Friday, August 3, 2007

CPRB Commentary, by Jimmy James Jr.

COMMENTARY PART 2 (with corrections)
CPRB Readers,

Today, I want to continue to address some great comments and questions from one of our many Anonymous readers of (and posters to) Colorado Public Radio Blog. You can read Commentary Part 1, by Jimmy James here.

Anonymous states: Thanks to HD radio, today's FM stations have the capability to transmit multiple programs on a single frequency. On HD1, KVOD (90.1-FM in Denver) has never sounded better on FM. On HD2, KCFR (1340-AM in Denver) has never sounded better on FM or AM. And CPR's stations are not alone. Eleven (11) other Denver stations are multicasting with two channels. Others will follow.” {Hyper links, parenthetical additions, and other emphases added by CPRB authors}.

Jimmy James responds: Colorado Public Radio Blog authors agree; multi-casting programs in digital-only format, using existing bandwidth on both the AM and FM band, is a sea change in terrestrial broadcasting. Colorado Public Radio Blog authors never suggested otherwise. Qualitatively and quantitatively, HD radio may provide substantially more programming at higher fidelity, but HD radio’s successes or failures will be measured by the degree to which listeners adopt and invest in upgrades (and entire replacements) of their existing and completely-functional equipment, and to the extent that listeners choose HD radio over other means of digital receipt (via computers, portable music players, podcasts, WiFi radios, and wide-area wireless networks).

Colorado Public Radio for example, became an early adopter of HD radio, through a substantial grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (for Vail) to upgrade to HD radio (CPRB could not find links to the CPB grants Colorado Public Radio received for Denver and Boulder). In other words, the CPB subsidized these upgrades, which were also undoubtedly paid for by CPR's members. Colorado Public Radio (like many other large, metropolitan public radio stations and networks), should be heartily commended for applying for and receiving these grants, and for properly joining that substantial financial largesse with the contributions from individual, corporate, and foundational supporters.

In the case of one Denver-area commercial station mentioned in the list provided by Anonymous, KBCO 97.3 FM (which broadcasts in Denver and Boulder, Colorado, and for which Colorado Public Radio’s KCFR 1340-AM likely possesses significant listener overlap), this station’s choice of discreet programming on 97.3-FM HD-2 is called KBCO’s Studio C; a separate service which is transmitted commercial-free. So, it is not simply a simulcast of what the radio station otherwise offers on another radio frequency or radio band.

By contrast KCFR-AM News & Information and KVOD-FM Classical Music (Colorado Public Radio's actual station call letters in Denver, and the brand names by which CPR identifies them throughout its statewide network) are serving up the same content, and perhaps different ratios of the same content (as is the plan for Vail), but they are not really serving up distinctly different content.

In short, qualitative difference and quantitative differences can and should be considered together--not separately--when one gauges the decision of transmitting in HD (not simply the capability to do so). Serving the same basic food in an upscale restaurant could certainly make one’s restaurant experience more palatable; however, it does not make the food tastier—especially when the check arrives.

Anonymous further states: Ever since Frances Koncilja went public about her disagreements with Colorado Public Radio’s Board, the prospect of selling the AM stations has been represented as a travesty that would deprive listeners of service. Either classical or news programming would be broadcast on HD2, making it available only to listeners who own HD radios. Far worse things could happen to a format.”

Jimmy James responds: The above comments greatly gloss over the disagreements that Frances Koncilja had with the Colorado Public Radio Board and Management. Without speaking for her, I will briefly discuss each of her issue here. As well, she has many entries on Colorado Public Radio Blog where interested readers can view her opinions, observations, comments, and the actual supporting documents she uses to make her case. In sum, here are her disagreements, listed in not particular order or precedence:

  1. HD Radio: HD radio (generally) and HD radio (specifically) in Vail, Colorado. Since we have already discussed many issues pertaining to HD radio generally, I will address Frances Koncilja’s issues with HD radio, specifically in Vail, Colorado. First, Colorado Public Radio broadcasts a mixed format of news and information (KCFR-AM) and classical music (KVOD-FM) on a single FM station in the Vail Valley (89.9-FM KPRE). This circumstance is likely due to the fact that there are no usable FM frequencies in the non-commercial band or affordable frequencies in the commercial band for Colorado Public Radio to acquire.

    Second (according to Frances Koncilja), the planned move to HD radio by CPR in the Vail Valley was decided by Colorado Public Radio Management, with insufficient Board discussion, without supporting research, significantly devoid of community dialog, and absent listener and listener-subscriber input. CPR broadcast changes will greatly affect Vail listeners, because owners of standard AM/FM radios will receive either 24 hours of news OR 24 hours music; whichever CPR decides to broadcast on the primary, FM frequency. The same deprivation will happen in Denver, Boulder, and Pueblo, Colorado if Colorado Public Radio makes the same decisions on behalf of its listeners and listener-subscribers in these markets too.

    Thus, Colorado Public Radio lacked diligence in its decision to rollout HD radio in one of its affiliate markets. So, to represent this disagreement as a criticism of HD radio per se, is fallacious, in that it is overly general. As a Colorado Public Radio Board Member, what Frances Koncilja expected from the Colorado Public Radio Board and Management was transparency and inclusion. What novel ideas in public radio!

  2. The Board: Board Membership total size and diversity representation are two related disagreements that Frances Koncilja has with Colorado Public Radio. During her four years on the Board, it shrunk from more than twenty (20) members to just eleven (11). And, it was Colorado Public Radio’s tentative plan to further decrease the Board to nine (9) total members (*this item was withdrawn on motion); presumably bolstered by and unknown collection of members who comprise CPR's Community Advisory Group. And while gender diversity is well-represented on CPR’s Board, racial diversity is not—it is absent. Thus, shrinking the total size of the Board will further reduce the opportunities for people of color to represent Colorado’s diverse constituencies. Real inclusion and genuine diversity--brilliant!

  3. Board Subsidy of KCFR Content Development: In addition, Colorado Public Radio’s newly-formed, but substantially smaller Board of Directors, may require that each member of the new-and-improved Board to commit to giving or getting contributions to Colorado Public Radio at or above the $25,000 level. In the past two years for example, Colorado Public Radio Board Members have authorized a combined amount of $500,000 to be spent on the the so-called KCFR News Colorado News Initiative, allowing management to dip into reserves if necessary. *CPRB does not know however, the exact amount of money Colorado Public Radio has spent thus far on the two-year-old News Initiative.

    In Frances Koncilja’s opinion, the investment so far has not netted the quality and quantity of news content expected, given the high contribution costs by the present Board Members. Will future financial infusions result in substantive news or music programming changes? Fiscal discretion and oversight--outstanding!

  4. Board Governance, Company Mission Statement, and CPR Control: Finally, Frances Koncilja believes that the Colorado Public Radio Board spent inordinate amounts of time, effort, and financial resourses (in the form of consultant costs paid to Bill Charney of Charney Associates), to re-work Colorado Public Radio’s Board Governance Rules and Company Mission Statement (this board governance item was also withdrawn on motion, and it was agreed to commence a new governance process). Further, she believes that Colorado Public Radio management inefficiently and ineffectively spent these scarce resources on onerous administrative details when other issues appeared to be more urgent. Leadership and guidance in governance--unthinkable!

We will leave it to the readers to review past posts and comments on Colorado Public Radio Blog and in Denver Westword to determine the veracity of Frances Koncilja’s statements, claims, and arguments. If you post your comments on CPRB, Frances Koncilja will attempt to answer each one, as best she can and as time permits.

At Colorado Public Radio Blog, we welcome discourse about the issues surrounding public radio in Colorado. Once again, thanks for reading CPRB.
--Jimmy James Jr.

15 comments:

PocketRadio said...

Interesting, that the link to Frances's pages are no longer active and that none of the negative comments about HD Radio were quoted. HD/IBOC jams our free airways, offers just more of the same repetitive material, has problematic reception, requires the purchase of new, expensive HD radios, and now appears DOA due to lack of consumer interest and the new broadcaster royalty fees:

http://hdradiofarce.blogspot.com/

Lots-of-luck !

Jimmy James Jr. said...

PocketRadio,

To which links are you referring? Please let us know so that we can correct any broken ones. You can email me direct by choosing my profile in the upper-right corner of the blog under "Contributors."

Thanks for the comments and links!

JJ

Jimmy James Jr. said...

PocketRadio,

I see that our file server (service) called "divShare" is down for the moment. Their maintenance cycles usually last only a few minutes.

Thanks again,

JJ

PocketRadio said...

"We will leave it to the readers to review past posts and comments on Colorado Public Radio Blog and in Denver Westword to determine the voracity of Frances Koncilja’s statements, claims, and arguments. If you post your comments on CPRB, Frances Koncilja will attempt to answer each one, as best she can and as time permits."

The links in the above quoted paragraphs were just reactivated - thanks.

Jimmy James Jr. said...

PR,

Thank you!

JJ

Anonymous said...

Just a couple of questions. Do we know for a fact that CPR management is planning to run all news on one channel and all classical on another channel in Vail? It would seem to make more sense to run the main channel as it is now and the second channel with whatever wasn't running on the main channel at the moment - so basically both channels would run classical and news as a mirror to what is running on the other. That way, the people who didn't have HD radios wouldn't lose anything and the people who decided to invest in the new equipment would have the option to have both the news and music available 24 hours a day, which they don't have right now except via the internet. If you claim it's the way you're presenting it here, I would like to see some kind of proof.

The other question I have is that I have a hard time believing that the board or management would ever seriously consider selling off the AM's in any of the markets that currently run both classical and news on two seperate stations until such a point far, far into the future that HD is significantly penetrated into the market (which, in my opinion is unlikely to happen in my lifetime). That would be financial suicide to cut off such a huge chunk of their donor base and I can't believe that the management and board are that inept to consider such a possiblity (if for no other reason than to keep enough funding for their paychecks). Vail is a unique case because they don't have two channels there now and I think that if it's done in the common sense way I think they would do, it would be a welcome addition and way to get more of both the news and music without cutting back on the service that already exists for those who for whatever reason don't want to invest in HD receivers.

Frances Koncilja said...

thanks for your concerns and your questions. Since I am no longer on the Board, I have no idea what will be presented at the September meeting. However, the plan that was presented to each board member individually (there was no opportunity to discuss the options at a board meeting--it was merely listed on the June board agenda as an action item with a resolution and an " outreach" plan) was that one HD signal would be news and one HD signal would be music. This was presented as the first step in the plan to ultimately sell the AM stations as a way to fund the news initiative which has never reached its fundraising goals. I have been told by at least one board member that I "damaged" CPR in its plan to sell the AM stations because I had gone public. So, I believe that Max Wysick and the Executive Committee of the board believed the sale of the AMs would occur in the next several years. if longer than that, how could they allege that I had "damaged" the station. As to proof, my statements and the resolution and the action plan--but those do not say news and music will each be on only one signal. If you asked to see minutes of board meetings, I doubt they would give them to you and there was very little in the minutes. Of course, there would be no minutes of the meetings that Max Wysick and one of the members of the Executive Committee had with each of the board members.

Jimmy James Jr. said...

Anonymous,

If the Colorado Public Radio website is correct, KPRE 89.9-FM in Vail, Colorado is already broadcasting in HD. So, assuming the format of the content in Vail has not changed, Vail has both news and classical music in a mixed format on both analog and digital.

If you read the Vail Communications Plan plan we posted here and the same plan that Michael Roberts posted on his Denver Westword blog, it is obvious that they are preparing in many ways for the change. And, while the memo does not mention the specifics of what content will appear on which band, it seems unlikely that they would prepare in this manner if the Vail content was not going to change. They'd just simply say, "We are broadcasting in both analog FM and in Hybrid Digital in Vail."

So, it stands to reason that one of the following will happen:

1. 24 hours of News & Information on 89.9-FM in analog and digital, and Classical Music on 89.9-FM digital only, or

2. 24 hours of Classical Music on 89.9-FM in analog and digital, and News & information on 89.9-FM digital only.

Why don't you call Colorado Public Radio to find out? It seems that they have all sorts of procedures in place for these caller contingencies.

Thanks for your comments,

JJ

Jimmy James Jr. said...

Anonymous,

It is difficult to argue all of the follow:

The superiority of FM-HD frequencies, the inferiority of AM analog (or digital), and that Frances in some way made AM stations in Denver, Vail, and Pueblo worth less by going public.

If Colorado Public Radio (or any other radio station company in America) believes that HD radio on the FM band will eliminate "antiques" on the AM band, then the market will decrease the value of AM stations more substantially and more quickly than disclosures by Frances Koncilja or jawboning by anyone else.

Thanks to everyone for their comments,

JJ

Jimmy James Jr. said...

CPRB Readers,

We have posted Colorado Public Radio's revised Vail Plan.

JJ

Anonymous said...

Dear J J,

I am overwhelmed by your lengthy commentaries prompted by my simple, little response to your assertions concerning CPR’s “legacy” AM stations and HD pricing. (July 31: http://coloradopublicradio.blogspot.com/2007/07/want-hd-quality-rado-widen-stream.html#links.) I do not enjoy the luxury of time that you, as a “Crazy Billionaire”, are able to invest in this blog, but I am compelled to reply, somewhat belatedly.

First, several comments about your first response. (August 2: http://coloradopublicradio.blogspot.com/2007/08/cprb-commentary-by-jimmy-james-jr.html)

In my earlier post, I challenged your reference to CPR’s AM outlets as “legacy” stations, in the context that they deserve to be preserved. We could debate definitions and semantics ad infinitum, but I regret that I do not have time for it. In common usage “legacy”, used in a positive sense, connotes respect for an historical object, institution or tradition. I intended no “definitional trickery”, no “definitional changing” when I suggested that “legacy” is not an appropriate adjective to describe CPR’s AM stations. In the world of AM radio, people refer to KDKA as a “legacy” station; KCFR, KCFC and KKPC do not rise to that level. The fact that these stations operate in the AM band does not mean they are venerable. It means only that they employ outmoded technology and therefore are unable to provide adequate service to their listeners. Recognizing their inadequacies, CPR proposes to replace them with modern, digital technology. In my opinion, the upgrade will benefit many more listeners than it will disaffect.

But, you argue, why not focus instead upon maximizing the use of existing digital platforms, such as the Internet. As I opined in my earlier post, until everyone has mobile broadband capability and can connect to KCFR or KVOD’s streaming audio via cell phones or wireless receivers, HD remains a much more convenient (and vastly less expensive) means of receiving high-quality radio transmissions while on the road.

Your discussion of HD radio prices illustrates the old adage that one can manipulate numbers to prove anything. In my original post, I took issue with your suggestion that listeners would need to invest $500 per year, for several years, in order to convert to HD. I still believe your statement is a gross exaggeration and contrary to objective discourse. [Who said discourse on a blog is supposed to be objective? :-) ]

In February 2009, by government decree, analog television in the U. S. will cease to exist. By then, everyone who has not already done so will have to purchase a digital TV or converter box. Yet, DTV is not seen as a death knell for the television industry. Cell phone penetration among U.S. adults now exceeds 70% (lower than that in many other countries), and I regularly hear food stamp recipients chatting away on their cells while standing in the check-out line at the supermarket. Digital conversion is a fact of life, and it will not bankrupt public radio listeners.

In Part 2 of your response (August 3: http://coloradopublicradio.blogspot.com/2007/08/cprb-commentary-by-jimmy-james-jr_03.html#links.), you observed that KVOD’s multicast of KCFR on its HD2 channel fails to utilize the capability as effectively as some other stations, whose HD2 channels offer discrete programming rather than a simulcast of an analog station. If CPR had two FM frequencies in the metro area (and in Pueblo), it would be able to transmit separate HD2 programs on each of those frequencies (e.g., KVOD: symphonic music on HD1 and opera on HD2; KCFR: basic NPR fare on HD1 and unduplicated or time-shifted programming on HD2). However, CPR has only one FM frequency in each of its Front Range markets, where NPR programming is relegated to weak, substandard AM facilities. CPR’s decision to make KCFR available as an HD2 multicast enables HD listeners to avoid the static and other interference that plagues KCFR’s AM audience. Many commercial broadcasters have discovered the same solution: simulcasting their “challenged” AM signals on FM HD2 channels. It makes excellent sense, regardless of other criticisms one might levy against CPR.

Jimmy James Jr. said...

Anonymous,

I'm glad that you were not to busy to comment further. Time is a luxury to us all, regardless of wealth, income, or how we spend it.

I'll stick by my numbers regarding the costs of HD for us who have to acquire new sets. My statement about withholding $500, over a period of years is completely rational. Though, I can see how it may have seemed that I was suggesting withhold $500/year each year. For my misleading statement, I humbly apologize.

What I meant to say is that one should withhold $500 total, over a period of years; so $100/year for example. Obviously, anyone who can afford to pay $500/year to CPR or any other public radio station or network can probably afford to replace ALL of their radios at once. So for a crazy billionaire (or anyone else with as many radios as I have/use), it would ONLY cost:

1. $250/car (x2) including installation costs.
2. $250 x 5 for my home/office sets.

$1750 total, right?

Rightly, there are some valid comparisons which can be made between HD television and radio. However, HD radio is not mandated like television is. And now that you mention it, rational consumers have to decide whether an investment in a new HD television (or televisions) is more important than for HD radio(s). Economics 101 refers to it as "opportunity cost."

Thanks again for your comments! I have truly enjoyed the debate.

JJ

Jimmy James Jr. said...

Anonymous,

You will note that I corrected the original post.

Thanks again for reading and commenting. No doubt, your contributions to this post have driven up the readership. For that, we are thankful.

JJ

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