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Digital Radio Update – March 19, 2008

Digital Radio Update – March 19, 2008

Mar 19, 2008 4:15 PM, By Mark Krieger, CBT

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



HD Radio Gets Profile Boost at MERA
HD Radio got plenty of face time at Knowledgefest 2008, the annual showplace for aftermarket automotive enhancement products, held last weekend in Louisville, KY. Hosted by the Mobile Enhancement Retailers Association (MERA), this year’s show featured HD Radio as a platinum-level sponsor, with HD Radio equipment displays from 11 different manufacturers.

Among the stars on the show floor was a heavily customized Nissan Frontier pickup low rider featuring an Alpine HD Radio with Itunes Tagging system.

Vendors with display booths included AAMP of America, Alpine, Audiovox, Dual, Pacific Accessory and Pioneer, while Ibiquity VP Dave Salemi delivered a presentation to attendees at MERA’s “Roadmap to Success” town hall meeting on Saturday.

DRM’s Senger Honored at ABU 2008
The membership of the Asia Broadcast Union (ABU) has bestowed a lifetime achievement award to Peter Senger, Chairman of the Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) consortium. Presentation of the honor took place last week at the ABU’s Digital Broadcasting Symposium In Kuala Lempur, Malaysia.

A spokesperson for the ABU said the award was made in recognition of Senger’s commitment and long-term contribution to the development of the DRM standard for digital broadcasting in the international and domestic radio bands below 30MHz. The DRM Consortium was organized in 1998 as an international non-profit organization with the goal of developing non-proprietary technology and standards for digital radio broadcasting.

IBOC Across America

IBOC by State: Mississippi
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 nine stations in the Magnolia State broadcasting 17 HD Radio channels.

MarketStationHD1 FormatHD2 FormatOwner Biloxi-Gulfport-PascagoulaWMAH-FM 90.3News/InformationMusic/ClassicalMississippi Authority for Educational Television BudeWMAU-FM 88.9News/InformationMusic/ClassicalMississippi Authority for Educational Television Columbus-Starkville-West PointWMAB-FM 89.9News/InformationMusic/ClassicalMississippi Authority for Educational Television GreenwoodWMAO-FM 90.9News/InformationMusic/ClassicalMississippi Authority for Educational Television JacksonWJSU-FM 88.5Jazz/Gospel-Jackson State University JacksonWMPN-FM 91.3News/InformationMusic/ClassicalMississippi Authority for Educational Television MeridianWMAW-FM 88.1News/InformationMusic/ClassicalMississippi Authority for Educational Television OxfordWMAV-FM 90.3News/InformationMusic/ClassicalMississippi Authority for Educational Television TupeloWMAE-FM 89.5News/InformationMusic/ClassicalMississippi Authority for Educational Television

Eye on IBOC

From the E-mail Bag
I write in response to your article published March 5 titled DAB Gets Gloomy Prognosis Down Under for Radio Magazine’s Digital Radio Update.

To write off digital radio as not offering much more than existing audio offerings is nonsense. Australian radio is about to become an amazing multi-media experience, complete with crystal clear sound, improved reception, and a host of new image-based and interactive features. Rewind radio, real time traffic navigation advice, bonus channels, downloadable music, more details about the advertised product, slideshows, scrolling text, electronic program guides, updated news, sports and racing information. These are just a few of the features that listeners are set to enjoy from next year when digital radio becomes a reality.

To suggest that Ipods and MP3 players and listening to radio via the Internet will preclude the advent of digital radio also shows a limited knowledge of the technology. Digital radio will appeal to people for completely different reasons — it will provide an interactive, emotive experience with content unavailable on other channels or via other mediums. It is up to radio owners and operators to provide the best possible programming and content and coupled with superior audio — will provide Australian consumers with access to a great new medium.

It is also silly to compare the Australian experience with the UK.

The shutdown of two UK stations is all about cost and business issues confronting the operator in question. In fact, GCAP in the UK has not moved out of DAB completely. They have closed down a number of unprofitable stations, a couple of which happen to be DAB stations.

Australia is in a unique position with the introduction of digital radio. The planning of the digital rollout here has been meticulous and is without parallel. No other major country in the world has done what Australia is doing. Comparing what we’re doing here to the format in the UK (and many other countries like Canada) is like comparing black and white TV to color TV.

The DAB Plus format we’re adopting has up to three times the capacity of the original DAB standard (used in the UK and other places), and many other countries are already looking to follow our lead. This includes Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Malta, Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand and a number of Chinese provinces that have either already moved to our format (DAB Plus) or are extremely interested in doing so.

Digital radio will be rolled out in Australia from pre-Christmas 2008 (when various products will be in the stores), through January 2009 and beyond. Ultimately, more and more products and choices will become available, as Australians adopt new digital radio technology and enjoy an even richer listening experience. It is a very exciting time for Australian radio.

Joan Warner, Chief executive officer, Commercial Radio Australia

Mark Krieger Replies
Joan Warner, CEO of Commercial Radio Australia, recently flattered this newsletter by sending us the previous personal response to one of our previous reports entitled DAB Gets Gloomy Prognosis Down Under. While we certainly respect her viewpoint, and sincerely wish the DAB+ rollout every success in her homeland, it should be noted that our report was based on the published comments of an influential Australian academic, and were not the ruminations of this author.

Having said that, her letter embodies what seems to be a deep and increasingly acrimonious divide among broadcasters about where our medium is heading in terms of delivery technology. So perhaps some more personal musings along that line are in order.

Digital Radio Update is now well into it’s 5th year with Radio magazine, and during that time, we’ve tracked the launch trajectory of various digital radio delivery systems worldwide, including DAB, DRM, HD Radio, as well as national and international satellite based systems. It’s all been fascinating, unpredictable, and at times, more than a little unsettling. Even so, if there is one characteristic common to each of the technologies listed above, it’s that not one among them has yet achieved full economic orbit. Nor do any of them appear clearly poised to do so.

Why is this? We might begin looking for an answer by recalling 1995, a time when it looked as though DAB was well on its way to becoming a world digital radio standard with the exception of the U.S., which stubbornly held out for an in-band-on-channel solution that would preserve the hierarchy of our then-booming industry. Satellite radio then wasn’t much more than a pair of licenses looking for investors, and the Internet was just beginning to show potential as a multimedia distribution medium. Fast forward to March 2008 and one of the answers to the current conundrum becomes apparent. The development curve for dedicated digital radio platforms has moved at an agonizingly slow pace, and when new systems have launched, people simply haven’t rushed to embrace them.

In contrast, Web-based audio delivery technology during the same period developed at a dizzying clip. Apple marketed its first Ipod in 2001. By the end of 2007, about 110 million of the pricey players had found their way into the hands, pockets and purses of eager consumers. Of course Ipods are not radios, but if you believe that media is content-driven, rather than distribution-driven, it’s foolish to disregard those numbers. Consider also that during the same time period, Internet radio listening in the U.S. went from a handful of early adopters to more than 30 million persons per week. That’s a significant growth curve when one considers it occurred with virtually no coordinated marketing effort. These innovations were relatively spontaneous, in contrast to dedicated digital radio architecture, where development has been a deliberative process, dragged on ad nausea by a succession of industry and governmental committees.

If there’s one thing to be learned from our experience over the past decade or so, it’s that consumers turned out to be smarter and more adaptive than most industry and policy wonks expected. That things worked out this way is really no surprise. Fact is that folks have always cared less about platform than content — look at the growth in talk radio in the last 20 years, and on AM, no less. Likewise, FM radio was around for the better part of the 20th century, but it wasn’t until it offered unique content that people adopted it en masse.

Sure, digital radio is sexy, but most people are quite comfortable with their analog receivers when the content satisfies. One young woman I recently spoke with about HD Radio multicasting told me she has no interest in it because if there was really anything good on those extra channels they’d already be offering it in place of the “lame stuff” they now run on analog. On the other hand, I know a rabid public radio listener who’s still fond of his analog Tivoli, but relishes the flexibility that readily available public radio podcasts now provide. He’s not particularly juiced about digital radio either.

Clearly, the one thing people demand from any radio, analog or digital is, well, really good radio. If you aren’t already giving it to them on their analog sets, they have little incentive to believe you will just as soon as they plunk down $200 for a fancy digital model. Likewise, if you’re not providing compelling content at the moment, people will find it through other readily accessible avenues, such as podcasts, music files and the Internet. There’s just no reason for them to wait any longer.

So we wish our Australian colleagues the best of luck with their digital venture and hope it fulfills their expectations. If the focus of their detailed planning and preparation has centered on developing improved programming, as opposed to digital widgetry and “value added” services, it just might.

HD Radio Terminology

The New Language of HD Radio
amplitude scale factor: A factor by which the level of a particular OFDM subcarrier is multiplied to obtain its desired power with respect to a reference power level.

frequency partition: For FM IBOC, a group of 19 OFDM subcarriers containing 18 data subcarriers and one reference subcarrier.

MPS PDU: The output of the Audio Transport consisting of protocol information followed by a sequence of encoded audio packets and MPSD.


Mercedes Commits to Factory HD Option
Daimeler-Benz’s premium Mercedes SUV line sold in the U.S. will soon offer HD Radio as an installed option.

In addition to a telematics package with features like Bluetooth hands free control and color graphic displays, American buyers will have an array of audio options such as a true-diversity radio tuner with both HD and Siruis satellite radio capability. A DSP based Harmon-Kardon Logic 7 high-powered audio system is also available to help driver and passengers enjoy their new galaxy of radio content.

No word yet from Daimler on price or availability dates.