August 30, 2013
At this moment, I'm listening to a station that's playing at the wrong speed. No, really, an entire station is pitched up somewhere between normal and "The Chipmunks Sing The Beatles Hits," which was my favorite album when I was 4 years old but is not today. What's more, this station -- owned by a major group operator -- has sounded like this for at least several weeks. It has not been fixed. And it is very possible that I am the only person listening.
So, okay, you can assume a few things here. You're right that it's an HD2 channel -- you can assume that from the "only person listening" part. And you can assume that it's in Southern California because I'm in Southern California. I'm not going to say which station it is, though, because there's entertainment value in seeing how long it'll take before a) anyone else notices and b) anything is done to fix it. But this is about more than a single station's inexplicable, unexplained, unrepaired technical problem. First, a digression...
You go to a restaurant and the meal's not up to par. Say, as happened to me last night, you order a regular burger and they manage to serve you a veggie burger instead. If the restaurant takes care of the problem -- replaces the burger, takes it off your bill, apologizes, makes sure you're happy when you walk away -- you'll likely go back. If they ignore the problem, you won't. But the best thing for the restaurant, the thing that would head off any mention of that kind of thing on Yelp or TripAdvisor, is simple: Catch the trouble before it gets to the table. Do quality control. If the cook screws up, the wait staff should catch it. If the wait staff doesn't catch it, that's when the manager has to clean it up. And if the manager doesn't clean it up, they've lost a customer.
And then you turn on the radio, select a station, and the topic isn't interesting, or the audio's harsh, or the song is unfamiliar. Or the songs are pitched up and the jock and commercials sound like Cartman. Will you stick around? Will you give it a preset? And if all the stations are not giving you what you want and expect, will you use it anyway or, when there's an alternative that's easy enough to use, will you go with that?
Yeah, I didn't need to ask any of that. You and I know the answer, which is why the current state of radio is distressing -- there's a lot of don't-care in the business right now. Whether it's weak production or glitchy audio or bad topics, it seems that there's a sloppiness taking hold. Perhaps it's due to PDs being stretched to the limit with too many duties and too little time (gotta prioritize), or due to the people who used to practice quality control being let go, or just a matter of inattentiveness, but the product in some cases is suffering, and as more alternatives become easier to use, that will hurt the broadcast radio business. If you're putting out a less-than-perfect product, you run a great risk of being abandoned like a restaurant that gets the orders wrong too often. And in the case of HD Radio, while the industry preens about more HD receivers being out there (mostly in new cars), if a user happens upon an HD2 channel that sounds unlistenable, why even bother?
Really, it comes down to quality control. Every station, every cluster, every company needs someone who just listens to the product and gets problems corrected. If anyone at the pitched-up station actually listened to it -- and I know it's the lowest of low priorities, since nobody IS listening and the primary station doesn't even mention the existence of HD on its website -- they would have fixed it in hours. Weak promos, weak topics, bad audio, misfiring automation, satellite glitches, outdated website material, broken streams... all you need is for someone to be listening or watching and trigger the appropriate response so that it doesn't continue to send customers to the competition, or to Internet services, or wherever. There's time to get back on track -- if there's any media even sloppier than radio, some podcasts and streamers fit the bill, from everyone being off-mic to audio dropouts and misfires. But that will change as that becomes more of a business. As radio continues to consolidate and budgets continue to be cut, it's really incumbent upon the operators to make sure that the product doesn't suffer. If they want to preserve the value of what they bought, or at least prevent the value from plummeting any further, there needs to be someone paying attention to the little things.
Little things? That's where All Access News-Talk-Sports' show prep column Talk Topics excels, if I do say so myself. You need interesting stuff to talk about, and you can get a big ol' pile of it by clicking here for the full column or going to Twitter at @talktopics, where every story is individually linked to the appropriate item. And this week, we stay in the Northwest for "10 Questions With..." Michael Castner, who recently joined KEX/Portland for afternoons. Talk about interesting resumes -- from E! and KFI to KSL's "Nightside Project" to mornings in New Orleans to the Wall Street Journal Radio Network's Daily Wrap and now in Portland, he's done some very interesting stuff, and you can read all about it and who and what's helped him along the way this week.
Talk Topics will be taking a little extra time off (really, a few hours) for Labor Dayand will be back late Monday. In the meantime, enjoy the long weekend if you get one....