I-Buzz

Rumor has it that iBiquity is going to release a software upgrade for the AM IBOC system they peddle.  Allegedly it is going to improve the sound quality of the digital signal, allow the analog signal to increase it’s bandwidth to 10 kHz and provide data such as song titles.  No word on whether they will be providing software upgrades to consumers for the many HD radioTM receivers out there.

I have been following a discussion on AM quality over the last few days.  It seems many engineering types at least, acknowledge that analog AM can sound good, if not more natural that FM.  The addition of IBOC hybrid mode on AM station has created more noise and further degraded the station’s main signal by reducing the bandwidth to less than 5 kHz.

Tonight I am listening to WWVA on 1170 kHz, and there is this horrific white noise/hash over top of the station.  Same thing on 1190 kHz, all courstesy of WHAM 1180’s IBOC transmission.  It is one thing to trash your own station, limiting the analog audio response to 5 kHz.  It is quite another thing to trash the adjacent frequencies with noise making them unlistenable.

Here is a brief clip (recorded at 8:00 pm EDT, March 24, 2010):

Second clip, WWVA has faded out (recorded at 9:10 pm EDT, March 24, 2010)

The audio in these videos is adequate but not the best, still, it is pretty clear that there is a whole bunch of white noise on top of WWVA’s signal and on 1190 where no station is coming in. The only conclusion that I can draw is that WHAM is operating with their IBOC turned on. This was recorded at a location that is 197 miles from WHAM and 364 miles from WWVA.  I have made several better recordings directly into the computer without the video frequency readout reference.

In 1990, the FCC mandated NRSC-2 (73.44) spectral mask on all AM stations, requiring them to put in brick wall filtering to limit the bandwidth to 10 kHz or less.  They also require all AM station to do “equipment performance measurements” (73.1590) to verify that the stations are complying with FCC regulations.  This was done because of excessive sideband splatter by AM broadcasters creating interference to adjacent channel stations.  I agree in principle with the NRSC-2 standard, I think it serves a purpose.  Why then, are stations allowed to interfere with other stations with IBOC signals?  Even though Ibiquity has put up a spectral mask that complies with NRSC-2, it still creates interference.  Isn’t this a double standard?  A station in Pennsylvania gets fined $4,000.00 for operating past its sign off time (because operating after sign off might create harmful interference), yet, WHAM gets to generate noise all night and drowned out adjacent channel stations that are hundreds of miles away?

In the mean time, if the FCC inspector shows up at a station that has not made the required “equipment performance measurements” they will get a fine too.

Am I crazy, or is it hypocritical bull shit to fine one station for potential harmful interference, but then the FCC to ignores its own rules and allows another type interference?  Hint: I am not crazy.

I have recorded this in .wav format and I am sending it to the FCC with an interference complaint letter.  It is about time somebody made some noise about this noise.  Apparently, there are many engineers who feel the same way.  Will Ibiquity listen, or will they keep doing CPR on a corpse?

IBOC update

Since the FCC approved a ten fold increase in the radiated power of the digital carrier, a progress report on the digital radio rollout is in order.  The FCC report and order (MM Docket No. 99-325) gives us some background:

An original goal of the developers of the hybrid FM IBOC DAB system was replication of FM analog coverage without adversely affecting either the host analog signal or adjacent channel analog FM operations. iBiquity and several independent parties conducted extensive field and laboratory tests. Based on the National Radio Systems Committee (“NRSC”) evaluation of those test results, iBiquity requested and the NRSC approved an FM Digital ERP of one percent of FM Analog ERP (20 decibels below carrier (-20 dBc)).

And (after paying gobs of license fees and installation costs):

Many FM stations promptly commenced hybrid FM IBOC operations. Despite the rigorous testing, it soon became apparent that hybrid FM IBOC digital coverage often did not replicate analog coverage, especially in mobile and indoor environments.

Therefore (Fox, here are the keys to the hen house, knock your self out):

Based on the results of the experimental operations with increased FM Digital ERP and other studies, on June 10, 2008, a group consisting of 18 radio group owners that operate over 1,200 commercial and noncommercial educational (“NCE”) FM stations and the four largest broadcast transmission equipment manufacturers, identifying themselves as “Joint Parties,” requested (the “Joint Parties Request”) that the Commission generally increase maximum permissible FM Digital ERP10 from one percent of a station’s authorized analog ERP (-20 dBc) (1% FM IBOC Power”) to a maximum of ten percent of a station’s authorized analog ERP (-10 dBc) (“10% FM IBOC Power”).

Based on (We find these hens are delicious!):

NPR concluded that at 1% FM IBOC Power, the mobile, indoor and portable digital coverage achieved by most FM stations would not replicate analog coverage, but that at 10% FM IBOC Power most FM stations could achieve digital mobile, portable and indoor coverage levels which either met or exceeded comparable analog coverage levels.

And (in spite of numerous concerns by the public and other broadcasters) Viola:

73.404 Interim Hybrid IBOC DAB Operation.
(a) The licensee of an AM or FM station, or the permittee of a new AM or FM station which has commenced program test operation pursuant to § 73.1620, may commence interim hybrid IBOC DAB operation with digital facilities which conform to the technical specifications specified for hybrid DAB operation in the First Report and Order in MM Docket No. 99-325, as revised in the Media Bureau’s subsequent Order in MM Docket No. 99-325. FM stations are permitted to operate with hybrid digital effective radiated power equal to one percent (-20 decibels below carrier (dBc)) of authorized analog effective radiated power and may operate with up to ten percent (-10 dBc) of authorized analog effective radiated power in accordance with the procedures set forth in the Media Bureau’s Order in MM Docket No 99-325. An AM or FM station may transmit IBOC signals during all hours for which the station is licensed to broadcast.

Notice how they stuck AM nighttime operation in there too.  Now I get to hear IBOC signals over riding adjacent channel stations that used to come in clearly via skywave.  One tends to wonder if this interference is not deliberate.  Crush the small operators with interference, make their stations worthless, drive them out of business…

To help things along, iBiquity has offered to reduce their licensing fees to $5,000.00  (oops, its more like $10,500 – 12,500). These rules were put into effect on January 29, 2010.  According to the FCC data base, there are 1524 FM stations and 292 AM stations transmitting IBOC.  That breaks down to 15% of the FM stations and 6% of the AM stations.  I will post an update if there is a sudden rush to install IBOC. Still a pretty low penetration for a 10-20 year old technology.  It is likely these low numbers are the reason why both broadcast bands are still mostly listenable, at least from a technical perspective.

As the noise floor rises and the competing stations sink further and further into the mud, the audience will turn to non-static filled technologies to listen to their music and other programs.

Why am I not surprised

NPR and iBiquity has come to an agreement to screw the rest of us out of radio spectrum with a four fold increase in HD RadioTM power levels. Here comes the interference.

But hey, it’s the future, that digital stuff, because it’s better.  And if you are not on board, then you are a narrow minded backwards thinker not worthy of consideration.

The funny thing is, all of the bells and whistles and whiz bang digital do dads, Ipod song titles, and fancy acronyms do not add up to a nano fart.  If there is nothing compelling listeners to buy the HD Radios,TM it is a dead technology.  Here is a news flash, when it comes to radio listener ship,

IT’S THE PROGRAMMING, STUPID.

That has to be fixed, then the other stuff will start to make sense.

What do I know?  I’m going to go have a cold beer and put my feet up.

Radio is dead/Radio is not dead

I have been reading with interest the whole debate about radio being dead or dying vs. radio being a vibrant thriving business.

FM-analog-tuning-indicator

Radio is not dead by any measure, however it is declining for a number of obvious reasons.  There are more competing entertainment and information options, that is true.  Ipods, netcasters, satellite radio have taken some of radio’s listeners away.  However, the main culprit in radio’s decline are the investment bankers that are squeezing every drop of blood nickle out of the industry before moving on to their next victim investment opportunity.

The net result of this has made much, not all, of radio predicable and boring.  No longer is radio the source for new music, news, information and entertainment as it used to be.  I don’t think that anyone will argue that point.  The money men have fired most of the creative and talented individuals who used to bring in the listeners and replaced them with computers.  They have also cut news staffs, support staffs and anything else that lives and breaths except sales people.  More sales people are always required.

HD RadioTM radio is a joke at best.  Setting aside all of the technical problems with coverage and building penetration, the programming sucks too.  The same purveyors of crap on the main analog channels are now branching out on the HD2 and HD3 channels.  I can’t believe that the secondary channels will somehow be better than the main analog channels,  or even marginally good enough to buy an HD Radio radio.  Some groups are putting their AM programming on an FM HD2 channel, which is great if one cares to hear drug addled corpulent talk show hosts wheezing into the microphone in full fidelity.   At least on the AM analog broadcasts, everything above 4.5 KHz is cut off, wheezing included.

The good news is, there are still some radio stations that are programmed well.  Radio sets are almost universal, every car has one, every house has at least one or two, most offices, stores, etc. Radio reception is still free.  Radio is still popular among many people.  Radio owner’s could very easily become involved with their communities of license, make better programing decisions, hire staffs, and add valuable informative local programs again.  This decline would soon be forgotten.

The bad news is that is unlikely to happen.  Less than a snowball’s chance in hell unless someone wakes up and smells the coffee.

I am half an optimist.