Sunday, June 26, 2011

Indulge Me: One More Article on Signals and Swapping

Y’all may be tired of Signal Talk, but Your Plainsman has a soft spot for the business,  technology, and economics of radio from way back, so I want to stay on this topic for at least one more post.
Commenter Anon E was kind enough to provide some thoughts on why a signal swap of 1310 with 93.3 was not a viable solution to the bad Ticket signal.    His/Her point on the necessity – and difficulty – of replacing revenue is sensible.  I’d like to explore it further and perhaps s/he will weigh in with further details:
(1)  How much revenue really needs to be replaced?   Let’s say The Ticket gets 93.3.  Big signal.  But the revenue from the station that used to come from 93.3’s previous tenant doesn’t disappear, does it? If we’re willing to say goodbye to 1310, we have freed up two more frequencies, not just one:   The Ticket’s current frequencies 1310 and 104.1.  (No point in broadcasting on both 93.3 and 104.1).  Now maybe those two frequencies combined don’t make up the whole $5 million that 93.3 used to bring in, but they will sell more than zero dollars.  So our $5 million target (from the now-deceased 93.3 format) is reduced to some degree.  How much?  Hard to know  (see below re thoughts on those freed-up signals), but not nothing.  Meaning that The Ticket on 93.3 doesn’t have to make up the whole loss of the $5 million it used to get from 93.3, unless the two new stations combined (or a single simulcast station, as The Ticket is now) just bill a piddling amount. 
It has to make up some lesser number.  Let’s say it has to make up $2 million.  Maybe that’s optimistic, maybe not, but let’s just say.  That’s asking the much-improved Ticket with a big-boy signal to do an additional 10% (of the assumed $20 million billings).  Anon E has said that better signal doesn’t necessarily equal bigger billings, especially when you’re already number 1 and pushing the envelope on rates, but wouldn’t some improvement be expected with much better coverage?  Which suggests the next question:

(2)  Would a better signal mean better ratings?  The foregoing (admittedly uninformed) speculation in some bump in revenue prompts a question on how ratings are measured.    Ratings presumably affect billing rates, at least up to a point (there will come a point at which advertisers will balk even with titanic ratings), so I’m wondering how ratings get measured.    Do ratings depend on how many people total listen to the station?   Suggesting that ratings should improve if more people can hear it, or hear it regularly.    Or are ratings only measured in core metro areas where some combination of The Ticket’s lousy signals get to most of DFW most of the time, so that pulling in additional listeners from most distant areas would not be expected to affect ratings?  If it’s the latter, then I can see why a better signal might not translate to better rates and Anon E’s point is bolstered.
(3)  What would be the effect of an improvement in ratings on The Ticket’s rates?   With The Ticket at the top of the heap in the most important demo, Anon E points out that The Ticket’s rates are already reflect that winner’s premium.  Have they bumped up against an invisible cap that would prevent them from asking even more even if it could demonstrate materially improved signal coverage (and more people listening to the station)?  Again, a “yes” answer would tend to support Anon E’s point.
(4)  What about the freed-up old Ticket signals?    Anon E sensibly asks what a proponent of signal switch would do to replace the revenue lost from 93.3.   How about imaginative, innovative programming on the two newly-free channels?  Something that people might actually want to listen to?   Of course, the signals are weak, so maybe one wouldn’t want to invest too much.  But those two frequencies now equal The Ticket, the Bigfoot of DFW radio.  It can be done.  And you have two stations to play with, you wouldn’t have to simulcast.
(5)   Attention, Gordon:  a hypothetical:   So I think:  If I started with two formats -- a proven Ticket formula and a vanilla rock station -- and I were offered 93.3, 104.1, and 1310, how would I allocate my properties among those frequencies?   Wouldn’t I give the gold-plated property the frequency that would exploit the talent?  Or would I take my award-winning station and give it two cobbled-together frequencies, neither of which is much good, so I could coddle my weak performer with a much better signal?
(6)  Does the Citadel deal open up more possibilities?    Anon E’s comment to the last post states:  “Who do you think needs that 96.7 signal more: #1 A 50 thousand watt flamethrower of a station that uses it as an auxiliary signal to the top biller in the market, a station BTW which faces no real ratings competition in the market, or #2 an underpowered, signal-map challenged station that has 2 other stations in it's format already on the fm band?”   If I am reading A.E. correctly, s/he is saying:  “Who needs 96.7 more:  WBAP-AM 820, or The Ticket?” 
Well, let’s think about that:  Citadel’s 96.7 FM, after service as “The Texas Twister” and “Platinum Oldies” format over the past few years, switched to simulcasting WBAP-AM 820 in March 2010.  So not a lot of goodwill built up with the FM signal for WBAP.  It's licensed to Flower Mound and the transmitter is located near where Montague, Cook, and Wise Counties intersect – a bit of a hike from DFW.  The “service contour” from the FCC website just barely reaches Plano and does not reach downtown.    

Even so:  The numbers do suggest that a 104.1 / 96.7 swap, keeping The Ticket at 1310 AM, would be a significant improvement over 104.1 as a simulcast partner.    96.7 is 90,000 watts – more than respectable compared with 104.1’s 6200 watts (source:  RadioLocator).
(7)  Does The Ticket like being a coverage underdog?   Does it want to be “The Little Ticket.” 
So:  Innarestin’ things for the Cumulo-Ticket Overlords to mull over as they continue their tireless efforts to serve the loyal P1 and leverage the unique talents of The Ticket. 
Look, I know my yammering on about signal swaps is naïve and I will welcome further instruction.  Stations swap signals frequently in the U.S., but I understand Anon E’s point that when you’re on top of the market, fiddling with signals may not be in the collective best interest of the company.   I guess I’m just sick of signal roulette as I travel around DFW, and losing the Ticket way before lesser stations start to fade, on a station that’s supposed to be the tops.
Again, my thanks to Anon E for solid information and some radio chops.
Check in in a few days for an incisive guest post
taking a fresh look at BaD radio. 
Somebody alert Christy!

Follow Your Plainsman on Twitter:  @Plainsman1310


Anonymous said...

A VERY dead horse...

Anonymous said...

Not sure it's dead yet. Give 'er another whack!

I keed, I keed!

The Plainsman said...

Yeah, Anon 1, you may be right.

But here's what I figure: If I beat the drum often enough for Signal Change, maybe I can rouse the rabble who might have some influence in the inner sanctums of the Cumulo-Ticket Overlords.

And then maybe something good will happen for the long-suffering kilowattage-deprived P1 (and the long-suffering Ticket talent whose talent is much bigger than their signal).

Just hoping to contribute, tedious as Signal Talk might be to some.

(Also -- it kicks up commenters like Anon E, whose information has the ring of accuracy.)

Anonymous said...

Wont it all (eventually) be digital? I only listen to streaming..

T4 In Rockwall said...

I'm with you Plainsman, shake that tree enough and you might get some fruit to fall. I wouldn't pay too much attention to anyone who posts under the name Anonymous, unless they actually sign with an actual, discernible name. I don't have a means of being heard, besides emailing Cat, which I have and which probably goes into the Deleted folder. (No offense Cat, but you probably deal with lots of emails.) At least The Plainsman has a decent chance of loads of people eventually reading this blog. Keep up the good work!

The Plainsman said...

Excellent, excellent question. With audio increasingly available over the Internet and computers/iPads/smartphones now ubiquitous, the heyday of the blowtorch signal may be drawing to a close. There are still lots of technical hurdles, especially with cars.

Cumulus is buying Citadel for $2.5 billion. Someone out there is betting on radio, but it may not be broadcast radio. Would love to know how radio listening breaks down between broadcast listeners and streaming/podcast listeners.

In particular, I wonder how your average P1 listens. I listen almost exclusively broadcast except when 104.1 is sick, and then I stream through my own computer and WWAN set up at my workplace (so I don't poach my employer's bandwidth and can't be accused of using company assets for Tickety pursuits).

birq said...

I've heard people saying analog signals are going away since I was in college in the late '80s. I'm sure the talk has been around longer than that. The problem is all the existing radio reception hardware and the cost and hassle of getting all the users to convert. Look at what an expensive and drawn-out undertaking the conversion to digital TV was, and there were pressing technical reasons for its implementation. Radio doesn't use as much bandwidth and the bandwidth it uses isn't as hotly contested, so there's no compelling reason to change it.

As for going completely streaming, there are plenty of reasons (all rooted in money) why that won't be the primary reception method for quite some time. Sure, more and more people are listening to streamed signals, but it's still a tiny subset of the entire audience.

The Plainsman said...

Hey, thanks T4. The Anonymi do kick Your Plainsman around a little, but that's OK -- goes with increased readership. Gotta take the brickbats with the bouquets. It's not too bad. But I do appreciate the expression of support.

P1 Steven said...

I think the effort/ cost of a bigger signal isnt worth the results it would provide. THAT is why nothing has been done about it. @ T4 Cat is great about emails. I have wished on plenty of occasions for the Ticket to have a better signal, especially at night. In the evenings, I drive home from Rockwall. Reception is spotty at best. Fortunately, I have the stream to listen to all day. :)

cactusflinthead said...

I'd sure start simulcasting on 96.7 asap. Boot Rushie off and bring on the bunker!