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Digital Radio Update – August 6, 2008

Digital Radio Update – August 6, 2008

Aug 6, 2008 12:41 PM, By Mark Krieger



Tate Cites Opposition to HD/Sat Radio Receiver Bundling Requirement
Broadcast radio executives had little to smile about following last week’s approval of the Sirius/XM merger by the FCC.

True, the agreement hammered out during many long months of negotiation between the principals and regulators did specify that the new satcasting monopoly known as Sirius XM can’t use its terrestrial repeaters to originate local content, nor muscle out local radio carriage of professional sports. Even so, a federal mandate that HD Radio capability be bundled with interoperable satellite receivers — a condition eagerly sought by the NAB and its constituent radio groups — was left on the bargaining table.

But that controversial proposition has not simply disappeared from the radar screen, as a statement released just days ago by tie-breaking Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate attests. If her refusal to include the condition as a price for merger approval disappointed broadcasters, her latest remarks may give industry HD Radio boosters an outright case of heartburn.

“As a lifelong champion of the music industry and local broadcasters, I am sympathetic to the needs of the HD Radio industry and promises it holds as another audio choice for consumers. However, many commenters, particularly those in the automobile industry oppose a government mandate requiring inclusion of HD chips in all radios, and the resulting increase in cost… I do not believe the record of performance by this nascent technology supports a mandate for inclusion of the HD chip in every satellite radio,” Tate declared.

Tate noted that she felt the Commissioners hadn’t been supplied with accurate information regarding the true cost of such a mandate for automakers, and went on to say, “the auto industry is struggling, (and) it would be unreasonable to require them to assume a cost, or even worse, pass a cost on to their consumers, for a technology that has not yet proven the strength of consumer demand.”

The first-term Republican Commissioner concluded her statement by suggesting that the FCC launch a Notice of Inquiry to further examine the issue, even as she encouraged the HD Radio industry to “find new and innovative incentives to offer car manufacturers to include their technology in automobiles, just as other technologies have done, to increase their uptake and adoption, perhaps including an innovative revenue-sharing model.”

Published sources say the ROI could be issued sometime within the next 30 days. Commissioner Tate’s statement can be reviewed in its entirety here.


HD Technology Sessions on Tap at NAB Radio Show
Many radio engineers are finding the industry’s push to implement and leverage HD Radio an enormous professional challenge. So this year’s NAB Radio Show Engineering Program, Aug. 17-19, in Austin, TX, offers an especially timely opportunity for technical professionals to learn more in a workshop-type environment alongside experts and industry peers. While a variety of topics will be covered, a number of sessions will be expressly devoted to various facets of HD Radio technology and related areas.

Wednesday, Sept.17
From 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., Hammett & Edison’s Stan Salek will discuss key design considerations for the deployment of FM boosters for both analog and IBOC digital applications. After lunch, a broad range of topics, both HD Radio and Analog, will be engaged at an open meeting of the National Radio Standards Committee (NRSC) beginning at 1:30 p.m.

Thursday, Sept. 18
At 9 a.m., Jim Moody of James Moody Associates, and Larry Miller of Schwartz, Woods & Miller will introduce new solutions to the STL Bandwidth crunch. At 10 a.m., Broadcast Signal Lab’s Dave Maxson will focus on specialized spectral measurement parameters and techniques associated with HD Radio. And from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., a panel of engineers from major transmission system providers, including Continental, BE, Nautel and Harris, will explain how new Embedded Exporter technology may enhance reliability and functionality while lowering HD Radio upgrade costs.

Friday, Sept. 19
A recent proposal that the FCC authorize power digital carrier power increases of up to 10dB for FM HD Radio hybrid operations represents a major sea change in America’s IBOC digital radio rollout. From 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., attendees will learn about the data behind the proposal, as well as potential improvements and issues to be considered by digital and analog stations alike. Panelists from Ibiquity Digital, Nautel, Continental, Greater Media and NPR present their perspectives on what’s being called High Powered IBOC. Afterward, Panelists from Broadcast Signals Lab, Unique Interactive, and Ibiquity Digital will discuss the latest developments in an NAB-sponsored project to develop business requirements, system architecture and specifications of Electronic Program Guider (EPG) technology suited to local HD Radio broadcasters.

For more information on engineering program registration and all the events at the 2008 NAB Radio Show, go to


NPR Ex Parte Documents on High Power IBOC Available
On July 17 representatives of NPR, NPR Labs and CPB met with chiefs and staff members from the audio and policy divisions of the FCC’s Media bureau to discuss NPR Labs’ recently completed research on digital radio coverage, receivers and interference. This copious body of work was supported largely through assistance from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which is heavily invested in HD Radio technology via its digital conversion grants to member station.

Representing NPR and NPR Labs were Mike Starling, John Kean, Mike Riksen, and Julie Kearney, along with CPB consultant Doug Vernier. FCC Audio Division personnel attending included Chief Peter Doyle, along with Ann Gallagher and Jim Bradshaw, while Steven Broeckaert, Charles Miller, Brendan Murray represented the Media Bureau’s Policy Division.

As required by law, NPR filed a notice of this ex parte presentation, along with documentation submitted to Commission personnel during the meeting.

Those documents are available for download at the FCC’s ECFS website. Search for comments on proceeding number 99-325.

HD Radio Testing Begins in Bogota
Radio listeners in Bogota, Columbia are now able to enjoy a little HD Radio with their cups of cafe supremo, as Tropicana 102.9 has reportedly become the first station in the nation to transmit an IBOC digital hybrid signal.

The installation is part of a test granted under temporary authorization by the broadcast governing agency in Columbia, and was conducted in the country capital of Bogota. The station is owned by Caracol Radio Network, a major radio owner and network with more than 130 AM and FM stations nationally.

HD Radio hybrid transmissions have been authorized in Brazil, and were recently approved in Mexico for stations operating within 200 miles of the U.S. border. In the nearby Caribbean, Radio Jamaica began operating full time with both HD Radio AM and FM signals in the city of Kingston in 2008.

The Broadcast Electronics Broadcast Electronics FXi 250 digital FM exciter and FSi 10 HD Radio exporter used in the current test were provided by Jaime Sorzano, owner of Broadcast Equipment and Parts in Colombia.

IBOC Across America

IBOC by State: Georgia
Ibiquity has a list of stations with licensed HD Radio technology and notes those on the air now. IBOC by state looks at various states and lists the stations making the transition. There are 31 stations in the Peach State broadcasting 50 HD Radio channels.

MarketStationHD1 FormatHD2 FormatHD3 FormatOwner AtlantaWPZE-FM 97.5Gospel–Radio One AtlantaWABE-FM 90.1News/Talk/ClassicalArts and CultureNews and InformationAtlanta Board of Education AtlantaWNNX- FM 100.5Rock–Cumulus Media Partners AtlantaWWVA-FM 105.7Spanish/CHRLa Bomba-Clear Channel AtlantaWKLS-FM 96.1RockNew Alternative Rock-Clear Channel AtlantaWCLK- FM 91.9Jazz–Clark College AtlantaWBTS- FM 95.5CHR/RhythmicTop 40-Cox Radio AtlantaWZGC- FM 92.9Adult RockAmericana – dave roots-CBS Radio AtlantaWAEC- AM 860Christian–Beasley Broadcast Group AtlantaWAMJ-FM 102.5R&B Oldies–Radio One AtlantaWUBL- FM 94.9CountryNew Country-Clear Channel AtlantaWSTR- FM 94.1Top 40–Lincoln Financial Media AtlantaWJZZ- FM 107.5Smooth Jazz–Radio One AtlantaWYAY- FM 106.7OldiesCountry/Southern Rock-Citadel AtlantaWALR- FM 104.1R&B OldiesAdult Hip Hop-Cox Radio AtlantaWHTA- FM 107.9Urban AC–Radio One AtlantaWREK- FM 91.1 College Variety-Georgia Institute of Technology AtlantaWSRV- FM 97.1Classic HitsNews/Talk – WSB-AM-Cox Radio AtlantaWWLG- FM 96.7CountrySmooth Jazz-Clear Channel AtlantaWBZY- FM 105.3MexicanTejano-Clear Channel AtlantaWVEE- FM 103.3UrbanNeo-Soul/Urban ACNews/Talk WAOK-AMCBS Radio AtlantaWWWE- AM 1100Spanish/Christian–Beasley Broadcast Group AtlantaWKHX- FM 101.5CountryCountry/Southern Rock-Citadel AtlantaWWWQ- FM 99.7CHRClassic Alternative-Cumulus Media Partners AtlantaWSB- FM 98.5Soft ACSoft Standards-Cox Radio AugustaWC- AM 580News/Talk–Beasley Broadcast Group AugustaWHHD- FM 98.3Adult Hits/Top40WC 580-Beasley Broadcast Group AugustaWRDW- AM 1630Sports–Beasley Broadcast Group ClarkesvilleWMJE- FM 102.9OldiesNews/Talk-Jacobs Media ColumbusWTJB- FM 91.7Classical–Troy University GlennvilleWOAH- FM 106.3Urban–Broadcast Executives

Eye on IBOC

As the Sat Radio Merger Closes, What Now for Terrestrial Radio?
Among those breathing a collective sigh heard following the conclusion of the FCC’s vote to approve Sirius Satellite Radio’s buyout of former rival XM were terrestrial broadcasters who had little to show for all their efforts to deflect or at least soften the blow.

A long-sought government endorsement of satellite radio’s new monopoly came on a predictable 3-2 cleft along partisan lines. With Chairman Kevin Martin already on board, and Robert McDowell by his side, it fell to fellow Republican Deborah Taylor Tate to eclipse some 11th hour political theatrics by Democrat Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein and deliver the tie-breaking affirmative vote. In so doing, Tate obliterated a cornerstone of the S-DARS service as conceived by the FCC almost two decades ago.

In the end, the Commission majority settled for little more than a handful of promises from CEO Mel Karmazan, along with a $19.7 million check (presumably in the shape of a fig leaf) and a signed consent decree covering a host of previous rule infractions by both service providers, including the operation of miss-located repeaters and the sale of overpowered FM modulators to consumers who continue to use them today.

What lessons can terrestrial radio, now caught up in a fitful rollout of digital delivery technology, take away from this debacle?

Primarily, that politics trumps substance in matters involving consumers, and that in politics perception is reality. Even though the merger contradicted Kevin Martin’s agency’s underlying rationale in creating the service, Commission majority members couldn’t say no to Wall Street investors and consumers who disdain abstract concepts such as precedent or regulatory intent. Like it or not, most satellite radio users favored the merger and they were extraordinarily vocal about it.

Now consider where the Commission is today in relation to its second NPRM on digital radio, which deals less with technical issues than with the nebulous concept of localism.

Even now, broadcasters ask why the FCC has chosen to yoke the two issues together.

At a gut level, we know the answer. For the last decade, radio has been roundly vilified and stereotyped as having devolved into “McRadio” after the infamous Telecom Act of 96. Thus it’s now become politically fashionable to be seen as down on Clear Channel, poster child of radio’s consolidation period. And if you do something that’s perceived as favorable to terrestrial broadcasters, such as approving HD Radio, you’d better balance it with a swift regulatory backhand, lest you be seen as soft on “big media.”

Unfortunately, most stereotypes have at least some basis in fact. For radio, the marriage between medium and audience went cold when the partners stopped talking. Money is the underlying issue in a majority of American divorces, and this case has been no exception.

So perhaps radio needs to start taking its case directly to its millions of listeners by talking with them instead of at or around them. We need to convince our audience that they matter, that our relationship with them is important, and that we’re willing to listen to what they have to say about what we do and how we do it. Ipods don’t converse with their users, but broadcasters can. After all, it’s what our medium did so well for the better part of a century.

But slogans and clever promos aren’t dialog. Americans aren’t plunking down their money for digital radios so far because most see no compelling reason to do so. Until we get our listeners back in a healthy relationship with us, they won’t invest in new technology, nor stand up for us when politicians and the RIAA decide to draw blood.

Lesson learned? Stop fixating on technology as the solution to radio’s problems. Rebuild our relationship with the listener and the other problems will take care of themselves.

HD Radio Terminology

The New Language of Digital Radio
analog signal: The frequency-modulated or amplitude-modulated signal, consisting of a modulated RF carrier and accompanying sidebands, that is incumbent in the FM and AM broadcast bands and is receivable by both IBOC and non-IBOC receivers.

extended hybrid waveform: The FM IBOC waveform composed of the analog FM signal plus digitally modulated Primary Main OFDM subcarriers and some or all Primary Extended subcarriers.

primary extended sidebands: The portion of the FM IBOC primary sideband that additional optional frequency partitions occupy closer to center frequency from the Primary Main sidebands. PX sidebands are activated in the Extended Hybrid and All-Digital waveforms. They consist, at most, of subcarriers 280 through 355 and -280 through -355.


HD Alliance and Radiosophy Team up to Offer HD Radio for under $50
HD Radio tuners are suddenly more affordable than ever, at least for a limited time. That’s because Radiosophy is offering its HD-100 tabletop receiver for a record low $49.95 — after a $50 mail-in rebate being offered as part of the HD Digital Radio Alliance’s latest marketing campaign. The Alliance’s latest marketing thrust invites consumers to text “UPGRADE” to 34343 in an effort to provide added value for those consumers who agree to adopt.

Once consumers opt-in, they’ll receive weekly text messages including a URL for a $50 mail-in rebate when they purchase an HD-100 receiver Additional messages will include station guide and buyer guide information. Consumers have the option to opt-out at any time by texting “STOP” to 34343.

Radiosophy normally retails the HD 100 at $99.95 on its website. The company is running the promotional rebate offer through Sept. 29.