Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Interview with Mike Adams 2

(part 1 is here)

4) How long time did you need to wite the book about "Lee de Forest" ? Why were you specially interested about him?
As a professor I also like research and writing and I am good at it. I was introduced in 1988 to the de Forest papers held by the San Jose History Center, but it wasn't until 2008 that I started going to the archive and scanning the documents and organizing a possible de Forest story. My book, Lee de Forest, King of Radio, Television, and Film, was published in 2012 by Springer Science. Because I was able to retire and go to half time at the university I started to develop an outline for the book, a table of contents, etc, and I looked for all the known de Forest research sources to tell a complete story. It took about a year to research and write, another year for editing, sending out to experts for read/review, and as I look back on my files, I was contacted by the Springer-Verlag Physics Editor Chris Coughlin in November, 2009, about the possibility of proposing a book, I submitted the proposal and received the contract by March 2010, began the massive organization process of sorting through  thousands of documents, finished the research and much of the draft by the end of 2010, editing, visuals, reviews, re-write, production in 2011, release in December 2011.

I was interested in de Forest for several reasons: First, he was a fellow scholar, but he was a PhD from Yale, and in 1899 there were few who even attended college. So he was a real scholar. Second, in the early 20th Century he looked at the transmission of morse code dots and dashes, then called wireless, and saw the possibility of sending audio - the voice and music - using his modification of the technology. You can say that he was one of the primary inventors of radio! He not only received patents for the technology but he started several early radio stations, first sending opera music in New York in 1907 as reported in the Times. He used his inventions of his vacuum tube he originally developed as a receiver of radio audio, as an amplifier of sound, and as an oscillator/transmitter of radio to create in 1918 a system for writing sound on film for synchronized motion pictures. For this he received an Oscar. So my career - Radio-TV-Film - parallels the work of de Forest, although as they say at the awards ceremonies, "I couldn't have done it without him!"

5) Digital radio standards (DAB, DRM, HD Radio) struggles to success in most countries, what do you think about it?

DRM appears to be one more solution to allow more signals, more programming on limited bandwidth. Two problems: One, is that there are too many standards and that always causes problems with world wide adoption, and the other is that there is not enough viable, sales-worthy content for all the channels that can be created. Also, I believe that radio will end up streaming on the Internet and that is a world-wide standard. The digital radio formats that require specialized receivers are only interim technology. This is why HD failed in America.

So rather than talk about radio stations "fighting the battle" to survive, let's talk about what radio, TV film really is: it is entertainment and information designed to attract an audience, employ thousands of technical and creative people (my former students) and it is either advertiser or government-supported. Whether it is delivered by an FM transmitter to a bedside radio or by WiFi to a phone, it is really just content and the listeners/viewers will not care where it comes from. We can't say it is "radio" or "TV", in the traditional sense of a big transmitter on a high hill broadcasting to homes, or "film" as just that on a screen in a darkened room in a shopping mall. There is plenty of competition in media and while the Internet in theory "democratizes" content by allowing anyone to broadcast to anyone who will watch or listen, (or read like this blog) it still requires the best writers, producers, directors, talent, etc., to get an audience, and that usually means a big studio, Warner Bros, Comcast. Radio stations have tried to compete with the Internet by adding HD, but the radio manufacturers did not follow through with decent receivers, and the traditional broadcasters have not really programmed these extra channels so anyone cares. There are thousands of choices out there where there used to be a few to a few dozen stations, radio and TV.
So the past is AM and FM and the TV station. The future platform that everyone wants in media is twofold: In 2013 the owners and programmers want to own two things of yours. They want to send their content to your smart phone/tablet and your car dashboard. This is how the future looks to the those who program Radio, TV, and Film.  This is why we owe something to de Forest and why my publisher titled the book "king of radio, TV, and film." 

I invite readers to visit the de Forest Web: and the "Lee de Forest, King of radio, TV, Film"  Facebook page. On that I have a number of early de Forest sound films.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Interview with Mike Adams 1

Mike Adams wrote a book about Lee De Forest and i interviewed him about it. This is first part of the interview.

1) When and where were you born?

I was born in the small town of Newark,Ohio, now a suburb of Columbus. The year was 1943.

2) What is your first memory of radio?

So my first memory of radio was during the last 10 years of its life as a so-called "full service" media. Rather than the formats of music, news or talk as it is today, beginning in the 1930s through the late 1950s, most radio stations followed this schedule:

(1) Morning show with entertainment and news and guests (like the Today show on TV) 
(2) Soap operas, shows for women (it was assumed that the man of the house was working and the wife who stayed at home as a home maker would want to be entertained and informed by issues of family, fashion, food, child-rearing, etc.)
(3) Kid shows in the mid-afternoon to entertain the kids, shows like the Lone Ranger and Superman.
(4) News at 5 or 6 for dad when he came home from work
(5) family shows, like TV today, game and quiz shows, mysteries, drama, comedy, cowboy, music, only without the pictures.

By 1960 all of these shows had moved from radio to television and radio became a delivery vehicle for popular music.

So I was a typical radio listener and I listened daily, I had my favorite shows. This experience led me to want to understand how the radio worked from a technical point of view so I did tear apart many old sets to see the parts, and I went to the library often and checked out books on how radio worked. I was also reading books on the radio industry, what went on at a radio station, careers in radio, thinking about my future beyond that of a kid.

3) How many years did you work in radio industry and what are the best memories of that time?

So when I graduated from High School in 1960 I attended Ohio University as a Radio-TV-Film major and immediately I began working for the college station, WOUB-AM. (There was a small FM version but in 1960 AM was the dominant technology and most AM stations used their FM transmitters to carry the programming of the AM channel. In 1960 radio we had one foot in the past and because of rock and roll music's popularity we saw a different future for radio.) At WOUB I was a news reporter and a disc jockey, the latter was my preference and would be my future. I was so interested in radio that I neglected to attend classes so I flunked out. By then I was working at the local Athens, Ohio commercial radio station, WATH.

After a few years in Athens, I applied for and received a job at the big Columbus, Ohio top-40 station, "The New WCOL." This was an important era (the 1960s) for AM top-40 radio, and I worked there for 10 years (1963-1973) as a DJ, program director, production director. It was the most exciting time to be in radio, the DJs were important, we were connected to the listeners, the music industry, and in a way that has not happened since. Then the local top-40 station had over 50% of the audience, unheard of today, and then there was no competition from Internet, satellite, even FM was carrying the same audio as their AM main stations. All of this popularity of radio was helped by the Beatles and other British groups, and in America it was Motown. It was the music.

But working a radio station - even a popular one, even when you believed you were a big "star," was getting to be routine, boring, not so real. I was in my mid 20s and I did not think I was good enough to be a major radio star and I did not really care for an industry based on selling things to people that they mostly didn't need. Plus by the late 1960s there was a whole world of music out there that didn't fit the 3 minute top-40 format.

Meanwhile I had unfinished business - College. When I moved to Columbus for WCOL, I lived right on North High St, the Ohio State University neighborhood. I applied and began to attend part time and by 1973 I had received a BA in Speech and an MA in film. In 1974 I left radio behind and moved to LA, living first in Hollywood then Venice, and besides working for a documentary film company I began to teach part time at a college. I liked it, I eventually (1988) received a tenure track job at San Jose State University. It was here where I am now the Associated Dean of the College of Humanities and the Arts that I came full circle. I was hired to teach radio, TV and Film, but I was also hired to be the faculty advisor to KSJS-FM, and I am still advisor today, 25 years later. In the back of my mind I always remembered how satisfying the college radio experience was, so I still have it. With commercial radio experience behind me, I returned to college radio, but in charge. 

To be continued

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Interview with Keith Somerville

Keith Somerville, 2010

Keith Somerville is an expert of media in Africa and he accepted this interview.

1) When and where were you born? Where did you study?
 I was born in Chiswick, London, in January 1957; I studied at St Clement Danes Grammar School, the University of Southampton and then carried out research in International Politics at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. Later, I passed a postgraduate teaching certificate at Brunel University.
2) What is your first memory of a radio?
My first clear memory is the start of BBC Radio One when I was ten.  Pop music all day long. I now cannot work without music on in the background.

Keith Somerville in Zambia interviewing Kaunda on 1991

3) How many years did you work for BBC?
28 years - I joined the BBC in March 1980 and worked for 8 years monitoring foreign radio stations (from the UK and then from southern Africa) and then moved to the BBC World Service as a radio producer and then moved on to producing and presenting documentaries and then editing programmes.  I also had spells on the Africa desk at BBC online news and finally worked for the BBC College of Journalism. I now teach journalism and humanitarian communications at the University of Kent and run my own website on Africa: Africa - News and Analysis.

4) How did you get the idea of writing your book about radio propaganda? and how long time did you need to write it?
It developed over a long time.  I was running a live programme on air at the BBC when news came though that the President of Rwanda had been killed on 6 April 1994 and then followed the course of the genocide and use of radio. This added to my awareness from monitoring radio of its use for propaganda.  When I started in academia it was soon after the post-election violence in Kenya in 2008 and it, too, involved the use of radio to spread hatred. At that stage I started investigating hate radio in Kenya.  I started writing the book and doing archive research of Nazi radio and Serb/Croat radio in early 90s.  The writing started in late 2010 and I finished writing the book in January 2012. I am now writing a history of Africa since 1974.

5) What is your opinion about digital radio?
It adds to the mix of delivery forms available but stations are ditching short-wave too soon - especially the BBC World Service in its broadcasting to Africa.
6) Do you think that Al-Jazeera is "stealing" audience from BBC World Service in Africa (or in the world, generally)?
It is competing, I wouldn't say stealing. It has very good coverage of West and North Africa and adds to the rich mix of broadcasting and online news and comment that is available.  It has an appeal in parts of Africa because it is not a Western media group and comes from a different viewpoint, though a very valid one.
7) Do you think that, in a world full of information (blogs, tweets, etc..) mainstream media like BBC are still useful?
I would say even more important as much new and social media like Twitter are unverified and in many ways unverifiable. You still need to know where key news is coming from and that is has been checked. It puts a greater onus on broadcasters like to the BBC to be right rather than just first.

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