The next great wave of channels for OTT will come from communities

November 26, 2019

As our new Fly-Over Music Hour channel gets more viewers, I wanted to share this story about building channels and building communities:

Long before mobile phones, personal computers and the Internet there was the CB, short for Citizens’ Band radio. Like email and text messaging today, people used CB radios to communicate. Airwave communities formed around them. While not as ubiquitous as the Internet today, CB’s became insanely popular. C.W. McCall’s song “Convoy” helped make CB radios hip. In 1977, the year CB’s went from 23 to 40 channels, I set my sights on buying my own. I was 14. I had no job. I had no money. My prospects seemed bleak. One hot summer evening while out walking my dog, Major (probably whistling the tune to Convoy), I looked down at the golf course and driving range in the canyon behind our house and had an idea.

The next morning, I grabbed a pillowcase and hiked the mile or so down the canyon. Nearing the bottom, I started collecting driving range golf balls which had ventured outside the netting and onto the steep canyon walls. Within an hour I had filled up my pillowcase, so I dragged my loot into the pro shop and after a brief negotiation sold the contents of my bag for $.01 per ball. Over the next four or five days I had raised enough money to go to Radio Shack and buy my CB radio. [Years later I actually sold rocks out of my back yard to a pet store but I’ll save that story for another Blog…]

When I got home, I climbed up on the roof and bolted my antenna to a heater vent, fished the cable through an ever-so-small slice out of my window screen, screwed the CB onto my desk, jerry-rigged a power converter and flipped the switch to my new “Base Station”. I was set. All I needed was a name. After much deliberation, I decided on The Deuce. For the most part on channels 1 – 23 there was always something to listen to. Channel 9 was for emergency use. Not much there. Channel 19 was where the truckers were. That made for interesting listening, especially when two guys would agree to meet on a less busy channel to discuss secret stuff. I, of course, changed channels with them and listened in.

After a couple months of listening, I eventually got bored with channel 19 and had learned enough CB-speak that it was time for The Deuce to get in the game. Starting on channel 24, which was totally silent, I started saying “Breaker-breaker… This here’s the Deuce. Anyone got a copy?” I repeated that phrase over-and-over-and-over. Nothing. Total silence. I worked my way all the way up to channel 40 and back down again every night. Finally, on Christmas night, after almost giving up, someone finally responded. I was on channel 27. To me, she sounded like an angel. “Deuce, this is Primadonna. I got your copy…” Perhaps stunned into silence, I just sat there. A moment later I heard “Deuce…what kind of handle is that?” Shaking, I pressed the microphone button and said “I’m the second. My Dad is the first.” Primadonna responded with something like I should be a junior and not the second and that my son would be the third. I agreed with her. I liked her. A romance was born…

For the next several weeks, Primadonna and I owned channel 27. Literally. No other CB’ers ever ventured onto our channel. As it turns out, we were both 14, though we went to different schools. In about the third week I conjured up the nerve to ask Primadonna to meet me at Shakey’s Pizza.  She turned out to be the girl of my dreams (at least up to that point in my life). I sealed the deal and within two hours we were going together. We agreed to meet back on channel 27, our channel, later that night. Interestingly, when I got back to my base station a funny thing happened. As I listened to Wild Cherry – Play That Funky Music on my record player, I thought I heard someone break onto channel 27 and ask for me. I turned down the record player and heard it again, “Breaker-breaker-two-seven, this is Handyman, Deuce you got a copy?” I was shocked. Handyman wanted to know how my date went. He was particularly interested in what she looked like. Miss Daisy wanted to know if she was as sweet in person. Leadfoot and Bushwhacker wanted to know if she had a sister. She did, her handle was Short-n-Sassy. It seems that tons of people had been listening in for weeks to me and Donna (as her name turned out to be). A silent community had built up around us. Listening… I guess, they were enjoying our content.

For the next month, our Channel 27 community continued to grow and grow. Even though I tried to write them all down, I was starting to lose track of everyone’s handle. Now that I was fighting for airtime and longing for control back on my channel, I needed a plan. I needed to restore order to my channel. I had to control how many people were using it. After all, Primadonna and I were the reason they were all here. Without us, it would still be silent. It came to me. I created the California Association of Breakers. I was CAB-1. Primadonna was CAB-2. Handyman was CAB-3 and so on. Together we made a rule that to be acknowledged on channel 27 you needed to be a CAB member. If you weren’t, then you needed a CAB member to sponsor you. My plan worked. By the next summer, our membership had grown to several hundred members. We scheduled a picnic at the beach. I got there a little late (because I needed to get a ride). Donna was there. So was Handyman. So were over a hundred other CAB members. I was shocked. They saved me a seat, a place of honor I guess, at the center picnic table next to Donna. People who hadn’t listened in from day 1 wanted to know how Donna and I got together, how it first happened. They especially wanted to decode our secret numerically coded messages (we did not oblige).

The next year my family moved from San Diego back to Michigan. On our way out of town, Handyman bid me farewell and called for 5 minutes of silence on channel 27. It worked. I had to fight to hold back the tears as I listened to my silence…

SBTV’s The Fly-Over Music Hour 24/7 Live Channel

Fast-forward to 2019:

We recently launched the Fly Over Music Hour, a music channel on SBTV. It’s a kind of throwback to the days when MTV actually played music videos.

Mike Roeder, an IT architect here at Syncbak, reached out to his music community and the music videos came flying in. With a little technical help, and a big assist from our SimpleSync OTT platform, the channel kind of builds itself.

Like when Donna and I founded the California Association of Breakers, it took a community to drive the curation and creation of Fly Over Music Hour. This trend will undoubtedly continue and while the current focus for much of OTT is moving linear channels to the Internet, more and more community channels will be popping up and, in the not too distant future, those channels will drive the growth of OTT.

Think about the communities you are a part of. Think about content you could curate or create. That, in two words, is the future of television.