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NAB2004 in review

NAB2004 in review

Jun 1, 2004 12:00 PM

After several years of declining attendance, the NAB Convention is making a comeback. Overall, opinions of the convention are positive. With radio ad sales forecasts looking good, several new technologies showing actual progress and an increase in attendance, exhibitors and attendees agreed that it was a successful convention. Our NAB Convention review includes several sections, which cover the various aspects of the convention, from the sessions to the exhibit floor to the talk in the aisles.

Our post-show coverage has three parts:
NAB2004 Overview | IBOC at NAB2004 | PREC highlights

NAB2004 overview

By Chriss Scherer, editor

Spirits were high, attendance was up and the industry seems to be on an upswing.

At 4:01 p.m. on April 22, I walked through the convention floor to see smiles all around. After a few years of dwindling attendance and shrinking exhibit space, the positive tone at the end of the convention was a welcome sight. NAB2004 will be remembered as a successful convention.

While the happy feelings are a good sign for the future, the attendees’ practical side regarding the convention looks to the prominent technology that was shown. With this in mind, there were a few areas of technology that garnered much of the attention.

The big item, plain and simple, was IBOC. Like it or hate it, there were plenty of exhibits that had some tie to IBOC. Transmitters, antennas and STLs are the obvious part, but IBOC has ties from the studio and data side as well. (And John Battison looks into elsewhere in this convention review.)

For digital audio, the integration of the console and facility router appears to be complete. There are more systems than ever before, and many of the manufacturers have several models, options and configurations from which to choose. This shows that it is a mature technology. Even the stand-alone console manufacturers were exhibiting new digital implementations.

On the automation side, the ability to store, manipulate and deliver program-associated data saw a heightened interest. Some of this is because of the enhanced service capability of IBOC, but it is also due to the renewed interest in RBDS. While some of the RBDS discussion focused on scrolling PS information, the general interest � largely due to the large station owners implementing RBDS � is high. Consumer radios were quietly introduced to the market, and now that owners and general managers see the data on a competing station, everyone must have it.

In addition to RBDS, another form of radio data made a showing. The ability to for a station interact with listeners has always held an attraction, but it has long eluded stations. With the proliferation of mobile phones and especially the ability to send text messages, radio may have found the portable return path to match the portable transmission medium. One example of this is RCS Mobile from RCS. By connecting listeners with the station, an increased awareness of radio may serve both sides well.

Watch your language

The most prominent topic anywhere at the convention had to be indecency. While politicians ranted about indecency, stations were on their best behavior and tread lightly while the watchful eyes were present.

So while indecency was the buzz word, the attention turned to profanity delays as the solution. While final decisions are made about how to define indecent material, manufacturers seized the opportunity to update existing technology.

A profanity delay in its basic form is nothing new. But with the faster pace of station programming, the ability to handle a faster and more plentiful barrage of verbal offenses has a new importance. The traditional seven seconds of delay is no longer enough. The new minimum is 20 seconds with the ability dump the unwanted material several times in that window.

Delay hardware still makes the mark in addressing this. Air Tools, a relative newcomer to the delay game, showed the 6000 and 6100 delays. Building on the increased attention, Eventide’s familiar BD500 is now available with up to 40 seconds of delay time. MDO displayed the Arse, a software program that offers up to 30 seconds of delay time. But the time doesn’t stop there. Several new devices were shown to handle longer delay times.

By combining the recording time of a logger and adding on-the-fly editing capabilities, the next wave of profanity delays removes the potential time constraint. With this in mind, Prophet Systems showed the Content Check, and OMT Technologies reintroduced Mdelay.

Finally, if the human element of catching all the potential on-air blunders is too risky, Enco Systems pooled its technology to create Guardien, which can automatically remove words from speech in near real time. Personally, I found it amusing to openly discuss profanity and test the software by uttering words that would embarrass even the most open-minded individuals.

IBOC at NAB2004

By John Battison

It would not be correct to say that IBOC was on everybody’s lips at NAB, but there was considerable interest in it. There seems to be a hurry-up-and-wait attitude for many stations at this point.

Transmitter manufacturers were on the ball and most of them had floor models to show or planned to produce IBOC transmitters shortly. Some of the equipment on the convention floor is already second generation, showing that there are some strong commitments to IBOC.

Broadcast Electronics showed the FSI 10, IBOC signal generator. It provides correct delay for matching of analog and IBOC paths and encoding of the IBOC digital signal. It can be used with the FXI 60/250 series digital FM exciter and the IBOC plug-in card. Depending on the user’s requirements it will produce an FM plus IBOC output for low level combining systems, or IBOC only, for use in high-level combined operation. In addition, Broadcast Electronics unveiled the XPI10, which splits the IBOC generator from the exciter, allowing the IBOC signals to be generated at the studio. See more on this in the Pick Hits article on page 16. Broadcast Electronics also showed the ASI 10 AM IBOC signal generator.

Harris demonstrated its two projects with multichannel IBOC audio. One demonstration showed the Tomorrow Radio system that has been developed by Harris, Kenwood and NPR. I detailed this system in the March issue of Radio magazine. While Tomorrow Radio allows for two separate audio streams to be transmitted, another demonstration with Neural Audio showed a 5.1-channel surround sound application using a Kenwood radio installed in a Hummer. While only some of the program material played was in full surround, this demonstration showed that it is possible to provide more than just a stereo audio signal with IBOC.

A third multichannel demonstration was shown in private sessions by Omnia Audio. Omnia demonstrated technology from Fraunhaofer in a suite in the Hilton. Those who attended the demonstration were impressed by it.

On the hardware side, Harris unveiled the MinHD transmitter, which covers power ranges from 10W to 600W.

Nautel has unveiled several IBOC offerings. The Jazz J1000 is a 1kW AM transmitter in a 19-inch rack mount package. It uses direct digital synthesis (DDS) to produce logic-level RF drive and modulation encoding. The J1000 has provision for six pre-set RF power levels.

The Virtuoso 10 (V10) is a 10kW FM IBOC transmitter that uses a linear, adjustable bias, broadband design. It is capable of as much as 3.2kW digital, 7.7kW hybrid or 11kW analog operation.

The Maestro M50 is a 50W direct-to-digital exciter for FM and IBOC. DSP and field-programmable gate array (FPGA) technology enable direct conversion of the audio source to the low-level FM signal. The exciter accepts data from Nautel’s NE IBOC generator to produce either a hybrid or all-digital HD Radio signal.

Continental Electronics, having recently experienced a change in identity to DRS Broadcast Technology, unveiled a new solid-state FM transmitter, the 815D5 and 815HD5. In addition, Continental provided a demonstration of an AM transmitter producing DRM digital transmissions.

Not just transmitters

The IBOC attention was not limited to transmitters. Developments in antenna technology were also shown. The Radio magazine Pick Hits judges even recognized the current work in dual-feed antennas. This work shows that IBOC is a serious issue with tremendous resources devoted to making it succeed.

STLs were also being shown to provide IBOC applications. The Broadcast Electronics Big Pipe and multichannel offerings from TFT and Moseley were unveiled. These address the added need for audio and data capacity from the studio to the transmitter.

And finally, one new development in the transmission chain was shown. A last-minute addition to the Harris booth was a discussion of a hybrid combining system called mid-level or split-level combining. While specific details were not revealed because of pending patents, the system looks to be a practical means to implement IBOC for many stations. It uses two transmitters to feed a single antenna. One transmitter is an analog-only transmitter with half the needed analog power. The other transmitter operates in a low-level combined mode to provide all the digital power and half the analog power. This system reduces the wasted power present in a high-level combined system.

Radio magazine is currently arranging an article that will fully describe this system.

PREC highlights

IBOC and content delivery

By Gordon Carter, CPBE

The annual Public Radio Engineering Conference (PREC) was held on April 16 and 17. The two main topics for the two days were National Public Radio’s rollout of the Content Depot and Tomorrow Radio, an advanced application of HD Radio.

All of the sessions on Friday had to do with the rollout of the Content Depot. The first session was conducted by a number of NPR staff members, each concentrating on their own area of expertise. Speakers gave an overview of the Content Depot, from the process of submitting and acquiring material about programs, to the receiving technology and finally interfacing the system to existing station automation systems. Recommendations were given regarding program timelines, program clocks and the differences between live programs and stored programs. Some time was also spent explaining the differences between the present DACS system and the Content Depot.

After a short break, the sessions moved to more detailed information on the system. An explanation of the concepts of program segments and cueing, file format standards and naming conventions was presented. Examples were given for integrating the Content Depot receivers with various types of computer networks and station audio systems.

The day’s sessions concluded with a panel discussing various ways to take advantage of the features and capabilities of the Content Depot on the programming side of things. Ideas were presented for using content beyond audio, content localization and improving workflow.

The Saturday sessions began with a presentation of alternate methods of combining the analog and digital broadcast signals. Harris announced that it had completed a successful on-air test of split-level combining.

Further sessions presented the results of on-air coverage and audio testing of Tomorrow Radio. The HD Radio chipset and possible strategies for marketing advanced features was presented, as were funding options for public radio stations to implement HD Radio, and some strategies for programming of Tomorrow Radio.

The afternoon sessions were a bit less unified in theme. During lunch Jeffrey Dvorkin, NPR Ombudsman, gave a presentation entitled Ethics in the Digital Age. Other afternoon sessions included a panel discussion on crisis event management, business implications of new technologies and some interesting new facility projects.

The regular sessions ended with a panel discussion entitled Things We’ve Discovered about HD Radio. This included two presentations on the results of Tomorrow Radio testing, a panel discussion on technical problems and experiences encountered while implementing HD Radio, and finally a discussion of low power HD testing in Los Angeles.

The conference ended with a special Night-Owl session entitled An Audio Expedition. Bill McQuay, NPR’s Surround Sound and Radio Expeditions Technical Director, played a selection of some of the best on-location surround recordings from his collection. Attendees were invited to bring their own recordings to hear Tomorrow Radio first-hand.

Carter is chief engineer of WFMT, Chicago.