Normally this is the time of year when technologists at the National Association of Broadcasters are finalizing their agenda for engineering and IT presentations at the spring NAB Show.
Those efforts have been pushed back, with the convention now scheduled for October. But Radio World checked in with NAB Vice President, Advanced Engineering David Layer for an update on the organization’s technology initiatives at the beginning of 2021.
He has been vocal recently about the coming impact of hybrid radios — radios that combine over-the-air and internet connectivity — and the consequent need for FM and HD Radio stations to register with RadioDNS. He expanded on that theme during this interview.
Radio World: How will COVID-19 impact how NAB funds technology initiatives going forward?
David Layer: I expect that in the near term we will be focusing our funding on technology initiatives prioritized by our board as we adjust to the new financial realities created by the pandemic.
RW: What are the highlights of current NAB PILOT projects?
Layer: On the radio side, PILOT continues to work with Xperi and Hubbard to do a variety of all-digital AM radio tests, using of course Hubbard station WWFD, 820 kHz, Frederick, Md.
RW: What kind of tests, specifically?
Layer: Possible test areas highlighted by Xperi and Hubbard in their most recent experimental authority application, filed in June of 2020, include expanded testing of the use of an HD2 multicast audio service — creating a second audio service in addition to the main program services, including experimentation with different audio bitrate sizes used, and audio formats, including parametric stereo. Also, the addition of different data services alongside data services already deployed now; testing of emergency alerts services and new advanced alerting services; testing the performance of MA3 vs. analog in different all‐electric vehicles; testing changes to the MA3 waveform by reducing the power level of the unmodulated pilot carrier level; and conducting building penetration tests of the MA3 all digital system vs. analog, and the MA1 hybrid system.
PILOT and Xperi also launched in October a collaboration focusing on radio implementation using Android Automotive, a new operating system that several auto OEMs have plans to deploy. We are working with Xperi and an international array of broadcasters to help build an engaging radio experience, continue to evolve the user interface and expand the hardware abstraction layer — the code that links the software and hardware in dashboard receivers.
RW: Can you summarize current activities of work groups of the NAB Radio Technology Committee?
Layer: Two projects initiated by the NABRTC’s Next Gen Architecture working group are now in the testing phase and were discussed publicly for the first time during the 2020 Radio Show.
The first is the development of the Nielsen Audio Software Encoder, a software implementation of Nielsen’s Portable People Meter encoder that can now reside within an audio processor. Early tests of this new encoder were conducted by Nielsen using AM radio stations. Additional tests are planned on FM stations in the coming months.
The second project in conjunction with Xperi is focused on improving and simplifying the inclusion of Emergency Alert System messages into HD Radio multicast channels. Broadcast equipment manufacturer 2wCom is producing a “capture client” device and shipping in small quantities to broadcasters involved in this project for on-air testing as a last step towards full production.
RW: You mentioned NAB’s work on developments involving hybrid radio. How significant are the recent iHeart/Audi announcement and Radio.com/DTS Connected Radio partnership?
Layer: These recent announcements have been very exciting — 2020 will go down as the year when automotive hybrid radio arrived in the U.S. With consumers now purchasing vehicles with hybrid radios, it’s vitally important that FM and HD Radio broadcasters register with RadioDNS, the not-for-profit organization that develops standards used by hybrid radio manufacturers for accessing broadcaster content over the internet.
All FM and HD Radio broadcasters should do two things to ensure that their stations are taking advantage of the hybrid radio receivers in Audi and BMW vehicles: first, create a Service Information (SI) file, which contains the basic metadata information needed by the hybrid radio receiver and second, register their stations with RadioDNS.
RadioDNS does not charge any fees for this registration. Broadcasters can do these things themselves, or they can enlist the aid of service providers, some of which can assist broadcasters in these tasks free of charge. NAB and RadioDNS co-produced a tutorial back in July to help broadcasters do these things. It’s available for free on-demand right now.
RW: What do you think about the uptake or lack of it for all-digital AM, now that FCC allows that option?Are broadcasters poised to take advantage of it?
Layer: One of the best things to happen in 2020 for radio broadcasters was the adoption by the FCC of the all-digital AM Report and Order, establishing the all-digital AM service in the U.S., which broadcasters elect to use voluntarily.
I expect the uptake to be slow at first and to accelerate over time as the number of consumers with HD Radio receivers increases, thereby increasing the number of potential listeners.
RW: The pandemic has pushed the adoption of “work from home” strategies by broadcasters. Do you expect that to continue?
Layer: Anecdotally that would seem to be the case. I think it’s widely acknowledged that the pandemic has accelerated acceptance of “work from home” by the broadcast — and other — industries. There is no reason to expect that broadcasters won’t continue to make use of remote working.
RW: Are there any other technology trends broadcast engineers at the station level should be tracking?
Layer: I’ll take this opportunity to once again urge FM and HD Radio broadcasters to register with RadioDNS and develop their service information (SI) file. Now is the time for radio broadcasters to support these modern radio receiver technologies — the automakers are watching. Radio broadcasters’ level of support right now will no doubt be a factor in the future development of car radios by automakers.
RW: Can you tell us about any new NAB educational opportunities for broadcast engineers?
Layer: The NAB Leadership Foundation hosts a Technology Ambassador Program, and NAB updates educational opportunities at nab.org/education. We’re also excited to convene the industry in October at NAB Show, which will collocate with Radio Show and AES.