"What do you worry about?"
That was the question former CNN anchor Lou Dobbs posed to Clear Channel chairman Lowry Mays as the two chatted in front of a room filled with hundreds of broadcasters here at the NAB Radio Show.
"Yesterday afternoon," drawled the man who owns more radio stations than anyone else in history, "I was worried about whether that German brown trout was going to grab that fly."
Mays was joking -- we hope -- but the point remains clear: the big guys here at NAB still believe their business has a future.
The trouble is, the big guys are about the only ones here this year. Walk the convention floor and you'll see very few badges from small-market stations, and fewer still from the big group-owned stations, many of which declined to send individual station managers to San Francisco this year.
Who's left? Lots of "e-this" and "i-that" and "whatever.com," to be sure, and many of the streaming audio booths remained packed throughout the week. One we couldn't even get near for a while was Kerbango, that 40s-style net-radio appliance that's supposed to make it as easy to tune in your favorite Webcaster as it is to tune WBZ from Nantasket Beach.
The equipment makers were out in force, of course, and the smiles were especially wide on the faces of the transmitter and antenna guys. They, of course, will get to sell new equipment to pretty much every radio station in America if IBOC digital becomes a reality, and there were plenty of prototypes ready to be gawked at.
Speaking of IBOC, we did spend a few minutes at the iBiquity bOoth, where a prototype receiver offered a chance to listen to San Francisco's KLLC (97.3) in IBOC digital, compared with several other locals in analog.
To untrained ears, the difference was a bit short of stunning. No multipath (which is a big deal in this terrain-challenged town), but it's hard to see how the extra few dB of dynamic range and slightly better frequency response will make much difference in the real world, where we listen to radio in the car with the windows open and Freckles, the NERW Wonder Dog, barking her head off over the music.
And yes, there were some real radio folk here too. A Friday afternoon session on local news in small markets warmed the heart of this former small-market radio newsguy. Listen to a guy named Jay Fisher, from a little station in Missouri called KTKS:
"Whenever anything happens, we have someone there to report on it. No matter how insignificant it seems, those are the things people want to hear about."
An interesting concept, isn't it?
And with that, we head off to a few more sessions, a big plate of sushi, and tonight's Marconi Awards banquet.
We'll be back at NERW Central on Monday, with all the latest on WHCD (Auburn-Syracuse)'s change to urban, the new calls on Portland's 99.9 (seems "Mix" belongs to someone else!), and the rest of the week's developments. See you then!