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Implications of Digital Radio, New Networking Technologies Spread

For decades the NAB Show has been a leading showcase for technology companies offering their wares, so I asked a few engineers and managers planning to attend what they seek to learn from it in ‘08.

For decades the NAB Show has been a leading showcase for technology companies offering their wares, so I asked a few engineers and managers planning to attend what they seek to learn from it in ‘08.

Some plan to visit essentially flying solo to see what’s new in RF, IP audio and HD Radio; others utilize the NAB as a means of annual personal contact among their group’s engineering staff to share ideas and experience.

Gary Kline at Cumulus Engineering tells me more than 20 of his company’s engineering employees from various markets will be in attendance. As with any large convention, it’s a challenge to see everything displayed, and what he misses on the floor, “my guys will tell me about at dinner each night.”

As anyone in the broadcast industry can tell you, changes and new product information directed to the broadcast community come frequent and fast as vendors move new technologies into the field at break-neck speed. Consulting Engineer Tom Osenkowsky, who is also a Radio World contributor, sees this not as a deluge but a challenge.

“There are many new opportunities arising every day and it is important for both technical and management personnel to keep pace with technology as well as new business and revenue models that may arise from them,” he said.

The development of HD Radio-compatible translators is generating some curiosity as well. Aaron Read of Fried Bagels Consulting in New York maintains W212BA amongst his other duties and is ready to convert that translator to HD “as soon as the technology is available.” Aaron reports he will be looking to see where the transmitter manufacturers stand in their development.

Many station groups are still in the process of studio upgrades because they simply didn’t have the capital budget or engineering staff before to renovate — which for some larger companies may amount to hundreds of studios.

Console vendors are busy implementing new technologies into newer networked systems. Nowadays such systems make sense for almost any size station or group; smaller stations can operate consoles in the traditional stand-alone manner with future additions to the system being facilitated for maximum flexibility, while larger companies with groups of studios can share audio resources in ways unimaginable a few years ago.

Manufacturers are competing to come up with the most cost-effective technology available. Data modes like TCP/IP have crept into the formulae, changing the way stations can interface digital audio with the computer world.

Brian Urban of KUT(FM) in Austin, Texas, is planning on an Axia Audio TCP/IP-based network renovation of his studio, and is also keeping his eyes on faster computer technology that may integrate with it. Cox Radio’s Dom Bordonaro tells me he will be focusing on researching IP for his group’s stations that may migrate towards networking audio in the coming years.

Engineers will also be interested in seeing what developments are coming about in Internet technology for broadcast, such as a medium for point-to-point program transmission. With the future of older technologies such as ISDN and POTS becoming more uncertain each year, audio-over-IP hardware and software will be a major attraction.

As Read related to me, “The slow death of POTS and ISDN is really giving us headaches. Reliability of POTS codecs and IP codecs has been problematic but is getting better. As the technology advances we are eagerly embracing it.”

From audio storage to transmission, from STLs to ENG, digital has moved from being an option to being the bedrock of our industry. As Chuck Niday at Alleghany Mountain Radio puts it, “The general trend towards digital audio causes us to think much harder about purchasing digital equipment rather than analog.” I wonder how much longer the choice will remain, or whether it soon becomes dominated by one.