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NAB Exhibitor Viewpoint: Ben Barber, Inovonics Broadcast

Inovonics president and CEO is optimistic on HD Radio and RDS.

As the NAB Show gets closer, we continue our series of short Q&As with manufacturers about their plans and offerings, to help you get the most out of the big annual trade show. Ben Barber is president and CEO of Inovonics Broadcast.

Radio World: How has business been for the company since last year’s NAB Show?
Ben Barber: At the 2014 NAB Show, we introduced our SDR (Software Defined Radio) AARON 650 and 640 series of rebroadcast receivers. I am happy to report that there has been a lot of interest in those products and we are consistently shipping them week after week!

RW: What do you anticipate will be the most significant technology trend at the 2015 NAB Show?
Barber: As far as radio goes, it will be HD Radio and Internet streaming. As more and more HD Radio receivers come standard in new vehicles, the market and listenership grows substantially. The other area of growth is in Internet streaming. Our estimation is that nearly every AM and FM station in the U.S. is either currently streaming its audio or will be in the next couple of years.

RW: What new goodies will your company be showing? Why should attendees visit your booth?
Barber: The Inovonics engineering team has been extremely busy this past year and we are introducing a number of brand new products at NAB 2015. First, the Justin 808 is an HD Radio Time Alignment Processor. Absolutely simple to set up and use, this box constantly monitors off-air the time difference between the FM and HD Radio audio and then precisely moves the audio until everything is lined up perfectly, within ±1 sample. It can also correct for 180-degree phase reversals and audio level discrepancies, all in the background, all colorlessly done. Second, we are building upon the success of our Model 610 Internet Radio Monitor with the all new Simon 614 Internet Streaming Monitor. We received two major requests for features for the Model 610 which was to be able to monitor every kind of stream known to man, and to simultaneously monitor more than one steam at a time. The Simon 614 does this all in one box! Then there’s Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth, but you’ll need to come by the booth and see those.

RW: One area Inovonics specializes in is RDS. What might be new on the horizon for the RDS market?
Barber: There are some new ideas to make RDS more robust and to enable higher data rates. When RDS was originally conceived the thought was simply to identify the station and to improve the brand presence/recognition of the broadcaster. Now, stations want to push album artwork, stations logos and tons of other things. Keep your eyes open for what’s on the horizon.

RW: Broadcast processing is another area of specialty for Inovonics. It often seems to be a witch’s brew for those not initiated into its dark arts. Without writing a book, what would you tell a station owner/manager that walked into your booth and said, “I think my station sounds bad. Do you have anything that can help me?”
Barber: If a station owner/manager walked into our booth and said his station sounded bad and wondered if Inovonics could help, my answer would be ABSOLUTELY! Now, there are all sorts of things that could make his station sound bad, but, since the context is processing, I would bet he’s got it set so “high” that the modulation meter is stuck on 100%.

Broadcasters in general need to do themselves a favor and give the music some breathing room. Dynamics are going to make whatever content he’s got sound so much better. If the format’s classical, don’t squash it! If the format’s country, don’t squash it! And if the format is rock, don’t squash it! Play the music your audience loves and can’t get enough of, along with talented on-air jocks and, yes, do some processing but keep things lively, not a constant one level drone.

There are a number of great companies out there doing processing, and which one is king is probably a matter of perception. Sure, process, give yourself a signature sound, but don’t think you’ve got to turn your box to 11 just to make it sound great. Maybe 10 is where the sweet spot is, or maybe even 9 or 8 … That’s probably not the answer you were expecting but it’s the truth.

RW: The Internet has changed the way people do business. Some would say that it has rendered shows such as the NAB obsolete. Is this true?
Barber: Absolutely not. The beauty of the NAB Show in Vegas every year is the chance to meet face-to-face and dialog with past, present, and future users of Inovonics gear. Over the years we talk and email with so many people in the industry, and to have one central place to put a face with the names is incredibly valuable. There’s something organic that happens when an engineer comes by the booth and a dialog starts to happen. It’s collaboration! Sure we can all sell gear over the Internet but it’s the human and personal touch that you can’t get by clicking “add” to your cart. I’m always amazed at what happens at this show.

RW: Will you be attending any sessions or looking forward to any events?
Barber: Yes. We always make it a point to attend the NRSC meetings. There you’ve got a room full of engineers discussing real world problems, and offering solutions to one another. Again, it’s human interaction.

RW: You’re a show veteran, what’s your favorite thing about the show? Least favorite thing?
Barber: Least favorite first: all the prep that it takes to get everything to the show, set up and looking shiny.

Favorite part of the show: again, meeting and talking with so many people that use and love our products. It’s like driving back to your old neighborhood, but instead of driving by slowly and just reminiscing, it’s getting out and reestablishing the lifelong friendships that you’ve made. There’s no substitution for that.