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How Do I Know I’m Winning the Argument?

Answer: When HD proponents start attacking me and my station

In reference to “Guy Wire’s” most recent commentary (“A Critic Lashes Out at HD Radio,” June 10):

Question: How do I know I’m winning an argument about HD Radio? Answer: When HD proponents start attacking me. And my radio station. (As opposed to defending the “merits,” such as they are, of HD Radio.)

Only two weeks after HD-AM was authorized for night broadcasts back in September 2007, Citadel engineering chief Martin Stabbert succinctly summed up HD Radio’s problems while ordering it shut off, citing “lackluster performance, limited benefit and … significant interference.”

Since that time, anyone daring to step forward and point out the butt-naked emperor of HD Radio typically invites ad hominem attack, but “Mr. Wire’s” latest is a little over the top even by HD-proponent standards. Presumably Stabbert is too big and too august to attack publicly — but HD-pushers reserve special high-derision treatment for little guys, not unlike the classic neighborhood bullies who always seek out those they think will be the easiest targets.

Fantasy conclusions

Before we get to a few general observations, let’s unpack the latest space-walk from “Guy Wire” point by point. (This won’t take long.)

GW on analog first-adjacent interference to WYSL from WBZ: “Much of WYSL’s Rochester coverage was already getting clobbered by WBZ’s analog upper sideband skywave signal.”

Robert Savage. Photo by Bruno Sniders False. Our coverage was perfectly suitable prior to WBZ(HD)’s unleashing the I-JAM wall of noise in September 2007. You see, “Guy,” there is this interesting thing called “the NRSC mask,” which for 17 years has kept first-adjacent stations from stepping on their neighbors. (Unless, of course, you transmit with HD at night, in which case you can apparently now help yourself to 30 kHz of spectrum with impunity.)

GW on the multiple complaints filed against WBZ(HD) by WYSL: “WBZ engineers performed the same set of measurements (as WYSL) and concluded Savage’s data or his measuring methodology was flawed … the FCC apparently agreed with WBZ and did not grant WYSL any relief.”

Nonsense: Neither WBZ nor the FCC did anything of the sort. Yes, CBS Radio Northeast did sneak into Rochester one night to hastily perform — over a 12-hour period — a total of 13 “measurements” when WYSL was operating in emergency mode at greatly reduced power due to an antenna problem. (WYSL’s data, by contrast, was gathered over 19 weeks in varying weather, a total of scores of measurements in all three patterns.)

Contrary to “Guy’s” fantasy conclusion, the truth is the FCC has never ruled on the WYSL vs. WBZ case. In fact, the FCC has never acted on any of hundreds of IBOC complaints (this from a Mass Media Bureau source in the commission). Nor is the commission likely ever to rule on any IBOC interference case.

“Guy,” apply logic and legal reasoning to the HD Radio issue: If the FCC grants any station (including WYSL) relief on IBOC interference complaints, they’ve just killed HD, because nobody is going to invest in a system the commission could eventually order them to turn off. If they rule against stations suffering interference, they’ve handed the injured station a cause of action to pursue the interferer, iBiquity and possibly the NAB and the HD Alliance in federal court for damages — which will kill what’s left of HD Radio while the case wends its way through the courts. (“It’s time to upgrade … to an interference lawsuit!”)

GW sneers “Earth to Bob” as he declares, “Other than a handful of stations like WBZ and WOR there really aren’t that many AM-HD stations on at night in the Northeast.”

This is wrong on two levels: Yes, there are; and anyway the issue isn’t how many stations are on with HD in the region, but how many signals are being received and how much interference there is.

Presumably “Guy” is aware that AM signals travel great distances due to a thing called “skywave” and thus, in the Northeast, you regularly hear the cacophony of IBOC sideband noise from (take a deep breath): 660, 670, 680, 700, 710, 720, 760, 770, 780, 810, 830, 880, 890, 1000, 1010, 1020, 1030, 1040, 1060, 1080, 1090, 1100, 1110, 1120, 1130, 1140, 1170, 1180, 1190, 1210.

“Guy” questions my observation that IBOC has “greatly increased the noise floor” by pointing out there is already noise “caused by the myriad of power lines and other noise-generating sources.” So apparently “Guy’s” illogical solution is making the AM noise problem even worse with HD. This is akin to prescribing firing squads for swine flu patients because, heck, they’re all sick anyway — where’s the harm?

Seduced and sorry?

I won’t dignify “Guy’s” snide denigration of WYSL as “a rimshooter … (having) problems serving Rochester” with a defense of our station, other than to point out his ludicrous suggestion that I was somehow “seduced” into building a station that comprises “a challenging ownership position.”

Yep: that’s me. I was seduced into turning profits year after year and creating a station that’s gone through four major expansions, grows every year, has launched scores of radio careers and which has earned the admiration of colleagues locally and across the country who actually know something about WYSL.

Presumably “Guy” would have approved of WYSL more if we had sold stock, amassed billions in debt buying — and overpaying for — more stations, brutally axed hundreds of quality radio people “to save money” and were now careening towards default on loan obligations and likely bankruptcy. You know: just like the perpetrators of HD Radio.

“Guy” smugly suggests “ya gotta feel a little sorry for Savage and stations like WYSL.”

Absolutely. Much in the same way you would feel sorry for me if — presumably because I had been struck in the head by a flying object — I started writing anonymous and inflammatory engineering commentaries while dressed up in a Lone Ranger mask and cowboy suit like some “radio-engineer” washout from The Village People.

“Guy” refers to my alleged “insinuations I’m in the tank for HD Radio and iBiquity.” It would be revealing if “Mr. Wire” quoted where I wrote any such thing (don’t bother, I never did) but — hey, “Guy,” if you’re so worried about your credibility, why don’t you take off the dopey mask and write under your real name? Then RWEE readers could openly assess whether or not you represent an objective viewpoint based upon your experience, qualifications and associations.

No practical solutions

“Guy” defends the digital power increase proposed for HD-FM by citing — evidently with a straight face — “a real-world test case” (!).

Yep, that would be a one-market, one-station test involving an STA for KROQ(FM), which cranked digital up to –10 dBc. “Wire” breathlessly assures us he’s “checked with CBS and other L.A. engineers who cite no instances … of interference.” Wow. Would that, by any chance, be the same CBS whose CEO Dan Mason and engineering exec Glynn Walden are former iBiquity executives, and which is heavily invested in the HD Alliance and HD Radio? Pretty darned convincing, no? (Umm … no.)

Back to “Guy’s” commentary: I’m going to note his absolute failure to respond substantively to my challenges about proof that listeners demand digital radio, resolution of interference controversies and the highly implausible and inconsistent arguments about the need for, and specifics of, an HD-FM digital power hike as tacit admission that — like the endless parade of other HD concerns — there really aren’t any practical solutions.

Interference, no demand for the system, high costs, impracticality of installation in many if not most transmitting plants, reduced coverage, limited benefits, virtually no receivers available any more, shoot-yourself-in-the-foot-self-competition-and-audience-fragmentation on FM subchannels — I guess these issues are what “Guy” would variously include in “superior scalability, manageability and problem resolution capability” (and good luck deciphering that little dose of corporate Velveeta. I’m not any more sure what that means than you are, but I suspect most of us “would like to buy a vowel, please”).

It’s self-evident that if HD Radio were even a reasonable approximation of the claims its dwindling band of fans make for the system, the controversy wouldn’t exist. For one, I believe HD’s “problem resolution capability” is far outweighed by its “problem creation capability.”

And I, for one, can dispense with the nastiness and intellectual dishonesty I find to be typical on the pro-HD side of the aisle. In fact, one of the great tragedies of HD Radio is how it divides radio operators into opposing factions and pits us against each other at a time when the industry desperately needs unity.

RW welcomes other points of view. Write to[email protected].

The author is president/CEO of WYSL NewsPower 1040 in Avon, N.Y.