Monday Roundup: Muscle Shoals Movie

Documentary explores the music-making industry in Muscle Shoals, Alabama • AT&T purchase of Alltel is “all about the spectrum” • “I will never forget you, rural janitor” • Dollar General nibbles around the edges of Wal-Mart’s market • Web communications are central to UNC training program for rural teachers.

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“They’ve Been Known to Pick a Song or Two.” On a per capita basis, Muscle Shoals, Alabama, must be the record-producing capital of the United States. A new documentary looks at the small-town in northwest Alabama where a who’s-who of popular-music legends have gone to record: The Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, Leon Russell, Aretha Franklin, Dire Straits, Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, James Brown, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Wilson Pickett, Cher…

Producer Rick Hall started the recording business in Muscle Shoals with Fame Studios. His session band, known as the Swampers (shown above with some of the hits they helped create) later opened a studio of their own and became the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Modern-day development theorists might call the Muscle Shoals music industry a “regional development cluster,” or perhaps “place-based cultural entrepreneurialism.” Yeah, well, turn it up.

AT&T Completes Alltel Wireless Purchase.  AT&T took only a few hours to seal its purchase of Alltel’s wireless phone service after the Federal Communications Commission approved the deal Friday morning. Gigaom’s Kevn Fitchard reports that he expects AT&T to start taking apart Alltel’s old CDMA network quickly:

AT&T said it would begin immediately “upgrading” Alltel’s network, which is shorthand for shutting down its old networks and harvesting its airwaves AT&T’s HSPA+ and LTE networks. Ma Bell added that it would begin moving the first of Alltel’s 620,000 subscribers over to its new networks by mid-2014.

This shouldn’t come as surprise since spectrum is really the only reason a GSM operator would buy a CDMA carrier operator. Alltel holds between 10 MHz and 57 MHz of cellular, PCS and 700 MHz spectrum in mainly rural areas of Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, and Washington. And if AT&T does build LTE and high-speed HSPA+ systems in those areas as it’s promising, Alltel customers can expect to see far faster mobile data connections than they experience today.

The FCC is concerned about protecting Alltel’s rural customers base in the transition. AT&T must upgrade Alltel’s networks within 18 months, keep portions of the old network active to serve existing customers on old phones through June 2015 and replace for free the phones of Alltel customers who have the older CDMA technology.

Fitchard reports:

Though the mounting decline of rural and regional carriers in the U.S. is getting scary, this could be an instance where rural customers wind up benefiting. AT&T isn’t exactly known for its focus on rural communities, but this deal could signal a new intent to bring high-speed mobile data services to the heartland.

Rural Janitor? The news aggregators are awash in rural stories today. Farm bill? Politics? Energy? Nope, it’s an announcer’s gaffe at last night’s Emmy Awards. The announcer said that Tina Fey and Tracey Wigfield had been nominated for Best Song for “The Rural Janitor.”  As fans of “30 Rock” and rural America know, the song is actually “The Rural Juror.” It’s the theme song to a fictitious movie starring “30 Rock’s” diva, Jenna Maroney. The song was the finale to the final episode of “30 Rock” earlier this winter. It’s tongue-twistingly funny, especially to those of us who say the word “rural” more than a dozen times a day. In defense of the nameless Emmy announcer, it’s definitely easier to say “rural janitor.”

Too Big to Use? Has the Wal-Mart supercenter sized itself out of the rural market, where Sam Walton built his retail empire?

The Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, the shopping mecca for everything from a loaf of bread to new tires, needs a large customer base to succeed. Plus, the big-box stores are less convenient for shoppers on the run.

Into this niche has stepped Dollar General Store, reports City Wire. The Tennessee-based retail chain has smaller stores that are closer to customers and more numerous – 11,000 stores in 40 or so states.

“Rural America used to drive 20 minutes to the closest Wal-Mart to do their shopping — but now it’s a two minute trip to the Dollar General instead,” said one analyst.

A story reports on Dollar General’s success at nibbling around the edges of Wal-Mart’s customer base, especially in small-market and rural areas. Wal-Mart is still the No. 1 retailer in the U.S., with $340 billion in annual sales. Dollar General is ranked 23, with $18.4 billion in sales last year.

Literacy Education Training. The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, reports on a remote-training program in which Ph.D. candidates at the university help train teachers in rural school districts via web cam.

The program at the UNC School of Education uses web-based communication to connect a literacy coach with a teacher in Hertford, Wayne or Warren counties. The program received a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The remote hook up allows one coach working half-time to assist up to 15 teachers. “Because using webcam technology is more cost-effective, we think this technology should be made available to rural schools,” said program director Mary Bratsch-Hines.

 

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