Radio Ponders Its Tech Future
     

One of several stories providing a final overview of news and themes of the recent NAB Show.

Radio’s involvement in platforms old and new was a theme of discussions at the NAB Show.
Credit: Photo by Jim Peck
LAS VEGAS — The future of radio in the dashboard. The appearance of program content descriptions on various receivers. The outlook for AM radio. These are big topics in the industry, and they certainly were as well in the sessions, exhibit floor and hallway buzz at the 2013 NAB Show.

The show came as the FCC faces a big change at the top. Meanwhile, so-called “sequestration” budget cuts left many commission staffers, and all FEMA personnel, who’d planned to attend at home.

Here are selected highlights; future issues will feature further in-depth analysis of show themes.

FM TRANSLATORS A-GO-GO

More than 1,000 pending FM translator applications from the Auction 83 window will survive FCC processing, according to experts. And Wilkinson Barker Knauer attorney Peter Oxenford believes that figure is low.

He praised the commission for working to balance the spectrum needs of those who want FM translators as well as non-profits who plan to file for new LPFM licenses.

The FCC has been winnowing the remaining pending FM translator applications, and the agency is “close to announcing a settlement window” for the remaining apps, according to Audio Division Chief Peter Doyle.

Speaking to attendees via Skype, Doyle said the agency is on track to open a window in October for non-commercial entities to apply for LPFMs. The Audio Division hopes to release LPFM applications electronically, with the goal of getting non-profits to begin completing their station applications in June, he said.

And what’s next for FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai’s call for an AM revitalization initiative? That’s “ultimately an Eighth Floor call,” according to Doyle. He ticked off regulatory barriers the agency has lifted over the years to help AM owners, like allowing AMs to retransmit their signal on FM translators.

ONLINE PUBLIC FILE PLANS DELAYED

It appears that sequestration will have at least one unexpected effect, delaying a rule change that would affect radio station public files, RW learned.

The across-the board federal budget cuts went into effect in March. As a result, many FCC personnel who had planned to attend the show had to do so via Skype or phone.

Sequestration also has “greatly reduced” the commission’s IT budget, according to Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake, who did attend. He didn’t delve into specifics. But asked during a session about the effect of sequestration on the agency’s relatively new online television station public file system, Lake said, “It won’t affect the ability of the consumer today to use various files. But our ability to fix problems in the future or whatever we might want to do, we might not be able to do in the future.”

As Radio World first reported, the FCC wants to extend the online public file requirement to radio. But Lake told Radio World that this won’t happen anytime soon. “We just don’t have the technical capability.”

METADATA, MDCL GUIDELINES READY

Metadata distribution — and how the data displays on devices fed by analog transmission, HD Radio and Internet streams — was a big topic.

The National Radio Systems Committee adopted a metadata distribution guideline. It contains recommendations for the creation, packaging and delivery of program metadata for receiver displays.

During an engineering session, Alan Jurison said the NRSC-G301 guideline is meant to give stations an easy way to maintain a consistent display of their program information on all types of receivers, from the car to handheld devices.

Jurison is a senior operations engineer for ClearChannelMedia + Entertainment’s Engineering and Systems Integration Group. He led the NRSC working group for the metadata distribution guideline. KQED Public Radio DOE Dan Mansergh chairs the NRSC RBDS Subcommittee that adopted the document.

Following the vote, NRSC Chairman Milford Smith told Radio World that the use of metadata is proliferating, and stations need a way of handling it unattended.

Another guideline adopted by the NRSC concerned AM Modulation-Dependent Carrier Level usage.

The AM and FM Analog Broadcasting Subcommittee adopted a guideline that outlines MDCL technologies used by AM stations to reduce electrical power consumption at their facilities. When used carefully, MDCL has little or no impact on the audio quality of AM transmissions, the NRSC says. Implementation of MDCL can reduce power consumption by as much as 20 to 40 percent, according to Garvey Schubert Barer.

Hammett & Edison Senior Engineer Stan Salek and Cumulus Broadcasting Senior Vice President/Corporate Director of Engineering & IT Gary Kline co-chair the AFAB subcommittee.

Look for these documents on the NRSC website, www.NRSCstandards.org/.

NRSC guidelines aim to help radio broadcasters, equipment manufacturers and receiver makers in the operation and implementation of local AM and FM systems. The Consumer Electronics Association and the National Association of Broadcasters co-sponsor the NRSC.

RAIN ON RADIO TRENDS

How can radio remain relevant in a world in which everyone wants what they want, delivered when they want it, coupled with the open dashboard and near-infinite bandwidth? Radio and Internet Radio Newsletter Publisher Kurt Hanson offered some ideas.

In his annual “State of the Internet Radio Industry” remarks, Hanson pointed to a Netflix trend of releasing all episodes of a video program series at once. He said this is a reminder to both traditional AM/FM as well as Internet radio that they need to step up their game to compete.

Hanson also noted the morphing role of the smartphone, which, for many people, has replaced their camera, alarm clock, voice recorder, address book, calculator and navigation unit.

The Arbitron and Edison Research report “Infinite Dial” data suggests that weekly use of Internet radio is up to 86 million listeners. It has more than tripled over five years, Hanson said.

Will Apple enter the online radio business, as speculated, with its reported iRadio service? Hanson said that “might be great for all of us.” He likened it to a battle of the brands that raises the visibility of the entire product category.

AM and FM radio can maximize its value by being live and local; with an Internet stream, a station is “not constrained by a 90-mile signal anymore,” he pointed out. But Hanson cautioned broadcasters not to procrastinate. “If you wait too long, the opportunities are taken.”

‘CAR COMPANIES LOVE RADIO’

The car is radio’s “number one listening location and our number one advertiser,” says Jacobs Media and JacApps executive Paul Jacobs.

The automobile is essential to radio, which “is no longer two buttons on the dash. In these big-screen entertainment systems, finding the radio is an option.” He spoke at the Radio and Internet Newsletter Summit.

Addressing industry scuttlebutt about whether carmakers would someday leave radio out of the dash, Jacobs said, “We talk to car companies. They love radio.” He said radio remains a big part of how automakers view the dash going forward. However the industry needs to take a “much more intense view of our relationship with the car,” paying more attention to the dashboard user interface and ultimately the advertiser interface.

“That’s what the car companies want” from the traditional radio industry, Jacobs said.

IBiquity Digital President/CEO Bob Struble said in an interview that the risk for broadcasters is not so much being left out of the dash entirely but “being buried down in some menu.” TuneIn Vice President of Business Development Carl Rohling said his service allows listeners to hear 70,000 streamed stations ranging from podcasts to so-called “long-tail” content, but he admitted it hasn’t been easy to implement the service into the vehicle.

It’s difficult to develop an app for “every car stack,” said Entercom Director of Digital Operations Amy Van Hook, noting that the cost for developing one app can range from $400,000 to more than a million dollars. Entercom’s strategy is to have every station branded individually. The broadcaster works with JacApps to get its mobile phone applications in the car and with Triton for data integration.

Time-shifted content in the car is important, said Van Hook. “The DVR has changed consumers’ expectations.” Further, lifestyles change for individuals as they age from their 20s to 30s and 40s, leading to differences in how much time they have to consume radio and how they want to do that.

IBIQUITY TOUTS HD CAR OFFERINGS

Among receivers in iBiquity Digital’s booth were these tabletop models. The Insignia in the middle shows ‘Active Alerts.’ The HD Radio technology enables stations to broadcast EAS alerts.
Credit: Photo by Leslie Stimson
IBiquity Digital is seeing significant growth in digital broadcast services and receiver sales. That growth is especially in auto receivers, because in-car is where most listening takes place and where broadcasters make the most money, Senior Vice President Joe D’Angelo told Radio World.

Some 12 million HD Radio receivers have been sold to date, with 10 million in-car, according to iBiquity. Thirty-three automakers include factory-installed HD Radio technology on 170 models. Eighty models include HD as standard equipment.

Twenty percent of new cars sold in 2012 included HD Radio, and iBiquity expects that figure to grow.

In addition to digital audio, HD increasingly is used to deliver advanced data services. One of the most notable features is Artist Experience, in which visual elements like album covers are synchronized with digital audio. Over the past year, 10 radio groups — including Clear Channel, CBS, Emmis, Entercom and Greater Media — have worked to implement Artist Experience on their stations for a total of some 450 stations total, according to the technology developer.

HD Digital Traffic Services are launching in more cars; the service is available in JVC and Garmin products, and Toyota, Lexus and Mitsubishi will bring cars to market this year with these features built in.

MITSUBISHI HD RADIO NAV PLATFORM DEMOED

The recently introduced Mitsubishi HD Radio Navigation platform with the Nokia/Broadcast Traffic Consortium Service was displayed for the first time. The BTC comprises 24 broadcasters that provide a nationwide digital broadcast distribution platform for advanced traffic and traveler information service.

The new radio is integrated into the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander, to be available later this year. The automaker is one of the first OEMs to announce the integration of HD Radio Digital Traffic services; iBiquity Digital Chief Operating Officer Jeff Jury said the tech developer expects more such announcements this year.

With the BTC and Nokia’s HD Radio service, drivers will have access to real-time traffic information that extends beyond highways to include smaller roads; the service has the same level of accuracy on traffic speed and time delays due to incidents like as road closures or construction, according to iBiquity. Additionally, Nokia’s HD Radio service will include weather reports and fuel prices.

A prototype 2013 Toyota radio featuring Clear Channel Total Traffic Network service was displayed in iBiquity’s booth as well.


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