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Digital AM: FCC Decision Sets Stage for Some to Move From Analog

New York talker to become all-digital offering after April announcement.

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Image Courtesy: WFAS-AM/Cumulus Media

As the ever present need for adaptability and growing investment in the revitalization of AM radio, there has been a new option for AM stations that have been working to navigate their way through some of the unavoidable programming challenges and difficulties.

Following a late 2020 decision made by the FCC allowing for authorization for AM stations to choose for themselves what the future holds. This choice allows the decision of if and when the broadcaster chooses to make the change at all and how it will be executed in the marketplace; leaving the call to opt for a transfer of an AM station’s operations, essentially leaning on the advancements, streamlined efficiency and promising data acquired from studying the digital space. This would leave the broadcaster with the choice to forego broadcasting on the AM frequency or choosing to adapt a hybrid of the digital and AM analog station model.

The decision made in October 2020, was designed with the goal of embracing advancement and allowing stations to thrive in the face of the media marketplace landscape. “All-digital broadcasting offers AM listeners significantly improved audio quality and more reliable coverage over a wider listenable area than analog or hybrid digital broadcasts. It also allows broadcasters to provide additional services to the public, such as song title and artist information.”

As the measure was developed, the intention was never hidden from the public, as the description of the decision was publicly provided on the FCC’s website reading, “Action Will Improve Listening Experience and Provide Consumers with Enhanced Services.”

The form FCC-335 AM or ‘Digital Notification’ has been part of the continued efforts made by the FCC and its chair to continue to revitalize AM radio, was approved unanimously in 2020 and the final ruling and announcement of effective date were included on the Federal Register last week on April 29, 2021 (Vol 86, No 81).

“Conversion to all-digital AM transmission (and then, consequent compliance with the rules governing all- digital operation) is completely voluntary and therefore flexible, based on an AM broadcaster’s assessment of its individual financial and technical circumstances, including size.”

The 31st point of the synopsis continues, “AM broadcasters overwhelmingly support the proposal to allow all-digital AM broadcasting, as do broadcast engineers, technology companies, and individual listeners.”

Efforts to assemble accurate data and analysis have been ongoing from the FCC, as Hubbard’s WWFD “The Gamut” operated on experimental authorization from the FCC beginning in July 2018, becoming effectively known as the first all-digital AM station.

Additional efforts include nine all-digital field tests between 2012-2014 and subsequent interference lab tests in 2015-2016 with an emphasis on incorporating the various formats and geographic regions. The data recovered from the study has been condensed into the table below:
https://nabpilot.org/work/projects/all-digital-am-radio-testing/

Opting for an all-digital operation has often been associated with claims of providing signal stability and strength, which would thereby impact the audience development and engagement for the station. WMGG in Tampa made the call to go in the digital direction in January. The most recent station to announce an all-digital operation model comes from just outside the largest market in the country, dubbing the new WFAS as “Digital AM 1230 HD: New Talk For New York” and including the following statement regarding the station’s operations:
https://twitter.com/1230Digital/status/1383158842222071810?s=20

The Cumulus station of White Plains, a station whose initial license was first obtained in 1926, has been sure to follow the guidelines of the FCC’s Form 335-AM filing procedure (https://transition.fcc.gov/Forms/Form335/335am.pdf), with one of the requirements being that the filing station must provide a minimum of 30 days notice of the decision for the analog listeners before the change can occur. Other requirements include bandwidth and EAS compliance.

The opportunity to make the transition to digital or hybrid digital station is undoubtedly going to impact the sports and news talk AM radio landscape—and it begs the question of will turning off the AM analog signal be what revitalizes the medium or is it simply about finding a way of riding the wave of innovation? With the jury still out, the court of public opinion will certainly provide a variety of analyses and hot takes regarding the impact on the medium and the BSM / BNM team will continue to share the subsequent developments.

BNM Writers

Bring Back the Art of Debate

In small doses and in the proper situation, it’s well worth your time to have your own ideas, along with the audience’s, challenged. 

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The last few weeks I’ve thought a lot about a quote I recently heard from Bill O’Reilly. I believe it was in a recent interview he appeared in with Glenn Beck, and O’Reilly was discussing his years as host of “The O’Reilly Factor”, the most-watched cable news show in the history of the medium. He was discussing how he went about booking his guests and said, and I paraphrase, “I tried to book the smartest people who could challenge me.” 

That’s one of the reasons that O’Reilly’s show was so successful. He did that on a nightly basis for over 20 years.

Unfortunately, that premise has gone by the wayside, in favor of echo chambers across the media landscape, including talk radio. 

But that doesn’t mean it can’t come back in some capacity and it doesn’t mean the host has to compromise their values. 

Each week on my morning show on KCMO Talk Radio, I interview Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas. Lucas is a Democrat, who has certainly angered lots of conservatives over the last 18 months on issues of COVID lockdowns, masks, and policing policy, just to name a few. One can debate how far left Lucas is on the “liberal spectrum”, but he will be the first to tell you he is a proud Democrat. 

Shortly after the pandemic began, I spoke with his office about doing a weekly hit to update the city on what was happening on the COVID front. The interview has continued ever since, every Thursday morning at 7:30, but has touched on any and every topic relevant to Kansas City.

And while every listener, plus Lucas himself, knows I have disagreed with much of his policies over the last 18 months, our conversations are challenging, but cordial, respectful, and informative for the audience.

However, like clockwork, after each weekly conversation, there will be a barrage of calls, texts, social media messages, and e-mails saying that I, as the host, “let him off the hook”, “am too soft”, and all the usual criticisms that come from a portion of the audience. These individuals insist they are done listening to our weekly conversations.

But you know what, something funny happens when I look at the KCMO Talk Radio streaming numbers each day or look at the ratings at the end of the month: Thursdays at 7:30 end up being one of our most-listened-to and highest-rated segments, by far. 

Then, when I go out in the real world, people tell me how much they appreciate the weekly conversations with the mayor, despite how much they may disagree with him. They think it’s important that our audience gets to hear from him, even if we aren’t his “based” constituency. 

To Lucas’ credit, he comes on my show, despite our differences. That’s a lost art for most politicians, left and right, who only want to go on media that is sympathetic to them and their beliefs. 

And then on the flip side, hosts on TV and radio have gone too far into the echo chamber, where they don’t want to hear from those who disagree with them. They also believe that the small portion of the audience that “wants blood” (theoretically speaking, of course) from their opponents, are the majority of the audience.

My research shows that’s not the case. And to reiterate, none of this requires a host to compromise their beliefs or become “squishy” on their opinions.

Granted, I wouldn’t spend hour after hour with guests who are disagreeable or don’t align with the audience, but the right guest in the right spot has real potential to create an excellent conversation and really good radio. 

There’s no doubt it’s harder than ever to book these guests, based on the aforementioned reasons, but in small doses and in the proper situation, it’s well worth your time to have your own ideas, along with the audience’s, challenged. 

And while hearts and minds are unlikely to change given the divisive climate we find ourselves in, you created a moment that connected with the listener, either good or bad, that will be memorable to them and keep them coming back for more. The loud-mouth haters be damned. 

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BNM Writers

FOX News Remains Go To Network For Noteworthy Events

“Fox News’ special “A Gabby Petito Investigation with Nancy Grace” drew 1.78 million.”

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Several noteworthy news events occurred during the week ending September 19, most of which Fox News Channel was the leading cable news outlet in its coverage viewership.

On Sep. 13, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was the first Biden administration official to testify publicly to lawmakers since the Islamist militant group, the Taliban, took over Afghanistan. His appearance before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee   was tabulated only for MSNBC by Nielsen Media Research, to a delivery of 542,000 total viewers (from 2:16-4:00 p.m. ET). On the following day (Sep. 14), Blinken’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee aired on both Fox News and MSNBC. Fox News was the clear victor, more than doubling MSNBC in total viewers (1.576 million vs. 0.648 million) and nearly quadrupled in the key 25-54 demo (257,000 vs. 66,000).

The California gubernatorial recall election on Sep. 14 that resulted in Gavin Newsom remaining as governor was extensively covered for four hours on CNN: 

10-11 p.m. ET: 1.049 million total viewers; 309,000 adults 25-54

11 p.m.-midnight ET: 1.013 million total viewers; 344,000 adults 25-54

midnight-1 a.m. ET: 0.846 million total viewers; 283,000 adults 25-54

1-2 a.m. ET: 0.575 million total viewers; 185,000 adults 25-54

Fox News covered the election results only in the 11 p.m.-midnight hour, averaging 2.05 million total viewers and 411,000 adults 25-54 — no doubt, assisted by its highly-watched prime time lead-in.

MSNBC spent only 26 minutes of live coverage in late night, resulting in 659,000 total viewers and 93,000 adults 25-54 (from 1-1:26 a.m. ET). 

MSNBC was the lone cable news outlet to air testimony by American female gymnasts before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on the morning of Sep. 15. Gold medalist athletes Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, and Aly Raisman relayed to lawmakers how the FBI and U.S. gymnastic and Olympic officials failed to stop the sexual abuse that they, along with hundreds of other athletes,suffered from former doctor Larry Nassar. From 10:43 a.m. to 12:06 p.m. ET, MSNBC averaged 753,000 viewers and 62,000 in the key 25-54 demo; the gymnasts’ press conference from 2:10-2:30 p.m. (also on MSNBC) drew 813,000 viewers and 95,000 adults 25-54.

On Sep. 18, Fox News covered SpaceX’s return of its Crew Dragon spacecraft from orbit, with the capsule carrying the four members of the Inspiration4 mission back to Earth after three days in space. It was the furthest humans had traveled above the surface in several years. The capsule Resilience splashed down off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida in the Atlantic Ocean. From 7-8 p.m. ET, Fox News posted 1.155 million total viewers and 141,000 adults 25-54. SpaceX is owned by Elon Musk.  

Lastly, on Sep. 19 at 10 p.m. ET, Fox News’ special “A Gabby Petito Investigation with Nancy Grace” delivered the highest-rated cable news show in the 25-54 demo of the entire weekend with 317,000 viewers. In total viewers, the live special drew 1.78 million.

Here are the cable news averages for September 13-19, 2021.

Total Day (September 13-19 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 1.483 million viewers; 238,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 0.767 million viewers; 86,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.587 million viewers; 125,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.194 million viewers; 60,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.140 million viewers; 34,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.137 million viewers; 27,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.135 million viewers; 18,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.084 million viewers; 11,000 adults 25-54

Prime Time (September 13-18 @ 8-11 p.m.; September 19 @ 7-11 p.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 2.659 million viewers; 417,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 1.375 million viewers; 156,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.799 million viewers; 177,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.206 million viewers; 63,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.203 million viewers; 65,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.163 million viewers; 25,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.151 million viewers; 29,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.046 million viewers; 6,000 adults 25-54

Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top MSNBC and CNN programs with their respective associated ranks) in total viewers:

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 9/14/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.776 million viewers

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 9/15/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.574 million viewers

3. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 9/14/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.528 million viewers

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 9/13/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.343 million viewers

5. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 9/14/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.294 million viewers

6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 9/16/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.274 million viewers

7. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 9/15/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.202 million viewers

8. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 9/16/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.171 million viewers

9. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Fri. 9/17/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.151 million viewers

10. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 9/13/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.121 million viewers

17. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Tue. 9/14/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.611 million viewers

127. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Wed. 9/15/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.209 million viewers

Top 10 cable news programs (and the top  CNN and MSNBC programs with their respective associated ranks) among adults 25-54:

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 9/14/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.629 million adults 25-54

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 9/15/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.621 million adults 25-54

3. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 9/15/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.568 million adults 25-54

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 9/16/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.544 million adults 25-54

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 9/13/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.542 million adults 25-54

6. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 9/14/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.538 million adults 25-54

7. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 9/16/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.514 million adults 25-54

8. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Fri. 9/17/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.510 million adults 25-54

9. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 9/14/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.491 million adults 25-54

10. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 9/15/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.479 million adults 25-54

29. CNN Special Coverage “California Governor Recall Election” (CNN, Tue. 9/14/2021 11:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.344 million adults 25-54

36. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Tue. 9/14/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.315 million adults 25-54

Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research

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BNM Writers

Pivoting to News/Talk Was A Natural Move For Steve Malzberg

“Censorship from management is something that you just need to put up with. If you don’t like it, you can leave.”

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RT America host Steve Malzberg’s accomplished career began in sports but deep down he always had a passion for politics. Even before right-wing commentators were accusing the woke sports media of pandering to a specific base, Malzberg saw the hypocrisy in some of the day-to-day coverage.

The liberal bent fueled Malzberg’s creativity and desire to be different. Topics like race in sports often gave him fodder for his nightly shows in New York City. Years of railing against liberal opponents eventually made switching to news/talk full-time, seamless.

Malzberg’s unique skill set has translated well in both radio and television. Following a lengthy run at iconic WABC Radio, he was hired at WOR Radio and was eventually replaced by New York’s former governor David Patterson.

In 2013, he was hired by Newsmax TV to host the Steve Malzberg Show. Last year, he inked a deal with RT America to host a media commentary show. Now, very content and with plenty of creative freedom, Malzberg offers his expertise on media bias to millions of people. Malzberg recently sat down with Barrett News Media to discuss his path to success, his job at RT America, and how the death of Rush Limbaugh rocked conservative media to its core.

Ryan Hedrick: How did your career start?

Steve Malzberg: I started in sportsfor the first ten years or so of my career. I hosted the New York Yankees pre and post-game shows for a year, Jets pre and post-game shows for four years, Devils pre and post-game shows for a year. I had the honor of going to Super Bowls, Stanley Cups Finals and everything else you could imagine.

RH: Was the news/talk format one you envisioned moving into?

SM: I always had politics in me. My career took a different turn the night OJ Simpson was driving around in a Bronco. That event led to me switching. I was supposed to cover the Knicks who were playing the Houston Rockets at Madison Square Garden in the NBA Finals.

My program director asked me to stay around, come on after the game and cover the OJ story. He invited me to come on the very next day and provide live coverage of the OJ saga and after that I started filling in for other hosts doing political talk and more in the realm of current news events.

RH: One of the biggest challenges for transitioning from sports talk to news/talk is finding your voice. Did that come naturally to you?

SM: Yes. I used to love covering Jesse Jackson when I was doing sports. He would protest that athletics needed more Black coaches. I remember Filip Bondy and Harvey Araton wrote a book on the NBA. One of the themes was how hard and how terrible it must be to be a Black NBA player and deal with white public relations people, that irked me.

RH: You were the first-ever host of Newsmax TV. Are you still a viewer of the network? If so, what are your thoughts on how it’s developed?

SM: I am not going to say anything bad about my former place of employment. Chris Ruddy who runs Newsmax TV was always very hands-on. I am sure he’s just as hands-on now. I know after I left, they brought in a lot of people with hard news experience. I think they have a great mix of talent there, but I can’t say that I watch so I don’t have much to say about the programming.

RH: You’re currently hosting for RT America. What role do you believe you and your network are playing in educating conservative news media moderates push back against cancel culture?

SM: On RT America I host Eat the Press which is kind of a play on Meet the Press, but it’s not aimed at the show by any stretch of the imagination. What we do is really devour the press and their bias. I have the freedom to present examples of media bias every week and I think I do my part of trying to hold the media accountable.

I also have wonderful A-list guests who continue to come on with me. Great conservative Hollywood people join the show such as Robert Davi, Kevin Sorbo, and Maria Conchita Alonso. They buck the trend in Hollywood.

Conservative media is doing a great job getting the word out there. Shows like Fox & Friends are blowing away CNN and MSNBC in the ratings. However, the media is still dominated by the left, and with the advent of social media and the ability and willingness of Big Tech to cooperate with the government and in some instances ban conservatives, we have an uphill fight!

RH: What role do you feel social media plays in helping conservatives get their truth out?

SM: Social media is where it’s at. If we are limited then we are losing. We can’t put doubts about the vaccine or questions about a third shot or any topic without the liberals at Facebook and Google monitoring us and taking us down.

RH: As a host with strong opinions, are you ever concerned about being censored or canceled?

SM: Censorship has existed in one form or another in broadcasting throughout my career. I could go back to any of the stations or networks I have ever worked at and tell you that I’ve been told what not to say, not so much what to say.

Censorship from management is something that you just need to put up with. If you don’t like it, you can leave. I always found that my censorship was carried out in my passion or support of Israel. At RT America, we have a meeting. I come up with the guests and ideas and book the guests and there’s only been one disagreement with a guest. I have never been told what to say or how to say something.

RH: What type of impact do you feel the death of Rush Limbaugh has had on conservative media as a whole?

SM: I was fortunate enough to know Rush and be there when he arrived at WABC in 1988. I knew Rush for many, many years. Limbaugh is irreplaceable. His death set conservative media back. No offense to the people that have taken over for Rush, but I don’t listen. It’s not the same and it’s not appointment radio. I just don’t see how you fill the loss.

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