One bad apple

April 1, 2004


On the eve of NAB2004, I am making the final preparations for myweek-long stay in Las Vegas to focus on our industry’s biggestevent. For the staff of Radio magazine, the work involved in preparingfor a four-day convention starts in January. We devote space in theMarch and April issues to the convention. We compile a weekly e-mailnewsletter for several weeks leading up to the convention. The NABconvention fills our days as we review new product announcements,exhibitor news and session highlights. But once the April issue is sentto the printer, we’re still not finished. Our pre-convention workis done, but now we have to focus on our activities during theconvention and make plans for the convention review after it’sall done. This is a lot of effort for four days of the year.

So, now I look ahead to what this year’s convention willbring. In preparation, I try to determine what the big item ofdiscussion on the convention floor will be.

Will it be IBOC? Perhaps. The FCC is allowing the use of separateantennas with an STA. Several manufacturers have provided peeks intotheir new products. Several sessions are devoted to the technology. Itdoesn’t take any special insight to know that IBOC will onceagain be an important topic. However, this is a familiar topic and Idon’t expect a great deal of new discussion. Will it be RBDS?Also a strong candidate. The recent explosion of RBDS installations isgenerating interest in the 10-year-old technology. RBDS providesinformation that satellite radio listeners have learned to expect.Meanwhile, some consumers are confused by the technology, thinking thatit is digital radio. Regardless, transmitting RBDS today is an analogstep that can be adapted for IBOC tomorrow, so it will also be heardregularly in discussions. Unfortunately for us, the big topics thisyear will likely not focus directly on technology. Consolidation willreturn as a frequent topic for aisle banter, but it won’t be thestar.

The big topic this year will be indecency, thanks to the FCC and theconsumer media that keep feeding this monster. It’s amazing how alittle skin during a primetime broadcast can become a point ofobsession for so many bureaucrats. Is this by any chance an electionyear? Because decency is tempered by opinion, there is no easy answerhere, which is why the debate will rage on and on.

I am pleased that Congress plans to increase the fines for airingindecent material. Not only will the licensees have to pay more, theperformers will also be held financially responsible. AFTRA opposesthis action, stating that it will limit free speech. AFTRA also statesthat on-air personalities are forced into airing indecent materialbecause of programming decisions. Sorry, I don’t buy that. No onewrites the script that forces a show host to say certain words. In theend, an individual’s own sense of decency should take over beforeairing a potentially offensive bit. Likewise, we shouldn’t expectto hear children’s programming on an adult-oriented morningshow.

The debate over decency standards cannot be resolved throughlegislation or FCC rules. There is too much opinion involved. Parentsthat are concerned about their children being exposed to indecentmaterial need to take positive action. Supervise the children’saccess to questionable material. Teach the children what is decent.While out of place in the family-oriented telecast, the incident duringthe Super Bowl was tame compared to what is readily available online oron cable.

While the decency issue goes on, there is a technology angle to beconsidered. Now that stations are walking on eggshells to ensure thattheir programs are clean, the lowly profanity delay has risen to arenewed level of importance. So while the chit-chat turns to rhetoric,watch the rejuvenated interest in the technology of delaying an audiostream.

I guess there is a technology angle after all.


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