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‘Digital Radio Represents the Future of All Broadcasting’

A pre-NAB chat with Continental’s Dan Dickey

One in a series of interviews with manufacturers and suppliers about new offerings and business conditions heading into the NAB Show.
This is with Dan Dickey, president of Continental Electronics Corp.

Q: Continental deals in a range of high-power transmission sectors including FM, HF, VHF, UHF LF and VLF, in the United States and elsewhere. What do your current sales numbers tell you about where growth in radio transmission is … what sectors, markets or technologies are most active? Where are they flat or down?

Dickey: Transmitter orders were higher in 2010 as compared to 2009. We saw across-the-board improvement in orders for all of our product lines and market segments.

It seems clear that digital broadcasting is a significant catalyst that is prompting many broadcasters to upgrade their transmitter plants. They know that digital broadcasting is something they must embrace and they believe the time has come to invest especially since every transmitter we offer is capable of both analog and digital operation.

We support the only two internationally recognized standards for terrestrial digital radio (HD Radio and DRM). We also are applying the lessons learned in HD Radio and DRM to other types of transmitters from VLF through microwave frequencies.

As an example, we recently were awarded a contract for a very high-power microwave transmitter that uses our digital modulator technology first developed for broadcast bands.

Q: What new products or themes will Continental be talking about at the 2011 NAB Show?

Dickey: Continental will be focusing on digital radio. Whether it’s DRM or HD Radio, we believe that digital radio represents the future of all broadcasting, and Continental is ready to provide the technology our customers are demanding whenever they decide to step up to digital multicasting.

To support this focus Continental will be displaying our full complement of FM HD equipment including our 800I Importer, 800Exp Embedded Exporter, 802Ex Analog/HD Exciter and an 816HD FM transmitter. The transmitter will be a static display this year but the HD system will be fully operational.

While Continental has FM solutions for all elevated HD Radio power levels, at analog TPOs from 8 kW to 56 kW, we will be available to discuss the cost/benefits of elevated HD at various power ratios. Considerations such as increased implementation and utility costs, as well as possible performance issues, as pointed out in David Hershberger’s Radio World Engineering Extra article “Elevated HD Power — Look Before You Leap” will give engineers and managers the important information needed to allow them to make the right decision for their stations when it comes to elevated HD power.

On the DRM front Continental will be displaying the TransRadio DRM DMOD3 exciter used with our 100 kW, 300 kW and 500 kW DRM shortwave transmitters that are currently being deployed around the world. We will also be hosting a presentation on DRM titled “Getting The Most From DRM” on Monday.

Q: Continental is a member of DRM and a licensed manufacturer of HD Radio equipment. How would you characterize the rollouts of both of those technologies?

Dickey: The rollout of HD Radio is mainly confined to the United States, but there have been some trial HD Radio broadcasts outside the U.S. DRM is seeing aggressive adoption both voluntary and mandatory in key geographic regions such as Europe, Australia, India and the Middle East.

In terms of the number of stations broadcasting in digital, HD Radio has the most stations on air and they are concentrated almost exclusively in the U.S. We hesitate to predict the future, but at the current pace it is possible that DRM will spread over a large geographic region with higher demographics than HD Radio within the next year. For example, India represents a huge number of potential listeners when compared to the U.S. market. These demographics are necessary to drive the demand for receivers in sufficient volume to get retail price points at the right level.

Q: Who owns the company? Where are you based, and how many employees do you have?

Dickey: Continental is owned by Lone Star CRA Fund LP, a Dallas based private equity fund with over $400 million in revenues and over 7,000 employees amongst the group’s 17 portfolio companies. Lone Star is committed to profitable investing and building communities. All of Lone Star’s portfolio companies are located in low income areas of Texas.