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Digital Radio Update – February 6, 2008

Digital Radio Update – February 6, 2008

Feb 6, 2008 12:15 PM, Mark Krieger

Stay up to date on the latest IBOC news, business and technology information with the twice-monthly newsletter from Radio magazine.



UK’s Guardian: “Is DAB radio the next Betamax?”
The fate of Eureka 147-based commercial DAB in the United Kindom is in question, according to an article by John Plunkett published on on Jan. 29. With the provocative headline of “Is DAB Radio the next Betamax?”, the author highlights an economic analysis that claims DAB may face a crippling economic crunch if a second commercial DAB multiplex is launched as scheduled in Great Britain.

The new report, released by Enders Analysis, a UK media/telecom research firm, notes that the UK’s current multiplex has recently lost some major content providers due to low revenue growth and high operating costs for member stations. Among the channels reported to have recently discontinued programming are GCap Media’s Core, UBC’s Oneword and Virgin Radio’s Groove, while GCap’s Chill and Fun Radio have scaled back their programming, and another proposed channel, Virgin Radio’s Viva, has been shelved indefinitely.

Citing multiplex over-capacity and outmoded coding technology in millions of DAB receivers already sold throughout the UK, critics question whether a second national multiplex can now survive economically.

Original Eureka 147 DAB archietecture employed MPEG Layer 2 coding technology, which is sonically inferior to modern codecs such as AAC plus. The world DAB forum has integrated improved codecs in its new DAB+ specification, but the existence of millions of legacy receivers means that Layer 2 coding must be maintained through a long-term trasition period.

DAB critics point to alternate paths to a digital radio future using existing VHF broadcast spectrum such as HD Radio and DRM+ technology. In other parts of the EU, mixed media digital systems such as DMB and DVB are also in play.

British government officials are scheduled to take up a discussion regarding the state of DAB this week.


Struble: A Third of a Million HD Receivers Sold in ’07
Adressing a meeting of the NAB’s board on Jan. 29, Ibiquity Digital CEO Robert Struble provided an answer for those wondering just how many HD receivers actually found their way into the hands of consumers in 2007. The magic number, as presented to the NAB, was about 330,000 units, up from about 40,000 in 2006.

Struble also took the opportunity to thank the board for its cooperation and support of HD Radio in 2007, calling it a breakthrough year.

Wimax Trials Begin in Germany
The Institut fuer Rundfunktechnik (IRT), in collaboration with Alcatel-Lucent, has begun operation of Germany’s first optically adapted Mobile Wimax transmitter in Munich. According to an IRT press release, the pilot installation transmits data from antennas located on a 100-meter TV tower owned by the Bavarian Broadcasting Cooperation.

The trail is intended to evaluate the Wimax mobile broadband technology suitability for the distribution of IP-based audio, video and data services, including broadcasting and electronic news gathering (ENG) applications.

The pilot installation of Wimax standard IEEE 802.16e-2005 operates on two frequencies in the 2.5 and 2.6GHz bands with variable bandwidths of between 5 and 10MHz according to a test license agreement with Germany’s Federal Network Agency.

Spokespersons for IRT say their engineers intend to evaluate signal strength, receiver performance, along with different coding and modulation schemes, in an effort to optimize system performance.

The IRT is a private organization dedicated to research and development for public broadcasting, with organizations in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

IBOC Across America

IBOC by State: Nebraska
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 12 stations in the Cornhusker State broadcasting 16 HD Radio channels.

MarketStationHD1 FormatHD2 FormatOwner LincolnKUCV-FM 91.1Classical/News-Nebraska Educational Telecommunications Omaha/Council Bluffs-IAKVNO-FM 90.7Classical-University of Nebraska Omaha/Council Bluffs, IAKIOS-FM 91.5News/Talk/Info-Omaha Public Schools Omaha/Council Bluffs, IAKEZO-FM 92.3Rock-Journal Broadcast Group Omaha/Council Bluffs, IAKHUS-FM 93.3CountryHard Rock/Heavy MetalClear Channel Radio Omaha/Council Bluffs, IAKQCH-FM 94.1CHR-Journal Broadcast Group Omaha/Council Bluffs, IAKQBW-FM 96.1Rock/80s HitsActive RockClear Channel Radio Omaha/Council Bluffs, IAKGOR-FM 99.9OldiesOldies 50s and 60sClear Channel Radio Omaha/Council Bluffs, IAKXKT-FM 103.7CountryClassic Country, 60s, 70s, 80sClear Channel Radio Omaha/Council Bluffs, IAKSRZ-FM 104.5Hot AC-Journal Broadcast Group Omaha/Council Bluffs, IAKKCD-FM 105.9Classic Rock-Journal Broadcast Group Omaha/Council Bluffs, IAKFAB-AM 1110News/Talk-Clear Channel Radio

Eye on IBOC

NAB to Seek FCC Approval of Major IBOC Power Boost
Poet laureate Carl Sandburg once famously intoned that “the fog comes in on little cat feet.” And so, apparently, do major proposals that could increase licensed digital operating power in hybrid IBOC Digital broadcast signals by as much as 10dB.

News regarding the proposal apparently first surfaced in published minutes of the NAB Radio Board’s Jan. 29 meeting, where “acting upon a recommendation from the NAB Digital Radio Committee, the Board unanimously approved a resolution to seek FCC authorization for higher-power operation of FM HD Radio stations.” Since that time, some rather low-key reports in trade publications have brought a couple of additional details to light, including the 10dB level of increase sought.

According to anonymous industry sources, proposals to up the digital component power of FM HD Radio hybrid signals were floated some time ago as an answer to signal penetration and coverage issues experienced by a number of stations then operating with HD Radio signals. STAs were filed for test stations belonging to several radio groups (most notably Clear Channel), allowing digital transmission power to be temporarily boosted to levels elevated as much as 10dB below analog carrier values. Consulting radio engineering firm and NRSC DRB Subcommittee member Hammett and Edison conducted data measurement and analysis.

The conclusions of the study, which has not been made public, purportedly suggests that digital coverage can be significantly enhanced, with only tolerable increases in interference to first-adjacent analog channels.

For some broadcasters, however, the fact that the NAB has apparently signed on to the recommendation without first revealing details of this rather secretive study to its general membership is both striking and troubling.

Not surprisingly, a number of engineers at smaller stations in high-density RF environments are already asking how this might affect their analog coverage. RF-minded engineers that have witnessed the difficulty of getting HD Radio facilities to meet the FCC’s RF emissions mask while operating at digital power levels just one-tenth of those proposed are asking how on earth they are going to achieve mask compliance. And then there are the recent results of NPR’s coverage analysis project, which indicate that combined upper and lower first-adjacent IBOC digital interference can substantially degrade an on-channel station’s digital coverage.

No doubt there may be good answers to these questions, and real merit to this proposal. But the entire broadcast community has both a right and an obligation to consider the pros and cons of this major change to HD Radio operating parameters in the cold light of day and peer review before a petition to amend the rules is tendered to the FCC.

Let’s hope the details of both the study and the NAB’s proposal…and soon.

HD Radio Terminology

The New Language of Digital Radio
code rate: The ration of the amount of information input to a channel encoder to the amount of information output by the channel encoder. The lower the rate, the higher the degree of information redundancy. A rate 2/5 encoder conveys two bits of information with five bits of coded data.

hybrid waveform: This waveform supports operation of both analog and digital receivers and may be used in an interim phase preceding conversion to the all-digital waveform.

training bits: A pre-determined pattern or sequence of bits, the training pattern or training sequence, that is intermingled in the transmitted information at predetermined positions to allow the receiver to detect and correct for the effects of non-uniform channel effects over the transmission path and receiver front end.


Polk I-Sonic coming to Best Buy
According to an article by Joe Palenchar at Twice online, a select line of Polk Audio products, including an HD Radio receiver, will soon be on the shelves at Best Buy stores nationwide, as well as Best Buy online.

Palenchar says that among the Polk product line to debut at big-box retailer will be the I-Sonic tabletop receiver with Itunes tagging technology. The limited line of Polk products are slated for Best Buy main store floors, but will not be carried in the chain’s Magnolia Home Theater department. Items from Polk’s Audio Design line are not included in the distribution agreement.

Polk is a subsidiary of Directed Electronics.