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HD radio 2010 = FM radio 1950, (not)

LBA Technology AM antenna systems, RF
shielding, and test equipment

I see this statement being made on various forums, blogs and other places.  As some would like to believe, the problem with HD radio is that people don’t like change. A Look at the early days of FM radio in the 1950′s is a good example of this.  FM radio took decades to catch on, HD Radio is no different.  Currently, HD Radio is experiencing “growing pains” and the occasional “bump in the road.”

Except; no, not really.

Here is a side by side comparison:

Problem/issue FM radio 1950 HD radio 2010
Implementation of technology A new band was created and new radios containing the old (AM) and new FM band were manufactured. During the experimental phase (1937-47), the frequencies were between 42-50 MHz. This changed to 88-108 MHz in 1947. Uptake on new radios was slow due to a frequency shift. Existing AM and FM frequencies were utilized using “Hybrid” mode.  This entailed changing existing channel bandwidths arbitrarily.  New receivers with the HD Radio chipset needed to receive broadcasts.
Funding FM radio was implemented by broadcasters who, for the most part, bore the brunt of the costs themselves. The CPB has granted millions of tax payer dollars to public radio stations to implement HD radio with most of that money going to one company, the owner of the proprietary technology.  To date, NPR stations are the single largest user segment of HD radio.
Creation of interference FM broadcasting created no interference to any other broadcasting station when it was rolled out HD radio has created many interference problems, especially on the AM band at night, where skywave propagation makes adjacent channel stations bear the brunt of exceeded bandwidths.  FM is prone to co-carrier interference from higher digital power levels created to solve poor reception issues in addition to adjacent channel interference to adjacent FM broadcasters from exceeded bandwidths.
Lack of consumer awareness or interest Consumers were generally aware of FM radio, however, the FCC created a major stir when forcing FM broadcasters to move from their original frequency band of 42-50 MHz to 88-108 MHz. This move rendered obsolete many FM radios and caused hard feelings amount early FM radio fans. Consumers generally unaware of HD.  Those that are become disappointed with the lack of additional programming choices and poor receiver performance
Technical reception problems FM stations began broadcasting with low power levels and horizontally polarized antennas.  Radio was not yet a mobile medium.  Many FM listeners needed to install outdoor antennas on their homes to get reception.  Radio listeners were willing to undertake this for good reception. HD power levels are less than needed to have reliable reception in buildings and mobile listening environments. A 6 to 10 dB increase has not effectively been implemented nor solved the problem
Audio quality FM broadcasting is markedly superior to AM broadcasting in the areas of noise reduction and fidelity. HD radio offers a slight improvement to “CD quality” which is hard for the average listener to tell apart from typical analog FM.  AM offers increased audio quality over analog, however, due to reception problems, AM receivers often loose data synchronization and return to the analog signal, creating up/down listening experience most find annoying.
Auxillary services, additional channels FM broadcasting did not have any such features in 1950 HD radio offers the choice of 2 additional channels for programming.  These channels are taken from the existing bandwidth/bit rate of the digital carrier and are a lower quality than the main channel.  In addition to that, there is a data channel that can be used to display song titles and such
Programming FM broadcasting began by offering programming unique from AM stations.  The programming often consisted of classical music networks, educational programs, news programs and other such things.  Additionally, commercial FM broadcasting often had fewer commercials than it’s AM counterpart HD radio main channel is the exact duplicate of its analog signal.  HD-2 and HD-3 channel offer a variety of programming choices including simulcasts of AM stations, retransmissions of co-owned out of market stations, syndicated satellite programs, and occasionally a niche format.
Electronic Media availability During the early FM development and implementation the only competing electronic medium was AM radio The choices of electronic media are wide and diverse.  These include TV, satellite radio, internet, 3G wireless, mp3 players, AM and FM radio
Regulatory environment The FCC staff was filled with ex or future RCA employees, who were interested in the status quo, thus keeping FM from becoming too big too fast and competing with the roll out of RCA’s television technology.   Therefore it was hobbled with low power levels and a bizarre station class structure HD radio has enjoyed a rubber stamp environment where large businesses and  the FCC work together to re-write interference regulations with no regard for technical consequences.

The FM roll out in the late forties and early fifties is vastly different from the HD Radio rollout in the zero zeros.  Due to fear of competition and patent disputes, RCA in conjunction with the FCC did all they could to squash the new technology.  That is why FM radio took so long to be accepted by the general public.  For those not versed with the history of FM development and FM broadcasting in the US, see Empire of the Air, by Tom Lewis.  See also: Edwin H. Armstrong.  It is a good read for those radio obsessed.

HD Radio is failing because the consumer is not buying it, I see little to change their mind.

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13 comments to HD radio 2010 = FM radio 1950, (not)

  • “Consumers generally unaware of HD”

    After millions og HD Radio spots, consumers should be. As Mark Ramsey pointed out, “consumers are only aware of what they care about”.

    “FM broadcasting did not have any such features in 1950″

    Well it does now with SCA/RDS services. Actually, on can buy SCA and FMeXtra radios for additional sub-channels just like HD Radio. Struble likes to tout such “new” features as HD Radio tagging, but analog FM also allows tagging (iPod Nano). There is really nothing new with HD Radio that analog FM doesn’t offer. Struble is depending on the ignorance of the General Public. It’s all about deception and an iBiquity IPO.

  • George Morrison

    My goodness, you know so little and you are so easily misled. Every one of those 10 items is either partially or totally false.

    1. Channel bandwidth was not changed arbitrarily.

    2. Most of the stations that have implemented HD are not NPR stations.

    3. On FM HD there have been very few, if any, interference complaints (within the protected contour of the FM station).

    4. The awareness of HD has increased greatly in the past year thanks to new marketing campaigns. Consumers that actually have tried HD, rather than just talking about it, are very satisfied with both the programming and the quality.

    5. Reception issues _do_ exist at the 1% level in fringe reception areas, but have been solved when stations increase their power as allowed by the FCC.

    6. All independent reviews of FM HD have concluded that the audio quality is far better than that of FM radio.

    7. While the HD sub-channels do have a bit rate that affects the audio quality, in most cases the HD sub-channel quality is still better than that of analog FM. This is temporary. Eventually analog radio will be shut down there will be more bandwidth available for digital.

    8. HD sub-channels are being used mainly for niche formats, not for rebroadcasting of AM stations. Sometimes the niche format comes from an out of area station, sometimes it’s the FM station providing the content.

    9. For mobile use, the choices for wireless content each have their advantages and disadvantages. Satellite Radio is expensive, 3G is expensive and not available everywhere and has worse reception problems than broadcast radio.

    10. The FCC has been diligent about investigating interference claims.

  • Paul Thurst

    My goodness, you sound like Bob Struble. Actually, I’ll address your points as you presented them:

    1. Channel bandwidth was not changed arbitrarily. Okay, which part of this statement is false? The channel bandwidth was indeed changed from 200 KHz to 396 KHz wide for FM and 20 KHz to 40 KHz for AM.

    For the word “arbitrarily,” lets go to the dictionary, which states:
    ar·bi·trar·y
    adjective
    1. subject to individual will or judgment without restriction; contingent solely upon one’s discretion: an arbitrary decision.
    2. decided by a judge or arbiter rather than by a law or statute.
    3. having unlimited power; uncontrolled or unrestricted by law; despotic; tyrannical: an arbitrary government.
    4. capricious; unreasonable; unsupported: an arbitrary demand for payment.
    5. Mathematics . undetermined; not assigned a specific value: an arbitrary constant.

    Because HD Radio is implemented by the FCC, without direction from Congress, (e.g. public representation), the service was arbitrarily created. This is how the FCC normally does business, but it is still arbitrary, see #2 above.

    2. Most stations that have implemented HD are not NPR stations. I will put together a list of HD radio stations, I’d bet that greater than 50% are public radio stations.

    3. On FM HD there have been very few, if any, interference complaints (within the protected contour of the FM station) You make qualifying statement “Within protected contour” My statement stands as is without qualifier. The argument that things only matter within the protected contour is bunk. What happens when you are driving and you go beyond the protected contour? Does your radio magically switch off? No, it still works until the noise floor is reached, at which time the station is changed. The public has no idea what or where a protected contour is, all they know is the station that they used to be able to listen to, no longer comes in. Time to turn on the Ipod.

    4. The awareness of HD has increased greatly in the past year…” If this is the case, I will cook and eat my shoe for dinner. Randomly ask 10, no 20, no 50 people in a Best Buy what HD radio is, I’ll bet 90% will have no idea.

    5. Reception issues _do_ exist at the 1% level in fringe reception areas, but have been solved when stations increase their power Jury is still out on this one most stations have not implemented the power increase you cite. As of the last data available, 86 out of 1586 stations have upgraded in some way shape or form (Source: FCC data base) See also: NPR labs and Greater Media study about poor mobile reception and building penetration. These studies were done within 10 miles of a Class B FM station’s transmitter. Hardly the 1% fringe reception area.

    6. FM HD have concluded that the audio quality is far better than that of (analog) FM radio I will grant you “better” than analog FM, this is what is stated in the post. Far better is another matter, most people cannot tell the difference between HD radio signal and analog FM.

    7. In most cases HD sub channel quality is still better than analog FM. This is a patently false statement. There is no way that the low bit rate channels can reproduce audio that is even close to analog FM. It defies the laws of physics. Period.

    8. HD sub-channels are being used mainly for niche formats… Going by my listening experience, which is that HD-2 and HD-3 channels are grave yards for AM simulcasts, NPR programs, BBC news and the occasional creative thing done by a program director that has a lot of spare time

    9. What is your point? My point was that there are lots of competing mediums, maybe the public doesn’t care about HD radio because they get all there nationally syndicated programming on the computer or iPhone.

    10. The FCC has been diligent about investigating interference claims. The way the modified rules are written, it would be almost impossible for the FCC to find fault with an HD Radio station causing interference. See also: KATY vs. KRTH-FM or WYSL vs. WBZ.

  • Gary

    “My goodness, you know so little and you are so easily misled. Every one of those 10 items is either partially or totally false.”

    My goodness, you really know how to piss off people in the first sentence, don’t you? Here’s a suggestion: Why don’t you just provide your evidence for what you believe to be the correct information, and let us decide. Starting off with that first sentence as you did shows nothing more than you are a boor.

  • George Morrison is probably the same HD Radio troll (SMS) that posts like crazy in ba.broadcast, alt.radio.digital, and rec.radio.shoirtwave – just ignore him, as he has the same “signature” on other posts. John Higdon has called his bluff many times, but SMS refuses to post his “credentials”. I’ve tracked him down to Baltimore, MD, whuch is close to Columbia, MD, iBiquity Headquarters. He may be a laid-off iBiquity employee. Just like Bob Stuble, repeating the same lies over-an-over, eventually people start believing the lies.

  • J. Aegerter

    It became apparent to me since about 1980 that the FCC was really not interested in radio anymore. It seemed to begin to focus on money and the economy, rather than the public interest, convenience, and necessity. The 7,7,7 rule was quashed, and AM stereo made its debut without much fanfare. Nobody cared, only the people promoting it. And today, 30 years later, where is it? And FM/PM in 1950? Look how long it took! A former employer of mine bought 102.1 locally in 1966 for $75,000, and the seller could not wait to get his hands on the money as he was drowning in a sea of debt. So there was 16 years of FM/PM broadcasting and it still was a loser for most broadcasters. Improvements in technology made FM exciters true “FM” with excellent stability, but I doubt the general public noticed or cared. And the FCC really didn’t take any lead in promoting this technology, and it was better this way. Jamming things down people’s throats never seems to work, except in the record business. And when the FCC brought in an Economist as a Commissioner, along with the phaseout of engineering assistants to the Commissioners, radio engineering at the agency took another nosedive. From that point on, the FCC was all about money and the economy. Any new “widget” to make people spend money and keep the economy humming was the brainchild. And what happened to the FCC as “Spectrum Guardians”? Money and the economy was now paramount! Electromagnetic interference? What is that?

  • Paul Thurst

    @David Eduardo – interesting response. There is one thing that you pointed out which is correct: Most of the HD radio stations are not NPR stations. This was from a poorly sourced article and I should have known better. I went through the FCC database this afternoon, and indeed, most of the HD radio stations are commercial.

    As for the rest of it, I am not sure you comprehended most of what was written, a lot of your points agree with my points, which you then point out as being “A crock”

    Makes me ask, who the f–k is David Eduardo and why should I care?

  • [...] the blog Engineering Radio, Paul Thurst debunks the prevalent iBiquity swag that HD radio’s slow [...]

  • @Paul: David Eduardo works for Univision, who is an investor in iBiquity.

    The advent of analog FM never displaced existing services as does IBOC. There was not one company, as there is now with iBiquity, that had a monopoly on terrestrial radio. iBiquity still depends on venture capital, unless they can start bringing in significant amounts, and have over the course of a decade, blown through close to $200 million. Who’s going to continue to float iBiquity for the number of decades, waiting for IBOC to catch on?

  • Paul Thurst

    Thanks Greg, I that answers both questions.

  • [...] critical of the notion that HD Radio is the medium’s salvation. He’s written posts debunking proponents’ claims that the technology is still in “growth mode”; questioned the [...]

  • Dave

    From the consumer’s point of view, HD radio is a big yawn and money poorly spent. Why? Why do want to spend money to hear the same crap at slightly (maybe) better quality? I’ll take my mp3 player and a few Internet ado stations thanks.

    What will motivate me to get a HD radio? Great programming, reliably great reception & sound. When will this happen? When companies like Cheap Channel put money into programing, rather than just trying to take it out. Let’s be honest – radio today is a poor reflection of what we had in the early to mid 60′s. You know why that is.

    Dave,

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