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Gage Emphasizes: Radio, Cell Carriers Are ‘Natural Partners’

NAB tech official speaks to Madison broadcasters’ clinic

What should a member of the public do when he or she receives one of those new Wireless Emergency Alerts on a cellphone? Google it?

Kevin Gage of NAB asked that rhetorical question to point up limitations of the text-based Wireless Emergency Alerts, or WEA, being rolled out by wireless carriers (also often known by the name of its system interface, CMAS).

Gage, executive vice president and chief technology officer of the National Association of Broadcasters, gave the keynote Wednesday at the Broadcasters Clinic and Upper Midwest SBE Regional Meeting in Middleton, Wis. He said radio and cellphone carriers are natural partners — “as much as it doesn’t always seem that way” — and that they should support one another in their efforts to inform the public.

He reminded the 100 or so radio and TV engineers in attendance that the mobile industry’s text-based alert system is limited to 90 characters. Gage reiterated that actual radio reception in mobile phones is an efficient way to inform people about danger, because radio has no character limits and because broadcasters often upend their advertising and programming schedules to share critical information in depth.

Listeners, he said, turn to broadcasters in emergencies. No other medium, Gage said, can match broadcasting’s “one-to-everyone” architecture.

Gage reviewed other NAB technical initiatives during his Wisconsin remarks, reiterating themes that he and other association officials sounded during the recent Radio Show in Dallas.

He reminded clinic attendees of NAB’s recent research showing that the top 10 best-selling smartphones in the first quarter of 2012 all had inactive FM receiver chips inside. The NAB’s further research, he said, “proves what an easy lift it would be” for wireless companies to activate FM in phones.

Regarding HD Radio, he mentioned eight “operational priorities” published by the HD Digital Radio Alliance to help create a better and more consistent user experience. And he said now is a “critical time” for radio broadcasters to implement Artist Experience and its synchronized visual content; it is the type of interaction that consumers are beginning to expect from all media. “That’s our future. That’s where consumers want to go.”

He mentioned work by NAB Labs, Emmis, Intel and iBiquity to advance Artist Experience on mobile phones via HD Radio and to “port” that platform to work with FM in the hybrid digital environment. Plans also are coming together for the testing of an all-digital AM station, he said, though he declined to give more specifics than RW has previously reported. “We consider this to be a first-phase test, with more to come down the road,” he said.

Gage also urged AM stations to consider taking full advantage of retransmission on translators and Internet streaming to increase their visibility. “We must continue to cultivate future generations of radio listeners,” he said. And he urged all radio stations to pay attention to the issue of TV spectrum incentive auctions; radio could be affected by any subsequent repacking of TV spectrum as well as by any work by auctioned TV stations that share facilities with radio.

In sum, “All of us in this room know what’s at stake if we don’t defend our industry,” Gage said. “We as an industry need to continue to innovate our distribution channels.”

He Wants NAB to Be a Tech Leader (Feb. 2012)