Ben Barber is president/CEO of Inovonics Inc. He comments as part of Radio World’s
special series on tech trends in modulation monitor design.
You make AM/FM off-air monitors and demod/metering for A and D
measurements, among other products. How has this class of products changed
notably in five to 10 years?
Barber: Over the time period
noted, a need certainly remains for accurate, yet simple hardware for
day-to-day transmitter setup and “confidence monitoring.” That is, a standalone
box in the rack room, or even in the studio, that can be trusted for accuracy
to confirm legal operation, and something the owner and PD can read and
But as broadcasting
technology evolves with advances like HD Radio and AM carrier control,
instrumentation becomes more complex. Much of the responsibility for plant
maintenance has shifted toward contract engineering services where full-time
staffing is not available.
In what direction are mod monitors heading next?
Barber: Just as consumer
radios are becoming more and more “software-defined,” so will professional
monitoring equipment need to keep pace with advances in broadcast and receiver
technology. As an expensive piece of test equipment, a mod monitor should be
easily upgraded with firmware updates to handle whatever comes down the pike
over the expected life of the product.
What unique problems for monitoring and measurement are generated
by HD Radio?
Barber: I wouldn’t say the
HD Radio generates unique problems, it’s simply a second transmission that
rides along at the same center frequency as the analog signal. The monitoring
equipment actually needs to be two independent receivers in one to do justice
to both transmission channels, rather than one receiver that simply switches
between modes. On top of that, the analog/HD mod-monitor needs to keep watch on
the overall spectrum to snag any nasties generated by having two,
unlikely-bedfellow signals occupying common bandwidth.
And for RDS?
Barber: RDS has taken a very
long time to penetrate the U.S. broadcast market, though today with the availability
of so many more receivers out there, stations are seeing the benefit through
branding, advertising and simply enhancing the listener’s experience.
We were very early
proponents, offering an RDS encoder back in the mid-’90s, and have been pushing
RDS ever since. And just as very basic RDS encoding has become incorporated
into new FM exciter designs, RDS monitoring should be a natural part of the FM
mod-monitor function. We believe that its added value is finally being
Does industry discussion about Single Side Band Suppressed Carrier
Barber: This is an
interesting concept, and one that we are keeping an eye on. Fortunately the
implementation of this technology is a relatively simple matter in the digital
domain, though there are questions about consumer receivers being able to deal
with the Single Side Band Subcarrier that will have to be answered.
What should a smart buyer know about mod monitors today?
Barber: A smart buyer should
make certain that the product he chooses comes from a manufacture with a strong
track record, is well supported and is easily upgraded to embrace technologies
on the horizon.
Briefly, what is your newest or most notable product?
Barber: At NAB 2013 we will
debut three monitors, one for FM and RDS, other for AM and a third for Internet
Radio Monitoring. The first two are not modulation monitors as such, but
budget-priced units that meet a basic need for signal, program and data
The third is a unique
product in that there is nothing else available in the market like it! The unit
is a dedicated hardware solution for monitoring your stations’ streaming and
metadata, with logging functions and notifications via text/email if there are
any issues with it. We anticipate a lot of interest in this product sector.