RW Opinion: Listening With Analog Ears

IBOC is coming and may at last bring parity to the AM and FM bands. So will everybody have superior digital sound and the world smell of roses evermore?
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Tom Ray's presentation during the "IBOC and Digital Facilities Implementation" session at NAB2004 launched us on a compelling train of thought.

IBOC is coming and may at last bring parity to the AM and FM bands. So will everybody have superior digital sound and the world smell of roses evermore?

Believe only half - the other half is up to you.

As corporate director of engineering for Buckley Broadcasting, Ray got to do what a lot of us would love to: drive around town listening to his station's IBOC signal with one of the first commercial/consumer-type IBOC receivers available. Before the convention, Ray shared several WAV files made of off-the-air recordings of WOR(AM) in New York. The transition between the interference-riddled analog AM signal to the IBOC stream was breathtaking to those of us here who heard it.

It is enough to make you want to believe that IBOC will be the salvation of the AM band. But WOR is a well-maintained and technically superior facility with a big-market complement of studio and RF equipment.

What will happen when IBOC must be applied to those sadly neglected facilities that were "thrown in" with the sale of the FM? Or those marginal directional operations 30 miles out of town, run by absentee owners? All an IBOC signal will do is make a bad operation sound bad in digital.

We heard it 25 years ago as the difference in audio quality between the pristine satellite feed and the muddy sounding carts in the local carousel, and again in the mid-'80s when CDs were played between vinyl cuts.

Mismatched audio quality, upcuts, distortion, hum and inconsistent levels will not be cured just because "it's digital now."

Whether you own an AM or an FM, put plans into motion now for the arrival of IBOC. Clean up your audio path, rebuild your radials, get your technical and on-air staff on the same page and put some real effort into making your facility not only competitive, but IBOC-ready.

The new technology will be like a huge sonic magnifying glass, revealing every last bit of inadequate audio you put on the air. Listen now with your analog ears before the future gets here, because it may be too late when you get your digital ones.

- RW


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