Could Noncommercial Radio Be the Technology of the Future?

Bangladesh-Online-RadioNew Orleans   Recently I was visiting an amazing collection of fancy, high-tech radio studios that had largely been used to make commercials for local and national companies to run on the radio. According to the owner that business isn’t gone, but it’s drying up, partially because fewer dollars are being spent on either radio or television ads, but also because the technology has become more accessible and more companies and radio conglomerates are doing everything themselves. You buy an ad, and you get the production for free, essentially, or at least rolled into the price in a one-stop move, rather than jobbing it out. As I left he said something off-hand that caught my ear about radio being fading technology.

Of course that’s the buzz, since contemporary wisdom would be that the internet owns all of the future, but I wonder.

Amazon, which is a pretty future-forward company for both good and evil, has a new device called an Echo. Like the Kindle e-reader years ago, it’s not the most expensive tool out there priced a bit over $100. There’s a genie living in the Echo, whose name is Alexa, and you activate the device by talking to Alexa. You know the drill, “Alexa, what is the weather in Paris today?” “Alexa, what is the 7-day forecast in Toronto?” And, here’s the deal, Alexa answers you. No muss. No fuss. Amazon is one of these classically super secretive, super competitive techie companies, but when it comes to the Echo, they have encouraged other companies to develop applications for the device, which seamlessly connects the apps from your computer or whatever.

So what does this have to do with radio not being a horse-and-buggy technology but, just maybe, a hot ticket to the future? Well, accessing radio is still a million times easier to do from your car or old-fashioned radio set, than from your mobile phone or other devices. On the other hand with the Echo, all you have to say is, “Alexa, play KABF,” and, bam, there it is streaming in your house from a million miles away.

But, I’m not a salesman for Amazon, so my point is that this emerging revolution in voice recognition software and computer intelligence and capacity means that in a few years you can easily expect that we’ll be able to tell our phones, our computers, and any other devices, exactly what we want to hear, when we want to hear it, wherever we are, and there is nothing more ubiquitous than music on the radio. Certainly this is true for terrestrial stations that also stream on the internet, but it is also likely something that may become true for internet-only stations that could be accessed more easily on a voice-command.

Podcasts are not a growing audience according to surveys, but they are also more easily accessed in the same way by voice-command on a device like the Echo. Music still trumps because it more easily adapts as a background soundtrack to life, and noncommercial radio and internet stations will also have an advantage there because there will be less underwriting, talk, and commercial-like blah-blah. There will continue to be some business-model problems to resolve, but far from radio going the way of the manual typewriter, the new world coming of voice-command, immediate search and deliver internet-enabled music could provide radio with a spring in its step for quite a long time, everything being equal.


Please enjoy Banta’s Three Feet From Gold.  Thanks to Kabf.


Thirty-Three Years and What do you Get – A Very Loud Voice of the People!


sign and doors are part of KNON “museum” they are building with old sign, doors, and console


I knew KNON/89.3 FM, 60,000 watts of people power was moving from our old offices on Maple Street in Dallas when station manager Dave Chaos (and, yes, there are only one or two of us who remember his “real” name after 27 years with KNON!) reached out and asked if I wanted the old KNON broadcast console for the low power FM we’re in the process of building in New Orleans. Following up, it turned out the console was way too big for us, but KNON had been donated a super fancy, high-end console by Cumulus Broadcasting, one of the mega-casters of the US, as they relocated from Dallas to Denver. I hadn’t been by for some time, so hit Dave with a message to say I’d love to come take a look at the new setup and talk shop, and he immediately sent back a welcome – ahoy, come aboard.

DJ/s with new broadcast studio and new console

DJ/s with new broadcast studio and new console

KABF at 100,000 watts was another community radio station build by ACORN and just celebrated its 31st year at the end of August. ACORN took KNON on the air two years earlier around 1982, so the station ticked off its 33rd year recently. The first of the ACORN-organized and built non-commercial radio stations was in Tampa at WMNF, which must be 35 years at least at this point. New Orleans at WAMF, with the AMF standing for Affiliated Media Foundation Movement, the nonprofit that helped build and support all of these efforts, will be the foundling child of these pathbreakers when it finally manages to go on the air sometime before October 2016. None of this is easy, and KABF continues to struggle even as it builds more and more community support and popularity throughout central Arkansas, but walking through the new studios with Dave, it was exciting to see the benchmark KNON has set and to get a sense of its continued ambitions for the future. All of this is more and more proof that this is set of mountains worth the climb.

Offices are offices though but there were two things that stood out most dramatically at KNON in my tour, and one was a recognition of the future and the other a recognition of the past.


DSCN0927The two DJs on the air when Brother Dave and I walked in could hardly restrain themselves from telling me how much better the KNON sound came through the air from the second they had turned on the new console. The engineer’s verdict had been that the console had probably originally cost $100 grand, which is way outside of the reach of virtually any noncommercial! Almost as sweet as the sound was the sense of “what goes around, comes around,” because the console had been used by far right wing radio host, Michael Savage! Rumor at the station put a cherry on that icing of justice because supposedly Savage was livid when he heard the console had found a future home. No problem, Mike, justice is now being done!

plaque recognizing long time KNON engineer Mike Doyle recently passed away

plaque recognizing long time KNON engineer Mike Doyle recently passed away

Equally, as nice were some grace notes to the past prominently displayed in the studio. One was a nice plaque commemorating the services of Mike Doyle, who was our faithful engineer from the beginning until very recently when he passed away. The other was what Dave called the “KNON Museum” area in the hallway right after anyone would enter the station from the front door. The centerpiece that catches the eye first was the old KNON sign that stood for years in front of ACORN’s building on San Jacinto. Below that, nostalgia and sentiment had taken over, and the console that had triggered Dave’s call to me, was now propped up and on display as a memorial to its fine years of service. To one side of the console was the old studio door from San Jacinto that the station had taken to salvage and, on the other side, a door from the Maple Street location recently abandoned.

There’s wheeling and dealing and huge things happened in Dallas with KNON right in the middle of the mix as one of the flag bearers of our honorable tradition of “voice of the people” stations soon to be picked up in New Orleans and recently embraced in Flagstaff as well.

Big things are happening in big-D with community radio! I’ll have to remember to drop by an ACORN flag next time I’m in Dallas for the hallway museum!


station manager, Dave Chaos (on the left) with a former Super Bowl Dallas Cowboy player who came by the studio

station manager, Dave Chaos (on the left) with a former Super Bowl Dallas Cowboy player who came by the studio