Readers Tell RW What’s On Their Minds

We hear reactions to stories covering NRSC, routing, LPFM and much more
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I read Mark Persons’ article “Adjust Rules for NRSC Measurements” (Feb. 1, 2014) and tend to disagree with some points.

First, many solid-state transmitters of the past few decades use PDM/PWM modulation techniques and are subject to PDM leakage on either side of their carrier frequency. This is not particular to any manufacturer as much is it is to the modulation technique and the aging of filter components. Many of us have had to change out the old “big blue” capacitors that have quit functioning.

But the point is how do you know when that issue is becoming a problem? It takes an NRSC type measurement, a call from the AM station that is being interfered with or a visit by the FCC with their spectrum analyzer to reveal the problem.

Then, on occasion there is a piece of audio gear that begins oscillating in the supersonic range and puts out a sideband that covers someone else signal. I’ve seen audio processors do this, though it is rare.

With co-location of stations increasing, there is chance of an intermod component exceeding the FCC limits. How will anyone know of these IM products if they aren’t diligently monitoring the whole RF spectrum? Can a mon-and-pop station afford to own a spectrum analyzer to monitor this issue?

There is no doubt that technology has advanced significantly on the past decade. We have now high-quality transmitters that may not be capable of generating some of these issues. But not everyone owns a new transmitter.

I’d stretch a guess that “most” stations are operating with AM transmitters that are 10 to 20 years old, and that more than a few operate with even older transmitters.

It’s a bit early to eliminate or compromise existing NRSC measurement requirements; let’s wait a decade or so.

Dave Dybas
Sparks Broadcast Service
Buffalo Grove, Ill.

DON’T FORGET AES67

“Trends in Routing” (Dec. 17, 2014 issue) should have mentioned AES67, which is a standardized way of doing audio over IP, first adopted by the AES in 2013. This is arguably the most important news regarding moving audio around in a facility in the last five years because it has the potential to solve the interoperability problem between previously proprietary audio-over-Ethernet and audio-over-IP networks.

There should also be a mention of AVB.

Robert Orban
Orban
Scottsdale, Ariz.

SHOPPING FOR HD RADIO

Tom Ray’s article (“Shopping for a Car With HD Radio) in the Jan. 1 issue was spot on, but he doesn’t tell the half of it.

I don’t particularly care for the IBOC system, but I view it as a necessary evil of technology; so I felt I had to have it in two vehicles, a 2009 Ford Ranger pickup and a 2010 Ford Transit Connect van.

Neither offers an HD Radio receiver as an option, and the Transit Connect has the worst-sounding, most stupidly engineered speaker system in automotive history (but that’s another story).

The only option on these vehicles was to turn to aftermarket radios.

There are a lot of good ones, and for the most part they’re not too much of a pain to install, though I couldn’t get the stock radio out of the dash of the Transit Connect. After a local auto audio shop said that he could get it out and came back with a claw hammer and cold chisel — muttering “You don’t by any chance want the old radio, do ya?”— it cost me $50 at the Ford dealership for them to remove the stock radio. But I didn’t feel too bad about that; the trained Ford mechanics with all of the proper tools had a heck of a time getting it out. Watching those two mechanics struggle with it was worth $50.

The real story that’s missed here isn’t about auto radios.

Just try to find any radio, other than automotive, that includes HD.

A few years back I got myself a rather high-end HD table radio. It worked fine until it went belly up; the microprocessor went sort of spastic. I contacted the dealer to inquire about repairs (I’m getting lazy in my curmudgeonhood). The service manager told me flatly that they couldn’t fix it. “No parts,” he said, “why, that radio hasn’t been made in two or three years now; it’s ancient.”

I inquired about purchasing a replacement radio, something not so “ancient.” Guess what? Nothing they had includes HD — all sorts of other neat bells and whistles, but no HD.

A trip to Radio Shack was interesting. The kid tried to sell me a satellite radio with a pricey and long subscription. When I finally got through to him that I was looking for an HD Radio, his eyes sort of glazed over; he hadn’t the faintest idea of what I was talking about. And he tried one more time to sell me a satellite box.

Taking to the Internet, it became apparent: The HD Radios out there are aftermarket automotive stuff. Want something for your home? Lotsa luck, Charlie. Unless you want to go with the one or two available that are really top-of-the-line stuff (translation: expensive as the national debt), you can forget about IBOC at home.

As far as HD Radio goes: As broadcasters, we’re in there pitchin’, but the listeners don’t even have a chance to buy a catcher’s mitt.

Tom Adams
Staff Engineer
Wisconsin Public Broadcasting
Madison, Wis.

WELCOME TO THE AFTERLIFE

My brother bought a new Subaru that came with HD Radio. He didn’t want it or not want it. It just came with it. So I asked him, how is it?

In the Washington, D.C., metro area? Poor. The secondary channel drops to nothing much of the time and the primary channel reverts to analog. My brother: not a radioman, not impressed. Actually a bit miffed.

Flip the page to the HD skeptic (“A Chat With an HD Radio Skeptic,” Jan. 1 issue). He pegs it. It’s about programming and people, not technology. If this were the 1930s, the HD people would sound like all those futuristic articles explaining how we would go to work in our flying cars we tucked into the garage.

Sometimes you have to go back to the future. And to borrow from a slogan I heard about newspapers, if live radio is dead, welcome to the afterlife.

Jim Jenkins
Owner/General Manager
WAGS Radio
Bishopville, S.C.

WE NEED A BETTER WAY

On Jan. 14, 2015, I filed an informal complaint with the FCC and asked them to conduct an independent evaluation of whether iBiquity (aka HD Radio) is “broadcasting in the public interest.” I don’t feel they are because there are so few people listening to HD Radio. My complaint is FCC Ticket No. 83715.

We are into the 13th year of the IBOC/HD experiment, and it clearly is not succeeding. IBiquity frequently says that HD Radio “shows up in the ratings book,” but it appears that people are not listening to an HD channel but rather an FM translator.

My complaint is based solely on the assertion that Americans aren’t adapting to HD Radio in its current form. We need to look for a better way to serve the public with digital radio.

I am asking the FCC to appoint an independent panel to review the performance of iBiquity and HD Radio. Maybe the current system can be fixed or maybe bigger changes are needed. Doing nothing won’t make this expensive problem get any better.

I am a consultant and blogger (seen at right); my specialty is noncommercial media, particularly NCE radio. In my work I frequently review and post ratings data from Nielsen Audio. Recently I was looking at noncommercial reports from last fall. I noticed four HD2 or HD3 channels were listed in the November 2014 PPM report.

I investigated and learned that the four stations are likely drawing enough listeners to meet Nielsen Audio’s In-Tab criteria via simulcasts on terrestrial FM translators. HD broadcasters are staking out territory in the good old FM band.

You can see my report at http://tinyurl.com/HDmills.

I can never recall an HD channel showing up in “the book” without simulcasting on a translator. If there are exceptions, they are so few it further underscores my point: People aren’t buying what iBiquity is selling and it is time to see if there is a better way.

Ken Mills
Ken Mills Agency LLC
Minneapolis

GOOD LUCK, WHCP

I was interested to read about LPFM station WHCP in the Jan. 14 issue. I am on a community station in Ocracoke, N.C., WOVV(FM); one of the founders of WHCP called me about six months ago while I was on the air. I answered some questions, as I remember, and gave him the name of our station manager to talk further.

I’m glad to hear that things are working out for WHCP. LPFM and “community radio” in general seem like one of the waves of the future.

I wonder sometimes if AM would be more popular with varied formats like LPFM/community radio.

John Alexanderson
WRDV(FM) and WOVV(FM)
Doylestown, Pa.

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LPFM ASPIRATIONS

It’s an exciting time for small broadcasters (“LPFMs Look Ahead to 2015,” Jan. 1). A decade ago, amidst mega-media mergers and FCC foot-dragging on LPFM (inaction supported by industry behemoths NPR and the NAB), I, too, urged expanded LPFM licensing.

But reading news about LPFM nowadays prompts me to ask, “What the …?”

Competition for frequencies? Time-sharing? Then turn the page for a striking juxtaposition: Industry handwringing, in story after story, about challenges from technology advances … leading to revolutionary changes in audience media-consumption habits … resulting in OTA radio’s vanishing listeners (aside, that is, from the articles touting radio’s persistent low-90-percent reach but that neglect to mention declining TSL).

Who do these fearless new LPFM licensees think will tune in? While the spirit behind frequency sharing is laudable, I question the odds of success for either partner when getting and keeping listeners is more difficult than ever, certainly no less so for those sharing small sticks, no matter how “local” they might be.

“Localism,” an inherent strength of LPFM, was my mantra (http://bit.ly/radio_study). That was back when few people outside the FCC knew the term (the word did sound slightly made up). But I’m over it. I still believe live, local programming is a good thing. But with the damage done (partially thanks to corporate consolidation), I no longer espouse localism as sufficient.

If local programming alone were the answer, as some seem to suggest, why didn’t cable-access TV channels long ago topple the major networks? Because, obviously, more important than program origination is program quality. That has always been true, of course, and local programming can be relevant, compelling and good quality. But high-quality live programming, with strong national reach fostering far-flung shared experiences, has proven to be a winning formula for many successful syndicated radio hosts.

Today when I hear “localism” or its companion, “hyper-local,” I yawn and think some people are finally getting it — a decade (or two) too late.

The more relevant question now: What must the industry do in terms of content in combination with delivery to help the medium regain relevancy with consumers? I teach 20-year-olds — so, trust me, the challenge before us concerns not merely staying relevant, but, regrettably, needing somehow to re-establish relevance in their lives.

On delivery, mobile surely must be part of the equation. As for content: For starters, radio’s perennial problem of commercials seems to be the problem perennially ignored (though kudos to KNDD(FM) in Seattle for trying something new: blowing up the outdated strategy of long stopsets — a tired tactic not well-suited for the digital age).

Solidly pro-radio, I often tout the medium’s many strengths and advantages over other media; its coming full embrace of digital after initially weak strategies; its gradual evolution (eventually moving away, I predict, from an aging, unimaginative 60-year-old formula centered on music, jingles and seemingly never-ending commercials); and its ultimate survival.

Like many, I wish I knew the sure-footed path to radio’s thriving future, for I’d share it with my students, next-generation industry leaders. But I have no doubt about the medium’s long-term viability, and I take comfort in the hope that, down the road, some of my students will creatively meet the challenge.

In the meantime, best wishes to you, brave new LPFM licensees. It’s an exciting time.

Michael Saffran
Faculty Director/Communication Lecturer
WGSU(FM), SUNY Geneseo
Geneseo, N.Y.

CHANGE FOR AM

Andy, you tell the truth (“Skotdal: AM Band Needs Drastic Change,” Dec. 3, 2014 issue), which the FCC doesn’t want to hear.

The noise floor is rising every day, and nothing is being done to stop it. If anyone believes that the electric utilities are voluntarily going to spend millions making their systems compliant, and the U.S. consumer is going to replace all his computers, lights and other RF noisemakers with Part 15 compliant devices, I have some desert land in southwest Wyoming I’d love to sell them.

Changing 82–88 MHz to FM broadcasting as a primary allocation with TV broadcasting as a secondary allocation, and allowing existing AM stations to migrate there, makes sense.

Bob Spain
Director of Engineering
Wyoming PBS
Riverton, Wyo.

SUPER COORDINATION

Regarding “Super Bowl Requires Frequency Coordination,” Jan. 14:

Many Super Bowls ago, during a half-time show, a celeb’s performance wireless microphone apparently was being over ridden by a two-way radio’s transmission. I believe this was around the time when coaches were switching from hard-wired to wireless communication.

From what I heard, Jay Gerber was working for NFL Films and was a longtime “ham” and understood the looming future problems that would experienced by the NFL during Pro Bowls and Super Bowls; and he brought forth the idea of maintaining and coordinating a database of all possible frequencies that would be in use during these events.

Quite a daunting task. The NFL agreed to integrate this into its pre-event preparation, and Jay — with the help of other talented people including computer and technical experts and volunteer ham operators from the host cities — put a system of pre- registration, testing and databases into effect. This might be 10,000 frequencies — TV wireless microphone, two-way radios etc., law enforcement agencies (some secret), vendor radios; and there could be as many as 8,000 in use during the events.

You can imagine the chaos that nonregulated radio transmissions would cause.

So when you watch these games and pre-game shows and see all the wireless equipment, remember they were all tested before they got into the stadium by these crews. While Jay is retired, his legacy will be ongoing, probably as long as radios are being used. Thanks, Jay!

George Abrams, K4PAA
Miami

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