The Sunday sessions of the Broadcast Engineering Conference
at the upcoming NAB Show feature papers on a number of
important technology advances. One of the most promising is SSBSC.
FM stereo transmission using single-sideband suppressed carrier (SSBSC)
modulation is the focus of a presentation by Frank Foti.
Foti, founder and president of Omnia
Audio, resurrected interest in SSBSC in 2010 and presented a paper at last year’s
show. This year he’ll discuss more details, including real-world field testing
results underway in a number of markets.
SSB for FM was first discussed by Bob
Tarsio in a 1987 NAB paper and again at the 1997 NAB by Bill Gillman. SSBSC potentially could replace the standard DSBSC (double
sideband) generation used since stereo FM became law 51 years ago. It promises
to reduce stereo noise and multipath degradation in existing receivers as well
as improve SCA, RDS and HD Radio performance.
“Implementing single-sideband suppressed carrier on an existing FM
station is as easy as selecting this mode in an audio processor equipped with
SSB,” Foti told Radio World. Stations wishing to deploy SSBSC for testing also
need to secure Special Temporary Authority from the FCC in order to comply with
As of this writing, the Omnia.9 and 11 models FM processor/stereo
generators include SSBSC, as does the Orban Optimod-FM 8600. Wheatstone has
confirmed it is lab-testing SSBSC in its Vorsis FM processor. Older units may
not be capable of SSBSC retrofits because of the extra DSP processing
horsepower needed to generate this mode properly without excessive delay.
analyzer views of the FM baseband spectrum. With DSB, left, we see modulated
spectrum on each side of the 38 kHz suppressed carrier marker. With SSB, right,
we see mod only below 38 kHz in the lower sideband (LSB) region with nothing
above in the upper sideband (USB) region.
aware of stations testing SSBSC on the air in Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta,
Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Central Pennsylvania and West Virginia; he says
there are others.
“The feedback is a noticeable reduction of blending in a mobile
receiver. I now have, and will show part of this at the NAB presentation,
videos that were taken in a mobile environment, where you can see the route
driven, along with the terrain, and hear the audio from the receiver.” (See a
link to one video at the links page for this issue, radioworld.com/Mar-28-2012.)
“There’s a segment, where the multipath in the DSB mode is so severe,
the audio is a tune-out. Yet, in the exact same location, using SSB, the audio
is most definitely listenable, with only a few hits of multipath. This was done
using the same radio station as a test example.”
The theoretical amount of broadband noise reduction in receivers that
decode SSBSC has been calculated at 3.7 dB. However, to the casual listener, the
improvement is much greater, according to Foti.
“Due to the triangular rise in noise across the FM channel at 6 dB per
octave, stereo noise is most severe in the upper sideband. At high frequencies,
where all the annoying hiss is easily heard, the noise improvement is close to
10 dB. I will share the test results about this in the NAB presentation.”
Improvement around town
Radio World contacted Brian Kerkan of the Cayuga Broadcast
Group, who is running SSBSC on WQNY(FM) in Ithaca,
N.Y., a country station.
“WQNY had a translator previously that filled in the gaps downtown, and
suffers from multipath and blending in downtown Ithaca,” Kerkan said.
“We have done some field testing with various receivers, and have found
an improvement in areas around town. What I have observed is less blending and
better stereo separation. This has also been noticed by the PDs of our stations.”
SSBSC certainly appears to be a win-win for the radio industry based on
the testing being done; but all interested observers want to know if there is
any downside to its widespread deployment.
“Thus far, I do not see any downside,” Foti said. “My recommendation is
that we consider this as an optional transmission method. It’s backward
compatible; and to date, we have not received a single negative comment about
compatibility, or that transmitting SSB degraded the FM service.”
spectrum analyzer shot of the SSB baseband (left) and the expanded LSB area
Bob Orban, founder of Orban Associates
and designer of the Optimod 8600, is supportive of the SSBSC initiative. He commented
on it in a December 2010 issue of Radio World (also linked at radioworld.com/Mar-28-2012).
Orban is more cautious about possible
side effects produced by the SSBSC waveform, and urges that extensive field and
lab testing be done before any FCC regulatory changes or additions to the rules
Asked by email regarding his current thoughts about SSBSC, Orban told
Radio World he does agree that SSBSC offers a “modest reduction” of apparent
multipath and noise, but observed that actual stereo subchannel multiplex power
is doubled in SSBSC. He also is concerned about the vast universe of existing
radios in use, some of which may have compatibility issues like the Sony
“Any radio that uses noise or spectral contamination in the quadrature
component as a criterion for activating blend-to-mono is likely to misbehave,” says
Perhaps of more importance, Orban maintains that additional peak limiting
needs to be employed in SSBSC to maintain equivalent loudness.
“The added composite peak limiting can produce audible side effects,
depending on the target loudness of the transmission. This seems to be a ‘laws
of physics’ issue — the SSB waveform cannot exploit the interleaving property
of the DSB waveform and thus requires more peak limiting,” Orban wrote.
Frank Foti maintains that “using
SSB created absolutely no change to peak modulation levels” and that “modulation
level and density is the same for DSB and SSB. At least it is in our
application of the technology.”
The presentation “FM-Stereo
Transmission using Single-Sideband Suppressed Carrier (SSBSC) Modulation” is
scheduled for Sunday morning as part of the Broadcasting Engineering Conference
session “Advancements in Radio Technology.”
Tom McGinley is technical adviser to