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.

The lesser of two evils

If I had to pick between allowing HD RadioTM a 6 dB increase or removing the third adjacent protection for LPFM stations, I’d choose LPFM.

In tests performed by NPR, Ibiquity’s In Band On Channel (IBOC) digital radio scheme created significant interference to the first adjacent channel when running with 6% of the analog carrier power (-14 dB referenced to carrier) vs. the 1% (-20 dB referenced to carrier) currently allowed.  The NAB has would like to see -10 dB referenced to carrier or 10% of the analog carrier power.

Remember Bill Clinton’s sign during his first election, something about the economy, stupid.  In this case, it’s the Bandwidth, Stupid.  In the US and Canada, FM stations are allowed 200 kHz of spectrum to transmit their analog signals.   Analog signals include main channel mono (left plus right), and sub channels for stereo pilot (19 kHz) stereo matrix (left minus right), RDS (57 kHz) and any subcarriers in the 67-92 kHz range.

HD RadioTM radio requires 400 kHz of spectrum to transmit it’s digital carriers.  Here come those laws of nature again, you can’t fit 400 kHz bandwidth into 200 kHz of spectrum.

Ibiquity decided to try it anyway, contravening the FCC’s rules about FM broadcasting bandwidth channels which had been in place since the advent of FM broadcasting in the early 1940’s.  What they attempted to do was make the power level on the adjacent channel so low that most analog radios would not have a problem with it while there was a strong signal from another station present.  (hey buddy, how about a little of this new thing called crack?) This is known as the capture effect.

Now, Ibiquity created this whole thing to make some money.  Nothing wrong with that, this is a market economy after all.  They marketed the hell out of HD RadioTM radio, I saw them at various trade shows, they had full page advertisements in all the trade magazines, they hit the phones, it was a full court press (it’ll make you really cool, you’ll be able to do things you can do now and you’ll feel really good).  They would even reduce or waive the license fee (here, just take a little rock, try it, on me, you’ll see).

So they were able to sell a very expensive system that has significant coverage issues because of the low power levels needed to satisfy the FCC’s concerns about adjacent channel interference.  The NAB and many of the big radio groups bought in to it (gotcha, crackhead, you’re mine now).

Now, of course, those that bought into HD RadioTM radio want their investment to work, (which it doesn’t right now) so all the talk of power increases and hey, lets just disregard that pesky interference issue.  If you ignore it, eventually it will go away (along with the entire FM band).

The problems with HD RadioTM radio are:

  1. Inadequate building penetration at the current power level (1% of carrier power)
  2. Bandwidth that exceeds current channel assignments on both AM and FM frequencies.
  3. Proprietary nature of HD RadioTM‘s CODECs and licensing for second channels give Ibiquity too large a role saying how radio is broadcast in the US.  Remember, radio station licenses are granted in the public interest, the owners are trustees of the public
  4. Complete lack of public awareness.
  5. It doesn’t really improve anything anyway.

By the way, shame on NPR (again) for their corporate stance contrary to maintaining good quality radio and serving public interest.

Compared to that, LPFM is a very minor thing.  As I said before, removing the third adjacent protection will raise the noise floor in the FM band and by default cause more interference.  However, I’ll take a little more interference created by community radio stations over the complete rack and  ruin of the FM band.