.  We central-cast, cut a truckload of people, raise the ad rates, and make wheelbarrows (I already used 'truckload') of money."
Now in case you don’t see the flaws, raising ad rates isn’t that easy.  If you don’t have the numbers, you don’t get the orders.  In an agency world where you can’t even get to a buyer – and where most of them are paid to say no – you can’t just raise rates.  In fact, major advertisers are gutsy enough to say, “Here’s what I want, here’s what I’m going to pay.  Take it or leave it.”  Ouch.  That’s a little different from the world of flanges.  And cutting people?  Cool idea.  Then, looking at the payroll, they toss out folks who know the history…the ones who’ve already made the mistakes.  Ah, but a younger person – if they think they need a person at all – will come at half the price.  That is until you factor in a repeat of the mistakes the old lady you let go learned from.
And central-casting.  Think about it.  With more and still more modes of information or entertainment delivery, is producing your [for example] Louisville news out of Dallas a good idea?  If local is the real USP for a station, do you want the lead of a story left on the cutting room floor because that guy in Dallas doesn’t know the background?  So, sure, go ahead and put the folks who may be able to contribute most to the company’s success in an isolated location where the only interaction is the nightly critique coming out of programming, or the consultant telling the female anchor not to smile so much.
A lot of the problems come out of the chasm between “management” and “labor.”  Both have a lot to learn from the other.  If you’ve run across Cluetrain Manifesto, you’ll recall that Levine et. al. talk about the flattening of the corporate pyramid.  People at the bottom (I hate that term) know a lot of what people at the top (that one too) are doing.  Observation, filtration, email, and intranet let them find out.  But, sadly, management seems to think that they can orchestrate a one-way communication path.  And what’s worse?  They don’t think they necessarily have to tell the truth!
So they say that all’s well, that they’re not changing the news format, not letting anyone go, etc. then, out of nowhere, an anchor gets replaced.  Whatever morale or corporate equity they built up just vaporized.  And, if you trace it back, you find that those lettered management folks didn’t see the difference between a people business and a widget business.  A silo was a silo. 
So, the solution?  Bring some “little folks” (oh wow, that’s so much better than “people at the bottom”) along.  No, not a monthly lunch.  Put them on specific developmental or analytical projects.  They’ll ask questions you didn’t know needed to be asked.
I’ll give you an example:  A few years ago, we were having a discussion about offering vanity email addresses.  You can imagine it – you sign up and you get, where somegreatsuffix = a really neat address.  Maybe co-opting a celebrity’s name, or a professional sport.  A couple of folks had run the numbers and they turned out to be really big.  A 20-year-old ops guy asked a simple question, “How you gonna convince people to give up the email address they have?  I mean, when all their friends…”  After a little research the numbers fell like a rock.  Today, that’s a little different but, at the time, we were able to keep from stepping in it.
More importantly, work to collapse the pyramid.  Open the company up.  If the average coder doesn’t feel comfortable dropping a suggestion to you, if you don’t feel you can stop by a designer’s office and ask how they’d do something, you haven’t accomplished it.
You don’t have to put Arnie in the corporate suites, but you can have lots of Arnies out there, all with suggestions that may just save your backside.