was the era of John F. Kennedy, space exploration and the Cold War.
It was a time of danger from Cuba and the beginnings of the expansion
in the Vietnam War.
it also just happened to be the early day of FM stereo, the
broadcasting technology that would in 10 years or so steal the
dominance of AM radio, bringing us high-fidelity audio and music as a
number one format.
talking about the year when Arno Meyer founded Belar Electronics
Laboratory Inc., responding to the need for a technologically more
advanced monitoring system for FM stereo.
the time that I came along as a teenager and became involved in radio
engineering, the FMM-1 monitor from Belar was nearly ubiquitous; and
I remember doing my first FCC required proofs using one and a used HP
334 distortion analyzer. It’s hard to imagine FM broadcasting
without Belar, which has been there all the way from the early days
to HD Radio, supplying the test gear we use to ensure that our
stations are at their best.
has been 50 years since the founding of Belar; and in honor of that
anniversary I reached out to talk about the radio industry and
manufacturing with Arno Meyer, who graciously agreed to an interview.
has the broadcast industry changed since you founded Belar?
I left ITA in 1964 to start Belar, there were 4,236 AM stations, but
just 2,306 FM stations and 847 TV stations. Ownership was much more
diverse in the 1960s than now. Group owners were limited to seven AM,
seven FM and seven TV stations, and many of the groups had outlets
only in the largest markets. Most stations were independently owned.
At that time, much of the legacy broadcast equipment was vacuum-tube.
The rules for multiplexed FM stereo had been approved just three
years earlier in 1961. Some old-line equipment manufacturers such as
HP and GE were leaving the market.
the number of FM licenses is approaching 11,000. By the way, the
advent of multiplex stereo, combined with the obvious advantages of
transistor-based designs, were additional motivation to produce our
original FM monitors. The circuit stability afforded by solid-state
designs allowed us to build wide-bandwidth and low-distortion
instruments. The industry made the transition to solid-state
equipment, and the performance and reliability of the equipment rose
over the years. Some of our designs actually led to higher operating
standards. By contrast, during the early ’60s, some of the better
peak flashers were driven by vacuum-tube thyratrons.
course, the advances in semiconductor technologies were incorporated
in broadcast equipment as they became available, allowing improved
performance and reliability. This made the introduction of ATS
(automatic transmission system) control feasible. We progressed from
discrete transistors to integrated circuits — first bipolar, then
CMOS. More recently, the introduction of the microprocessor and the
subsequent digital revolution has changed the technology of
broadcasting, particularly for television.
designs were most radically altered by the proliferation of digital
signal processing and high-complexity processors. Their use has
enabled product designs with performance approaching theoretical
appeal and rapid growth of FM stereo prompted first AM and then TV
broadcasters to follow in kind. The regulatory climate loosened in
the 1980s. That reality, combined with the number of AM‑stereo
systems competing for selection in a crowded AM band, led the FCC to
try the “grand experiment” of letting the marketplace decide
which of the proposed AM systems would become accepted. A lot of
lessons were learned. It was nine years before the commission finally
accepted the Motorola C-Quam system for analog AM. Changes in
electronic and signal processing technologies were occurring so
rapidly that shortly after the rollouts of AM and BTSC (analog)
stereo TV, DSP-based solutions threatened the two analog systems with
Belar and most equipment manufacturers, the complexity and
proprietary nature of the digital AM and FM IBOC (in-band,
on-channel) solutions made it impractical to implement designs that
conformed to the new standards — low production volumes
necessitated using the proprietary IBOC hardware. These two radio
introductions required greater knowledge on the part of equipment
installers and station technical personnel to verify proper
operation. Unfortunately the technical staffs of many radio stations
had been cut to a minimum prior to these recent changes, when their
skills became more critical. Despite the stability of contemporary RF
equipment, the sophistication of the IBOC system makes monitoring the
RF spectrum of the broadcast signal almost a necessity to assure
conversion of the television band from analog to digital transmission
was unprecedented in broadcasting. With the switch to the ATSC
system, television broadcasting is on a path to converging with other
digital video technologies. The recently proposed changes to digital
broadcast TV may lead it to become the domain of a small group of
has manufacturing for smaller companies like Belar changed over the
same time period?
its first day, Belar has produced its own chassis and handled
assembly in-house. The transition to integrated circuits reduced the
labor in building the instruments and has allowed us to increase
their performance. The transition to DSP-based designs and
surface-mounted parts has necessitated automated board assembly
off-site, but the chassis work and hand-wiring is still done on-site.
A side effect of the digital age and the tremendous growth in
personal computers is a great increase in the number and variety of
electronic components that are employed. That has made selecting and
maintaining stock of the components necessary to produce a unit a
it still possible, or even a good idea, to manufacture products in
for Belar, manufacturing on-site is almost a necessity.
Our production quantities are too small to justify the
overhead of setting up overseas production. U.S. manufacture has
distinct advantages. Quality control is much more easily handled
in-house. The time required to implement changes and to obtain
product is extended for long-supply chains. Off-shore production runs
would require carrying a large amount of stock. Also, foreign
manufacture greatly complicates any customization desired by a
would you say to engineers regarding the need for a modulation
monitor in today’s environment?
a way, you are asking someone holding a hammer what to do with a
may be more true than ever: A broadcaster needs the most accurate
information possible about his or her station’s signal. The
broadcaster must know whether her or his station is taking full
advantage of its allocated spectrum — or operating illegally. This
is especially true for the IBOC broadcasters and stations in
competitive music markets. The complexity of the IBOC signal makes it
susceptible to more sources of error. Finally, how a station sounds
is critically important.
the start, Belar has produced low-distortion demodulators to give
broadcasters an accurate representation of their on-air sound.
kinds of signal test equipment would you consider to be essential to
support the highest-quality operations?
the best of worlds, full-function Belar monitors would be located at
each transmitter site, with full remote modulation readout at the
operating point. Remotely located studios should have a properly
installed monitor to provide accurate peak modulation readings as
well as an accurate aural representation of the signal.
group with two HD stations needs to have at least one HD monitor
(hopefully a Belar FMHD-1) so that sideband levels may be easily
verified. Sharing an HD monitor between transmitter sites may be very
inconvenient if the sites are widely separated, or are in remote
locations. A routine weekly check of sideband levels would
necessitate transporting the single HD monitor.
course, any AM and FM installation or small group should have a
low-distortion audio oscillator and harmonic distortion analyzer to
measure end-to-end distortion in program audio. In the absence of a
distortion analyzer, a Belar FMHD-1 would provide a station group the
ability to measure distortion in the broadcast audio. An oscilloscope
is necessary to view waveforms and observe processing artifacts.
Finally, an AC voltmeter, possibly part of the distortion analyzer,
would be necessary to measure the noise floor in the two program
RF measurement equipment might only be used for annual checks and can
be acquired as needed.
you feel that HD Radio will eventually succeed?
are being offered a large number of choices. This makes predictions
more difficult. Though still strong, even basic broadcast radio
services have been challenged. Right now, about one in six FM
stations is HD. For AM, it is only about one in 16. In its favor,
broadcast radio is free — yet the equipment remains relatively
costly. Looking back, with AM dominating, it took decades for FM to
flourish. Despite the consolidation of radio outlets, novel and
specialized programming has appeared on some HD channels. In
Philadelphia, for example, we now have continuous delayed broadcasts
of sporting events and programming for specific affinity groups,
similar to what FM SCA channels carry. It seems that without a
greater demand for different services or more familiarity on the part
of the public, HD may remain a secondary service for some time.
do you feel the radio broadcast industry is doing overall?
remains a powerful force in American life. The increased mobility in
our lives supports radio as an important channel of communication.
The FCC remains concerned and active in promoting utilization of the
broadcast services. At the station level, the loss of technical
personnel over the years has been a disappointment. Belar has seen
some growth since the bottom in 2008. Domestic sales have held. We
have had an overall improvement in business, principally due to the
international growth in radio. For over 50 years now, Belar has
worked hard to maintain product value while improving performance. We
have appreciated the opportunity to contribute to this vital American
LeClair is chief engineer for radio stations WBUR(AM/FM) in Boston;
he has been technical editor of Radio World Engineering Extra since
its inception in 2005. Comment on this or any story. Write to