The troubles with IBOC
Jul 1, 2003 12:00 PM
The troubles with IBOC
I read your June editorial called An IBOC Roadblock.
I followed the attempt to bring in AM stereo, including the Khan-Hazeltine and C-QUAM systems. When I first listened to AM stereo, I was impressed that the quality of the sound nearly doubled a mono signal. I found it sad that it had taken the FCC an exorbitant amount of time to determine which mode would become the standard, as many radio stations were restraining from making capital equipment purchases since they did not want to be stuck with material that may not be authorized in the near future.
As noted at two websites, users.hfx.eastlink.ca/~amstereo/index.htm and www.amstereoradio.com, as conglomerate buyouts of smaller stations started happening, C-QUAM AM was turned off as often, though not the only reason, the conglomerates were complaining that AM stereo signals did not travel as far as monaural signals so the stations were losing their listening audience. (I thought this sad because AM stereo was a very interesting concept that seemed to be working very well.)
Up starts a company, now known as Ibiquity, that in the early 1990s claims it can produce a better AM and FM quality sound. I am game for improvements. I followed the concept, but had not heard the product until 2001.
I was not impressed with the first hearing if IBOC at NAB 2001. I figured it was only the first roll-out and that improvements would be made to the overall quality.
I listened to it again at NAB 2002 and still was not impressed with the signal.
I attended the SBE Ennes Workshops at the 2002 NAB Radio Show in Seattle, which included a day’s worth of presentation of how IBOC worked and how to sell it to your customers. During the technical aspect of IBOC, the presenters stated that there was a compromise to sound to be able to send both digital and analog signals out, and to keep both signals within the authorized bandwidths.
Now, in 2003, when at NAB again, the product was [supposedly] finished. As I listened to the signals, they still did not sound as clean as the current analog AM and FM broadcasts. The AM sounded bright but harsh, as if much of the audio harmonics were chopped off. The FM was brighter, but I could still hear a seashell whooshing in the final product. It also sounded harsh with so many audio harmonics cut out. I was not impressed at all, and made sure I had told Ibiquity when I visited their booth.
I was also not impressed with 8.5 second delay. At a real-time broadcast, such as a baseball game, the batter could be sliding in to second base before you would hear the announcer say the batter had even hit the ball. Fans at a game with the radio for commentary would not be happy with this.
The switching from analog to digital to analog also presents problems.
This is quality improvement?
Yet the same conglomerates that decided that C-QUAM AM stereo diminished AM quality and reception are now embracing IBOC. Why? Because they can pass more information to the consumer. Translation: they can pass more commercials to the consumer to make more money for themselves.
The four stations I work with are somewhat relieved that the NRSC has suspended its evaluation because of the quality factor. I had told my clients my opinions of IBOC. My clients were also aware of the IBOC problems and were somewhat apprehensive to converting.
So, to state in my opinion, as asked for in the June 2003 issue of Radio magazine, I vote to leave FM radio alone, and re-evaluate AM C-QUAM stereo. Even though three of the four AM Stereo stations I can receive in Reno from other states and Canada sound primarily as if they are sending the 25Hz pilot signal and running mono, these stations sound much better even over the hundreds to thousands of miles they travel at night compared to the local mono signals I get from my local area � even the 50kW omni in the daytime.
Gregg E Zuelke
Silver Springs, NV
After reading your editorial in the June issue, I decided to record and send you an audio sample. The short MP3 that I sent is a standard C-Quam analog AM station, received in Toledo, OH, using just a loop antenna. Toledo is 82 air miles from the CFCO 10kW transmitter site in Chatham, ON, Canada. Toledo is not in CFCO’s primary area of coverage. The audio was received on a Fanfare FTA-100 tuner and recorded directly to a Philips home CD recorder without any equalization. Despite using the loop antenna, I was quite impressed with the relatively low noise level and decent stereo separation, as well as the frequency response.
After listening to CFCO and WJR in AM stereo on this tuner, I’m convinced that if all the effort devoted to creating a broadcast system with dial-up Internet quality audio � the IBOC scheme � was instead invested into making a decent AM receiver, broadcasters would be saved a ton of money. Broadcasters should consider putting their money into purchasing a tuner/radio manufacturer that could produce superb AM radios, just like Crosley Radio did while owning flame-thrower WLW-AM (hint, hint Clear Channel). The broadcaster’s company could build a tuner with an AM section similar to the Fanfare with frequency response to the 10.2kHz limit with a 10kHz whistle filter, throw-in a noise-blanker, stereo AM, and then work on DSP decoding to further improve noise issues, as is done with the Motorola Symphony or Omega chipsets.
If the developers still want to go proceed with IBOC on the FM band, they could make a tuner/radio that would include the new �HD-AM� with features listed above and an IBOC-FM. To help current AM stations avoid wasting money on their experimental IBOC/HD Radio hardware, Ibiquity could write the software code to generate C-Quam with the existing IBOC hardware, thereby keeping their broadcast system compatible with the millions of existing Chrysler minivan soccer-mom car radios listening to Radio Disney in AM stereo.
Innovative Controls Corporation
You want my thoughts on IBOC. How much time do you have?
There are many issues that have not been addressed, which I believe are very important, not the least of which is the cost and availability of receivers. Over the years, one of the reasons for the popularity of radio has been the low cost of receivers. You can buy one for ten bucks that looks like Mickey Mouse and hangs in your shower; you can buy one for $2.95 that fits in your ear while you jog; you can buy a nice little clock radio to put by your bed for $15 or less. What’s going to happen when people have to start shelling out big bucks to buy a receiver to listen to their favorite station? I’ll tell you what’s going to happen, they will spend that same money for a new CD player or perhaps a satellite radio system where they can listen to their favorite music without putting up with commercials. People will not pay big bucks for a new radio, just as they won’t pay big bucks for a new television for HDTV. That is a proven fact. Only the elite � the yuppies � the audio perfectionists who like cute toys will buy IBOC receivers.
Furthermore, an independently owned and operated station such as ours here in Madison, MN (population 1,767, with a potential audience of 39,000), will have to spend thousands of dollars for IBOC equipment and we will never get that money back � not in a million years. Our listeners listen for obituaries, lost and found dogs and cats, the local high school ballgame, our evening storytime with the local librarian, for the extension report, for weather watches and warnings and for a variety of other reasons, as they have for the past 20 years since we built this station. They could give a rat’s behind whether that information is delivered in an analog or digital mode � they listen for the content.
When are the nation’s �broadcasters� going to start concentrating on the information they broadcast rather than the mode through which it is transmitted? The sooner satellite radio and digital downloading kill off the big music stations and we all get back to serving audiences with local information the better off our medium will be. I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue new technologies, one cannot stand still, but to rush into something as complex as IBOC for no good reason but to save �music radio� (which isn’t really �radio� anyway) borders on lunacy.
Radio right now is, for the most part, a joke; a big, lousy jukebox run by accountants and lawyers who are intent on dragging the real broadcasters down with them. It is regulated by an FCC that consists of people who probably never heard of comparative hearings to determine which license applicant will best serve the public. This FCC determines who best serves the �public interest� by checking out highest bidders, and then holds licensees to some kind of public interest standard to which they don’t adhere themselves.
I’m proud to be part of that small segment of broadcaster still serving their local communities day in and day out. There are still a lot of us out here but there probably won’t be if the IBOC debacle comes to complete fruition.
You asked for my thoughts, now you have them! Feel free to disseminate my message in any way shape or form you wish�it’s a message that damn well better get out an be understood quickly by a whole lot of people.
The latest NRSC action that suspends the testing of the Ibiquity DAB system (especially for AM) is a smart course of action, and suggests that broadcasters may want to consider an alternative to the present situation before the USA is locked into a system unique to our part of the world. I suggest that broadcasters learn about Digital Radio Mondial, a non-proprietary digital system for present day AM broadcasters.
Digital Radio Mondial (DRM) offers:
- FM-like sound quality with the AM reach;
- Improved reception quality;
- Flexible use of radio, whenever and wherever you want it;
- Continued use of existing transmission systems;
- No change to existing listening habits:
same frequencies, same listening conditions (fixed, portable and mobile radio), same listening environment (indoors, in cities, in dense forests�);
- Low cost receiver, low energy consumption;
- Easy tuning: with selection by frequency, station name or programme type;
- Radios that will give you programs with associated text information, station name, record title, singer’s name;
- Opportunities for added-value services with data, text and other services;
DRM is a world standard. Global travelers won’t need a separate radio or radios with multiple decoders.
To know more, and hear how DRM sounds in the �real world�, point your browser to www.drm.org.
David M. Sites, CBT
Idaho City, ID
Ownership rules good and bad
The best thing in the new Ownership Rules from our friends at the FCC is the redefinition of the �market.�
The spirit of the Communications Act of 1996 (for radio and TV) was for owners to own more than one station in the same service in the same market. The �efficiency of scale� � the buzz term after 1996 � meant that they could serve the public in those markets better by keeping their stations profitable. It was said that more than 60 percent of the stations were in the red before 1996. The Commission put a cap on how many stations one owner could have in a market, based on market size and station coverage maps.
What actually happened was that big group owners immediately started finding a way to own more than the limit in a market. For example, the owner would buy a station in the northern part and the southern part of the market. Because the signals did not overlap on a coverage map they were able to simulcast programming and cover the entire market.
An interesting phenomenon came up too. These stations, when grouped together, were able to control formats, agency business, program syndications and rates. The FTC had never really dealt with radio and the FCC had never dealt in monopolies. Agencies were being told that they would have to buy other stations that they did not need to get the rate on a station they did need in their media buying. Rates were being raised when the efficiency of reach of the station was actually dropping. This problem still exists today.
Payola is still illegal. Large groups have found a way; now for legal payola by having record companies pay the groups millions of dollars to get their music played. Congress in investigating this but as of this writing it is being done legally. In my day, if I accepted $100 I would have been in the slammer in a minute. I’ve known PDs who have gotten drugs, money, trips, boats, women, etc. I always wondered why in all my years, the only thing I ever got were some Montovani records from RCA in 1972.
The new market definition is based on Arbitron market definitions. If a station is licensed to the metro or if a station is listed above the line in that Arbitron rating book as a home station (each station can be listed in only one home metro) then the station counts in that market. Also, joint marketing agreements (JMA, formerly known as local marketing agreements or LMAs) count as ownership. This makes so much more sense, and it shows how some big broadcasters have taken advantage of what Congress and the Commission had intended in 1996. The Commission is saying that the owners will be grandfathered in, for now, but will not be able to sell the stations in these violating markets as a package. In my opinion, the Commission should give the owners six months to divest of stations in violation or take them off the air.
The whole concept of the Communications Act of 1996 slaps the original purpose of local TV and radio in the face. These were intended to be local facilities � to serve the local public interest. Radio and TV should be in a separate category from internet, cable, satellite programming, long distance, MMDS, etc. Radio and TV should be local. To clump radio and TV together with these other services that are intended to serve large areas is not good for the local consumer in any market. Formats are homogenized and sound the same in every market. Many stations have no one to even answer the phone in case of a local emergency or need. I think radio and TV stations ought to be licensed to local owners who live in the market and make a commitment to that market.
My biggest concern is the consolidation of editorial viewpoints and the lack of diversity in news coverage. I think this is dangerous. What has made the USA great is the diversity, the right to speak our viewpoints and the right to disagree and protest. You can’t have the access to varying viewpoints without lots of competition. With the new rules, every radio, TV, newspaper, network, internet and cable system will be owner by four or five mega-owners where before 1996 we had thousands of owners and thousands of outlets for varying viewpoints. By having multi information sources it makes it less likely that the government can deceive its people. It also makes it less likely that major companies or groups can do the same. Concentration in control is very bad for the American way. It needs to be overturned with limits in each market strictly enforced. Also preference needs to be given to local owners. We cannot afford to see local radio and TV disappear. We’re close.
You read my views and you can’t really tell if I’m a conservative or a liberal. I am a broadcaster and believe in serving the needs, wants and problems of local viewers and listeners. You have to be involved, promote and care. That is the future of local radio and TV. Now if Congress and the FCC could see this and make the corrections quickly and give local radio and TV a platform of its own to go forward.
D. Chuck Langley
What Hath the FCC wrought?
It is still possible to shoot yourself in the foot, even without a gun, as recently proved by the FCC and its translator window. The FCC first created a vacuum by freezing commercial band translators for some five years, and then they opened the sluice gates. The short window produced a flood of 13,000 applications. Approximately half of that number came from just five applicants. The tenents of the Communications Act, as amended, are based on the public’s �interest, convenience and necessity� and on the fair distribution of service. Apparently, these tenants were overlooked in the Commission’s continued rush to market this Nation’s commercial broadcast spectrum.
In a new, untested policy, the Commission declared that the applications filed during the window were to be considered �expressions of interest.� All �expression of interest� applications would be studied to determine those that were mutually exclusive with other similar applications. Those that were found to be MXed were to be scheduled for future auction #83. Those that were considered �singletons� were identified in a list on the FCC’s website. Some of the top singleton filers are shown here.
Radio Assist Ministry Inc.
Edgewater Broadcasting Inc.
Educational media Foundation
Singleton applications are invited to submit �real� applications for the frequencies. While the Commission will accept Petitions to Deny with regard to these applications there will be no opportunities to file competing applications.
The majority of the applications filed during the window have second- or third-adjacent relations with existing stations that effectively poke holes within a station’s normally protected signal contours. How could this be, particularly since the FCC would not allow this under the LPFM service? These second- or third-adjacent applications will have to prove that there are no people, major roads or buildings within the predicted interference area. In this manner, most translator applicants will have to find transmitter sites that are rural in nature and unpopulated. However, there are numerous singletons in major cities. The applicants in such locations will need to keep their signal ratios, when compared to the protected second and third adjacent stations, within the prescribed U/D of +40dB. Take, for example, the translator application that is located ten miles from a full class B station, based on the facilities the signal strength of such a station would be slightly over 82dBu. Using the FCC’s U/D ratios for second and third adjacent channels the translator’s signal strength can be 82dBu + 40dB or 122dBu before it causes interference to the class B. At 250 watts the 122dBu travels only 88 meters. So if the antenna is more than 88 meters above the ground the interference never touches the ground. This could never happen in the LPFM service because assignments there are based on minimum spacings (including a buffer) and not calculated U/D ratios and contours.
But, what about interference to the translator? Apparently, the FCC doesn’t care about this, because translators are allowed to receive interference under the Rules. So, perhaps, in the FCC’s mind, there is the yin and the yang of interference, the good and the bad, but obviously this is not a listener based philosophy. Take for instance the licensable ten watt translator co-located with a 100kW second- or third-adjacent facility. In this case, the difference between 0.01kW and 100kW is 40dB, so there would never be a place within the 60dBu of the translator where the undesired signal would be less than 40dB above the translator’s signal, therefore, based on the Commission’s U/D policy, that translator would have interference over 100 percent of its 60dBu signal contour, yet it can be licensed. Is this in the public interest?
So, while broadcasters and the Congress were worrying about interference caused by LPFM, the Commission’s Alford E. Newman approach moved to the front of the line. The interference caused by the impact of 13,000 translator applications and the ensuing chaos will be infinitely worse than the feared LPFM interference? Thousands of translators are now being slipped in between currently licensed, usually four-channel spaced, full-service stations throughout the country, regardless of the impact on quality of reception. The Commission’s carefully crafted LPFM ownership plans defining qualifications based on local control and limiting the number of stations one entity can own are made to look laughable under the crush of the proposed nation-wide translators.
I cannot blame the one applicant that applied for 1,700 applications during the window or those other mass filers. They were just following the rules; rules that were so unbelievably shortsighted that it should have been easy to for the FCC to conceive of outcome.
Doug Vernier, CPBE
Page 78 of your June issue made me sigh…the old Western Electric. We had one here donated by WIBA in Madison, WI, in the early 70’s. We, that is I and a stakebed truck picked it up from WIBA in the early 1970s. I was able to down band it from 102.9 to our frequency, 88.7. We ran it for many years until we went stereo. The old face is still here as well as the meters. The low voltage power supply still lives (lower left bottom of the picture) running an old WW-II ART 13 ham transmitter. Ah, gone are the days of the polyphase motor driving the master oscillator tuning cap. There were four Western Electric WE 350 tubes (6L6) driving the frequency control motor from a divider string of 6AC7s. We call them phase-locked loops today. One IC chip in the mid section left with the master osc above.
It was wonderful transmitter.
University of Wisconsin-River Falls