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Guest Commentary: Into ‘The Free-Love Digital Domain’

The Author Dismisses Tom Ray's Article in Defense of IBOC, Insisting Hope Lies in Cam-D

The Author Dismisses Tom Ray’s Article in Defense of IBOC, Insisting Hope Lies in Cam-D

Thanks for changing over the years, Radio World. You really screwed AM with your Motorola hype. Now at 20 years later, I see much more balance.

This is my response to Tom Ray’s narrow-minded article, “AM IBOC – the Wrath of Kahn” (July 14). I promise you this: IBOC might work on some FM stations looking for extraordinary income sources, but AM is a spurious, noise-generating skywave bomb that will hit this land like tolerance and sensitivity training – hiding the real societal needs of truth and justice behind false religion.

Tom Ray is the perfect spokesperson for IBOC-I, and could have done the same skit for Motorola AM stereo 20 years ago. I read with disinterest his misinformation campaign on Leonard Kahn’s Cam-D system proposal for another answer to the AM need to insert digital in our name. Fortunately, there is a total disregard for the real-world problems associated with this “condom” approach for bringing AM into the free-love digital domain, while FM receives its complimentary “pill.”

To my good ears, that is precisely what IBOC has offered to date and why Kahn’s Cam-D is the hope to those of us without the Buckley Foundation to support our radio habits.

‘Good analog is not that costly’

Right now, with the exception of the GM product line and most Japanese model car radios, basic analog AM is capable of outperforming the IBOC AM product without tying up two adjacent channels in the process. That is a fact. We have no idea the brands of test radios the IBOC tests have employed in their subjective testing for comparison between IBOC and analog to evaluate the listening differences.

Granted, 90 percent of the AM stations in this nation lack source material, technical budgets and audio processing capable of producing good analog audio. I have the measurements and the airchecks to prove the real-world activity – good analog is not that costly. There are radios that can receive and process decent AM audio for voice, and with a little work some music. Sadly, most FM product is similar to satellite radio already – not fit for long-term listening in the face of new audio cards in home computers that leave our 44.1 and less audio files in the dust.

As for the technical explanation that Tom offers:

Kahn AM Stereo was cut off at the docks by Motorola’s legal team as the first 250,000 multimode chips were about to arrive in the country in 1985. Those of us who read the publications back then observed that NTIA endorsed the multimode chip as the best method of introducing all formats into the marketplace for the sake of allowing the marketplace to have the opportunity to decide.

Sadly, due to the politics of spin, we were choked on the NAB endorsement of Motorola in 1990,the flooding of the market with free C-QUAM encoders and the plundering of the Harris Stereo system by the lawyers forcing Big H to adopt the Big M package – the sterilization of AM, as some called it.

And the noise that Tom refers to as “crap” will soon be multiplied by the addition of IBOC to AM. New chip technology has arrived that greatly reduces the noise floor for old analog radio without degrading the audio in the manner of heavily compressed digital processing. As for separation, there is very little separation above 3 kHz on anything recorded in history. A pulse or tone burst test with IM tones utilizing digital compression has distortion far greater than the resultant 8-bit sample rate above 10 kHz, as described in Tom’s analysis of the “wrath of Kahn.”

I accept that the majority of our broadcast technical types are more adept at quoting trade publications and partial truths than actually performing worthwhile field analysis that would include the highly saturated analog receiver world. But sooner or later, much as the Iranian desert military action during the Carter administration exposed our weakness, so shall Mother Nature and the laws of physics again halt the dreams of a false science as we move toward the de facto standardization of a non-functioning AM IBOC algorithm.

Tom, you seem to forget that IBOC wants a nice chunk of money for royalty to insert this RF buzz into your transmitter. That’s even more reason the Cam-D system is a good investment right now. Given that it will take years to rid our world of those horrible analog boxes, I submit that $50,000 utilized over the next 20 years to get an immediate improvement in analog audio and offer stereo with the “digital” buzzword minus the awful flutter and hash, is about the same as a tube budget for those stations running older transmitters.

Analog vs. sideband buzz

Many of us who survived the Vietnam Era, the erosion of our society by the politically correct, the smashing of AM stereo by Big M and its battery of lawyers and the Clinton years were hopeful that IBOC would just leave AM alone and go after the folks who lost on the Internet stocks most likely to support the theory of another digital idea initially described as “almost CD quality” or “FM-like” audio.

As the hurdles were cleared, the open boldness of this system in the face of physical laws and multipath on FM – not to mention atmospheric inversions that cripple the data stream far greater than the effect on the analog path – seemed to have no limits. Add NPR and its bid to add channels for added revenue base and there you have it: Radio cannot survive without government help – much like NPR.

Tom, you did mention the NTSC, didn’t you? Bad move. NTSC and HDTV…Let’s see, 20 years ago we saw some fabulous HDTV signals via Japan. That is L Band equivalent and if I were you or IBOC, I would not use the example. NTSC is here and DTV-HDTV is an out-of-band concept and it will work eventually. The HDTV we see is about 25 percent of the quality of the original proposed system because our friends at NPR and others want to downgrade picture quality for the sake of multicasting, as if we really need more channels of “crap” on our sets.

Its analog vs. the IBOC sideband buzz, and a system that cannot work with any degree of skywave propagation, which we know begins well before sunset and continues after sunrise – critical hours that were perhaps prophetically named long ago for the times in which stations such as WOR can already create high noise fields, or “crap,” hundreds of miles outside the useful service area.

The entire packaging of this experiment, regardless of the number of happy endorsements, will not survive. We could give IBOC some expanded L Band space and without a doubt broadcasters could reap the rewards of the new channel placement. I submit that not only is AM digital with the present system a failure, but not far behind is FM digital – likened unto a laden brother-in-arms burdened by his medals and hype, having only 4 months of experience and talking about a cure for something we did not think needed fixin’ until someone mentioned the D word.