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Radio Multicast a Go-Go

Movement Gains Steam; But 'Where Are the Receivers?' Is Top HD-R Question

Movement Gains Steam; But ‘Where Are the Receivers?’ Is Top HD-R Question

PHILADELPHIA: Ibiquity is looking internationally for inspiration for upgrades to its HD Radio technology. Meanwhile it’s working to put the capability in mobile devices and studying record and replay receiver functions.

More commercial groups are multicasting. NPR, meanwhile, has projects to pave the way for ever-lower bit rate exploration.

Here are digital radio news highlights from the recent NAB Radio Show.


The NRSC task group working on how multicast stations should be identified on the display has disbanded. It could not reach consensus on a numbering scheme other than saying the industry should avoid a scheme involving something other than traditional frequencies, sources said.

After months of study, the group decided the topic is not a technical issue. It made general recommendations to the NRSC sponsoring organizations, NAB and CEA. The group felt a “suffix” numbering scheme, as is used now, should remain the same. Such a labeling approach links a supplemental channels to the main “heritage” station. For example, the first supplemental channel would be labeled with a “2” after either the frequency or calls.

The group’s recommendations include:

* Multicast content should be identified by a unique and simple label;

* New content identification should be easy to market;

* Identification of new content locations should not be confusing;

* HD Radio receivers should a consistent numbering scheme for identifying main and supplemental service;

* Future technology developments should be pursued to enhance the user experience.

Receiver manufacturers, in the meantime, would continue to link supplemental channels visually with main channels, such as WXYZ-HD2, 3 and so on.


Cox Radio plans to ask listeners how multicast channels should be identified.

The company also has invited radio and CE industry representatives to participate in a consumer research project that Cox will coordinate and fund this fall to help answer the supplemental ID question. Results will be made public, according to a spokesman.

In the NRSC task group on the multicast ID issue, Cox had floated a proposal for a new numbering system to help brand the digital channels as unique, as previously reported by Radio World.


Data opportunities were the buzzwords for HD Radio. In a two-hour session devoted to the subject, NPR VP of Engineering and Operations Mike Starling and Ibiquity Digital VP of Advanced Services Joe D’Angelo updated attendees.

For Starling, multicasting is key to gaining listeners. “In 2015, there may be nothing ‘main’ about your main channel – quite possibly one of your multicasts will become your main source of listenership and revenue.”

Starling said a couple of Tomorrow Radio projects include development of digital-only boosters for stations licensed by land grant universities outside population centers. “Many of them didn’t have a great analog signal so they need help with a digital signal,” he said.

NPR also continues to evaluate low-bit-rate coding progress, refine coverage predictions, evaluate transcoding issues and demonstrate and evaluate emergency radio services.

John Kean, NPR senior technologist, created an HD Radio coverage monitor using a Kenwood radio, Starling said. So far, NPR has mapped coverage for 21 stations.

NPR has made some general observations about HD Radio signal coverage, including:

* Rolling terrain is bad,

* Non-linear relationship to power; Class Cs will usually cover slightly beyond the 60 dBu contour,

* Many Class As will be lucky to fully cover the 70 dBu contour; and

* In flat terrain, signal reaches beyond the 60 dBu contour.

Starling said these are interim conclusions.


NPR has had to delay its group purchase of multicast receivers for noncom stations because of production delays affecting tabletops – the type of receiver stations would like to use as giveaways.

Starling said an important finding of the organization’s multicast receiver group was that “Station managers said uniformly: ‘We really don’t want any inventory holding risk,’ meaning spending several hundred thousand dollars investing in products, and then someone else perhaps could come out with less expensive products and stations might be stuck with inventory.”

NPR has been talking to receiver manufacturers Kenwood, Boston Acoustics, Polk and Radiosophy. Of those, only Kenwood had placed multicasting units in the market as of mid-September. Boston Acoustics projected availability of late October to December, with Polk projecting shipments in the first quarter. Radiosophy President/CEO Richard Skeie told Radio World, “We have a large order backlog and expect the whole backlog to be filled in December.”

NPR had hoped to ship to stations in time for fall fundraisers; now it hopes to finalize its purchase program by next fall so stations can use tabletops as giveaways.

The network hopes to launch a pilot project in the first quarter, with perhaps a half-dozen to a dozen stations to report back to the system about the chosen receivers next spring, said Starling. The network wants feedback from stations and can’t endorse receivers until it can test production units in-house, he said.

Stations in the receiver program must be broadcasting in HD Radio and multicasting and commit to a certain amount of promotion in order to drive customers to the Web sites of the receiver manufacturers. Stations that agree would get what Starling termed an “affiliate bounty,” or a return payment. The dollar amounts have not yet been agreed to.


On the topic of multicasting, D’Angelo said Ibiquity is working on a low-bit-rate encoding scheme that would be compatible with existing encoders.

He addressed receiver activity in coming months, saying BMW will expand the use of HD Radio use beyond the Series 7 to Series 5 and 6 autos next year.

Ibiquity also has added image support to the program-associated data that appears on the faceplate of receivers. And the company is working to develop a 45-second audio buffer for audio replay and record capabilities “using the capabilities inherent in the chip,” he said, likening this to dipping a toe in the water for TiVo capabilities.

Ibiquity is working to place its technology in mobile devices. The key is working to fit within size constraints and miniaturize the radio, D’Angelo said.

Digital Radio Mondiale has developed a USB digital radio receiver that can be used with personal computers, he said; Ibiquity is looking at this idea to see if and how it could be applied in this country.


Roughly 800 noncommercial stations will accelerate their digital conversion after an HD Radio licensing agreement reached between CPB and Ibiquity Digital.

Under the agreement, CPB will buy a group license that will allow approximately 400 CPB-funded public stations to acquire Ibiquity’s digital HD Radio technology. This license also will cover costs associated with advanced data services such as multicasting and datacasting. Earlier CPB had provided funding to another 400 stations.

The licensing fee for noncoms in this group deal would be $5,000 per station, the same as commercial group owners that agreed to accelerate their rollout. CPB must see that at least 100 stations convert per year under the deal; 105 are on the air with digital signals, according to CPB.

Noncoms remain exempt from the data portion of the Ibiquity license fee “as long as they use it in a noncommercial way,” Luis Guardia, senior director of Media Technology for CPB, told Radio World.


CPB also has awarded $8.8 million in grants to help 119 more public stations, including 78 serving rural and minority audiences, purchase equipment needed to transition to digital.

This is the fourth round of matching grants to eligible stations.

CPB has distributed grants to 405 public radio and 285 public television stations to begin their digital transitions. These funds are part of $190 million in funding that Congress has provided to CPB over five years to assist public broadcasters go digital.


The National Radio Systems Committee approved an amended standard for advanced application services for HD Radio. Placeholder language for this portion of the larger IBOC standard was inserted when the group passed NRSC-5 this spring.

The data standard, NRSC-5-A, includes an advanced data services transport protocol for HD Radio. Services need not be program-related, said DAB Subcommittee Chairman Milford Smith.

“This defines the data pipe,” said Smith, noting that a digital transmission scheme is more complicated than an analog one.

If no one appeals the data standard, it becomes part of the NRSC’s group of voluntary standards. Then NRSC can consider standards and recommendations regarding advanced data service applications.

The data standard existed in Ibiquity Digital’s specifications for its HD Radio system.


Dice Electronics unveiled what it and Ibiquity say is the first HD Radio integration solution for OEM head units.

Dice says its “HD Dice” makes nearly any head unit HD Radio-compatible by connecting to a black box. Ibiquity displayed the device in its booth. A message on the Dice Web site says “Coming Soon!”


Harris will offer Kenwood HD and HD-ready radios for purchase to station engineers for demos, and testing in vehicles and outside vehicles.

The supplier is stocking the Kenwood EZ500 and KTC-HR100TR HD Radio and/or HD Radio-ready receivers. Kenwood has made the full catalog of Kenwood HD Radio/HD Radio-ready receivers, plus amps and speakers suitable for promo vans, available.


Big radio groups are referring again to discussions they’ve had about digital data services and promotion.

Infinity Chairman/CEO Joel Hollander said talks are taking place among executives of his company, Clear Channel, Emmis and Entercom. He said broadcasters likely would reveal a plan in the fall.

Clear Channel Radio President/CEO John Hogan termed the group an alliance, a word echoed by Ibiquity President/CEO Robert Struble in talking to PDs. “There’s a coalition that’s coming together, the largest in history.”


Several HD Radio products and services were display at the Ibiquity booth. Receivers included units from Boston Acoustics, Eclipse, JVC, Kenwood, Panasonic, Polk, Radiosophy, Sanyo and Yamaha.

Live multicast programming courtesy of Beasley’s WXTU(FM) aired. WXTU is multicasting XTU-Channel 2, featuring the “next generation” of country artists.

A kiosk featuring a RealTraffic demonstration with SmartRoute systems from Westwood One showed how HD Radio technology can be used to provide local traffic updates.

More than 500 stations are airing HD Radio, according to the company.


Ibiquity says it has seen increased interest in HD Radio technology from international markets. Asked when another country might adopt HD Radio, President/CEO Robert Struble said “very soon,” saying the system’s spectrum efficiency is “compelling” for governments.

The company hired Perry Priestley as director of international broadcast business development. He was director of sales for Thales Broadcast and Multimedia, overseeing the Canadian, Caribbean and Latin American markets. He has held positions with Comark Communications, Philips North America and Pye TVT.


Broadcast Electronics and Ibiquity will take part in HD Radio tests in Switzerland. The first broadcasts there should be heard next spring on “88 Radio Sunshine” near Lucerne. Mountainous terrains and 100 kHz frequency spacing of FM stations pose challenges to digital broadcasts there.

BE will supply IBOC transmission equipment and technical expertise to begin testing, starting with field-strength measurements of broadcasts on Radio Sunshine’s main channel. Subsequent testing could include multicasting supplemental audio channels and synchronous digital broadcasts on some of the station’s 12 other boosters and translators, the supplier said.


Buckley Radio has joined groups indicating corporate support of HD Radio, with a plan to convert most of its stations over three years.

Four Buckley stations are licensed to broadcast with IBOC: KWAV(FM), Monterey, Calif.; WDRC(FM), Hartford, Conn.; WOR(AM), New York; and WSEN(FM), Syracuse, N.Y. WOR was an early Ibiquity test station; the others plan to convert shortly.

The group has 19 radio properties.


Beasley’S WRDW(FM) in Philadelphia debuted 96.5-HD2 during the convention. The commercial-free channel showcases new dance music and remixes of top 40 records. Those who have HD Radios with the ability to decode multicast signals can tune to “96.5-HD2”; the station is also streaming the programming.