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NPR Labs Expects to Wrap Up Field Tests Soon

Drive testing in Balto began this week

Exclusive to this report, NPR hopes soon to wrap up the in-vehicle testing that began this week in Towson, Md., outside Baltimore as part of its FM IBOC elevated power studies. With that, its field testing should be complete and NPR Labs personnel can concentrate on processing data and doing in-lab listening tests with Dr. Ellyn Sheffield.

NPR Labs’ Mike Starling told me this week they intend to deliver top-line preliminary results to the NRSC at its meeting for the upcoming NAB Radio Show and to the FCC by Sept. 30. The official report is targeted for October delivery, according to Starling.

I caught up by phone with NPR Labs John Kean last week as he was in Colorado preparing for a night’s testing on KUVO(FM), Denver and KBWA(FM), Brush, a Christian music station licensed by WAY-FM Media Group. Speaking from a cattle field (complete with flies getting into the test van), Kean said KUVO’s Mike Pappas was busy installing a new transmitter (not in the cattle field) to support high-powered operations, having received FCC experimental authority for the tests.

NPR invited Dr. Don Messer to observe the Colorado tests. Cumulus’ Gary Kline was the observer for last week’s testing in Texas involving KLDN(FM), Lufkin and KUHF(FM), Houston. In earlier testing of varied digital power levels and their effects in Rhode Island and Minnesota, the 54 dBu contours of the “interferer” station and “victim” station were close. By contrast, the protected service contours for the stations in Texas and Colorado were farther a part. “Having two different conditions gives us a clear picture of ratios for protection,” Kean told me.

There have been commercial radio (or at least non-NPR) engineering observers along for all the tests; NPR has invited input from a peer review group as it conducts the studies. Though the peer review group is not officially signing onto the final report, they understand goals and objectives of the testing, according to Starling, who characterized members as a “kitchen cabinet” advisory group. “We’ve taken significant input from working group and peer review group members,” which is important as the work enters the assessment phase, Kean said to me this week.

Kline said of his experience as he watched NPR personnel test and log the results, “No strings were attached. Every question has been answered openly.” He gave NPR high marks for professionalism and said it has a “well thought-out reason for its testing methodology.”

Kline said he was curious how the audio sounds on stations that transmit at a higher digital power and was eager to attend. He has formed no opinion on the higher power issue, and is still gathering his own intel.