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The NAB Show? Call It “April Madness”

We hope you’re enjoying being at the convention — or appreciating the quiet if you’re not

The cover date of this issue is smack dab in the middle of the 2015 NAB Show. (It’s tax filing day too, but no need to consider unpleasant topics here.)

If you’re reading this at the show, congratulations — your activities this week will be more stimulating than when at home. If you’re reading this and you’re not at the NAB Show, you are a lucky person; with everyone else in Las Vegas, you have the once-a-year opportunity to get some work done without being pestered.

I browsed the session topics and speculated on what attendees would be talking about.

It’s springtime, and a young man’s thoughts turn to radio.
Photo by iStockphoto/cotyledonsNAB Labs All-Digital AM Field Test Project — This is presenting the results of a nine-station field test of the HD Radio all-digital system on the AM band. The NAB’s David Layer gave a talk at the local SBE Chapter in late 2014 and played the off-air HD Radio audio of a 50 kW North Carolina station as received in upstate New York at night. I’m always pleasantly surprised every time I hear AM HD Radio; but to hear decent AM nighttime quality received hundreds of miles from the transmitter was really exciting.

Recently, I had the opportunity to drive to Columbus, Ohio, and was looking forward to hearing my favorite boyhood AM stations’ hybrid HD Radio signals; my family had made the same trip almost four years ago and it was a teachable moment for my two teens. “Listen!” I said breathlessly as our VW Gen 2 car radio locked onto an AM station, then seamlessly transitioned to its AM HD Radio signal. “Did you hear the radio station suddenly sound better?” They nodded, slightly confused why their dad was so thrilled about a handful of AM HD Radio stations. On this trip, I tuned around the AM dial in midday, anticipating that clear AM HD signal — same car, same radio — but the only AM station I picked up that was transmitting HD Radio … was WLW, Cincinnati, Ohio, 107 miles away. Disappointing, to say the least.

That experience is why I hope the NAB study invigorates and encourages a movement toward an all HD Radio AM band — AM stations could sound so much better (even if it does obsolete my 1937 Zenith AM/SW radio).

New Tools to Co-Locate Wireless Facilities With AM Antennas — While AM stations have rented tower space to wireless telecommunication providers in the past, this session (Thursday during the show) is interesting because Kintronic is presenting some new isolation coil technology to help wireless telecom providers transition their feed across the AM tower base to the telecoms’ tower-mounted transmitters and receivers. These tower-mounted transmitter and receivers communicate to the ground equipment by two fiber optic strands and are powered by 48 VDC on a pair of 6 AWG wires. The upshot is, with careful engineering, all the services are compatible and AM stations have a dependable income from tower space rental.

Green Broadcasting — Saving Your Station Money, Each and Every Day, and Saving the Environment As Well — I turn off the lights when I leave a room — which annoys anyone still in the room — but this session is more pragmatic; it will help you analyze your transmission facilities and find ways to reduce power consumption and thus save money. Nautel’s Chuck Kelly has a spreadsheet model you can use to calculate operating costs, cooling costs and equipment power costs; best of all, it offers strategies for effective communication of your results to station management in proper financial terms.

Deploying an FM Network Using Digital MPX and Its Implications — When session presenter WorldCast Systems’ Tony Peterle lists the handful of separate devices used to assemble a multiplexed (MPX) analog signal for an FM transmitter (audio processor, a codec pair, an RDS encoder and finally a stereo encoder), one may think, “My, there must be a way to do that with fewer boxes.” His session focuses on simplifying the broadcast chain by sending a single digital multiplexed signal — generated by a single specialized processor and transported by MPX-enabled codec — from studio to transmitter. The digital MPX signal contains all the elements for analog transmission, including the RDS subcarrier. It will be interesting to see if one could create that digital MPX signal and transport it not only to the primary FM transmitter, but also booster stations located within the station coverage area, and keep all the signals synchronized for seamless FM coverage.

Whether you are in the bustle of the NAB Show or in the quiet of your office, we hope you are having a productive week.
Photo by Jim PeckFoolproof Aiming of Large Parabolic Dishes — Randy Woods’ session catches my attention because it had “Foolproof” and “Dishes.” Having fussed at length some years ago, trying to aim a 3-meter dish on a tall Chicago skyscraper toward a satellite 23,000 miles away, I immediately took to the moniker. Randy shares his process that he says takes two hours in the field and leaves the engineer with confidence that the systems are performing properly and within spec.

Implementing Artist Experience in HD Radio — I have marveled at the capacity of FM HD Radio to transmit still images and other data in its sub channels and for an HD Radio receiver to pluck out those images and display them. The Artist Experience can be used to send the album cover art of the song that’s now playing, or used for my favorite scenario: The overnight DJ transmits pictures of his recent island vacation with his girlfriend (to my knowledge, no DJ has done this, but if it did happen, my modern HD Radio would be tuned to this station just to see the next pic!). In this session, presenter Lamar Smith brings his use cases from Beasley Media Group to show methods of integrating image selection, preloading images on listener’s receivers and triggering the listener’s image display, ensuring that listeners always have an image to look at in their radio.

Speaking of the Artist Experience, early this year iBiquity Digital Corp. commissioned a survey of public radio station’s use of HD Radio technology, the results of which are being tabulated as I write this. By way of disclaimer: I ran that survey for iBiquity, and even I don’t know the outcome yet. The survey respondents are public radio stations that are licensed to use HD Radio technology; many of the stations received initial funding for HD Radio technology through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the late, great Public Telecommunications Facilities Program. This survey attempted to get a count of stations transmitting HD Radio; the state of the station’s HD Radio equipment; the number of stations using Artist Experience (transmitting Album Art) and Program Service Data; gather comments from stations on their HD Radio issues, and more.

I look forward to presenting more on this topic in the June edition of RWEE. The experience of building an online survey, soliciting responses, managing the issues that crop up during a live survey and making sense of the data is a new experience for one used to the broadcast engineering side of the industry.

Until then, be safe and productive, wherever you are. And drop me a line anytime about Radio World Engineering Extra to [email protected].