Terrestrial Radio. It’s as bad as I remember.

It’s been about five years since I bought into Sirius satellite (paid) radio.  At the time, like many initial customers,  I was spending a lot of time in a company truck.  For me it was driving from hilltop-to-hilltop working on transmitters or to various studios within “driving distance” and I quickly became fed up with driving out of range of a station’s coverage during an interesting talk-radio discussion or good song coupled with the dearth of variety, but the bounty of repetition.

The initial realization when initially using satellite radio is the sheer amount of content variety which are instantly available.  Not only are various musical formats lined up to cover any taste, there are major sporting events (even football games) broadcast live.  One of my all-time favorites (since I’m not easily offended) is the Raw Dog Comedy channel.  A channel so replete with the “seven words you can never say on television” (or radio) I believe it has to be their most popular channel – although I cannot find any readily available ratings or stats to prove my assumption.

George Carlin explains the “seven words”.

Even though Howard Stern is their flagship personality with an uninhibited vocabulary and format I just don’t find him nearly as funny as the comics on Raw Dog.  And when I tire of grinning broadly and laughing like a manic hurtling down the freeway I can always find a musical mix or talk radio show to fill the empty ride.

Well, a couple weeks ago my roof antenna started acting up and satellite radio gave way to me scanning the tuner to find something remotely interesting being broadcast in the local area.  The result of my efforts are four channel presets that I find myself constantly ping-ponging between during my hour-long commute to and from work with very little grinning and laughing well below the level of “maniacal” that I was used to.

It’s clear that in my five-year absence from listening to terrestrial radio I find that nothing has changed except that their profitability continues to sour – maybe “profitability” isn’t the right word anymore.  The radio formats are stereotypical, bland and copied (with minor differences) several times across the channel band.  The morning radio hosts attempt to be edgy and daring while constantly censoring themselves and stuttering to avoid certain words so that religious zealots don’t picket outside their offices and burn their corporate owner’s logos in effigy.  It’s all pretty sad and the comedy of listening to their offerings gives way to pity as it seems clear they are as frustrated with their linguistic shackles and inability to say what’s really on their mind as I am in listening to them.

I believe there is a way to offer free over-the-air broadcasts for the discriminating and “sensitive” masses while also offering an unlockable uncensored channel at the same time using a relatively simple technical solution that can be built in to new radios.  This process is similar to the “TV unlock” feature that exists in most modern television sets.

The FCC regulates TV and radio and says, “profane speech is prohibited on broadcast radio and television between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.”  However,  there are profane, racy, violent and pornographic (read: entertaining) broadcasts going on all day, every day.  The difference is that the good ones (profane, racy, violent and pornographic) are locked and unless you pay the monthly fee and use the right antenna you won’t see them.  I’m referring to Sirius, XM, Dish and DirecTV.  There really isn’t much difference except for the type of antenna used and the direction of the broadcasts, so why the double-standard?

Right now most radio stations operate on an analog channel and a digital channel (HD RadioTM) which typically mimics their main programming and can be heard on any HD RadioTM capable receiver.  With the addition of a four, five or six-digit “parental unlock” for the radio itself (just like a modern TV) it would also be possible to add an identical “channel unlock” feature which would then permit the radio to tune (decode) the HD RadioTM channel for that station.  The parental-unlock code for the radio would come from the radio manufacturer while the HD RadioTM station unlock code would come from the radio station itself by either freely announcing it over the air or providing it on the station’s website.  A side benefit to the online solution is that listeners could be required to verify their age (to “protect the children”) and then receive the unlock code.  This would also serve as a general metric for learning approximately how many listeners could be tuned into that station at any given time.

This double-unlock method should be sufficiently difficult to address concerns about “children accessing offensive material” and allow terrestrial stations to be more competitive with their satellite-delivered counterparts.  This also has the potential to be a source of direct initial revenue for stations that want to produce something different (aka premium content) and charge a small fee for the code.

Another implementation of this could be that the digital, “unlocked” signal could be the uncensored version of a wild and crazy “morning zoo crew” while the normal analog broadcast has beeps instead of salty language.

Now that I’ve developed a solution to the financial disaster plaguing radio stations across America, stay tuned as I turn my attention to easier problems to solve such as the Middle East CrisisTM, the Energy Crisis® and basic World Peace©.