Skip to comments.Broadcast Lobby Fighting Satellite Radio
Posted on 07/03/2004 6:11:22 PM PDT by ovrtaxt
|Broadcast Lobby Fighting Satellite Radio|
Friday, July 02, 2004
By Radley Balko
I haven't listened to FM radio in years. With a few exceptions, the artists I enjoy don't get airplay. If your taste in music runs deeper than Fred Durst, Kid Rock, or Jessica Simpson, you've probably experienced the same thing.
Last Christmas, someone bought me a receiver and a subscription to XM satellite radio. I now listen to radio again.
XM offers about a hundred stations, covering every genre of music you can imagine. There's a station called "Hank's Place," which plays only authentic 1950s-era country music. There's also "Frank's Place," which plays only Sinatra-ish standards. There are several jazz channels, a live channel, an acoustic channel, and a channel for unsigned bands. There are two channels of soul, three channels of Christian rock, two channels of thrash-speed metal, and nearly everything in between.
There's a comedy channel that plays stand-up snippets from Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and Richard Pryor; and another that plays more family-friendly bits. There are news, family and talk channels, and audio feeds from about a dozen cable television networks, including Fox News.
In short, XM is everything FM radio could be, but isn't. And so, predictably, FM radio interests are doing everything they can to keep XM at bay.
Traditional (sometimes called "terrestrial") FM radio stations are represented in Washington, D.C. by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), one of the oldest, most powerful, most entrenched lobbying organizations around. NAB has wielded that power at the expense of technology, innovation, and — ultimately — consumers.
NAB fought cable television through every stage of its development, meaning that if the NAB had its way, you'd have no FOX News, no Comedy Central, and no HBO. Just the big three networks. NAB failed there. But as Jesse Walker has documented in Reason magazine and in his book Rebels on the Air, the organization has for decades fought and succeeded in snuffing out similar efforts in radio. It's most notable victory came over the licensing of low-fi radio stations, which would have given thousands of amateurs, low-budget operators and undiscovered talent access to the airwaves.
More recently, traditional broadcasters were given huge swaths of spectrum (the invisible grid over which radio, TV, and cellular signals travel) for the development of High Definition TV — for free. Most everyone else who wants a slice of spectrum is required to pay for it. Yet broadcasters got theirs for free, leaving those interests pursuing similar technology (wi-fi and cellular providers, to name two) to fight for the scraps. It's hard to say exactly what innovations and technology that grant may have quashed. We'll never know because they were never given the chance to develop.
Which brings us to the NAB's latest fight — against satellite radio. About a decade ago, XM and Sirius approached the FCC to bid on satellite spectrum. Wary of the NAB and its Washington chest-thumping prowess, XM agreed that in exchange for a slice of spectrum, it would not offer the kind of localized programming that would put it in direct competition with terrestrial broadcasters.
Put another way, XM subscribers in Los Angeles would hear the same stuff as XM subscribers in Portland, Dallas, or Poughkeepsie. With a titan like NAB standing in the door, this gentleman's agreement was really the only way an upstart like XM could have gotten into the game.
Fast forward 10 years. Today, XM and Sirius have finally caught fire. Both have subscribers that number well into the millions, most of them disaffected refugees from FM radio. And both companies now want to offer localized content. XM wants to give customers in major metropolitan areas instant traffic and weather reports. Sirius is offering audio feeds of NFL games, and may delve into traffic and weather as well.
As you might guess, the National Association of Broadcasters will have none of it.
NAB's position is a precarious one. Satellite radio has taken off because traditional broadcast radio is so darned dreadful. That means the NAB is forced to argue that the government must prevent satellite providers from offering localized programming because allowing them to do so might drive local broadcasters out of business. But at the same time, NAB must argue that the service local broadcasters currently provide is of high enough quality to merit that kind of protection in the first place. It's an absurd case on its face. If FM and AM radio broadcasters were really giving consumers worthwhile local content, they wouldn't need government protection from XM and Sirius.
Even odder, just as NAB is fighting XM and Sirius over local content, many of the stations NAB represents are turning away from localized programming, running cheaper, syndicated content from parent companies like ClearChannel and Infinity.
I've asked representatives of NAB how using the power of the FCC to keep out competitors could possibly benefit radio consumers. They always respond the same way. "That's not the issue," they say, "the issue is that XM is backing down from its agreement." Perhaps. But it's awfully telling that they won't even address the real question.
The fight is a classic case of what economists call "regulatory capture" — when an industry that's regulated by a government agency attempts to use that very agency and those regulations to keep upstarts and competitors at bay. And it's almost always to the detriment of consumers.
The good news is that it looks likes NAB is going to lose this time. XM has already begun offering traffic and weather, pending action by Congress and/or the FCC. And more local programming may be on the way. That may drive a few traditional radio stations out of business. But it will also ensure that those that survive will do a better job of giving you the kind of programming you want.
Which is sort of the whole point of a free market.
Radley Balko publishes a weblog at: www.TheAgitator.com.
(Excerpt) Read more at foxnews.com ...
I hate that. Now, deregulation is a good thing, giving corporations the ability to own as many stations as they want. But their use of the NAB lobby to stifle smaller companies is totally unethical. Apparently, they're playing both sides of the issue. Very low class.
I had my first experience with XM radio a few months ago when it was included in a rental car I was driving. It was great -- radio the way it used to be before the accountants ran it -- obscure songs, lots of variety, no ads. I highly recommend it.
That's a good idea-- maybe I'll rent a car with it and try it a while. I just don't feel like making a big investment on something that may not be worth it.
The good news is it isn't even much of an investment. I think you can get started for as little as about $125, and subscription is around ten bucks a month. Try it for a weekend in a car rental. If you enjoy lots of variety in music, I think you will like it.
Nor have I. But it's worthless to get a car with a radio anymore. Nothing but ads. Though my latest car has a cd player which I use quite often.
I was exposed to XM radio a short while ago. The variety of music is phenomenal but what I really like is the fact that the XM device will display the artist and title of the song playing. This is something I've been waiting for all my life. I cannot tell you how aggravated I get when you finally hear a decent song on the radio and then the DJ fails to "back-announce" the song so that you are left guessing as to who the song was done by.
I've since gotten past that because I learned that you can type a verse of just about any song into Google and come up with that information. But it's still so much more convenient to see the artist and song title displayed on your radio as it is being played.
What's more is that you are not limited to your car anymore. Both XM and Sirius offer portable players that can receive the signal so you can now play satellite radio in your home or in your backyard.
Now I have to decide between XM and Sirius because they both have their pros and cons.
So, I have Rush 24x7 and it works fine for me.
Totally agree with you on radio stations that never mention artist or title, as if you are supposed to automatically know who you just heard. From what I've seen, XM and Sirius offer pretty similar packages. XM seemed to go a little deeper into old Rock and R&B, two things I like, so I lean toward them, plus XM also offered more of a variety of jazz, which also counts for me. But there is plenty to go around on both systems. To me, it's kind of like the early days of the internet -- wide open, unregimented and lots of variety. Good luck on your search, Sam.
Bosco -- you don't have to give up your AM/FM to get satellite. It's just an add-on. So you can still have Rush.
Both services offer commercial-free music and there is something for everyones musical tastes. Like Opera? There is a channel that plays only opera. Like Reggae? XM has an all reggae channel. Like folk music? XM has an all folk music channel. Like rap? Are you nuts??? ;-)
Sirius plays more of the songs you might recognize, while XM goes deeper into an artists catalog. Both have numerous news and talk channels (those do have some commercials) such as Fox News, CNN, ABC News, BBC, etc.
IMHO, you can't go wrong with either service.
Since there would be no CNN this would be a zero loss.
I forgot to mention -- you can get a free three-day trial of XM radio off of its website -- I think it's just xmradio.com, but whatever, a quick google will get you there. Not as good as listening on the radio, because you can't switch stations as quickly, so that part gets annoying. But it will give you an idea of what they are playing.
I love my XM radio. Wouldn't leave home without it. (But I own stock in Sirius, mainly because I was too late to get in on XM).
I have a usb computer version in the house and a Roady in the car. I love it. If there is a big story breaking on fox and I have to go somewhere then I turn it on in the car. Awesome. And no commercials on the music channels (there are commercials on the tv channels but are generally self-promotion)
I'll never forget the day I got the XM. I was in my car listening to Rush on the local am channel. Suddenly, Rush was cut and the Red Sox pre-game started. Although this was nothing new because the same station had consolidated two am stations into one, it was never announced ahead of time. Then, during the first commercial break, the am station had a self promotion on how one should stay away from satellite radio and all the supposed downfalls. I yelled out, "How about the downside when you are listening to a show that discusses real issues and all of sudden...gone?!" I love the sox but because the local station tried to put all their eggs in one basket, now some of their loyal listeners would have Rush cut short almost every other day. I was pissed.
It was right then that I decided to get one for the car too. I've got Rush 24/7 so I now listen to Laura Ingraham's show then Rush later. It's awesome
"The variety of music is phenomenal but what I really like is the fact that the XM device will display the artist and title of the song playing."
So true!!! I forgot that one. Plus there is an old time radio station, cspan, discovery.
Radio was/is ruined by Clear Channel and the other corporate giants. It has become nothing but a series of highly coordinated commercials with a little music or talk mixed in here and there. Contests are no longer local, the music is all the same, and the DJs all read from the same playbook.
I don't think I'm alone in these gripes. XM and Sirus should have no problem carving out a niche of frustrated land station listeners.
Welfare for the well connected.
One of the few things that keeps me on broadcast is Limbaugh, but even then the local affiliate for the program does a delay broadcast starting at 1pm Eastern.
Seems that there's oh-so-much going on in central Ohio that they devote an hour to covering all of it
That and AM radio gets eaten up by the steel in the building I work in so I listen/watch Limbaugh live over the internet w/o the commercials.
Musically I don't listen to much on the FM side - my musical tastes are extreme - currently listening to Irish traditional and looking at an XM radio channel listing there isn't anything close to that.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.