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Dave Wilson: Government, Radio Receivers Don’t Mix

Interference in Market Is Inappropriate; Public Alert Receivers Are Best Option

Interference in Market Is Inappropriate; Public Alert Receivers Are Best Option

If John Garziglia really wants IBOC digital radio to be successful (“TV ‘Must Carry’ Offers Lesson for Radio,” April 27), he should be looking at the successful strategy of XM and Sirius, not advocating government intervention in the highly competitive free market of consumer electronics.

It is inappropriate for the government to interfere with the radio receiver marketplace. The successful launch of satellite radio has come about because XM and Sirius have been directly involved in the development and marketing of receivers for their respective services. There is no reason that terrestrial radio broadcasters cannot do the same for AM, FM or IBOC digital radio. They certainly can afford it.

Profitable publicly traded radio broadcasting companies made nearly $2 billion over the past year. The profits of privately held companies almost certainly pushed the industry’s total profits well above $2 billion.

Terrestrial radio broadcasters should use these profits to invest in their future. They should follow the lead of XM and Sirius and participate in the development and marketing of IBOC digital radio receivers. They should not run to the government and ask it to interfere with the free market.

Emergency alerts

Garziglia’s argument that all satellite radio receivers should be required by law to meet certain technical standards for local radio reception is just as valid in reverse.

He points to dissemination of emergency information as a justification for his proposal, yet the only emergency messages the FCC requires local broadcasters to carry are national alerts. To effectively disseminate these national alerts, it would make more sense to require all local radio receivers to include satellite tuners.

The truth is, the free market is working well when it comes to ensuring consumers have a means of receiving local emergency messages quickly and efficiently.

In 2003, CEA published a voluntary technical standard for Public Alert receivers. This standard defines performance criteria for devices that receive emergency alerts via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s NOAA Weather Radio network. A consumer can program a Public Alert receiver to automatically turn on whenever an alert is received for a particular country, city, etc.

And the alerts broadcast by NOAA are not just about weather. They include civil emergencies, Amber Alerts, biological hazards, chemical hazards, law enforcement announcements and other warnings. One of the terrific advantages of a Public Alert receiver is that it works no matter what the consumer is doing – listening to the radio, watching TV, listening to an MP3 player, browsing the Internet, reading a book, etc. It’s always listening for local emergency alerts, ready to be activated the instant one is received.

Local emergency alerts are best provided to the consumer by a Public Alert receiver. Most AM/FM stations, through no fault of their own, are not well equipped to provide local alerts. This is because they cover wide areas; the listeners on one edge of their coverage area will tire of hearing alerts for listeners on the opposite edge and vice versa. This makes many AM/FM stations reluctant to broadcast all of the alerts they receive.

Alerting is best done by a transmission network that is always on and broadcasting all alerts for all locations throughout its service area. Consumers typically will not listen to such a network constantly, but rather tune in for periodic updates, or wait for automatic activations of their receivers when an alert is issued for their specific location. This is simply not compatible with what AM/FM broadcasters aim to do – keep as many listeners as possible tuned in for as long as possible throughout the day. But, it’s perfectly compatible with the NOAA Weather Radio network and Public Alert receivers.

Terrestrial broadcasters should follow the lead of XM and Sirius. They should actively support the development and marketing of IBOC digital radio receivers, and they should provide compelling new content that will make consumers want these receivers. That’s the way to ensure their continued success.