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Phil Simon at the 2011 NAB Show

Video on the Radio Tuesday, April 12 The Comrex booth at NAB has always been a must stop for radio folks. Their usual excellent offering of ISDN, POTS, IP and wireless codecs have been staples for most stations for 50

Another Big Show is in the Books

NAB 2011 registered almost 93,000 official attendees, up from 88,000 last year. It sure felt like that total was higher from the floor traffic. Nonetheless, this year’s Big Show was a rousing success by all accounts.

The coveted annual Radio World Cool Stuff Awards were just announced. Cool Stuff winners have to be new products that will ship sometime this year. No vaporware or unfinished concept products qualify. 15 products were chosen this year, which seems a lower number than usual, indicating there weren’t as many truly new product introductions this year. There were a lot of enhancements to existing products however.

Most all of the winners offered something quite special and unique. Here are the ones that caught my eye:

Broadcast Electronics CrowdControl – BE teamed up with a 3rd party apps company to bring a lot of real-time interactive toys and features for listeners to their Audio Vault Automation Platform.

Comrex LiveShot – As I blogged yesterday, this surprise is a breakthrough product for both TV and Radio. Reliable high quality live remote video feeds from almost anywhere for a little over $10k.

Harris Corp – Flexiva FM Transmitter Harris unveiled a new SS design up to 20kW in a small box, boasting better efficiency and lower TCO. Flexiva uses the new LDMOS device technology from their SS TV transmitter line.

Omnia.9 FM Processor – Frank Foti has teamed up with the Linear Acoustics folks on this new generation Omnia. It promises to “undo” distortion artifacts embedded in over-processed music coming out of too many record companies.

RCS Zetta 2.0.1 Automation – RCS has wedded their RCS Master Control and NexGen systems into a new kick-ass automation platform that does just about everything, fast and reliably with an impressive new UI.

Tieline Mic Adaptor – This one is sure to be a big hit with NPR and all radio news operations. Plug in your iPhone4 and you have a direct IO for high quality remote live audio recording and live remote broadcasting in the palm of your hand.

We’ll see you all next year.

Video on the Radio – Tuesday, April 12

The Comrex booth at NAB has always been a must stop for radio folks. Their usual excellent offering of ISDN, POTS, IP and wireless codecs have been staples for most stations for 50 years. Yes, Comrex is celebrating their 50th anniversary at this NAB. It seems like just yesterday I was talking with Lynn and John Cheney about their amazing new Hotline POTS codec. But I digress. Their big top secret surprise this year is Liveshot. That sounds like TV talk. And it is. You wouldn’t expect to see TV equipment and big live scene monitors in booth like Comrex.

Liveshot is an impressive new wireless video codec that is primarily targeting LPTV and even larger stations that want to save a ton of money supporting the traditional but expensive microwave ENG systems. Doing high quality video over wireless IP has always been challenged by limited bandwidth. With Liveshot and an LTE or 4G wireless connection, remote live video feeds can now flow at 2 mB/s for a little over $10k. That opens up an incredbly vast new market.

The Comrex Liveshot package includes a lightweight portable unit that can attach to a suitable shoulder supported field camera. The studio side is a rack mounted central server that handles all the decoding magic and processing. Included are USB and ethernet jacks, mobile-web-based UI, store and forward capability and full duplex audio and video.

But Liveshot just isnt for our TV brothers. It has all kinds of radio applications too. For those forward looking stations that are doing video podcast website content creation and live show video webstreams, the Liveshot may be the next weapon you’ll need in your digital arsenal. If our digital assets are ever going to start making real money, this new content that I like to call Video on the Radio, is one of the most promising yet under-developed or deployed resources out there.

2011 NAB Seems Almost like the Good Old Days – Monday, April 11

I’ve been attending NAB since the 1970’s. In those Good Old Days prior to 2002, every year was always bigger and better, In the years before 9/11, the NAB was almost always able to boast of annual attendance increases and records that made most all attendees and vendors happy. But since 9/11, many of the shows from my vantage point have been much more tentative in numerous ways. The recent recessions along with the burgeoning impact of the internet have made the radio part of this show more anxious and uncertain about the future. NAB 2011 seems to have turned a fair amount of that angst into a little more general optimism for many of the attendees I’ve been chatting with here.

There is no doubt that the SNR has very much increased this year, especially compared to shows in the last several years. When capital projects are put on hold for too long, aging equipment and older technology has a way of getting even. Stations and groups by necessity cannot put off the inevitable. Many need to be buying replacement transmitters, antennas and studio gear. Many of the folks with the big console and transmission equipment booths as well as the smaller accessory vendors are feeling a welcome change in attitude. Station decision makers are more willing to be writing orders this year. And that’s a good thing for the industry and our audiences.

A lot of the radio tech buzz I’ve been overhearing is centering on HD topics. The asymetircal sideband option is going to help many of those stations with first adjacent channel problems. Owners and CE’s that have made commitments to add or improve their HD operations want to take advantage of that, Another big concern is HD transmitter efficiency and more cost effective ways to add -14 and -10 dBc HD power increases. I’m getting the sense from many that if HD is to survive and prosper going forward, the power increase is absolutely essential.

The bad news for HD seems mostly on the AM side. There appear to be just too many obstacles for the venerable senior band to make AM HD a compelling sell. Adjacent channel interference…especially skywave interference, overpass fading and the additional expense to make antennas work could be placing the bar too high for most. Add to that the reality that most all successful AM’s program news, talk or sports and rely on the spoken word, The need for high fidelity or even scrolling display data is something consumers just don’t care about. But as long as FM HD and car radio penetration keeps growing, AM HD is in the radios and along for the ride for those stations that want to run it.

Sunday at NAB and the Nautel Users Group – Sunday, April 10

Like Michael LeClair, I usually take in the more leisurely NAB Sunday radio sessions at the Convention Hall. This year I decided to check out the Sunday NUG gathering at the Riviera. NUG is the Nautel Users Group meeting that the Canadian based transmitter company has been holding at NAB for many years. This year the NUG seemed to be a breakthrough event. I was expecting to see maybe a few dozen attendees but was blown away by an impressively large group of about 100 engineers who came to hear all about Nautel’s products and vision as a company.

I certainly don’t intend this blog to sound like a commercial, but it’s no secret Nautel has rapidly become a premier radio transmitter player in a field that not too many years ago was dominated by “the big 3”. That group did not include Nautel. All transmitter companies have been challenged in the slower economy, but Nautel has been pushing forward in impressive fashion and is now considered by many as a leader in new transmitter technology innovation.

The speakers and presentations at NUG dealt with various topics, including air versus water cooling, high power and asymmetrical HD implementation, N+1 redundancy configurations and a particularly enlightening session by Jeff Welton, the go-to-guy at Nautel for so many things. Jeff conveyed a superb list of invaluable tips and tricks for better grounding, building airflow design, the use of ferrites for lightning suppression and a host of other goodies helpful for any engineer who maintains a transmitter site.

The company’s president (I cannot recall his name) discussed the Nautel V.2011 vision. He said that while they are proud of their hard-won reputation as a innovator, they will be focusing on making Nautel the premier customer service radio transmitter company in the world.

— Phil Simon