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Let’s Broaden the Pipe

Dave Wilson says that as everyone’s bandwidth expands, radio’s should too

A Web site can simultaneously provide personalized content to everyone. Radio broadcasters should be able simultaneously to provide personalized content to everyone, too.

To make this happen we need to expand our bandwidth. We don’t need more spectrum, though it wouldn’t hurt. Nor do we have to invent a new modulation system. We simply need multi-tuner receivers with storage capability, and broadcasters who will take advantage of them.

Learning from the Internet

Dave Wilson: ‘I propose “widening the bandwidth” of radio receivers so broadcasters and consumers can make use of multiple signals at the same time.’ We can learn a lot from the Internet. Like our radio channels, the conduits for Internet traffic (telco and cable networks) were created to convey real-time content. Unlike radio, though, they have figured out how to provide personalized content to everyone simultaneously.

Two things have enabled the services coming into our homes via telco and cable wires to advance dramatically while radio service has remained limited to real-time program streams. These two things are the ability to store content on consumer equipment and increased channel capacity.

In the July 1 edition of Radio World I talked about how receiver storage could improve radio service dramatically. This time I want to talk about increasing channel capacity.

Let’s broaden the pipe

As modem technology advanced from 2400 baud to 28.8 k to 56 k all the way to DSL and cable modems, we witnessed dramatic improvement in the content available to consumers. Radio broadcasters need to broaden our pipeline to consumers so we too can dramatically improve our service.

I propose “widening the bandwidth” of radio receivers so broadcasters and consumers can make use of multiple signals at the same time. I propose that we tailor our service for receivers with multiple tuners, and work with the consumer electronics industry to deploy such receivers. Let’s call it broadband radio.

The value of additional tuners

Channel capacity and storability go hand in hand. Without store-and-replay capability a consumer can only use one radio station’s signal at a time. A dual-tuner receiver would have limited value without store-and-replay because consumers cannot simultaneously listen to two programs.

If consumers could store radio programming locally on their receivers, then getting more content onto the receiver would increase the listener’s ability to personalize. A dual-tuner receiver can capture twice as much content as a single-tuner receiver. A three-tuner receiver can capture three times as much content. A four-tuner receiver four times as much, and so on.

More tuners mean more content can be delivered to listeners. More content delivered to listeners and stored locally on their receivers means each listener has a lot more to choose from. A lot more choices for each listener means much more personalized service.

Well-suited for group owners

If you own multiple signals in a market, multiple tuners with store-and-replay capability would help you provide a much better service.

Let’s say you have four signals to work with. Station 1 could broadcast codes that tell the receiver to tune its second tuner (if available) to Station 2, its third tuner (if available) to Station 3 and its fourth tuner (if available) to Station 4. Station 2 could broadcast codes telling the receiver to tune to 1, 3 and 4, and so on.

Station 1 could target women. Station 2 could target men. Station 3 could target girls, and Station 4 could target boys. All of the spots broadcast on each station could be stored on the receiver. Men who happen to like the programming on Station 1 could then hear spots targeted at them during each Station 1 stop set because the receiver could automatically replace the spots from Station 1 with ones broadcast on Station 2.

This is one small example of how multiple tuners and store-and-replay could make listeners’ experiences much more personal, and thus much more valuable. The ability to capture programming from multiple signals at once and store this programming on the receiver would allow consumers to customize their radio experiences to fit their personal tastes.

I’ll talk more next time about personalizing the listener experience. Until then let me emphasize that no advances in technology are needed to do what I propose. All that is needed is for broadcasters to recognize the benefits and commit to adding codes to their signals that identify affiliated channels. Then receiver manufacturers could market multiple tuner products with storage capabilities and make use of these codes.

Dave Wilson’s commentaries are a recurring feature in Radio World. Wilson is owner of WHDX(FM) and WHDZ(FM) on Hatteras Island, N.C. He is also senior director, technology & standards at the Consumer Electronics Association. His views are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of CEA or its member companies.