| Highlights, lowlights,
high life, low life, and trends of 2004.
To end the year this month we have opted to look at the past year,
which has seen very significant movement in terms of both the technological
and political developments that have affected radio as a medium
and a business and also in terms of our own views of the highlights
- and lowlights- of the year.
Most of the developments have been in train for a while but are
now coming to fruition: As for the assessment of the ups and downs,
they are our own with which you are welcome to disagree.
Technological cum business
In this area we highlight two movements that
we suspect may yet come to be indissolubly linked, although
a few years ago this would not have been our assessment.
They are the growth in satellite radio and the pressures on
terrestrial broadcasters that have led to much political brouhaha,
much increased indecency fines in the US, and the move to
satellite by such figures as Bob Edwards, Opie and Anthony,
and Howard Stern.
The latter's move is by far the most significant in perceived
impact but the very fact that others are treading the same
path bodes well for satellite and potentially very much the
opposite for US terrestrial broadcasters, many of whom in
our view are being dangerously complacent. We also suspect
that Mel Karmazin worked out his figures pretty well before
moving to Sirius, not because on paper his share options are
currently showing such a massive profit (that is after all
on paper and we have not changed our view that satellite stocks
are overpriced) but because we consider him a very shrewd
financial operator and we doubt he'd have jumped to a perceived
failure even if the pay was good.
The converse is of course true, in estimating the future for
terrestrial radio. We don't think it's by any means dead or
dying but we'd certainly not be buying any stock at the moment
(apart maybe of a takeover target for a short-term gain):
We just can't see how in the medium to long term their current
valuations are way above the returns that are likely as they
have to fight of the threat of satellite with sufficiently
attractive programming - read more local content from local
staff as the way in which they can best differentiate their
output - and also have to face up to the fact that they've
already overdone it in taking too much of their airtime with
adverts and probably with syndication and voice tracking.
One exception could be Air America, which seems to have got
its act together rather belatedly and in our view has plenty
of headroom for growth - as does satellite radio in the US
- but hasn't had quite the same degree of expectation placed
And then there's digital radio and the Internet: As broadband
passed some crucial psychological barriers and take up proceeds
apace, listening online has also increased in leaps and bounds
and in the UK at least DAB seems to have now also passed crucial
barriers and is on its way to being part of the mainstream
aided in this case by big brother TV since much digital radio
listening in from digital TV platforms.
In the ups, not in order of importance we'd include:
* The growth of satellite radio in the US where it now has
3 million plus subscribers.
* The growth of digital audio broadcasting in the UK where
receiver sales are finally taking off and moving into the
*The growth of online on-demand services, which are, regrettably
in our view, still fairly uncommon from commercial broadcasters
but are being widely provided by public broadcasters.
* A final realisation as evinced by Clear Channel's "Less
is More" policy change that you can overdo the adverts.
Probably too little and too late but still welcome
*The International Telecommunication Union vote to update
the 160-year-old Morse Code and add the characters A and C
run together (.--.-.) to denote the "@" symbol used
in e-mail addresses. We appreciated the bulletin board response
aimed to show those who said using "at" would suffice:
Quick, what's my email address? mattatticatflatsurface.com
And also the response to the person who commented," And
it is absolutely true, that AT or didah dah, makes more practical
sense, than sending didahdahdidahdit"
is the letter "ä" in Swedish, Danish and Finnish:
dihdahdahdidah is the letter "å" in Swedish
and Danish: and dahdahdahdit is the letter "ö"
in Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Finnish[RNW apologies to
those of you who don't have international symbols enabled
to read the above].
*A swing from the permissive to the over censorious by the US
over "broadcast indecency" to the extent that the Federal
Communications Commissioners have over-ruled the agency's published
*The continuing decline in international radio services - the
year saw Swiss Radio International cease broadcasts, Radio Vlaanderen
Internationaal in Brussels announce that it is to close its foreign
language radio broadcasts and most of its Dutch output at the
end of March 2005 and Prasar Bharati - parent organization of
All India Radio - say it is considering pulling the plug on its
External Services Division: In addition the Voice of America announced
the end of regular programmes in Bulgarian, Estonian, Czech, Hungarian,
Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak and Slovenian, and
made substantial cuts to its English output and BBC World Service
cut its short wave transmissions to the US, opting to rely instead
on the Internet plus local FM services.
*The resignations of the BBC chairman and Director General in
the wake of a report alleging that the British government had
"sexed-up" information on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
The year illustrated the power of politicians in power to escape
the consequences of getting things wrong, misleading the public
or being incompetent whilst some of the broadcasters at least
had to bite the bullet.
*The loss of some great broadcasters including Walter "Salty"
Brine, David Brudnoy, Alistair Cooke, John Dunn, John A. Gambling,
Scott Muni, John Peel and Bill Randle.
We opted here for the late Boston talk host David Brudnoy
on the strength of not just his long record but also a dignified
and humorous last interview just before he died (See
RNW Dec 12).
A man who emanated decency and respect for others!
We found it hard to choose between three US hosts - Don Imus,
Rush Limbaugh, and Michael Savage:
*Imus for the two comments he was reported as making "I'm
sorry for referring to them as a bunch of thieving Jews...I
know that's redundant" - referring to Simon & Schuster
publishers and during Yasser Arafat's funeral "They're
[Palestinians] eating dirt and that fat pig wife [Suha Arafat]
of his is living in Paris." And tacit approval of the
subsequent comment by his sports anchor Sid Rosenberg "They're
all brainwashed, though. That's what it is. And they're stupid
to begin with, but they're brainwashed now. Stinking animals.
They ought to drop the bomb right there, kill 'em all right
*Rush Limbaugh - on the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib,
"I'm talking about people having a good time, these people,
you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of need
to blow some steam off?"
*Michael Savage - in relation to the treatment of prisoners
in Abu Ghraib, "And I think there should be no mercy
shown to these sub-humans. I believe that a thousand of them
should be killed tomorrow. I think a thousand of them held
in the Iraqi prison should be given 24 hour -- a trial and
executed. I think they need to be shown that we are not going
to roll over to them."
In the end, if half of the allegations made by Imus's ex-nanny
about the way in which she was fired (See RNW Dec 2 Imus1)
are true, we have to give him the award.
RNW note: It was interesting to compare
the reaction in the US to the above - all still successful
- and that of the Hungarians after the comments made on Christmas
Eve last year by drunken broadcaster Zoltán Bajtai
who said, "I would exterminate all Christians."
His station, Tilos Radio, whose board had fired Bajtai and
apologized, was nevertheless taken off the air for a month
by the country's regulator. Hungary we felt was harsh but
we leave it to American "values" holders as to which
nation has the more praiseworthy values.
And finally a question. tlhIngan Hol Dajatlh'a'
? If so try the oddball international broadcaster story of
the year in the addition by German international broadcaster
Deutsche Welle of Klingon
pages to its website to mark its 10th anniversary.
What you think? Please E-mail