Saturday, June 26, 2010

More Radio News in NY Times' "Television" Section

Just as it happened before several weeks ago, the awkward lack of a dedicated Radio section in the New York Times has again resulted in a goofy looking web presence for the online newspaper of record (left).

This time, the story about NPR Music wasn't even so much about radio (or TV, for that matter) but about the web and other media platforms.

Still, it seems to this writer that a story about an NPR initiative (at least while the "R" is still in their initials, since radio only has 5-10 years left, and it's very trendy for radio organizations to become "media" organizations these days--NPM, anyone?) belongs in a "Radio" section.

Even a section called "Television and Radio" that covered broadcast and online media would be better than the current presentation. Lastly, ISLR's standing offer to oversee Radio efforts for the NY Times still stands.

Friday, June 11, 2010

KOMO Exhibit at MOHAI in Seattle (VIDEO)

I shot the video (below) earlier this week at a new exhibit at MOHAI. The exhibit highlights 100 years of the company now called Fisher Communications, and was commissioned by Fisher as part of its centennial celebration.

Fisher began in Seattle in 1910 with flour mills, then got into radio in the 1920s and TV in the 1950s. Nowadays, Fisher operates KOMO TV and radio and several other stations in Seattle.

While the exhibit is small, it's rich with colorful artifacts from the golden era of local radio and local TV. It's on display at MOHAI (full disclosure: my former employer) until September 6, 2010 and is definitely worth checking out.

Audiobiquity L-900: Truth Is Strange As (Radio) Fiction

The I STILL LOVE RADIO staff were intrigued to read Jerry Del Colliano's post the other day on Inside Music Media about a new radio receiver in the works in Australia and China that will be able to receive podcasts via terrestrial signals.

Astute I STILL LOVE RADIO readers will recall last year's fantasy audio appliance review of the completely fictitious Audiobiquity-900, which (in my audio appliance dreamworld) would do exactly what the Australians and Chinese are hoping to offer (and a lot more).

The next challenge is to figure out how to get on the list to receive an advance unit for review purposes . . .

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Himan Brown Passes Away

ISLR is sad to note the passing of radio drama godfather Himan Brown, who died in New York on Friday, June 4 at age 99.

We had reached out to Mr. Brown via his granddaughter Melina Brown back in October 2009 with hopes of conducting an interview.

In a prompt and kind email in response to our inquiry, Ms. Brown said, "My grandfather is not able to do interviews at this time. He is 99 years old and not in great health . . . it's impossible for him to talk to anyone who is not an immediate family member or very close friend."

This writer's first regular exposure to radio drama came via Brown's CBS Radio Mystery Theater in the late 1970s, which aired weeknights at 10 pm in Seattle on KIRO (710 AM).

Though I listened in bed and usually fell asleep somewhere in the second act, I have many fond memories of E.G. Marshall's detached yet creepy host persona, as well as the parade of recognizable though not necessarily nameable voice talent who populated the program. For me, a guy like Mason Adams (though I only learned his name later when he was a regular on TV's Lou Grant series) best exemplifies the kind of talent that helped make that show so good.

While Himan Brown's early career is remarkable and his output over the decades is nothing short of prolific, you've got to hand it to him for producing network radio drama as late as 1982. That's pretty amazing.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

H HOUR 1944: NBC Radio (promotes its) Coverage of D-Day

From the I STILL LOVE RADIO archives in honor of the anniversary of the June 6, 1944 Allied landings at Normandy, below please find large jpegs of the first 10 pages of H HOUR 1944.

This pamphlet was produced by NBC in 1944 as an historical record of their D-Day broadcasts, as well as a bit of network self-promotion (and there's nothing wrong with that, of course).

The pages included in this post feature a fairly detailed timeline of NBC's coverage, which has never received as much attention as what competitor CBS did on D-Day (with help from Bob Trout and Ed Murrow, as described in several CBS publications; as well as by CBS editor Paul White in his terrific News On The Air textbook from the 1940s).

I'd love to know more about what the Blue Network and Mutual did on D-Day, but have yet to discover a good source. Please let me know if you can point me toward anything.

On a related note, here's a post from last year, about the West Coast experience of D-Day radio coverage, which was very different from how it was experienced in the eastern United States. And you can click here for audio of a radio program about D-Day on the West Coast that I took part in for KOMO AM-FM.

TECHNICAL NOTE: Though browsers vary, by clicking on the small graphic of each page and then using the "zoom" function (with the little magnifying glass icon), you should be able to get large, readable versions.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The PPM's Granddaddy: The Audimeter

All the tumult of late caused by the introduction of Portable People Meters (or "PPMs") to the radio ratings game is eerily reminiscent of concerns voiced more than 70 years ago when the "Audimeter" (left) was introduced.

The excerpt below from 1939 (with BOLDING courtesy of yours truly) was pretty darn prescient in its thoughts about what automated ratings tabulation can and can't do, or can and can't reveal to the people trying to make sense of the data and what it means for a particular radio program:

The Audimeter Survey
Excerpted from pages 205-208 of Radio as an Advertising Medium by Warren E. Dygert
(McGraw-Hill Company, Inc.: New York and London, 1939)

Another type of popularity survey which has definite limitations but also certain advantages is the audimeter survey. This is strictly a mechanical survey made possible by the audimeter, an instrument which when attached to a radio set makes a continuous record of the times when a set is turned on and of the stations to which it is tuned.

The audimeter was designed by Professors Robert F. Elder and L.F. Woodruff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is about the size of a lunch box and can be placed in any radio, uses little extra current, and by means of a techron clock, a roll of graph paper, and a marking indicator connected to the dial of the radio set actually shows a 2 weeks' record of what stations were tuned in, how long they were tuned in, and how often. The claim for the method is that the type of radio home can be definitely determined and the listening habits of that type definitely recorded. Thus 2,000 audimeters in Class A homes within a given market area would give an intimate picture of that type of home. Obviously how many are listening to each audimeter equipped set, whether they really are listening, whether they can identify the sponsor or his product, are things this automatic survey cannot determine. Nor can one be sure whether Mr. and Mrs. "Class A" are listening or their servants.

Certain listening habits in general, however, can be observed. The number of dial shoppers [presumably what they called "channel surfers" in the 1930s], the number having favorite stations to which they tune first, and also the holding value of an individual program, can often be determined.

For example, in the present Chase & Sanborn program, if a goodly percentage tuned out at 8:15 approximately, it would show Charlie McCarthy and Charlie McCarthy only to be the drawing card. If listeners stayed until after the dramatic production at approximately the halfway point in the program, its holding power would be known. If many tuned out immediately after that, it would show that the attractions on the balance of the program had little holding power. If many tuned out exactly on the half hour, it might show a competing program of greater magnitude or that a half-hour program of this type is all the average listener cares to contract for. The author believes that the possibilities of the audimeter in this connection are worth exploring, particularly for checking the holding power of different types of entertainment and different stars on a single program.

Why was radio so popular in the Pacific Time Zone?

I came across this surprising diagram (left) on page 105 of Warren Dygert's 1939 book, Radio as an Advertising Medium (McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.: New York and London). For a better view, click on the image to enlarge.

The chart shows that in the Pacific Time Zone, a whopping 95% of all households (here described as "radio families") owned at least one radio (probably in 1938).

This high percentage beats the Mountain Time Zone and the upper Midwest by 15 points; beats some parts of the south by 35 points; and even beats the urban Northeast by 3 points. I've never seen these data before, and find it very interesting.

Of course, in total number, the Pacific Time Zone had just 2.5 million "radio families," while the Eastern Time Zone had more than five times as many or 13.5 million.

The reader will forgive ISLR's obsession with the West Coast, but what, if anything, explains why radio ownership was so high in the Pacific Time Zone?

Good question, and one that I'm not yet prepared to answer definitively, though I do have my theories.

Chief among these is the relative prosperity of the Pacific Coast throughout the Great Depression (compared to the Midwest or the South, for example), combined with a fair amount of rural, sparsely-populated territory spread relatively evenly between big cities such as Seattle, Spokane, Portland (Oregon), San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Prosperity meant the ability to buy a radio, which residents in many rural, more depressed parts of the country didn't have. Rural entertainment choices (lack of movies, lack of neighbors) gave radio appeal as a household necessity in the wide open West. Proximity to big cities (and network affiliates with powerful transmitters) made radio a practical choice, with nationally-produced entertainment and news programs readily available via consistently good radio signals.

Anybody else have any theories? Geography? Terrain? I'd love to hear any and all ideas.