[Paleopsych] WETA-FM Alert

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Tue Feb 8 21:19:47 UTC 2005

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 5 Feb 2005 09:13:18 -0500
From: ronkean at juno.com
To: checker at panix.com
Cc: ronkean at juno.com
Subject: Re: WETA-FM Alert

On Sat, 5 Feb 2005 05:47:00 -0500 (EST) Premise Checker
<checker at panix.com> writes:

> This is the first alert I've ever sent out. I realize that the economics 
> of broadcasting is driving the proposed format change from classical 
> (which played no classical music during "rush" hour) to all news, as 
> though another all-news station were needed. I suspect that the 
> licensing regulations distort the economics here.

I agree that economic forces operate on both public broadcasters and
commercial broadcasters.  Broadcasting has been set up as a government
monopoly in that the government by law owns or controls the wavelength
spectrum in the first instance, and then the government doles out
broadcast licenses to broadcasters on a first-come first-served basis,
not by leasing to highest bidders.  The annual license fees are typically
far less than the economic value of those licenses to commercial

The conventional wisdom holds that there is a shortage of broadcast
spectrum in areas of concentrated population, and indeed there are only
about 100 channels of AM broadcast spectrum, about 100 for FM, and a few
dozen for TV.  Signals carry about 50 miles (except for AM at night,
which can carry 500 miles), so each major city in effect has its own set
of channels, though cites which are less than 100 miles apart, e.g.
Baltimore and Washington, and Baltimore and Philadelphia, have to avoid
sharing channels to avoid interference.

The point I am getting at has to do with the controversy over satisfying
diverse tastes, such as a taste for classical music or for bluegrass
music.  Apparently advertising to bluegrass listeners is not profitable
enough that any commercial station in Washington can afford to play
bluegrass.  And we are seeing that even the one public non-profit FM
station which had been playing some bluegrass is not finding that
'profitable' enough to continue.  Since the licenses are already doled
out at a very low cost, the question is whether the lack of bluegrass can
be blamed on spectrum shortage, or more generally on the cost of
broadcasting in a larger sense.

WETA-TV stops broadcasting on channel 26 each night at about 2 AM.  Its
broadcasts continue for several hours on their parallel digital channel,
and on the cable feed.  Apparently, WETA-TV thinks that it's not worth
the cost of electricity to run the channel 26 analog transmitter after 2
AM.  Commercial TV stations, on the other hand, run their transmitters 24
hours per day, filling the wee hours with infomercials or with network
news which generally repeats the same stories over and over again hourly.

There is new technology coming which will greatly multiply the number of
available channels for TV and radio.  Satellite radio has appeared which
allows banks of channels to be heard nationally.  With a national
audience, would it be profitable to play bluegrass and classical music on
satellite radio?  But there is more coming - digital radio should be able
to multiply to number of channels in the AM and FM bands.  Digital radio
on cable (using the existing TV cable systems) should be able to provide
hundreds of channels.  Then there is the internet.   As far as I can
tell, the prognosis is good for accommodating diverse tastes in broadcast

Ron Kean

[Ron later added that the Sirius satellite radio website has a full time 
bluegrass channel and XM seems to have a weekend bluegrass schedule. Of 
course, what I want is to be able to get any 78 rpm recording of classical 
music at any time. I think there are 100-200,000 of them but have never 
seen any good estimates.]

[I'm taking my annual Lenten break from forwarding articles again this 
year. It's a vice to spend so much time doing this. So I'll be off the air 
for forty days and forty nights from Ash Wednesday until Easter.]

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