Emergency! 2011: Or, A Modest Proposal To Resolve That FM-In-Cell-Phones Thing
This Week's 'The Letter' From All Access News-Talk-Sports by Perry Michael Simon
April 15, 2011 at 7:42 AM (PT)
Okay, let's see, what were the hot topics at this week's NAB Show in LAS VEGAS? Spectrum issues. Wireless broadband. 3-D. Kinda like CES. Kinda like last year's NAB SHOW. Most of the radio action happened across the street at the RAIN SUMMIT, and that was largely about radio in the digital space. I won't rehash that stuff here, but you can go back to MONDAY's Net News coverage and get the general idea.
Back at the Convention Center, they were talking about FM tuners in cell phones again, and both sides trotted out the same arguments they've been throwing at each other, and, again, I've talked about that before and reported on it and you can check that out in Net News, too. But one particular thing that the broadcasting side keeps using as its key argument to bolster its case rankled me a little.
The argument -- and, let's face it, this is the kind of argument that's designed to play well on CAPITOL HILL, because it offers a plausible explanation for government intervention in the marketplace -- is that we need to make FM chips in phones mandatory because it's the best emergency information vehicle, better than texts or other wireless technologies because when the power grid goes down, you can't be sure of getting calls or data through. They raised the issue of JAPAN's wireless system failing during the tsunami and quake. It's a good argument.
It's a good argument, that is, assuming that radio is ready to follow through with that vital information. Yes, the EAS system can trigger an alert, but then what? I'm reminded of standing in my driveway seeing the glow of raging wildfires about a mile and a half away, turning on the radio, and finding only the all-news station in full coverage, while the rest of the dial was in syndication or playing the Best Variety Of My Hot Kiss Power Jamz. Or the time on a SUNDAY night that a pretty strong tremor shook our house and, it turned out, much of the region, I turned on the radio, and it was music and syndication, and one host who was ISDN-ing a show for a local station who didn't mention anything about any quake. And this is a market -- LOS ANGELES -- with more local radio news than most markets. (Oh, did I mention that 100% of the coverage was on AM, and that FM was pretty useless?)
So, say there's a mandate. Say the carriers and manufacturers have to capitulate and add FM tuners to cell phones. And say there's an emergency. What will we do? Will we come through as in years past with wall-to-wall coverage, or will we just be sending out an EAS tone and announcement and that's it? Will we transmit anything that a text can't do? Will there be actual coverage? What about those markets where there are entire clusters with nobody at all in the building once 5p rolls around? Is radio really prepared for an emergency?
I'm not sold, but I'll tell you what WOULD sell me. It's simple. You want to have your station receivable on all cell phones, and you're using emergency information as your justification? Fine. Every station with a 24/7 news operation, staffed by more than one person at all times -- let's say at least an anchor in the building and two reporters on call -- gets to be on cell phones. Everyone else, no. Come on, if you're serious about the emergency thing, shouldn't every station be required to be ready to provide emergency information on its own? Just sending out the EAS squawk shouldn't be enough. In an emergency, people need the news media to have feet on the ground, and need as many sources as possible. Surely radio stations will be happy to hold up their end of the bargain by restoring real local news operations, not just having a combination news anchor/sports anchor/public affairs director/morning sidekick rip-and-read. Right?
Yeah, I know, too expensive, no return-on-investment to show your equity partners. But if that's the case, the emergency service argument rings a little hollow. You could put a chip that ONLY takes and gets triggered by EAS signals into cell phones and accomplish just as much as a full-band tuner, unless there's access in every market to real local news in an emergency, not from a distant hub and not just piping in a local TV station's audio. Simple tradeoff -- you cover the news and you get to be on every cell phone, with the purely incidental effect of supporting your business objectives. It's only fair, right?
There's no mandate that you donate to support me and my wife FRAN as we walk in our fifth REVLON Run/Walk for Women in LOS ANGELES on MAY 7th to raise funds to fight breast cancer. It's just a great cause and it would be nice. If you can give, please do: go to do.eifoundation.org/goto/pmsimon, and know that every donation is always greatly appreciated. Thank you!
While I spent two days in various conference rooms and ballrooms reporting on convention doings and trying to keep my brain from melting out of my nostrils, I managed to keep the material flowing at Talk Topics, the show prep column at ALLACCESS.COM, which, as always, can be found right here. How I did that, I don't know. But we have topics galore for your radio show prep needs, like the whale Top 40, the accelerating death of the soap opera, a toilet-related protest, some cases of Facebook getting students in trouble, an article that explains how you're eating, breathing, and peeing wrong, a police chase that included a pit stop at a MCDONALD's drive-thru, bulletproof underwear, the debate over whether sugar is merely bad for you or actually poisonous, KOBE's poor choice of words, BARRY BONDS' encounter with the judicial system, porcupine hunting season, orange sheep, when you know it's time to leave you job, why a bank president is saying your home is not an asset, and much more. Go experience the magic, and don't forget the rest of All Access with more and better news and resources for the radio industry than any other site or publication, if I do say so myself. And I do.
There's also pmsimon.com, my personal site with personal stuff about personal interests like pop culture obscurities and, this week, a particularly odd radio listening experience in the middle of the desert, and Nerdist.com, where I write about the cutting edge of "nerd culture" -- cult movies, TV, music, comedy, that kind of stuff, everything from "Doctor Who" to "Community," science to standup comedy. Neither of those are ALL ACCESS productions, by the way. Don't blame JOEL, blame me. I can take it.
One other thing I've been lax in mentioning is the WORLDWIDE RADIO SUMMIT in HOLLYWOOD on APRIL 29th and 30th. ALL ACCESS is a co-founder of the event, and I will be covering it live. You still have a couple of weeks to register, but move fast -- click here for all the information about that.
I would have liked to have more time to see more people in VEGAS; maybe next time. Meanwhile, I have one lasting memory from the experience this year. On the way back, driving through the MOJAVE DESERT somewhere between the World's Tallest (and Most Disappointing) Thermometer and BARSTOW, I heard a radio station play a particular song that has yet to quiet down in the recesses of my mind, and all I have to do is mention it and you'll be infected by the same maddening earworm. So if you wake up screaming in the middle of the night unable to stop "Get Up and Boogie" from playing on a continuous loop in your head, well, sorry.