Wednesday, December 23, 2009

r.e.a.c.t. to be Established as a Non-Profit Organization

An informal consensus of local performing artists, media and entertainment pros, and otherwise inquiring minds I've spoken with over the last several months has convinced me to form Regional Entertainment Arts and Community Telecom -- r.e.a.c.t. -- as a non-profit organization.   r.e.a.c.t. will serve as the corporate framework for the Death Star, providing administrative, financial, marketing, and technical support to its individual chapters and affiliates.

As r.e.a.c.t.'s acquisition (or launching) of an over-the-air radio outlet in the D.C. metro area is the first objective, the process of seating a board of directors and drafting articles of incorporation has become urgent.  I anticipate those individuals whom make commitments at the inaugural meeting will become the organization's directors, and they'll go on to craft policies consistent with my ideas on media, content, and community.

My biggest hope, however, is that r.e.a.c.t. is eventually seen as a model of organization and social responsibility for its members and the general public.  For example, there are numerous groups dedicated in some fashion to the cause of indie music, and many of them are, IMO, correctly concerned about the conventional business practices of modern media companies.  What goes unaddressed is the legitimate roles institutions play in our society, and how best to adapt those institutions to achieve specific results.  So if the goal is to ensure performers are paid fairly for their live performances, effort would be better spent on organizing to open proprietary venues rather than lobbying the status quo to change.  He who has the gold makes the rules, right?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Radio Wars, Episode I: Attack of the Drones

I know several people who are podcasting through the social networking outlet,  Frankly, I don't know what to make of it.

I'm a huge advocate of podcasting.  Podcasting has unlimited potential and jells with my beliefs about technology's value to society.  Podcasting, in practice, empowers a lot of people, just as I imagine Gutenberg's invention of the printing press empowered a lot of people centuries ago.  I'm not as much sold on social networking sites, i.e.; Yahoo! 360, MySpace, Facebook, etc., even though I have accounts with eight (?!?!) different sites.  I'm inactive on two of these sites -- Ning and Multiply -- and rarely active on BlackPlanet.  I'll deactivate my accounts on those sites shortly.

The remaining sites I visit with varying frequency, each for a slightly different purpose from the others.  I've been on Yahoo!360 the longest.  I kept a blog there as a public sketch pad of sorts on various ideas.  I use LinkedIn for professional contacts; prospecting and referrals.  Over at MySpace, I maintain a page for r.e.a.c.t. (the Death Star's radio network), and correspond directly with performing artists and music industry professionals.  On Meetup, I participate in groups representing specific interests of mine.  I meet a lot of individuals in the process of building up r.e.a.c.t. and as best as I can tell, not many are immune from the novelty appeal of each new social networking site as it launches.  They migrate like a herd of cattle to sign up with whichever site that's currently anointed as The New Hotness.

One such site is BlogTalkRadio, which combines the conventional features of social networking sites with audio podcasting.  With BlogTalkRadio, anyone with just a computer and broadband access can host an Internet talk radio show.  No microphone, studio equipment, or podcasting software is needed.  Best of all, you can podcast on a limited basis for free.  At this point, I must emphasize again that I believe the technology of podcasting is great and holds a tremendous amount of potential for users.  In practice, though...

BlogTalkRadio has enabled a virtual wave (no pun intended) of self-promoting Oprah wannabes, most of whom are looking to establish themselves as name brands using the 21st century equivalent of playing 45s on the family record player with a few of your best friends in the den.  I do understand the appeal of amateur broadcasting, but unlike ham radio operators, BlogTalkRadio members appear to be focused on a higher goal, e.g.; MAKING MONEY.  I don't begrudge anyone from making an honest buck, but a lot of the BlogTalkRadio crowd will have you believe differently, as if they're a) promoting a charitable cause or, b) really providing you with an outstanding advertising opportunity.   Another of my best friends who happens to be a professional journalist has been so seduced by the BlogTalkRadio craze, he dutifully reports for weekly debates on another member's podcast (!) like he's getting paid.  (He's not.)

I've attempted to network with several BlogTalkRadio podcasters under the assumption they would welcome the opportunities to leverage r.e.a.c.t. as a conventional media resource.  Silly me.  I have my doubts as whether they recognize n-e-t-w-o-r-k-i-n-g is a two-way ('interactive', for you nerds) endeavor that requires users to cede something in consideration of the resource.  I am regularly spammed on Facebook by four different individuals to this end, and I find it a bit annoying, if not all out hypocritical, because they aren't about returning the love.  When you throw a dance, you gotta pay the band, right?

I'm content with feeling BlogTalkRadio's podcasters aren't much different from those who ran out and bought CB radios in the 70s, only to waste the bandwidth blabbing on and on about their various personal melodramas.  The people serious about radio, music, and/or webcasting are on a different frequency.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bill Press Hits the Bullseye on D.C. Radio

Bill Press absolutely makes a spot-on commentary here writing on the state of talk radio in D.C.

To summarize, political discourse was one of the casualties resulting from the deregulation of broadcast radio and television. Until 1987, broadcasters were required to abide by a F.C.C. rule called the Fairness Doctrine whereby a small amount of time was to be reserved by the radio or TV station for public comment. The idea behind the Fairness Doctrine was to protect the public's interest from gov't and corporate propaganda.

Since the Fairness Doctrine's repeal, news and public affairs programming on radio and television has become kabuki theater. In its place is something that's supposed to look like news and political debate, but really isn't. News talk radio has become particularly banal with the likes of right-wing carneys like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity dominating the medium. Press tells of Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder's Red Zebra Broadcasting's decision to, "... jettison all progressive talk...", on 1260 AM, "... and replace it with pre-recorded financial advice programming". Red Zebra has built rather quickly a regional radio network out of mostly mediocre performing D.C.-area AMers, including WTNT 570, WTEM 980, WHFS 158o, and WWDC 1260 -- probably looking to better leverage the Redskins with advertisers. While the company's motives for buying the stations and making programming decisions are certainly understandable, it's another question entirely whether permitting such ownership groups in a given market is in the best interests of the public... y'know.... the folks who actually own the airwaves.

Press argues -- correctly in my view -- for the Fairness Doctrine to be resurrected by the FCC, and if not by them, by congressional mandate. In its original form, the Fairness Doctrine ensured the discussion of controversial topics and dissenting viewpoints over the airwaves. Because broadcast TV and radio frequencies are scarce physical resources, protecting the public's access to them is an important civil liberties principle. I also believe re-implementing the Fairness Doctrine would make for more dynamic, provocative radio & TV news/talk programming as listeners are more likely to participate in topics they find interesting, once they're provided expanded opportunities for comment. Given what today's broadcasters face in competition from the Internet, Satrad, mobile media devices, PCs, etc., you'd think they'd be eager to embrace any strategy that attracts a larger audience.

Unfortunately, the ownership rules have been relaxed to the point that restoring the Fairness Doctrine by itself might not achieve the level of programming diversity Press and others (including myself) prefer as optimum. It should be 1 part of a vigorous licensing policy applied to U.S. broadcasters designed to ensure maximum competition on behalf of the public interest. For the time being, however, bringing back the Fairness Doctrine would be a good first step.