THE FCC’S NEW LIGHT-TOUCH TORCHBEARER Nathan Simington shares his thoughts on media ownership. Radio and TV station owners should be pleased with what he has to say.
BROADCAST TELEVISION’S BEST LEADERS: BIG MOVES, BOLD EXECUTIVES ARE ‘FRANKEN FMS’ FINISHED, OR IS A CONTINUATION PLAN IN PLAY? PREVENTATIVE AND PREDICTIVE WAYS TO MONITOR YOUR TOWER
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November 16, 2021 Harvard Club, New York City radioinkforecast.com
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BROADCAST MEDIA’S NEW LIGHT-TOUCH TORCHBEARER
There’s been a lot of coverage in the mainstream press of Nathan Simington — mainly for his views on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. There’s a lot more to Simington than this singular issue. That’s great news for radio and TV station owners seeking a new champion at the FCC. 8
BROADCAST TELEVISION’S BEST LEADERS OF 2021
NEW LIFE FOR ‘FRANKEN FMS’?
For the second consecutive year, the readers of the Radio + Television Business Report have spoken. And, with their input, the latest rankings include new names near the top of the list, and many shifts. In a year that saw a great pause and, for some, a shift thanks to a pandemic, it’s perhaps fitting.
Time is ticking for the “Franken FM,” a nickname bestowed by the broadcast media industry on analog Channel 6 facilities that operate like radio stations, thanks to their audio availability on 87.7 FM. For the two biggest licensees, a continuation plan is in place — so long as the FCC says yes.
PREVENTATIVE & PREDICTIVE
COVID-19 greatly impacted tower companies and, for some, tower maintenance. However, preventative and predictive tools are now available that can make the shift from “What’s wrong?” to monitoring everything beyond the transmitter an easy one. We learn more about this cost savings opportunity.
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BROADCAST MEDIA’S NEW LIGHT-TOUCH TORCHBEARER He was nominated by former President Trump amid a furor over a rule regarding third-party content on online platforms. Now, Nathan Simington is the junior Republican Commissioner on a very different FCC than seen under the leadership of now-former Chairman Ajit Pai. There’s a lot more to Simington than Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. In this exclusive interview, Simington lifts the curtain on his passion for Television and Radio, even sharing the two FM stations he enjoys listening to after the sun sets.
n Thursday, April 1, the U.S. Supreme Court released, to some surprise, a 20-page opinion in FCC v. Prometheus Radio Project. It was no April Fools’ gag. The nation’s highest judicial body unanimously said the FCC was within its rights to rewrite its cross-ownership rules and eliminate the TV industry’s “eight voices test.” While the data it had on the impact of the rule changes on minorities and women was acknowledged to be a bit deficient, that’s not the fault of the FCC: It sought input, got some, and moved forward in the best way possible. Had this been early January, the head of the FCC would have been gleeful. However, the Commission is now under the leadership of acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. She, along with
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colleague Geoffrey Starks and a Commissioner to be named later, hold the cards at the Commission. What change will come under Democratic leadership, if any, has been discussed for weeks. For Nathan Simington, who replaced Mike O’Rielly as a Republican Commissioner, a clear vision for how the FCC should act on meaningful — and modernized — regulation of broadcast media is firmly in place. Simington spoke with RBR+TVBR Editor-in-Chief Adam R Jacobson just hours after the release of the FCC v. Prometheus Supreme Court decision. That, in many ways, served as an important backdrop for starting the conversation by seeking more on his views of broadcast media, in particular the Radio industry.
“There was a time to worry about broadcast media, print media or radio owners exerting too much control in local markets. Suffice it to say, I do not believe that should be our most pressing concern.”
A PIRATE HUNTER, AND AM RADIO SAVIOUR
decision punting the FCC’s cross-ownership rules in hand, Simington smiles as he shares how important it is “to trim away regulations that no longer make sense for the modern era — and that rulemaking is a good first step.” In a way, it was like having a conversation with O’Rielly before Inauguration Day 2021. That’s excellent news for those in the broadcast media industry seeking the same level of passion from a Commissioner as seen with not only O’Rielly, but also Ajit Pai. “The 2017 FCC attempt in this area was very thoughtful, and I am excited to see it bear fruit now that the road is clear,” Simington says. As the conversation continued, more similarities to O’Rielly’s chats on media regulatory policy arose. “With radio and broadcast, as with all things, I prefer as light of a regulatory touch as is consistent with the Commission’s statute and the will of Congress,” Simington says. “I place a high value on regulatory certainty, because both businesses and consumers need to understand the ‘rules of the road’ in order to get where they are going. I’m excited for where we are in media, and I am hopeful that I can support efforts at the Commission to, where possible, settle unanswered questions and create certainty within the broadcast industry.”
Many radio broadcasting leaders will be thrilled to learn that Simington is, in a sense, carrying an important torch lit by O’Rielly. “I think the commission has engaged in a number of exciting new initiatives to improve radio services,” he says. First and foremost: The PIRATE Act, championed by O’Rielly. Simington is fully supportive of the legislation and of improving radio services in such affected markets as New York, Boston and Miami. Noting that there is real public harm in illegal pirate radio operations, Simington says, “These operators don’t just interfere with the commercial interests of the licensees the FCC protects in those markets.” Simington was pleased when, in December, the Enforcement Bureau announced it would start to pursue property owners and managers under the enhanced PIRATE Act enforcement scheme. “After all, one way to create effective action is to go after pirate THE ‘UHF DISCOUNT’: WHY ERASE IT? radio operators ‘where they live,’ so to speak,” he says. As a result, Broadcast television’s future is potentially robust, given the many the FCC Enforcement Bureau can now pressure property owners positives of ATSC 3.0. Yet there are some who believe the end of and managers to “deplatform” pirate radio operators in their the “UHF discount” is justified. With Democrats in control, but with a rented dwellings. new mandate for rule modernization, what’s Simington’s chief desire “No doubt we will continue to find ways to improve enforcement for ensuring the Commission carries out TV regulatory policy that is going forward, but we are going in the right direction,” Simington consistent with the needs of the broadcast community today? says. “In any event, combating pirate radio should remain an “There are issues with rolling back the UHF discount, inevitably, important enforcement priority for the Commission.” because so many decisions have been taken in reliance on it,” he Simington even gives the Enforcement Bureau a strong says. One of the biggest questions Simington believes will emerge is commendation for “their constantly expanding responsibilities,” whether existing broadcast media groups will be grandfathered in, which need to be highlighted. “Now that we have the right legal and should the UHF discount be rescinded. Otherwise, Simington says, regulatory framework in place, I think we should shift gears to making “These broadcast media groups might otherwise be automatically sure that the Enforcement Bureau has the support it needs,” he says. subject to an unfair and retroactive application of a rule, possibly Also on Simington’s radar: the FCC’s actions on “revitalization” triggering forced divestiture or comparable disruption.” of the AM band. “The AM revitalization efforts, broadly construed, This explains why Simington is skeptical that the Commission are exciting,” he says. That’s largely thanks to the Commission’s would, as a practical matter, attempt to accomplish such a thing, “voluntary conversion order” allowing AM stations to broadcast in even if it has the legal authority to do so. Litigation would be possible. all-digital on HD Radio in-band on-channel. “The noise floor is a Simington’s insistence that any erasure of the UHF discount would real problem for AM, and as our lives are further filled with devices be problematic is punctuated by his belief that it would be largely that emit RF, a trend that certainly will not reverse in our lifetimes, pointless. “I am further skeptical that the rolling back of the discount the possibility to retain and capture new audiences with a clear would achieve any policy objectives at all, no matter the aims,” he digital signal is exciting for AM broadcasters. It’s really exciting for says. “In general, when we think about the aims of regulation of AM, and could lead to an AM renaissance.” media ownership at all — namely, viewpoint and ownership diversity and, generally, localism — we should first ask whether the action we CREATING CERTAINTY IN THE MODERN ERA take contributes to the health of the industry.” With the 9-0 Supreme Court reversal of the Third Circuit’s Will potential new entrants into the market continue to view it
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as a desirable industry to enter if the FCC is seen as paring back previously granted regulatory relief? How are we to attract a diverse ownership mix if the FCC turns ownership into a capricious, uncertain investment? These are the questions fueling Simington’s passion for how the Commission should move forward on media regulatory policy.
NEXTGEN LEADERSHIP Broadcast TV’s voluntary rollout of ATSC 3.0, which continues in market after market, is another exciting area of interest for Simington. Most agree that the FCC should support the new digital broadcast television standard, and the datacasting that comes with it. Simington singles out Republican colleague Brendan Carr for helping usher in the ATSC 3.0 wave in the smartest way possible, regulatorily speaking. As Simington sees it, in 2020 Carr took a leading role in getting the Commission “out of the way of innovation in broadcast television and datacasting technology.” How so? He points to “a thoughtfully crafted Report and Order” bringing ATSC 3.0 to fruition in the U.S. “I will be thrilled to join him in promoting this exciting new technology,” Simington says. Why is ATSC 3.0 so important? “ATSC 3.0 provides broadcasters with the same technology toolkit enjoyed by the internet to improve the services they already provide. For instance, IP-based technology makes possible more targeted advertising, which makes broadcast television a more attractive platform for advertisers to connect with their customers. That’s an important innovation.” Meanwhile, Simington is strongly in support of the “overdue” transition to OFDM signal technology. This, he says, means that America catches up with the rest of the world when it comes to broadcast standards. “For many Americans who live on the edges of coverage contours, it means a much better signal,” he notes. Datacasting and highly local single frequency networks (SFNs) are also focal points for Simington.
ALIGNED, ACROSS BOTH AISLES At the start of the Trump Administration, the American Enterprise Institute directed much of the policy path for the Pai Commission — a path some would say was highly positive for radio and TV compared to that of Tom Wheeler, the FCC Chairman in the final years of the Obama administration. Simington sees it differently. “I may object a bit to the characterization that anyone other than Chairman Pai directed the policy path for the Commission under Chairman Pai,” he says. “While I recognize that AEI and Chairman Pai were aligned on a great many issues, Commissioners on both sides of the aisle are people of independent judgment who keep open minds. [Former] Chairman Newton Minow told me recently that he was proud of his
FAR FROM A ONE-ISSUE MAN
record of avoiding partisan votes. I think that’s a great aspiration for an expert, independent agency.” He continues, “Commissioners serve the public interest, and I do not wish to prejudge the positions that my colleagues at the Commission may wind up taking in the earliest innings of a Democratled Commission. For instance, remember that Commissioners Harold Furchtgott-Roth and Gloria Tristani found themselves aligned on the initial cut at liberalization of media ownership rules during the Bush administration, albeit for different reasons. We see emerging bipartisan consensus on a number of issues, like Section 230, in various cases. Issues like this are becoming less and less ‘corner cases’ and more and more about common goals emerging from common concerns for the public good.” Simington also wonders if “net neutrality” will prove to be an opportunity to create similar moments of alignment. “Maybe not; my crystal ball is in the shop,” he jokes. “But, if there are such moments to be discovered, I hope that they will be about pruning some of the elements of Title II with the heaviest regulatory load.” If not, Simington worries about what the future of internet access will look like for the American consumer, despite best-laid plans. “If we make infrastructure investments unattractive, they will not get made, which is an argument that I believe will have legs among thoughtful people of both parties,” he says. While Simington is hopeful for cross-aisle support of media regulations that make sense in the modern era, he’s forthright in his belief that the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in FCC v. Prometheus paves the way for the liberalization of ownership concentration. “The Prometheus decision makes clear that we have a mandate to take a fresh look at our existing rules, with appropriate deference to Congress, and regulate for the public interest and the future without undue overhang from bygone eras,” he says. “Google earns more ad revenue than the broadcast industry as a whole. Mr. Beast, a single creator on YouTube, gets about as many viewers per day across his channels as Dr. Phil, Live with Kelly and Ryan, Maury Povich, Rachael Ray, Wendy Williams and Dr. Oz combined. But we shouldn’t be too bleak. Broadcasting has market differentiators and value, including value to democracy, that online content as currently conceived struggles to replicate. It’s time for us to think clearly about what those are and to ask whether the current regime permits them to flourish. There was a time to worry about broadcast media, print media or radio owners exerting too much control in local markets. Suffice it to say, I do not believe that should be our most pressing concern.”
AN OPEN DOOR, AND EAR Simington thinks of himself as a nerd when it comes to his
SIMINGTON (Continued on 21)
Nathan Simington’s nomination to the FCC was fueled largely by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and his views on it. With Democrats now in control at the Commission, in the White House, and on Capitol Hill, how can social media be, in his view, best regulated with respect to speech and liability? “There was definitely a lot of press interest in the Section 230 aspect of my nomination, but while Section 230 is a big, controversial issue, I don’t think that would have been enough to secure confirmation,” he says. While Pai in the days before the 2020 election suggested it, the Commission has yet to take up a Section 230 item. Through Simington’s confirmation process, Senators he spoke with were primarily concerned with other issues, including rural broadband, spectrum commercialization, defense and federal spectrum, permitting and construction, media regulation, telehealth, school connectivity, and closing the digital divide. “I had more conversations about all of these subjects than about Section 230,” he says. With an emerging consensus that Congress will handle Section 230, the last thing he would want is for the FCC to do something that gets in the way.
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Premieres July 10, 2021, at 7 p.m. ET The 2021 Celebration of Service to America Awards honors local radio and television stations’ excellence in community service. From raising funds for charities to raising awareness of important health and social issues and everything in between, a local broadcaster’s work is never done. Tune in and explore the exceptional stories of America’s broadcasters showing up for their communities. To learn more, please visit ServiceToAmericaAwards.org.
Here Are Broadcast Television’s
Best Leaders of 2021 RBR+TVBR’s third annual reader Honor Roll shakes up the rankings, following a year like no other in modern times. Before January 2020, stating in an article that the last year has zoomed by would hardly elicit groans or even suggest that a corny pun was being used in the introductory paragraph of an article in a business publication. Yet here we are. Zoom meetings, with our voices and faces digitally connecting us to others in ways we perhaps never conceived prior to mid-March 2020’s arrival of a global pandemic in North America, persist. Perhaps they will until the first snowfall of the winter season. With the release of our Spring 2020 Special Report, RBR+TVBR, like many of our radio and television industry leaders, had been plunged deep into the Great Unknown, presented by coronavirus. Falling share prices and ad cancellations — along with the postponement by one year of the Summer Olympic Games — began to devastate broadcast media. Leaders commiserated. Plans of action were executed. And, in the television industry, swift recoveries — some, perhaps, faster than others — came over the next several months. By the end of 2020, most broadcast TV companies were on solid footing financially. There were even blockbuster deals to report, such as ION Media’s acquisition by The E.W. Scripps Co., which closed in early January 2021. Then, in February 2021, Quincy Media, Inc. revealed that Gray Television 8 · RB R .C O M · S PRIN G 2021
would be buying all of its television assets. The price: $950 million. Thanks to record-setting political advertising and continued retransmission consent revenue cushioning dips in core advertising, broadcast television’s financial health is strong. On the air, reporters and anchors expertly adjusted to live newscasts from their homes, while covering COVID-19 testing and vaccination updates in their communities. For some, social injustice protests thrust field reporters into emergency situations, putting them at high risk while delivering important news to local viewers. Through it all, broadcast television shined. And the readers of RBR+TVBR have acknowledged this by saluting 15 exceptional leaders who have steered their ships through stormy waters that may still be a bit patchy, but today are relatively calm and full of hope. With that, RBR+TVBR is proud to reveal Broadcast Television’s Best Leaders of 2021. These individuals have demonstrated in various ways how to motivate their local and regional teams to success. They are all winners, and are power players in an industry best equipped to act, and react, in a time of crisis. Congratulations to all for their leadership, and all they have done to make local TV as important today as it was at its advent.
The E.W. Scripps Co., President/ Local Media 2020 Rank: No. 11
To be clear, the Broadcast Television’s Best Leaders list is not a popularity contest. In addition to the many reader nominations we receive, a careful consideration of all nominees by the RBR+TVBR executive leadership team is conducted before our rankings are finalized. Yet Brian Lawlor received a flurry of individual nominations. They come in recognition of a transformative period at Scripps that includes the divestment of Triton Digital to iHeartMedia, and the acquisition of ION Media — a move that made Scripps a dominant and influential purveyor of local and national video
content. With the corporate motto “Give Light,” Lawlor has done just that as the individual responsible for growth and continued success at such local market giants as WPTV-5 in West Palm Beach and KSBY-6 in San Luis Obispo, Calif. At the same time, Lawlor is committed to long-term initiatives, including the continued comeback of WKBW-7 in Buffalo against a pair of very strong competitors. With oversight of 61 television stations in 41 markets, Lawlor was asked what, in his view, makes him a great leader — not only since his first professional role, but across the last year. “I am coming up on 30 years working at Scripps,” he says. “Scripps is a journalism company, and I believe my ability to connect to the responsibility and purpose we have in that role — our commitment to serving our communities and to our employees
and their development — has allowed me to succeed as a leader. When you believe 100% in the company mission, it is much easier to be believable as a leader. With the challenges of 2020, our communities and viewers needed our objective reporting and commitment to critical information more than ever. We stayed the course, though for many that meant doing their jobs from their kitchen tables.” Asked what the biggest challenge has been in the last year, and how he tackled it, Lawlor responds, “I believe the biggest challenge was helping our employees successfully transition to remote work. I, along with other Scripps leaders, made a commitment early on to communicate consistently. I provided regular video updates, from my dining room table, to answer employee questions and help keep them focused on our responsibility in getting our viewers the information they needed to get through this challenging time.” The past year also saw many media organizations launch initiatives designed to foster diversity and inclusion. Lawlor is proud to say that Scripps embarked on its EDI journey several years ago. “When the racial justice and civil unrest events of 2020 brought issues of equity, diversity and inclusivity to the forefront in national conversation, I believe our employees and newsrooms were able to better understand the conversation that was happening in America and report on it thoroughly for their communities,” he says. “We all have a long way to go, but I am proud that Scripps was an early leader in the industry in training and the advancement of balanced journalism with regard to equity, diversity and inclusion.”
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Hearst Television, President New Entrant
Jordan Wertlieb would never call himself a “great leader.” That’s for others to determine, he shared with RBR+TVBR upon learning of his first ever appearance on the Broadcast Television’s Best Leaders list. And what a statement his debut makes, as he ranks No. 2 based on reader input and careful analysis from the editorial board of RBR+TVBR. Wertlieb’s first ever placement among Broadcast Television’s Best Leaders follows his receipt in January
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of a National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) Iris Award. Specifically, he was given the Lew Klein Award for Leadership. Under Wertlieb, Hearst has invested in central digital content teams, and November 2020 saw its Litton Entertainment arm launch an AVOD platform, Xplore. At the same time, it has devoted much in the way of promotion and outreach for nationally distributed programs including Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien and the investigative Rossen Reports. And, of course, Hearst’s local broadcast TV stations continue to grow. To help attract talent, it promoted Savannah-based WJCL-22 News Director Sinan Sidar to Director of News Talent Recruitment at Hearst Television just as the COVID-19 pandemic’s worst was in Georgia’s rearview mirror. WJCL is just one of 33 standout stations in the Hearst family, with WCVB-5 in Boston its flagship, and KCRA-3 in Sacramento perhaps its biggest West Coast property. Wertlieb’s leadership is largely to thank for much of Hearst’s current success. Yet he’s reticent to take full responsibility for the company’s performance. “Great leaders build great teams with diverse backgrounds and expertise and give them the
resources to succeed,” he says. “I couldn’t be prouder of the leaders throughout Hearst Television, especially this year. Their focus has been on keeping our people safe, our audiences and communities informed, and providing our clients the flexibility they need to manage their business during these challenging times.” Asked what he considers to be the three top characteristics needed to lead people in broadcast television through 2030, Wertlieb says it comes down to a commitment to more local programming, a greater variety of distribution platforms, and diversity in recruitment and staffing, which can ensure the product reflects the communities a station serves.
FOX Television Stations, CEO 2020 Ranking: No. 4
While the 2021 Broadcast Television’s Best Leaders rankings look quite different from last year, there is some stability toward the top of the list. And that’s thanks to the steady leadership of one of the industry’s most respected leaders. Jack Abernethy has a rich history at FOX. From August 2016 until May 2018, he was
You Did It Again. We congratulate our friend and colleague, Pat LaPlatney, for a job well done. He has been selected as one of Radio + Television Report’s 2021 Broadcast Television’s Best Leaders.
Great job, Pat!
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named one of Broadcast Television's Best Leaders by RBR+TVBR Congratulations from all of us at
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“Our audience is people, not demos. We need to serve them and stop relying on ‘pushing,’ ‘pulling,’ ‘teasing’ or ‘leveraging.’” — Jack Abernethy
President of FOX News Network. Early in his tenure for FOX, which began 25 years ago, he served as CFO for FOX News Network. “I am lucky to have spent the last 25 years at FOX, a decidedly entrepreneurial company,” Abernethy tells RBR+TVBR. “As such, leaders are expected to manage their business, embrace their audience and chart their future. Most bureaucratic companies pass much of that responsibility to corporate staff and/or consultants. Therefore, there is less leadership accountability and more of a focus on other things, like managing up. Complaining is easy. It’s hard to shift through old paradigms. Leaders at every level need to create connections, support creative expressions and make deci-
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sions that encourage risks when people are scared and resistant to change.” With a quarter-century of experience, what does Abernethy have to share with respect to tomorrow’s broadcast TV industry leader? “A broadcast leader must get the right people who are well suited to face the challenges in our industry,” he says. “Leaders must hire people who understand the complexities of our business as it is today. But that is only the first requirement. Going forward, it is crucial that we have people at all levels who embrace change.” Abernethy also believes broadcasting needs optimists, not those hoping the good old days will magically return. “We need leaders who understand the needs and desires of their local communities and are excited about the possibilities that innovation and new technologies bring,” he says. Lastly, Abernethy feels strongly that broadcast TV’s future leaders must continue to recognize that the viewers have the power
… “and we must be responsive to their needs. Our audience is people, not demos. We need to serve them and stop relying on ‘pushing,’ ‘pulling,’ ‘teasing’ or ‘leveraging.’”
Graham Media Group, President/CEO 2020 Ranking: No. 14
In the face of a pandemic and ensuring the company’s broadcast TV stations covered COVID-19 with all the resources they needed, Emily Barr delivered for Graham’s local television stations, found in Houston, Detroit, San Antonio, Orlando, Jacksonville, and in Roanoke, Va. She’s also become a familiar figure on Capitol Hill, thanks to her role as the NAB’s Television Board Chair. From advocacy for broadcast TV that ranges from the rollout of ATSC 3.0 to reinforcing the importance
6 Emily Barr
of local journalism, Barr has been a fierce defender of — and fighter for — over-theair television. These reasons explain why Barr appears at No. 4 in this year’s ranking, thanks largely to reader input. “I have always tried to ‘clear a path’ for our stations and employees so that they can do their best work,” Barr tells RBR+TVBR. “This has been especially true this past year when faced with the myriad challenges of working while dealing with COVID-19 and last year’s civil unrest. Approximately 75% of our employees across the company are working remotely, and doing so at a very high level. Communicating to everyone in a regular and transparent manner has also reduced the stress and uncertainty that comes with working through a pandemic. So, to that end, I write a weekly memo to update everyone on details large and small and encourage their feedback and engagement.” Asked about her biggest challenge as a leader since March 2020, Barr replies, “Moving what have always been highly centralized operations to a remote workforce and covering critically important local news while not skipping a beat.” In a sense, Graham had to “change the tires on the car while zooming around the track at a high speed.” It wasn’t easy, but she’s enormously proud of how Graham’s stations and businesses adapted.
What are the top three characteristics needed to lead people in broadcast television through 2030?
“Curiosity, empathy, intelligence.” — Emily Barr, Graham Media Group
Gray Television, President and co-CEO 2020 Ranking: No. 6
Just under 2 1/2 years ago, Pat LaPlatney took the co-CEO reins at Gray Television,
working alongside Hilton Howell III. It was far more than a ceremonial role following Gray’s merger with Raycom Media, which LaPlatney led. In December, when Gray Television quietly fired up its NEXTGEN TV operation in Tallahassee, Fla., it was LaPlatney who singled out corporate engineers, local engineers and corporate IT specialist John Jacob for getting the job done. Today, LaPlatney is playing an integral role in Gray’s in-the-works purchase of Quincy Media, Inc.’s TV stations, announced in January 2021. RBR+TVBR connected with LaPlatney to share the news of his honor as one of Broadcast Television’s Best Leaders and asked what he believes has made him a great leader. He replies, “If I have done anything right, I have hired the right people most of the time, and let them do their jobs.” He also shared what the biggest challenge has been since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, and how he tackled it. “Communication during the pandemic was an underappreciated skill, and our company and senior management put significant focus on communicating with our people,” LaPlatney says. “We have a weekly meeting focused on the impact of COVID on our employees, and how we can make a positive impact on them and the company at large. Many great ideas came out of those meetings and were implemented across the organization.” Diversity and inclusion initiatives are also at the top of LaPlatney’s priority list. Gray Television has been working closely with the professional consulting and training team at the Adaway Group to support its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts since 2019. As broadcast TV moves forward into the 2020s, and out of a pandemic, what should leaders consider as they direct their organizations? “I’m not sure I would use the word ‘fearlessness,’ but we will all need to be aggressive and courageous as the world changes before us, and we begin to change the world. Good leaders are always good listeners, and are constantly looking for a competitive advantage.”
Meredith Local Media Group, President New Entrant
On July 1, 2018, Patrick McCreery ascended from Local Media Group EVP to his current role as President. In doing so, he took over responsibilities from Paul Karpowitz, who retired after 13 years in the role. It was a swift rise for McCreery, who began 2018 by rising from VP/News & Marketing. Since then, McCreery, who has been with Meredith since 2002, when he became a Special Projects Executive Producer at KPHO-5 in Phoenix, has stewarded a division of a company that today includes properties in Portland, Ore.; Nashville; St. Louis; Mobile, Ala.; and Springfield, Mass.; among other markets. And he’s gained recognition among his peers as an exceptional leader, though he’s been in his role for just three years. It’s a role that could become somewhat bigger: Meredith Corp. in September 2020 revealed it was taking “a prudent step to increase the number of options available” by seeking shareholder approval of an amendment to its charter. What would this amendment do? A split of its national and
local assets — should it elect to make such a move — would occur. At press time, there was little belief that such a move would happen. But, in a year when unthinkable occurrences transpired, we won’t jinx ourselves. McCreery, who notes that “empathy backed up with action” has helped make him a strong leader, was asked how broadcast television can help fuel the eventual transition to ATSC 3.0 among consumers, and whether Meredith Local Media is ready to take advantage of the data-side revenue potential it brings. “We are already broadcasting on the NEXTGEN TV platform in Phoenix and Portland, Oregon,” he says. “We are also actively planning to launch in Atlanta and S P R I N G 2 0 2 1 · R B R . C O M · 15
Kansas City by the end of the year. I think broadcasters must use the power of our platforms to raise consumer awareness and encourage adoption.” McCreery was also asked about Meredith’s efforts tied to mentoring future leaders, in addition to DEI initiatives. “We understand that representation matters, so we strive to reflect the communities we serve on the air and behind the scenes,” he said. “When I started as President, we launched an internal Emerging News Leaders program that seeks to identify the next generation of leaders and provide them with additional training and mentorship. This summer, Meredith is launching a new Summer Associates Program to increase the diversity of our talent pool and recruit future Meredith employees with varied skillsets and experiences.”
Nexstar Media Group, President/CEO 2020 Ranking: No. 1
Vision, flexibility and patience. Those are the top three characteristics Perry Sook believes the broadcast TV leaders of tomorrow will possess. “You have to know where you are going and be very clear about what you are asking people to do,” he shares. It’s been an intriguing year for Nexstar, which now owns such former Tribune crown jewels as KTLA-5 in Los Angeles and WGN-9 in Chicago. It’s also invested heavily in NewsNation, the former WGN America, under the leadership of Sean Compton. On Wall Street, a late March 2020 COVID19-fueled dip was quickly erased; Nexstar shares in early April were at new record highs, in the mid-$140 range. Clearly, Nexstar, and Sook, are riding high, even with slow growth at NewsNation. As such, Sook’s change in rank from last 16 · R B R . C O M · S P R I N G 2 0 2 1
year should not be viewed in a negative light. Given all we’ve experienced in the last 14 months, it merely reflects how Sook has successfully delegated responsibilities to key C-Suite leaders including Tim Busch, Nexstar’s President of Broadcasting. In fact, Busch received several nominations from readers of RBR+TVBR. But Busch is retiring on June 1, setting the stage for Sook to select his successor. “Throughout my career, I have tried to hire good people who are talented and passionate about their work,” Sook tells RBR+TVBR. “We have a great team at Nexstar; I set their objectives and provide them with some guardrails, and then get out of the way. Over the last year, I have tried to listen even more, be patient and adapt to the challenges brought on by the pandemic. Most important, I have tried to look out for the health and welfare of Nexstar’s 13,000 employees in 2020 by setting up workplace environments that keep our people safe.” With that attitude, Sook has been not so much in the back seat, but at the wheel of a ship with many lieutenants, carrying out a unified mission. This will undoubtedly continue well into the decade, with Sook entrusting Busch’s successor with all the navigation devices needed to ensure further growth.
Quincy Media, Inc., President/ CEO 2020 Ranking: No. 7
“This was a difficult decision for our Board of Directors and shareholders.” Thus began one of the final public statements offered in 2021 by Ralph Oakley, as Quincy Media’s board of directors on February 1, 2021, approved the sale of the company to Gray Television for $925 million. Closing is expected to occur by the time you read this, or perhaps in the third quarter of 2021. Once the transaction is complete, Quincy Media will conclude 95 years of operations, all from its headquarters in Quincy, Ill. Gray will assume such heritage stations as CBS affiliate WBNG-12 in Binghamton, N.Y., and the NBC affiliates in Rockford and Peoria, Ill. Remarking on Quincy’s operation of its stations, Oakley says, “We have always put community service first and have served our viewers, listeners and readers with the best in news and public service. We have also taken a leadership role in trying to improve the economic development and quality of life in the places where we operate and, particularly, here in our hometown of Quincy.” He’s confident Gray will continue that mission.
Weigel Broadcasting, EVP and President of Content and Networks New Entrant
In June 2014, the Chicago Tribune proclaimed him “the programming mastermind behind MeTV,” the popular digital multicast TV network that spawned a syndicated Classic Hits radio brand. But Neal Sabin is much more than that. He’s also served as President of Content and Networks at Weigel’s flagship property, WCIU-26 in Chicago, which successfully scored The CW Network in 2019 after WGN-9 decided to move forward without it. Under Sabin, who was hired by the Shapiro family’s Weigel Broadcasting in 1994, WCIU was transformed, becoming a strong independent TV station in Chicago. From that experience came oversight of local stations serving Milwaukee and South Bend, Ind., owned by Weigel. That said, it is MeTV, along with digital multicast networks Movies!, Heroes & Icons, Decades and Start TV that have kept Weigel’s national presence strong. And, with cordcutting leading new viewers to discover these networks, the future looks rosy for Sabin.
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“The industry continues to evolve, and Weigel has changed dramatically along with it,” the company says. “What remains unchanged is Weigel’s dedication to serving our audiences and clients with compelling programming, products and innovation.”
Sinclair Broadcast Group, President/CEO 2020 Ranking: No. 8
He was the CFO from April 2014 through January 2017, when he rose to President/CEO. Today, he leads a broadcasting company that continues to take the lead on NEXTGEN TV’s rollout through its strategic investments and partnerships. Sinclair today is also in the cable TV space, thanks to its acquisition of former FOX-branded regional sports networks that now carry the Bally Sports brand. While the COVID-19 pandemic made the immediate impact of the RSNs difficult for Sinclair and its investors, the long term suggests the venture into sports will be accretive. Meanwhile, Sinclair in January entered the syndicated morning news business by debuting The National Desk. Could the Canada-born Ripley be paying homage to The National, the long-running CBC news program? Nope. Sinclair’s offering is designed to be a headline news service, rather than a newsmagaChris Ripley zine. This complements Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson, a Sunday-morning public affairs and politics program airing across Sinclair’s television stations. Given the mix, the media-shy Ripley will likely remain a key broadcast television leader in the eyes of RBR+TVBR readers for years to come.
BYRON ALLEN Allen Media Group, Chairman/CEO New Entrant
If there’s any single individual whose stature in the broadcast television world has grown perhaps the fastest, it is Byron Allen. Forty years ago, he was a host of the first “reality” series, NBC’s Real People. Today, he’s swiftly established himself as one of the nation’s most successful African American media leaders. Allen, who has shown his prowess as an individual in charge of Entertainment Studios and The Weather Channel, is now being recognized for his role as a broadcast TV station owner. 18 · R B R . C O M · S P R I N G 2 0 2 1
Today, Allen Media Group owns 14 stations, including ABC affiliate KITV-4 in Honolulu, which AMG purchased from the Lilly family of Erie, Pa. And it is poised to grow, with many rumors swirling at press time as to how Allen will accomplish this stated goal. On a day when Allen Media revealed it is partnering with Verizon for a black-ownedmedia summit to be held in May, Byron Allen shared with RBR+TVBR what makes a great leader. “Leaning in on the tough conversations and dealing with the tasks and challenges that others do not want to address,” he says. “Those are some of the characteristics that will always separate you from the rest.” With the pandemic impacting many broadcasting companies, Allen took on the challenge of converting the setbacks tied to COVID-19 to position Allen Media Group for long-term sustainable growth. “Albert Einstein said it best when he said, ‘The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.’ I feel that is important in life and also in business — especially the broadcast television business today. Allen Media Group will always adapt.” What, in his view, are the top three characteristics needed to lead people in broadcast television through 2030? “Number one is recruiting human capital that can adapt for long-term growth,” Allen says. “Number two is to set and reach goals while fulfilling a vision that has never been achieved before. Number three, while accomplishing those goals and fulfilling that vision, is the unwavering passion to change the world for the greater good.”
News-Press & Gazette Co., President/Broadcast New Entrant
From its headquarters in St. Joseph, Mo., NPG has served consumers with 13 daily and weekly publications in Missouri and Kansas for years. Then there’s the
broadcasting arm, which includes stations in the Coachella Valley, Monterey-Salinas, and Central Coast regions of California; Colorado Springs; Idaho Falls; El Paso; Bend, Ore.; Yuma, Ariz.; and Columbia, Mo., in addition to its home market. The Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-San Luis Obispo DMA is a particular highlight for NPG, which purchased KEYT-3 from Smith Media for $14.25 million in September 2012. By early 2019, KEYT and its CBS and FOX siblings hosted members of the Advanced Television Systems Committee, with KEYT becoming an early adopter of NEXTGEN Television. Back home in St. Joseph, NPG tested the waters with the FCC’s cross-ownership rule rewrite by seeking approval of the purchase of KQTV-2 from Heartland Media. Now, with the Supreme Court’s unanimous rejection of a Third Circuit remand of the Commission’s rule rewrite, could a new deal be forged between the two companies?
It’s likely a thought for Mike Meara, who is based in St. Louis and is the former GSM of KSDK-5 and, before that, KPLR-11. “I have been fortunate to work for great organizations and ownership groups my whole career,” Meara says. “I have had great bosses and a handful of mentors along the way and learned something from each of them. I think I am most proud of the people we have been able to hire at News Press & Gazette. We have a great culture that attracts talented, smart and passionate people. We provide them with clear vision, goals and expectations and give them the autonomy to run their business locally.” With NPG’s TV properties all in smaller markets, Meara believes his company is in a unique position to bring people into the industry with their first jobs. “We feel part of our responsibility to them is to help them grow, whether it is preparing them for a larger market or preparing them for leadership positions within the company,” he says. “We strive to promote from within NPG. In addition, operating in small markets gives us the opportunity to provide new leaders their
Thank you, team TEGNA, for your passion and drive to serve our local communities when they need it most.
first opportunity to lead. We know that hiring to reflect the community allows us to better serve the communities in which we operate. That being said, we are never content with the way things are, and are actively working to find ways to improve.” With KEYT an innovator, Meara was asked about ATSC 3.0 and its ongoing national rollout. “Broadcasters united and working in conjunction with the networks and the NAB will help fuel the transition to ATSC 3.0,” he says. “NPG believes in the potential of ATSC and has been an early adopter. [NPG head] David Bradley serves on the NAB Board and has been working with them on ATSC. Jim DeChant, our VP of Technology, has established himself as an industry expert and advocate for ATSC. We’re looking to start experimenting with business models related to the data side and are excited about the potential.”
TEGNA, President/CEO 2020 Rank: No. 9
Dave Lougee, who heads the TV stations owned by the company formerly known as Gannett, has had quite the 12 months. In mid-March 2020, talk of a bidding war surfaced. Nothing happened. Then came Soohyung
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Lougee appreciates the opportunity to be included among Broadcast Television’s Best Leaders of 2021. However, he believes everything the company accomplished in 2020 is a credit to the work of its employees.
Kim and his Standard Media, which planted among the nominees for its board of directors an individual with a vendetta against Lougee, creating headlines in early 2021. All the while, TEGNA shares continued to climb — and as of early April they were at prices not seen by TEGNA since its transition from Gannett. Meanwhile, several TEGNA stations have been standouts in their coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic and social justice protests in their communities, including KARE-11, the NBC affiliate serving Minneapolis-St. Paul. That’s why Lougee was saluted once again by RBR+TVBR readers, even as rumors swirl that by year’s end a big transaction involving some — if not all — of TEGNA’s stations could be seen.
IVAN STOILKOVICH Estrella Media, EVP of Television Programming New Entrant
As 2019 came to a close, LBI Media brought on Jason Hall to head up advertising sales and Ivan Stoilkovich to direct Estrella Media’s programming efforts. The moves were among the first by new CEO Peter Markham as LBI emerged from bankruptcy and quickly shed all vestiges of the Liberman family by renaming itself Estrella Media. Today, the Estrella TV parent and Spanishlanguage radio station owner continues to grow. In May, it will be the lone U.S. Hispanicfocused media company participating in the NewFronts, the IAB’s digitally focused early ad-commitment event that mirrors the television industry’s Upfronts. Stoilkovich will likely be front and center, as he oversees all aspects of production, including day-to-day operations and everything from idea generation to execution, developed
and produced by Estrella TV. Across 2020, those duties proved challenging. Stoilkovich took on those challenges and excelled. “There have been so many challenges,” he says. “Our business changed overnight, from designing safe sets to implementing safety protocols, shifting to a work-fromhome strategy and then trying to figure out how to operate and produce content in a world where everything became exponentially more difficult. “Producing television content in the middle of a pandemic became close to impossible. We tackled the challenges we faced together as a team, and we realized we had to be more flexible and creative than ever before to be able to continue producing content in an uncharted and constricted environment.” With DEI initiatives a key topic across the first months of 2021, Stoilkovich notes how Estrella Media has a predominantly minority workforce. “We pride ourselves on providing opportunities to our employees to advance and cross-train with different functions,” he says. “As a smaller and more nimble operation, we are often able to offer on-the-job training to employees who wish to pursue other positions within the company and across our various divisions and platforms. Many of our leaders have worked their way
up through the ranks. We are also hoping to partner with local academic institutions to create opportunities for minority college students seeking a career in Spanishlanguage broadcast media.” What does he have to say about his abilities as a leader? “I am a firm believer in leading by example,” he says. “It boils down to being a good listener and understanding the challenges of the organization. I view myself as part of the team, and I prioritize treating people with respect and communicating clearly so that expectations are well-defined. If someone needs help or is unclear, give them the support and resources they need to get the job done and set them up for success.”
Circle City Broadcasting, Owner and President/CEO New Entrant
In April 2019, DuJuan McCoy’s experience as a television station owner changed in a significant way. For $42.5 million, he purchased the CW Network and MyNetwork TV affiliates serving Indianapolis from Nexstar Media Group and said goodbye to his other properties. Since then, he’s invested dollars, and his own sweat, into WISH-7 and WNDY-23. In fact, McCoy is so passionate about these two stations — soon to be joined by low-power TV stations being purchased by Circle City in other Indiana markets — that he’s waged war against DISH Network. Why? It’s a carriage dispute, one McCoy argues is racially motivated. The matter sits in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, awaiting a judge’s decision. As an African American broadcaster, McCoy has emerged as a spirited and outspoken individual in support of a meaningful FCC incubator program, and ways to
SIMINGTON (Continued from 6) radio and TV consumption. “I’m a heavy user of classical music streaming,” he admits. That said, “I really like WQXR and WCRB.” Those are the noncommercial Classical FMs serving New York and Boston, respectively. “I tune into Evenings with Terrance McKnight and during the day I often stream Cathy Fuller and Chris Voss.” What about visual media? “I don’t have much time for TV right now, I’m afraid,” he admits. “That’s too bad, because long-form TV has never been more ambitious. I did manage to see ‘Chernobyl,’ and it was an astonishing accomplishment — my wife grew up under Communism and the details, both in set design and characterization, were so accurate that it was hard for us to watch. I hope to catch up on everything once I’m no longer serving on the Commission, but the backlog will probably be impossible to catch up with.” As the conversation came to a close, Simington was asked if he could pinpoint the most important thing about himself that radio
encourage others like him to become radio and/or TV station owners. Asked about how Circle City is mentoring the leaders of tomorrow and addressing diversity and inclusion, McCoy shares, “DE&I may be new to many companies and people today, but, for me, it has always been a natural, lifelong initiative. Some say I have become the poster child for DEI initiatives. I’ve dedicated my entire career to the advancement of diverse individuals and voices in the media industry with my time, money, hiring and business strategy. In November 2020, I announced the launching of the Multicultural News Network (MNN) in partnership with Cox Media Group. This is the epitome of DE&I and will become the foremost national voice for each of the nation’s underserved multicultural groups and communities.” With McCoy’s first-ever inclusion among Broadcast Television’s Best Leaders, how does he see himself, and what makes him a great leader? “It has been my drive, ambition and vision, along with empathy and compassion toward people and the ability to energize critical and creative thinking on all levels,” he says. “Be a nimble visionary; have context and empathy towards all people.” ABOUT BROADCAST TELEVISION’S BEST LEADERS: This ranked Honor Roll is produced from RBR+TVBR reader nominations, which were gathered via e-mail over a period of several weeks in early 2021. © 2021 Streamline Publishing.
and TV industry leaders should know. “First, I want to enable innovation, new technologies, and new business models,” he says. “Second, I want regulatory stability. Whenever I can advocate to stop a partisan pendulum swinging between administrations on a matter of FCC policy, I will do so. An adequate but stable rule is better than a good rule that is in danger of being revoked every election cycle.” Third, Simington prefers, whenever possible, “fewer and more modest rules.” He opines, “One way to approach a ‘light touch’ is to examine older rules that no one even colorfully argues make sense for the way that business is done today. If I can assist in honorably retiring regulations that are now as meaningful as The Anti-Gold Futures Act or the National Maximum Speed Law, I will.” Lastly, he says, “I am here to listen. I have a proverbial open-door policy; it isn’t particularly difficult to get a meeting with me or my staff. I want to know what you think, because it helps me to clarify how I think.” S P R I N G 2 0 2 1 · R B R . C O M · 21
New Life for ‘Franken FMs’? They’re licensed as analog VHF television stations placed on Channel 6. For consumers and these station owners, however, they act like radio stations, thanks to the transponding audio channel of 87.7 MHz. Come July 13, a switch to all-digital service is required by the FCC. This would kill the radio component of these stations — or would it? The clock is ticking for the “Franken FM,” a nickname bestowed by the broadcast media industry on such operations as WRME-LP 6 in Chicago, operated by Weigel Broadcasting but owned by Venture Technologies Group, and WDCN-LP 6 in Washington, D.C., licensed to Signal Above LLC but operated by one Walter Torrez. Yet the future of the radio broadcasting components of these low-power facilities — all of which have an expiration date — appears to vary from market to market. In the Nation’s Capital, Torrez had little to share when RBR+TVBR spoke with him in mid-March regarding his plans for “La Nueva 87.7.” The Spanish-language station, which competes against Audacy’s WLZL “El Zol 107.9” on the opposite end of the FM dial, could end up an online-only station. Could the lease of another radio station be in the works? “We don’t know yet,” Torrez said. “We’ve been shopping around.” Torrez spoke repeatedly of La Nueva’s importance to the region’s Hispanic community, which has evolved tremendously since the early 1990s, when a handful of AM radio stations targeted Salvadorans, then the biggest population group among Latinos. More importantly, he estimated “La Nueva 87.7”’s audience to be around 300,000 listeners. In the February 2021 Nielsen Audio ratings estimates for Washington, WDCN had a greater audience share than Regional Mexican WBQH. However, the stations target different segments of the Latino audience in the National Capital Region. Without an 87.7 FM home, what would listeners do? They may not have to do anything. On March 15, WDCN licensee Signal Above filed a construction permit extension request with the FCC seeking a six-month extension until January 10, 2022, to finish construction of its digital buildout. What about that July 13 absolute deadline for transition? Signal Above believes it has good cause “due to circumstances that are either unforeseeable or beyond the licensee’s control.” How so? It explains that it began its digital conversion 22 · R B R . C O M · S P R I N G 2 0 2 1
efforts some 18 months before the July 13, 2021 drop-dead conversion date. However, “despite ongoing efforts involving many phone calls, meetings and over 250 emails there remain site availability and equipment availability issues beyond Signal Above’s control which seriously jeopardize the ability to complete construction” by that deadline day. A new tower site is part of the frustration for Signal Above. Due to spacing issues, WDCN’s current tower is an unacceptable home for a digitally converted facility; its lease with American Tower Corp. expires in December. Thus, it explored other sites. This was in May 2020, and WDCN’s engineering consultants reached out to Boca Raton, Fla.-based SBA about a Merrifield, Va.-based tower site. The consultants prepared a preliminary engineering report. There was one key snag: the tower is on land owned by the Virginia Department of Transportation. Furthermore, there was no guarantee any space on the tower was available for Signal Above. “It became evident that a fair amount of on-site work was required to work out critical details,” the licensee said. Discussions with SBA began. As of the FCC filing date, Signal Above still awaited lease terms. “Until a lease is executed Signal Above cannot order the antenna and other necessary equipment,” it explained. That would take approximately 10 weeks, making a timely buildout nearly impossible. “Even assuming SBA signed a lease today there would be very little margin to line up a tower crew and to timely install the antenna and all the related necessary equipment,” the WDCN owner added. “Adding to the difficulty is the fact that there are only a very limited number of tower crews authorized to work on SBA towers.” But what about that 87.7 MHz offering? Signal Above filed an amendment to the CP extension request that addressed this. In plainest terms, WDCN should be allowed “to continue serving the public while it completes construction of its digital facilities.” And, Signal Above confirms that it is awaiting confirmation from the Commission “that it can offer an analog FM audio service on an ancillary or supplementary basis.”
AN ANXIOUS WAIT FOR ANCILLARY OK Those key words — ancillary or supplementary basis — could be the saving grace for the “Franken FM.”
And it is something that Venture Technologies Group is seeking for its own Channel 6 facilities. Like Signal Above, Venture on March 15 filed a digital conversion extension request — one that would give it the authority to “temporarily” continue analog transmissions. It, too, seeks a delay until Jan. 10, 2022. While Venture uses the COVID-19 pandemic as one reason it needs more time, it also asserts that LPTV stations operating on channel 6 “have remained in limbo awaiting guidance from the FCC about whether they can ‘operate analog FM radio type services on an ancillary or supplementary basis’ — an issue first raised in a 2014 notice of proposed rulemaking.” While the FCC reserves the right to reject this argument, submitted by Venture CEO Paul Koplin, and can also say no to Signal Above’s request, Koplin exudes confidence that the threat of a “Franken FM” fading on July 13 is one that’s been overblown. Thus, listeners to WRME — which is leased by Weigel and operates as Oldies “MeTV FM 87.7” — should have nothing to fret about concerning losing their favorite home for Classic Hits in Chicago. The same goes for Venture-owned KBKF-LP in San Jose, Calif., leased to Educational Media Foundation for use as the San Francisco Bay Area’s radio home of Worship Music network Air1. “It’s the first station to go digital with an analog subcarrier, which we believe fits within the current rules,” Koplin tells RBR+TVBR. With ATSC 3.0 in place, Koplin explains that it provides greater separation between the audio at 87.7 MHz and the video service the channel emits. “It doesn’t cause any interference to itself because it’s IP-based,” he says. That’s the crux of a plan the nation’s two biggest VHF Channel 6 licensees believe passes muster with the FCC. “Requiring the station to terminate operations … will disrupt service to the public … with no corresponding benefit,” Signal Above concluded. “Providing the station with special temporary authority and/or an extension of its analog license will eliminate this disruption and, therefore, is also in the public interest.” Whether the Commission agrees may still leave those who lease these facilities, and those who consume them, biting their nails in suspense.
Preventative & Predictive Driving out to a transmitter atop a hard-to-get-to broadcast tower to fix an RF problem is taxing enough. Checking to see that all is all right ahead of a potential issue is equally arduous, if not outright grueling. Thanks to technology, RF monitoring beyond the transmitter is erasing the Jeep trek and the jaunt out to noman’s land. Technical Services Group, a commercial audio-video solutions expert and broadcast engineering consultant, is one company that’s taking the lead on bringing RF monitoring solutions to broadcast media through IP technology. TSG’s Baton Rouge-based CEO, Bo Hoover, has a warning, however, for radio and TV station owners who may mistakenly believe electronic monitoring is a substitute for human site checks. “Because we can connect and monitor, the danger is not having anyone onsite,” he says. “Technology is part of the puzzle.” As Hoover explains, broadcast media was monitored by human beings when “all of this was invented.” Over time, RF monitoring got better, with modems and other tech advances. Now, IP is extending monitoring to places where good connectivity may be a challenge. “It’s outstanding to look at what we are able to do and what we will be able to do in the years ahead,” Hoover says. Still, the concept of being preventative and predictive could be seen as cost-prohibitive by some media companies, with a “react and act” budget-minded philosophy persisting across the executive leadership team. Hoover is eager to erase this outmoded mindset. “There is a disconnect,” he says. “How do you measure what you don’t spend? Modern finance and business theory is all about maximum efficiency in what we spend. But there is no way to judge what we save by what we don’t spend. When the million-dollar uh-oh pops up, how is that budgeted and how is that forecasted? The reactive scenario is far more expensive.” To illustrate his point, Hoover points to an individual who suffers a heart attack, then gets the medical bill. Could preventative measures been taken to keep this from happening? Hoover’s push to get media companies to think more preventatively will even come at a lesser profit, in a way, for his company. “I absolutely know that I make more money on reactive work than proactive work, and that sometimes can lead to a learning lesson
“I hate to have my phone ring all hours of the night, so we attempted to create the engineering department that no one can afford or no one is willing to have.” — Bo Hoover
because if we don’t do them, the big expensive ‘uh-ohs’ tend to continue.”
KEEPING THE TOWER SECURE Another big expense, but a necessary one, for a media company is tower maintenance. For some radio and television stations, preventative and predictive thought may be solely focused on the structure. But there are significant needs with respect to RF monitoring that are vitally important to over-the-air media delivery. Jay Martin, the VP of Sales at Dielectric, comments, “The tower itself is somewhat of a set structure, but RF monitoring is going to change with the season. Weather will deteriorate the components, and we’ve just gone through a massive repack. For some, that saw the move of equipment that may date back to the 1950s. When it was put in, there was a transmitter site specialist on site — a licensed engineer — that was required by the FCC.” This was repealed nearly 50 years ago by the Commission. “You’d essentially have to go in and look at the monitors, to see that everything was fine,” Martin recalls. “As time went on, that diminished.” With the No. 1 goal of a chief engineer to “protect the content” by keeping the facility up and running, Martin says a key monitoring need across the final weeks of winter involved transmission line failures. “In short, you can find where the problem is, and eliminate the guessing game of what the issue is,” Martin says. For those with transmission lines that are 20 years old, it’s time to take a good look at the performance of those lines, he advises. Hoover comments, “As modern equipment arrives in an IP world, it is more reliable than ever. But the people to maintain it are essential. You can no longer be a generalist, and that’s very hard to internalize within an
individual group or single stand-alone owner and operator.” That’s why groups like TSG are working hard to provide experts to a larger group of stations, where an individual focuses on a particular skill set. And, at TSG, efforts are powered by Hoover, who began his life in television broadcasting at the age of 15. He says his dad worked at a station that once had “a fabulous engineering department.” Consolidation led to fewer engineering positions. Then, a similar pattern began to take shape with FM radio stations. The result was the founding of TSG by Hoover. “My simple goal: I hate to have my phone ring all hours of the night, so we attempted to create the engineering department that no one can afford or no one is willing to have,” Hoover says. Are companies like TSG part of a new normal? “It’s part of a progression,” Hoover notes. “We just can’t foot the expense of having one or two guys with the knowledge.” At Dielectric, the RFHawkeye is a product being offered to stations seeking monitoring via IP. Martin says, “It allows remote access to not only monitor the line pressurization, but it allows for remote systems VSWR (voltage standing wave ratio), and changes in performance down to 1db. Those changes in performance, albeit minimal, can be watched all the time.” Thus, if the system gets to a “1.03,” notification is delivered so engineering can act with no delay.
THE C-SUITE SELL “You can’t use bubble gum and baling wire to keep the station on the air and all of a sudden something blows,” Hoover says. “There needs to be common ground on how we maintain a high-quality product and how we can cut costs.” That’s why the tug-of-war of upgrading versus staying the course needs to stop. “It’s a matter of an upgrade or paying three engineers to maintain something that is 30 years old,” Hoover says. Martin adds, “Information is king. The more information you can gain on your system, the more you’re going to get out of it over time.” Is that a good enough pitch for the C-Suite? Hoover sighs, “I can’t get a station to invest in $15,000 to make sure their station stays on the air. We have to get on the same page — we have to have a fresh approach, and IP makes a whole lot of things possible.” S P R I N G 2 0 2 1 · R B R . C O M · 23