I don’t get upset very often, but every once in a while something pushes me over the edge. I have blogged about this before, but it has really gotten under my skin again.
Imagine the following completely hypothetical conversation…
Government Official: “It has come to our attention that you are driving a 2008 Honda Civic.”
Me: “Yeah, that’s right.”
GO: “Well, it’s my duty to inform you that in four months it is going to be illegal to drive your car. You will have to dispose of it before that time.”
Me: "What? Is this some kind of a joke?”
GO: “No joke. This is absolutely real. If you continue driving your car after June 12, you will be breaking the law, and will be arrested and fined.”
Me: “I don’t get it. My car is still new. It only has 1000 miles on it. It’s working perfectly. And it is totally safe. What gives?”
GO: “Well, the rules of the roads have changed. Your car is now illegal… to drive on the road you have to get a new car.”
Me: “Why? What kind of car can be driven on the roads? How is it different than what I have now?”
GO: “You’ll have to talk to the car manufacturers about that. There are 6 models that comply with the new laws.”
Me: “And what am I supposed to do with my old one? Nobody will buy it if it isn’t legal to drive it!”
GO: “Whoa, there! You can’t sell it. Selling your car is against the law because it doesn’t comply with new laws. If you try to sell it you’re violating the law and you could be fined or arrested.”
Me: “So what the heck am I supposed to do with it?”
GO: “There are many recycling programs available.”
Me: “Okay… let me get this straight… I’m supposed to recycle a car which works perfectly, only has 1000 miles, which I can’t sell, and buy a new car just because the rules of the roads have changed?”
GO: “Yes, sir. I believe you’re starting to get it.”
Sound unbelievable? Well, yeah, it does. And it should. But this is exactly what is happening with wireless microphones in a few months.
Starting June 12, 2010 it will be illegal to use any wireless microphone that operates in the 700 MHz radio band. Unfortunately, this includes nearly every wireless microphone manufactured before about two years ago. And still a pretty large number of mics sold in the last two years as well. And very much unfortunately for me, every wireless microphone I own.
I have just over a dozen wireless mics that I have spent literally years acquiring. Some I purchased brand new, others I found on eBay. Some are for live audio events, others to use when shooting video, etc. It took a really long time to find a few models that are reliable and have good sound, and even after I found the right ones, it took about 6 years to get my hands on enough for my needs. Sure there have been plenty of cheap models available, but they have all sorts of problems. And lots of extremely expensive ones that actually do work well. But VERY few models in between that work well and are affordable. I managed to find a few models in that “in between” range and bought up every one I could find.
And now they’re all being made illegal, even though they work perfectly, and in many cases only have a few hours of use on them.
Worse yet, it’s illegal for me to try to sell them. A handful of manufacturers are offering rebate programs, but not for the models that will work for my use. At least not ones that I could possibly ever afford. Since I can’t sell them the only legal thing to do is to recycle them.
Wireless mics are kind of a funny thing. If you walk into a musical equipment store there will be a bunch available for sale. But not a single one you see in a retail store is actually worth owning. Between dropouts, noise, poor sound quality, and other problems, there isn’t a wireless mic worth owning for less than about $450. The “good” ones start at about $2,000 each… and go way up from there. Those mics you see on American Idol and other TV shows, they easily cost over $4,000 apiece. Maybe big television networks or bands on tour can afford stuff like that. I can’t. And neither can a lot of other people that need them.
I sat down and made myself a spreadsheet to figure out replacement costs. To replace the wireless equipment I use regularly, it’s going to cost just under $10,000 for “barely adequate.” I don’t think that “barely adequate” wireless microphones are worth owning. To get something that operates at least as well as what I already own, that figure jumps just north of $20,000. I’m sorry, but I don’t have $20,000 to blow on microphones. Especially when I already own a bunch that work perfectly. And these numbers are just for the stuff I use consistently, not to replace everything I already have.
Some of the ones I have haven’t been used much at all. In a few cases, purchase price divided by hours used would approach $75-100 per hour. And in nearly all cases I used them for charity or public events, or other events where I was providing my audio services at no cost. (The number of events I do where I ask to be paid is very small.) Some thanks I get, huh.
At the time I bought the ones that I have now I had the advantage that they had been out for a couple of years, so used ones would come up for sale on eBay from time to time at a significant discount. But because this transition to new models is so recent (many manufacturers have just started offering compliant models within the last year, and in some cases, just the last few months) no used gear is available. So not only is the newer equipment not going to function as well, it has to be purchased at a full price (which is higher than it was before). No deals here. Not for a long while. And many of the compliant models are out of stock and can’t even be purchased.
I know the number of people that are affected by this is relatively few. But it does extend farther than you might think. It isn’t just audio guys like me that are being forced to replace our gear. This includes theaters, schools, churches, etc. And most of these operate on shoestring budgets (or no budget whatsoever). If any of these groups bought their wireless mics more than two years ago, they almost definitely are going to have to buy new ones. Less than two years ago and the chance goes down, but that chance doesn’t go away entirely unless a mic has been purchased in the last 27 days. Yep, infringing equipment was still available for sale (and quite common) less than a month ago.
If you go to the FCC web site and read up on the issue they really emphasize the need to stay out of the new radio bands being reserved for public safety agencies. Fine. I have no problem with that. My mics don’t operate in those frequencies anyway. If that was the only reason this was happening, I wouldn’t be affected. (Well, one of my mics is in that band, but I can replace one without too much complaint).
The less emphasized part of the transition is the spectrum that was purchased by Verizon Wireless. So we’re being forced to buy new wireless mics to make way for laptop data cards. (Which, incidentally, are supposed to detect interference and work around it. I’m just sayin’.) If all in this world was fair, Verizon would be forced to pay at least a portion of the costs of replacing equipment it was invalidating because they’re invading what was our turf. But, this world isn’t exactly fair, now, is it.
The radio band that we are being moved into has to coexist with television broadcasts. Yes, the same frequencies that all TV stations were forced into a year ago. A part of the radio spectrum that is becoming very busy. Yes, mics were in TV frequencies before, but there were a whole lot more of them available, and fewer stations to compete against. Things are going to get really messy.
Get this… the most expensive piece of wireless audio gear I own is my in-ear-monitor system. (You’ve seen them… the earpieces musicians wear when performing so they can hear themselves.) Mine is a “barely adequate” model (I couldn’t afford a “good” one) that cost me $1300. It is included in the devices that have to be retired, as it is also in the 700 MHz band.
The manufacturer offers a “trade-in” program. I can trade in for the exact same model with a few tweaks inside to make it legal. And the cost? Full price. No discount. Nope! If I want to keep using it I have to buy a brand new one at full price. And according to their web site it is “illegal” to retrofit the old ones, so I shouldn’t bother asking.
Everything about this whole situation stinks. And it’s all pretty crazy when you think about it. If this affected a larger group of people the American public would be up in arms about it. But because our group is relatively small nobody else knows a thing.