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Leonard Kahn: Hard to Love, Hard to Ignore

Hey, who switched on the time machine? Did we just jump back in time a decade or more?

Hey, who switched on the time machine? Did we just jump back in time a decade or more?

George Bush is running for reelection. Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells are facing off in the NFL. And Leonard Kahn is angry.

It’s like old times.

We may in fact now be dealing with the younger Bush and an older Gibbs. But it sure feels like the same Leonard Kahn, flashing brilliance, asking uncomfortable questions, maddeningly suspicious of others — sometimes all at once, and often to his own detriment.

The engineer best known to the industry for his innovations and rants on AM stereo is unhappy these days with Radio World’s coverage of IBOC and his Cam-D system, which he proposes as an alternative to HD Radio.

In a letter received by IMAS Publishing in September, Kahn accused this newspaper of staging an interview with IBOC proponent Tom Ray of Buckley Broadcasting; taking his FCC filings out of context; and possibly conducting ourselves unprofessionally by showing a “willingness to participate in a plan to deceive the broadcasters and the public they serve” regarding the engineering characteristics of the IBOC system.

In truth, many people would not even be aware of Kahn’s Cam-D system were it not for substantial coverage we’ve published in print and online. As Radio World does with any contentious issue, we’ve aired viewpoints from all sides, including those that diverge from ours.

Even as his letter arrived, Radio World’s Sept. 24 issue hit the streets, including a full-page response article called “IBOC System Is Defective,” penned by Kahn himself. It was his second bylined article in RW since June. And Radio World has pressed Kahn to share information about his digital radio plan more frequently and openly than he has been willing to do.

Some industry observers have argued to us, quietly, that we shouldn’t even give the man a platform for his ideas. We disagree with that conclusion; but sometimes Kahn is hard to love. He doesn’t know how to use a communication channel to his benefit. He is given a pulpit and the chance to bring awareness of his ideas to a broad audience; but when challenged about his strongly stated opinions, he blames others instead of stepping up to a lucid defense.

Kahn has hurt his cause more than any trade publication could. He has done so by not revealing technical details of his proposal; by waiting far too long to propose his alternative digital radio plan; and by verbally lashing out at all and sundry rather than participating in industry standards discussions.

For instance, he said this summer he would have liked to test his system on a New York AM station but he couldn’t because, he said, he had been “shut out” of all suitable facilities due to a “misuse of monopoly of power” perpetuated by Ibiquity, the FCC, NPR and NAB. Unsubstantiated statements like that just make it harder to take him seriously.

Kahn has been making bold claims about his system for years, but the industry knows nothing of the details or test results. If he truly has a system with scientific merit that works, he should be offering it up for testing by responsible independent parties or at least publishing his own test procedures and results to allow bona fide national recognition and study. Absent that, the industry at large, including virtually all experts on IBOC/digital technology, remain rightly skeptical and can only conclude his proposal is smoke.

The thing is, the man does ask important questions – about IBOC, or whatever the topic of the day – which might provide important genesis for further debate if he were a more responsible critic.

For the record: Radio World is committed to balanced, in-depth coverage of technical issues facing radio, and we are open to publishing opinions that disagree with ours. We stand by our coverage.

In his letter, Kahn notifies Radio World that he will never be interviewed by our publication, or any IMAS publications, in the future.

Some will say good riddance; but in fact, withdrawal from the debate is a loss for Kahn and for the industry. Radio needs to hear more, not less, from the unconventional thinkers.

– Radio World