The back-story on NPR Labs’ new alignment with the Public Radio Satellite System is interesting.
Mike Starling, executive director of the labs, tells me the scope of the projects the group can do will broaden. “Now we’re integrated with the unit that will help us deliver end-to-end technology,” whereas before NPR Labs might have called upon PRSS on a short-term basis to back up a demo.
As an example of the sort of work that might be possible now, Mike mentioned “a host of datacasting opportunities” in which Pete Loewenstein’s group has expertise. NPR Labs had an inquiry from Vermont Public Radio asking if it could help them parse secure school closings that their stations could then put up on a PAD crawl on their IBOC stream. “Labs” did that for Vermont; Starling says that project may have broader appeal and NPR Labs may now be able to support that kind of project on a larger scale.
PRSS gets something out of the move, too. Distribution Vice President Loewenstein said PRSS is now looking at what the system will need for its next generation of hardware and software in advance of the NPR move (see my story on this in the previous Leslie Report). Regarding codec technology in particular, Pete said, “There’s expertise in the labs group that we can tap into” as it looks into tech upgrades.
Like PRSS, NPR Labs will now not only support the NPR member station system, it will also offer its consulting services to commercial customers. Starling mentioned that NPR Labs has already done a project for the Broadcast Traffic Consortium, of which NPR is a member along with several commercial radio groups. Labs conducted granular bit-rate testing of the HDC coder to determine if the IBOC datacasting stream had the capacity for stations to offer to offer traffic information. (It did.)
This sounds like a win-win for non-commercial stations and should stop naysayers from saying NPR Labs doesn’t have enough resources, personnel or time at its disposal to perform testing in a timely manner — comments I’ve read in recent ex parte filings at the FCC by some who support the power increase.