As reported yesterday, a majority of stations, especially commercial stations, depending on satellite-delivered programming are having to deal with a new satellite and a decommissioning of the old one. Radio World spoke with Greg Monti, SVP, engineering and operations, Westwood One, on the specifics of this transition.
Radio World: Why the change to a new satellite?
Greg Monti: AMC-8 is reaching end of life. It was launched in November 2000 and had a predicted service life of 15 years. We are now completing Year 16. Eventually, AMC-8 will be decommissioned and turned off by its owner, SES.
For those who want to know, SES stands for “Société Européenne des Satellites” or ”European Satellite Company.” It is the successor to the old RCA Americom, GE Americom and SES World Skies, among other companies. SES’ world headquarters is in Luxembourg. Their U.S. headquarters is in Princeton, N.J.
RW: What will be the differences in program quality — if any?
Monti: No change in audio quality. All channels and audio program encoding will be the same as they are today. The existing signal of each network will be duplicated on the new AMC-18 satellite starting in February 2017.
As for RF signal strength, no two satellites have exactly the same downlink coverage area (footprint). The signal on the new AMC-18 may be 1 dB higher — or 1 dB lower — at a given point in the U.S. A well-designed downlink site at a radio station should have 6 dB or more of margin and will not have an issue with signal strength.
However, the 2-degree spacing may be an issue. The old AMC-8 is the last satellite at the western end of the arc, and has no immediate neighboring satellite to the west. The new AMC-18 will have a neighbor to the east at 103 west (2 degrees away) and one at 107.3 West (2.3 degrees away). The radio networks recommend that affiliates have 2-degree-compliant dishes in place, which generally means 3.7 meters diameter or larger.
RW: How many groups/providers use this satellite?
Monti: There are five network companies that operate their own satellite systems that are part of this announcement. In addition to their own programming, they serve hundreds of syndicators, large and small, who offer a lot of shows, including: Rush Limbaugh, CBS News, Sean Hannity, NBC Sports Radio (Mike Florio, Newy Scruggs, Mark Malone), Talk Radio Network (Sam Sorbo, Roy Masters, Robert Davi), Skyview Networks play-by-play sports and news programming, ABC Radio, ABC News, Dave Ramsey, Westwood One News, Business Talk Radio Network [BTRN] (Ray Lucia, Business Rockstars), Michael Savage, Carson Daly, Sports Byline, Mark Levin, Sports USA, Touchdown Radio, Phil Valentine, CBS Sports Radio (Jim Rome, Doug Gottlieb, Damon Amendolara), Brownfield Ag News, Charles Osgood, Cigar Dave, Delilah, Glenn Beck, Doctor Oz, Big Boy, Steve Harvey, Learfield Sports, Bobby Bones, Dan Patrick, IMG College Sports, John Tesh, Nashville Hot Country, Ask Heloise, The Ray, Café Nashville, Rocky Mountain News Network, North Carolina News Network, United Stations Radio Networks’ Nights with Alice Cooper, Lex & Terry, HardDrive XL, Open House Party, Westwood One 24-hour satellite formats and more than 1,000 other show titles that are delivered via AMC-8.
RW: What’s the rough estimate (or percentage) of how many radio stations this switchover affects?
Monti: This project affects about 90% of the commercial radio stations in the U.S., who have about 6,000 individual downlinks that will need repointing. Many downlinks are at cluster sites, and serve multiple stations.
RW: Will stations need new equipment? Dish? Dish parts (e.g. LNB)? Receivers?
Monti: No new receivers will be required. Existing Wegener, XDS and STORQ receivers will continue to be used — although they will need to be tuned to new center frequencies for each network carrier. Existing LNBs may also remain in service.
Affiliates will need new dishes if their existing downlink is rusted in place and cannot be repointed, or if the old dish is too small and cannot reject adjacent-satellite interference. If the view of the new satellite is blocked by a building, hill or tree, that affiliate may need to relocate their downlink to a clear spot on the ground or roof.
RW: How long do stations have to get locked in with AMC-18 before they are cut off?
Monti: Five months. — from February 1, 2017, through June 30, 2017.
RW: What will happen to AMC-8?
Monti: No official announcement has been made by SES, but we expect that, over time, solar panels and transponders will fail, and traffic on the satellite will be reduced to fit onto the remaining good transponders. Station-keeping fuel will run low and the satellite may drift out of position. Eventually, SES will turn AMC-8 off and will move it to a junk orbit. There will not be a replacement C Band satellite at the 139 west location in the foreseeable future.
RW: What about the switchover from AMC-18 to SES-11?
Monti: That second step will be easy for broadcasters because SES will be doing the work. The new SES-11 will be placed in orbit, very close to AMC-18. AMC-18 will be turned off and SES-11 will be turned on. All frequencies, pointing and polarization will remain the same, but affiliates should expect a short outage, probably in the middle of the night.