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Open Mic: IBOC history, part 2

Open Mic: IBOC history, part 2

Aug 1, 2007 1:00 AM, by Chriss Scherer, editor

While the HD Radio rollout still qualifies as being in its early phase, the technology itself was first demonstrated as a proof of concept in the early 1990’s. The first successful fixed AM IBOC reception test was held on July 9, 1992, on 1660 AM from the Xetron facility in Cincinnati. The fixed mobile FM IBOC reception test was held Sept. 29, 1992, on WILL-FM in Urbana, IL.

In the last issue of Insight to IBOC, we began a conversation with Glynn Walden, currently the senior VP of engineering for CBS Radio. Walden, then of Westinghouse, Tony Masiello, then with CBS, and Paul Donahue, then with Gannet, were part of the team that laid the groundwork for the HD Radio system in use today.

Glyn Walden, senior VP of engineering for CBS Radio

Radio: Looking back over the past 15 years, what could have been done differently to accelerate the digital radio rollout?

GW: Consolidation was a distraction for a few years. There were some internal delays as well, and the merger of USA Digital Radio and Lucent brought some changes in strategy.

The cost of the HD Radio chipset started very high. Siport has independently developed an Ibiquity-based chip, which will help reduce the cost of the chips. This competition will help drive the rollout.

There will soon be more competition in the marketplace. You’ll see the quality of reception and the quality of the product improve. There’s a struggle to manufacture affordable HD Radio receivers with the current, expensive chipsets and expensive RF front-end.

It takes time to develop a technology. If Major Armstrong’s company were still designing FM receivers, we wouldn’t be where we are today. It was because of innovation�blend, high-cut, all the things that broadcasters don’t like�all made FM listenable in the car. The original Armstrong system didn’t work in a mobile environment, but innovation through competition made it better.

Radio: What’s the next step in the digital rollout?

GW: People don’t understand why it takes so long to introduce this technology. Introducing a broadcast technology is not like introducing an Ipod. The Ipod is a closed system. Nobody cares if an Ipod is not compatible with anything else. But here we have broadcast services that have to be compatible with everything. You can’t have radios that work in New York and not in California. Then you have all the dissenting voices and all the supporting voices constantly at odds with each other through the process. When you introduce a product like an Ipod, people can diss it all they want. All that matters is that they buy it.

All is well during the WILL-FM IBOC tests. From left to right: Jeff Andrews, Gannett; Tony Masiello, CBS; Ed West, WILL-FM engineering; Dave Obergoener, Gannett; Alan Parnau, CBS.

But here, we have to arrive through a consensus process as something that will be acceptable to all parties before we can get the regulatory bodies to act on it. Radio needs to be ubiquitous, unlike an Ipod. An Ipod only needs to work with Itunes if that’s all they want it to. Cell phones are the same way. It’s a closed system.

Radio: What is radio’s strength?

GW: Radio has to be everywhere. Wherever a listener is, whatever device he has, we have to be there. Radio broadcasting now represents something like 38 percent of all Internet radio listening. We compete against thousands of non-broadcast streamers. Why? Because we have programming expertise. We’re good at it.

Radio: We are content producers, and when radio stations understand the division between content creation and content distribution and become distribution agnostic�

GW: We should be distribution agnostic. We should be distribution to whatever means we need to be to get to our listener. I saw this very clearly for TV 10 years ago, and I see it for radio now. TV should look at itself as a program supplier and forget about over-the-air television. It’s a different paradigm. TV only reaches 15 percent of its audience over the air. It’s going to be a very long time before radio reaches only 15 percent of its audience over the air.

Even the people listening online now are listening to us. 38 percent of Internet radio listeners listen to streamed broadcast radio stations. I think that’s going to grow. We’re just getting started. When we get our HD2s up in addition to our main channels, that’s going to be additional broadcast channel also available on the Internet. I think that we’re going to have even greater opportunity there.

Read part 1 of this interview in the May 2007 issue of Insight to IBOC.

Listen to more of this interview online at Click the podcast link.