Archive | November, 2004

Keeping Tabs on Sinclair

I’m glad that media watchers and reform organizations are keeping their eyes on Sinclair now that the heat from their anti-Kerry schenanigans has cooled down. Too often, after a big controversy dies down, so does interest in the issue behind it, even if the controversy is just part of a bigger problem — such as Sinclair’s overall right-wing agenda and anti-localism crusade.

Media Matters for America has been keeping tabs on one of Sinclair’s News Central segments called “Get This:”

“Get This” is created by News Central, Sinclair’s Maryland-based nerve center that provides national and international news coverage, as well as commentary, to its stations. Presented each weeknight by Sinclair News Central anchors Jennifer Gladstone or Morris Jones, “Get This” purports to cover “the news items that deserve public attention that you probably won’t see anywhere else. They either won’t make time for them, or maybe the issues are too ‘sensitive’ for their audience.”

According to News Central’s website, “Get This” claims to “play no favorites.” But while the segment features many humorous or lighthearted stories, the overall issue selection conveys a conservative agenda, focusing on topics such as Democrats’ alleged inability to deal with electoral defeat; liberal college professors; author and documentarian Michael Moore’s comments; and even President George W. Bush’s pets.

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FCC Indecency Crackdown? How about Indecency Crack?

Wired News has a reasonable article examining the potentials for an FCC crackdown on indecency, given how emboldened the Christian right apparently feels after W’s narrow victory, and how much the FCC and Congress seem to want to suck up to the moral mornonity.

I have to throw my lot in with Chicago Media Action‘s Mitchell Szczepanczyk, who tells Wired News:

What’s encouraging is that a lot more people know about these issues than had just two years ago. That gives me hope more than anything.

And when we say “a lot more people,” we mean the general public. The people who are affected either way and we hope begin to see this not as an issue of so-called morals, but as an issue of democracy. It’s all about ownership and control — that’s what the true fight is over.

Of course, from a principled point of view, I’m generally against content regulation, indecency or otherwise. But the world of law and policy is not an arena of principle.

From the standpoint of someone who equally despises the mainstream media industry and the FCC, I have to enjoy the spectacle and watching the free-for-all. ABC/Disney vs. FCC vs. Religious Right vs. Congressional Democrats vs. Congressional Republicans vs. Infinity/CBS/Viacom vs. the Bush administration. The whole indecency “debate” cuts across all these lines and makes for absurd alliances and enemies.

Seems like everyone wants to take a hit off the indecency pipe. But the high is fleeting, the political gains are slight and short-lived, and then you’re scrambling for the next few rocks.

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Sirius Satellite Radio Hires Ex-Viacom CEO, Stern Bashes FCC and Religious Right on Letterman

Kind of a brief surreal moment — I’m watching the Late Show with Letterman and Howard Stern is busting away on the FCC, Bush and the religious right. Letterman is decrying the fact that 3 companies own 60% of radio stations (hmmmm, what about Infinity/Viacom/CBS?). And then I read that former Viacom boss (and Stern boss) Mel Karmazin has been hired on as CEO of Sirius Satellite, which will be Stern’s new home in 2006.

Clearly Sirius is looking play the big media game with Karamazin, and Stern is nothing if not a relentless salesman.

Now, I’m not going turn into a Stern cheerleader, but it is nevertheless nice to hear a semi-rational discussion about radio ownership consolidation on network television. Nevermind that Stern’s appearance was partially devoted to promoting Sirius. (Why he’s allowed to promote Sirius on Viacom-owned CBS when he isn’t allowed to do it on his Viacom-owned radio show, I don’t get. But who really cares?)

Of course, when you think about it, there are only two satellite radio providers in the US, which would make it more consolidated than terrestrial radio, wouldn’t it?

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Free TV

Free Radio Berkeley recently announced that they have designed and developed “low power VHF and UHF transmitters by the creative use of off-the-shelf technology.” They have planned workshops to teach people how to build and operate these transmitters.

There’s a short video demonstrating a basic setup posted to Indybay.

I think it’s a cool idea to branch out into free/pirate TV broadcasting, though I’m disappointed that FRB hasn’t made any tech details available. According to this Indybay post by FRB’s Stephen Dunifer, they’re employing commercially available TV modulators connected to home-brew VHF and UHF amplifiers. The modulators are sold for use in closed circuit TV and small cable operations — such as when a hotel has its own channel on in-room TVs. They’re perfectly legal to buy or own, since they don’t put out significant power. Apparently they’re available new for around $500.

The reason to use these commercial modulators is that they’re designed to be amplified, and so put out a clean signal that is less likely to interefere with adjacent channels. You could use one of the cheap TV modulators designed to connect DVD players and video games to old TVs, but those would not put out a clean signal. It’s sort of like the difference between nice, well designed low-power FM transmitters and the cheap mini-transmitters used to broadcast audio from PCs and iPods around the house.

Due to the predominance of cable and satellite, broadcast TV has been in decline, and outside of the biggest metroplexes, there is a surplus of available channels on UHF, and sometimes even VHF. Of course, the problem is that with so many people using cable and satellite, there’s a much smaller audience for broadcast TV than for broadcast FM.

But, because cable and satellite are not free, I’d guess you’d reach a predominantly less affluent population with a pirate TV broadcast. Additionally, you’d probably reach audience more accustomed to watching TV than listening to radio.

If TV and video are your medium of choice, then I think it’s worth doing. Every little crack in the armor of the media giant is worth chipping away at. Every hour spent broadcasting your own free TV station is better than an hour wasted watching one of Sinclair’s.

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Ministry of Truth Radio

The tireless Mitchell Szczepanczyk, of Chicago Media Action fame, now has a radio show on WHPK at the University of Chicago. Called The Ministry of Truth, Mitchell brings an hour-long mix of alternative news and features on such subjects as “NAB: The National Association of Bastards.”

You can listen to mp3s on the show’s website. You can listen to an interview with Mitchell about Chicago Media Action on the July 9, 2004 edition of the radioshow.

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