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DAB Stations Need to Clean Up Their Act in the Car, Says Ford Exec

Frank Nowack says stations need to focus on audio quality, metadata and consistency

DAB radio stations need to do a better job of providing content to motorists, or risk the consequences. That was the takeaway of a talk by Frank Nowack, function owner of broadcast radio at the Ford Motor Company.

Nowack was speaking at the WorldDAB Automotive 2024 conference in Prague, Czech Republic, on June 13. The one-day event was held in-person and streamed virtually. WorldDAB is the international association promoting the adoption of this digital radio transmission standard around the globe.

Here’s the situation: Today’s motorists can choose from a wide range of information/entertainment choices in their vehicles, including radio and streaming media. To compete and retain listeners, DAB must provide top-notch audio and graphical content at all times. But, according to Nowack, not all DAB stations are doing so.

He says the first area that some stations are falling short is DAB audio quality. In theory, DAB can deliver near-CD audio quality to the car, as long as the audio being fed into the transmitter is up to this standard. Unfortunately, “some stations are using recordings of FM and providing them via streaming to the multiplexers, so that you have really, really bad audio quality on their DAB,” said Nowack. Additionally, he says the volume of some of these feeds are excessive in some cases. “They [the negligent broadcasters] are absolutely driving them into clipping situations that at least will annoy the customers,” he noted.

Frank Nowack, as seen on the virtual stream of the WorldDAB Automotive event.

The second area where some broadcasters are falling short is in-car graphics — the visuals that occupy motorists’ screens as they listen to DAB radio while driving. “We still have a huge amount of stations who are just providing their station logos,” said Nowack. “This doesn’t make any sense, and customers are really annoyed about that.”

Providing inadequate or irrelevant text to in-car listeners is another way to bother them, such as “coder locations or other useless things like frequency SIDs or whatever,” Nowack told the WorldDAB audience. “It doesn’t make any sense, and it is not providing the user experience that a customer wants.”

Then there are DAB special event stations that only provide visual content and no audio. Nowack says hearing nothing coming from their car speakers confuses and frustrates motorists. The very least these special event stations should be doing is playing “some background music,” he said.

Nowack says other areas where DAB broadcasters could improve is to regionalize their content on a consistent basis (if they use this function), and ensuring that the transition for drivers as they move from DAB multiplex to multiplex is smooth and predictable, whether they are going in one direction (i.e. going west) or another (going east).

Then there’s the choice of typefaces for station call signs and text: Choose whatever style, font and case you want, but use the same one everywhere, said Nowack . Incredibly, some radio stations are using different text styles depending on the multiplex that they’re on. “Sometimes all characters are in capitals, sometimes not,” he continued. “It is continuously changing, and that confuses the customer.”

All told, Nowack says a lack of quality and consistency in all of these areas can cost DAB stations in-car listeners and money. “The broadcaster might lose the listener because when I’m annoyed by a station, nowadays I will change to a station who has similar content but not all those pitfalls.”

He concluded: “At the very least, broadcasters will lose advertising contracts because when I am not broadcasting the right advertisement to the right region, that may guide advertisers to change to another station in the future.”

[Related: “Bierhorst: Communication Is Key for Future of Digital Radio“]

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