Westwood One, Premiere, Skyview Networks, et al. will be changing their satellite from AMC-8 at 139° W to AMC-18/SES-11 at 105° W longitude. More from AMC8transition.com. There are several considerations for this move:
- Dish design and two degree compliance
- Obstacle clearance
- Transponder frequencies
Two degree compliance is going to be an issue for many stations. Those old 2.4 and 2.8 meter mesh dishes are going to have issues with 105º West because that is a very crowed part of the sky. From New York, it looks something like this:
|TELSTAR 12 (ORION 2)
|TELSTAR 12 (ORION 2)
Generally speaking, dishes need to be 3.7 meters (12.14 feet) or larger to meet the two degree compliance specification. For many, this means replacing the current dish. This is especially true for those old 10 foot aluminium mesh dishes that were very popular in the 90’s because of the TVRO satellite craze.
If the existing dish is acceptable, then the next issue may be obstacle clearance. Generally speaking the 105 degree west slot (south of Denver) will be easier to see that the 139 degree west slot (south of Honolulu) for much of the United States. Still, there may be trees, buildings, hills, etc in the way. Site surveys can be made using online tools (dishpointer.com) or smart phone apps (dishalign (iOS) or dishaligner (Android)). I have found that I need to stand in front of the dish to get the best idea of any obstacles. While you are there, spray all the dish holding hardware with a penetrating oil like WD-40, Rostoff or something similar. Most of these dishes have not moved since they were installed, many years or decades ago.
Transponder frequencies will not be the same, so when the dish is aligned to the new satellite, those frequencies will need to be changed. The network satellite provider will furnish this information when it becomes available. This generally requires navigating around various menu trees in the satellite receiver. Most are fairly intuitive, but it never hurts to be prepared.
The window of opportunity is from February 1, 2017 (first day of AMC-18) until June 30, 2017 (last day of AMC-8). Of course, in the northern parts of the country, it may not be possible to install a new dish in the middle of winter. It may also be very difficult to align an existing dish depending on how bad the winter is. Therefore, the planning process should begin now. A quick site evaluation should include the following:
Network Satellite Receive Location Evaluation
Dish is 2°compliant? (Y/N)
Distance to receiver location:
Dish Azimuth (T):
Dish Azimuth (M)
Dish Height AGL:
(permanent or removable? Owned or not owned?)
A .pdf version is available here. Based on that information, a decision can be made on whether or not to keep the old dish or install a new one. We service about 25 studio locations and I am already aware of three in need of dish replacement and two that have obstructive trees which will need to be cut. This work cannot start too soon.
With the pending LPFM filing window in October, I decided that perhaps I could spread the information to some local groups that might want to put a community radio station on the air where I live. Back over a decade ago, there were a couple of local commercial AM and FM stations in the area, but they moved out of town to a larger city some 24 miles to the east. If local legend is to be believed, the AM station was very popular, with its studios and offices over the local pharmacy. That station is now running 24/7 comedy, which given the area, is ironic almost beyond words. As it stands now, this is one of those rural areas that, on paper, looks well served by several different radio stations. Truth is, there are radio signals receivable here, but there is no local radio. The last time anyone from those previously local stations had a meaningful thought about the respective Cities of License was months if not years ago.
With all this in mind, I first approached a local community non-profit group. They seemed mildly interested, but expressed doubt about finding a studio location. Their basic take was, we can help, but we want others involved. Seemed to be a lukewarm, but understandable and not totally unwarranted response.
I then approached the local school board. The idea was to get the high school involved with the station broadcasting sports events and teaching kids how to do play by play and perhaps other types of radio shows. They fainted interest at first, then decided that they didn’t have the staff to deal with a broadcast program and there were other excuses like “liability issues.”
I then approached the local governments (two different towns) who were almost openly hostile to the idea. While they didn’t say as much to my face, they rather implied that it would be a waste of time and the town(s) were not interested.
I have approached other local groups, which don’t seem to be interested at all.
Has radio lost its mojo with the local population? Are we who still remain in the radio business simply fooling ourselves into thinking that somehow this is important? I don’t know.
The hazards of rural LPFM; large area, few people, generalized indifference.
On at least one thing anyway. Rarely will those words pass my lips; however, from the credit where credit is due department, Mr Limbaugh recently stated:
It boils down to content, If people really like this show, the fact that it’s on AM radio doesn’t matter — they’ll go wherever it is if they want to listen to it.
From Inside Radio.
That is exactly right. While we technical people should put our best foot forward and make every assurance that the technical quality of the station’s signal is top notch, it is the programming that people are listening for. All the those processors and other expensive gadgets go unnoticed by the vast majority of radio listeners. What listeners care about is hearing their favorite song, team playing, etc.
Put good content out there and people will find it. It’s the programming…
Sound hound, making us look smarter than we should
For all of us that work at radio stations but are not programmers, Sound Hound great app for those “WTF is the name of that song?” moments. As I get older, this seems to happen more and more. These are either senior moments or I am just not keeping up with the new music today. Probably a little of both.
To use the application, one can play, sing or hum the song in question and if Sound Hound can match the audio to a known song, it will return the song title, version if more than one and artist to your mobile device. It will also provide links to lyrics, chart information, artist concert dates and Youtube videos, which is pretty cool.
It comes as a free version with banner ads. For those of us that hate banner ads, a paid version is available as well.
I fooled around with this for a while playing songs from youtube club videos. If the audio is not too distorted (some of those club videos are pretty bad), it will work. It will also pick out live performances (and include venue and date if available), club mixes, etc.
Best of all, it makes me look like a genius to my kids. Any help I can get in that department is most welcome.
Once a bastion of the AM dial, News and or News/Talk format radio stations seem to be springing up on the FM band more and more often. The original premise for creating talk radio on the AM band was the lower bandwidth and reduced (or perception of reduced) fidelity when compared to the FM band lent itself to non-music programming. The reality is that receiver manufactures never carried through on the NRSC-2 technical improvements, and AM receivers reproduced thin, low quality audio. I digress, the story goes, the FM band was great for music and the AM band did well with information and talk.
Of course, there were always a few exceptions to those general rules, but for the most part, that pattern held true until about 2009 or 10. That is when AM station’s programming began to be simulcast again (everything old is new again) on FM stations and HD-2 subchannels. It would be interesting to examine why this is so and what it means to the radio business as a whole.
The general trend in the music industry has also been down. This is important because record labels and the radio business used to go hand in hand. Record labels had the job of separating the wheat from the chaff. Those groups or artist that had the talent would be given recording contracts and airplay. With exposure, they would become more known, sell more recordings, record more songs, etc until they peaked and began to decline. Radio stations prospered under this arrangement because they took on none of the risk while getting huge vast quantities of program material to playback, and charge advertising fees for spaces within that programming.
So far so good.
Then, two things happened:
- The communications act of 1996
- The internet
The communications act of 1996 forever changed the way the radio business was run in this country. No longer were there several thousand individual stations, the most influential of which resided in markets #1 and #2. Instead there were conglomerations of stations run out of Atlanta, Fort Worth and a dozen or so other medium sized cities. No longer were stations competing head to head and trying to be the best and serve their respective audiences; rather, station A was positioned against station B to erode some of it’s audience so that station C could get better national buys from big ad agencies. No longer would possible controversial artists like the Indigo Girls get airplay on some groups. Songs were sanitized against possible FCC indecency sanctions, morning shows became bland and safe, and radio on the whole became a lot less edgy as big corporate attorneys put the clamps on anything that would invite unwanted exposure.
The last great musical genre was the Grunge/Seattle Sound of the early 1990’s. Those bands somehow mixed heavy metal, obscure mumbled lyrics, flannel shirts and ripped jeans into something that the dissatisfied Gen Xers could understand and appreciate. By 1996, this had morphed into “Modern Rock,” and carried on for several years after that, to fade out in the early 00’s. Since that time, there has been no great musical innovations, at least on the creative side, other than the ubiquitous Apple computer and Pro Sound Tools software.
The internet greatly changed the way recording labels did business, mainly by eating into their bottom line. This had the effect of circling the wagons and throwing up a protective barrier against almost all innovation. The net result was fewer and fewer talented artists being able to record, which pushed those people into smaller, sometimes home based recording studios. While those studios can put out good or sometimes even excellent material, often the recordings lack the professional touches that a highly trained recording engineer can add. Add to this the mass input of the internet and no longer are bands or artists pre-screened. Some may point to that as a good development with more variety available for the average person. Perhaps, but the average person does not have time to go through and find good music to download from the iTunes store. Thus, a break developed in the method of getting good, talented artists needed exposure. Youtube has become one of the places to find new music, but it is still a chore to wade through all the selections.
Thus, when FM HD-2 channels came into being, there was little new programming to be put into play. HD radio was left to broadcast existing material with reduced coverage and quality than that of analog FM. That trend continues today where now analog FM channels are being used to broadcast the news/talk programming that used to reign on AM.
What will happen next? If Tim Westergren has any say, the internet (namely Pandora) will take over and terrestrial radio will cease to exist. Current trends point solidly in that direction, although I think Tim is a little ahead himself in his prediction.
News/Talk on the FM dial point not to an attempt to shift the wheezing, white, (C)onservative/(R)epublican programming to a younger demographic, who will, if I am any judge of history, remain unimpressed. No, rather, they are running out of other source material, simulcasting syndicated talk radio is cheap, lean and a good way to make money without having to pay actual salaries.
I have had my HTC Android phone for just about a year now, which is enough time to learn the device’s strengths and weaknesses. I have done a fair amount of listening to audio, watching youtube videos and playing .mp3’s to give me some idea of the technical quality and operational issues. Like anything else, these are general observations. Some radio station’s streams sound better than other due to the effort those stations put into audio quality.
The listening test was done with a set of Sony earbuds, which sound far better than the small speaker built into the phone. For ease in streaming audio, I used the TuneIn Radio application for Android by TuneIn Inc. For this test, I only listened to FM broadcast stations, both streaming and over the air.
The over the air tuner is the stock factory radio in my 1997 Jeep Cherokee. I would rate the radio average in every way. The actual tests were done driving around on interstate highways and other major roadways. There were a few instances where I had to give up on the Android phone due to traffic and driving considerations.
My Android phone has an FM tuner installed in it, however, it is really useless. I get only local stations, and then their audio is all hissy and for the most part unlistenable. The HTC FM tuner uses the headphone wire for an antenna, which may be a part of the problem.
Here is a chart of my observations:
||Analog FM radio
||Streaming via Android
|Overall Station Selection
||Only those stations that can be received
||Any station that is listed in TuneIn Radio App*
|Varity of interesting programming
||Only those receivable signals which limits it to a few well programmed stations, the rest being garbage
||Almost unlimited, world wide*
||Only those stations that can be received
||Any station that is listed in TuneIn Radio App*
|Ease of use
||Can press the preset or scan buttons on radio without taking eyes off the road*
||Requires squinting at a small screen and pressing several little boxes to get to the desired station
|Annoying commercial avoidance
||See above on preset and scan buttons*
||Very difficult to change stations quickly
|Quality of sound
||Good to excellent, depending on the station’s signal strength*
||Fair to good, depending on the bit rate and network congestion, some stations sound very good and some can sound very bad
||Occasional picket fencing with distant stations, otherwise, non-existent*
||Varies depending on location, can be quite annoying, especially in mobile environment. App also occasionally locks up and needs to be restarted
||Free, radio came with the vehicle, no paid data service needed*
||Requires data plan with smart phone, some plans cap data amounts, can be fairly expensive
I am having a difficult time assigning the overall enjoyment as well as an over all winner. One the one hand, it was very cool, driving down I-84 in Danbury, CT listening to Howlin’ Wolf on New Orleans’ non-commercial Jazz station, WWOZ. On the other hand, it was a right pain in the ass to get to that point, in rush hour traffic. By the way WWOZ’s web stream is excellent, audio wise.
From a safety and ease of use, the FM radio in the Jeep wins hands down, I just don’t know how many more times I can listen to the same Led Zeppelin song on i95 (that used to be I-95, frankly I thought Steve Jobs copyrighted the lower case i).
The drop outs were also a concern, mostly taking place in on the section of I-84 going through Putnam County, NY. I don’t know if my cell carrier needs to beef up it’s data coverage in that area, or if there were just a great many users on the network checking their e-mail, etc.
If they could sort out the ease of operation problem and get rid of the drop outs, streaming audio over HTC Android would win hands down.
I posted previously about how to listen to radio station streams on an Android phone. In the time between then and now, somebody has come up with a much better way to do it. TuneIn Radio is both a website for streaming and a mobile application for Android and iPhone users alike.
I have found that every local radio station that has a web stream is listed. The major overseas broadcasters like the BBC, CBC, Radio Netherlands, and so on as well as all of the non-government US owned shortwave stations are listed. As their website states:
With over 30,000 FM and AM radio stations from across the globe, TuneIn Radio makes radio local, no matter how far from home you might be.
Far easier than what I posted before. Further, this is exactly the type of service that terrestrial broadcasters needed the most; a concise consolidated listing broken down by genre and locality, to compete with Pandora, Slacker, Last.fm, et. al.
In order to download TuneIn Radio, point your mobile web browser to http://tunein.com and it will automatically direct you to the proper download source. Or one could search through the Apple store or Android Market to find the app.
Wheatstone, Inc has sponsored a radio industry future technology study which brings into focus some of the connections between technology and radio business models. It appears to be very thorough, polling radio professionals on all aspects of technology development and management.
According to Josh Gordon:
While it is hard to predict which of the radio industry’s newest business models will succeed in generating new revenues, we can better anticipate the winners by measuring how fast the technologies that enable them are being adopted.
To find out, we surveyed the radio professionals involved in all aspects of technology management (engineers, and operations and technical management). The results reported in this study can serve as a benchmark for managers to evaluate their own organizations’ progress.
The first graph is telling:
Wheatstone Technology Survey Results
Almost everyone believes that the internet will play a greater role in radio (and all media). This goes against the “radio with its head in the sand” idea that can be found in some corners of the internet (I’d provide a link, but the site has turned on a paywall).
The question is, what are management type people doing about it. Some have good ideas on how to bridge the gap between making money the old fashioned way; selling spots, to making money the new way; brand imaging, media promotion and personal contact through new media. While it is generally agreed that radio stations should stream their audio, many, if not most, make little or no money on this. If radio is going to make some revenue on internet applications, obviously some new ideas are needed.
Unique local content seems to be the most sought after, things like local news podcasts, or new music, e.g. studio sessions with up and coming band and musicians, locally produced shows that are area specific, etc. Put a 10 second sponsorship in front of those and people will get the message. Other things like value added contests that can only be heard on the internet. Interactive radio station apps that have streaming, now playing, recently heard features that link to a .mp3 store for iPhone and Android operating systems. Text link adds on radio station web pages, etc.
On the flip side of this, huge, great amounts of bandwidth will be required if the internet streaming is going approach the same number of off the air listeners. Depending on the how the radio station has the stream set up, anywhere from 20 to 64 kbps of data transfer is needed for each listener. For a station in a large metropolitan area, multiply that by 500,000 to 4,000,000 listeners at any one time and data gridlock ensues.
On the in house side, the red hot, cutting edge thing these days is AOIP (Audio over IP), which Wheatstone is heavily invested in with its E console series. While some might not think of AOIP as a traditional internet application, it none the less uses the same transport protocols as other internet applications. AOIP offers some great advantages over other routing systems, as both private (internal) and public (wide area) networking can be used to transfer audio in real time. Of course, this is not as easy as plugging the new computer into an ethernet jack, it takes more planning than that.
Wheatstone has published an excellent white paper on Network Design for Ethernet Audio. Well worth the read.
As AOIP technology develops more, web streams could come directly from the console and be customizable according to destination. Further, IP logging can create stream user profiles and customizable greetings, listening preferences and so on. This would require that the web streaming server be in house and the studio facility have enough bandwidth to handle all of the outgoing streams and other content.
Certainly an in house IT/Web developer will be needed to manage and maintain such a system.
You can download and read the entire studio at Alethea/Wheatstone Radio Survey. The cliff notes summary is this:
Finding #1: Almost all radio tech people believe the Internet will play a bigger part in the future of radio.
Finding #2:Of the new revenue generating technologies, streaming a station’s signal has the biggest earning potential.
Finding #3: Technologies that require little or no capital investment are being deployed at similar frequencies by both stand-alone and group owned stations.
Finding #4: A technology gap is emerging as stand-alone stations deploy revenue generating technologies requiring investment at only half the frequency as group owned stations.
Finding #5: The revenue generating technology that most group owned stations plan on deploying next is a mobile app, while for stand-alone stations, it is broadcasting in HD Radio, with mobile apps coming in a close second.
Finding #6: There is a big divide between radio stations that are now, or will soon be, making money from streaming their signal over the Internet, and those who likely never will.
Finding #7: The day will come slowly, but in 15 years a majority of radio stations expect they will have more online listeners than RF listeners.
Finding #8: Despite the expected decline in over the air listeners, few stations expect to turn off their transmitters.
Finding #9: Three years from now, radio station technology will be more IT centric with more automation, as well as more networking between stations, IT networks, and office and audio networks.
Finding #10: Three years from now, the stability of each radio station network will be more important, as will networks with no single point of failure.
Finding #11: Three years from now, more audio consoles will be networked together. Also, the bandwidth of those networks will be required to increase.
Finding #12: The top reason group owned stations bought an AoIP network was to reduce maintenance costs. The top reason for stand-alone stations: to share talent.
Finding #13: At stations that have installed an AoIP network, more than a third of stand-alone stations found installing it harder than anticipated, while only 16.7% of group owned stations found installation harder than anticipated.
Finding #14: At stations with an AoIP network, more than one in four stand-alone stations and one in three group owned stations report latency problems.
The study is a good indication of where technical managers see growth. One thing that internet sites like Pandora have shown, radio broadcasters cannot sit back and be content with the status quo. Without technical innovation and some outside of the lines thinking, radio will be bypassed by newer more interactive media services.
Something to ponder.
I give to you, the original Texar Audio Prism:
Texar Audio Prism
I love the sound of these units when coupled with an Optimod 8100A. Many people have (or rather, had) difficulty setting these things up. I found them to be very easy to deal with, just follow the instruction manual. If that doesn’t sound good, then there is something wrong with the unit. Over the years, there are only a few consistent problems. The first thing is with the voltage regulators. They have heat sinks attached with nylon screws. The screws get brittle and fall apart, making the regulator overheat and go bad. I have taken to replacing the nylon screws, and if the heat sink has fallen off, the entire regulator. There are also a few electrolytic capacitors in the power supply and on the audio board, it is always a good practice to replace those. Otherwise, unless the unit has been blown up by lightning, it should work.
As for set up, follow the directions in the manual:
- Bypass the units using bypass switch
- Turn on on board pink noise generator
- Using the test ports on the front of the unit, plug a Simpson 260 VOM set on 2.5 VAC important: use the ground port on the front of unit, not the case
- For use with an Optimod 8100A, using the dB scale on the Simpson 260, set all the bands for a 4.0 reading. Set the density to 3/4.
- Turn off pink noise generator and switch out of bypass mode.
- Make sure the levels in the studio are where they should be.
- Adjust the input gain so the “Buffer Active” light does not come on during normal level programming.
- Adjust the output levels so that the input buffer on the Optimod reads between -7 and -3 vu.
The rest of the settings are on the Optimod:
- Clipping = 0
- HF limiting = 5
- Release time = 2
- Bass coupling = 2
- Gate = 0
- Set the input attenuators for about 10 dB total gain reduction, with peaks around 15 dB or so.
Then set the L-R null. To do this, make sure the program material is in mono, then adjust the L or R input attenuator for minimum reading. Also, if the Audio Prism has PR-1 (phase rotators) installed, bypass the phase rotator in the Optimod. There is also a replacement card 5 made by Gentner called the RFC-1 for the Optimod 8100A. I notice little difference between a stock Optimod and on RFC-1 Optimod.
That is a good starting point. Most people are quite happy with this, but if needed, the high and low settings on the Prism can be adjusted slightly to suit the station equipment. When properly adjusted, this equipment rides gain, adds a certain amount of loudness, while keeping the programming material natural sounding. Further, unlike some “modern” air chain processors, it does not boot up and it does not occasionally loose its mind, requiring a reboot.
The best paragraph in the manual, or any broadcast equipment manual is this:
There is a wealth of information available in the LED display. A few minutes of watching them in reduced light (emphasis added) while listening to a familiar program input will greatly help in understanding their action.
It will also greatly enhance your buzz, dude. It was the 70’s.
The NAB (National Association of Broadcasters), in trying to reach a settlement with the music industry, has decided that cellphones are part of the problem. No kidding, the fact that smart phones like the iPhone and Android do not have FM tuners seems to be a part of the negotiations, even though the cellphone industry has nothing to do with music royalties. The argument is, more people will listen to, and more importantly, buy music if they have an FM tuner in their smartphone.
I don’t know about that.
My HTC Android phone does have an FM tuner, it also has a metal detector. I have found both the be novel applications. Even though I work in radio, I have used the FM tuner twice. Technically speaking, I find it to be adequate. In order to receive anything, a pair of headphones or earbuds has to be used, because the headphone wire acts as the antenna.
That being said, I cannot count the number of times I have used Pandora or other online audio applications. Several times a day at least. Why? Because the content it better.
If consumers want FM tuners in their cellphones, they will ask for them. Cellphone manufacture’s will gladly comply, and make them. The real problem is, most people don’t care about radio because most radio programming is boring and uninspired these days. Let me paraphrase that:
HELLO, BROADCASTERS! ARE YOU LISTENING? YOUR PROGRAMMING SUCKS!
Offer a better product and listeners will return. If there were a compelling reason to build FM tuners into cellphones, it would already be done. Forcing the cellphone manufactures to do something they don’t want to do will simply drive up prices.
The NAB has led the radio industry astray for years now, we really should stop listening to them.