Commercial Radio Networks changing Satellites

Lockheed Martin A2100 series satellite
Lockheed Martin A2100 series satellite

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
  • Timing

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:

Satellite Longitude Inclination Azimuth Elevation Distance
TELSTAR 12 (ORION 2) 109.21° W 0.491° 227.46° 31.09° 38596.91 km
TELSTAR 12 (ORION 2) 109.21° W 0.491° 227.46° 31.09° 38596.91 km
MSAT M1 107.72° W 7.430° 231.14° 38.16° 38011.55 km
ANIK G1 107.33° W 0.013° 225.25° 31.96° 38518.62 km
ANIK F1 107.31° W 0.020° 225.22° 31.95° 38513.76 km
ANIK F1R 107.28° W 0.052° 225.22° 32.02° 38510.37 km
ECHOSTAR 17 107.11° W 0.019° 225.01° 32.08° 38503.29 km
AMC-15 105.07° W 0.025° 222.76° 33.28° 38400.67 km
AMC-18 104.96° W 0.027° 222.64° 33.34° 38400.16 km
GOES 14 104.66° W 0.198° 222.21° 33.38° 38394.57 km
AMSC 1 103.44° W 9.810° 228.37° 43.31° 37616.42 km
SES-3 103.01° W 0.041° 220.41° 34.42° 38307.12 km
SPACEWAY 1 102.90° W 0.032° 220.25° 34.43° 38299.87 km
DIRECTV 10 102.82° W 0.017° 220.17° 34.51° 38292.86 km
DIRECTV 12 102.78° W 0.035° 220.12° 34.50° 38292.93 km
DIRECTV 15 102.71° W 0.009° 220.05° 34.56° 38290.50 km
SKYTERRA 1 101.30° W 3.488° 219.07° 36.33° 38131.32 km
DIRECTV 4S 101.19° W 0.011° 218.24° 35.35° 38228.26 km
DIRECTV 9S 101.15° W 0.014° 218.18° 35.36° 38228.57 km
SES-1 101.00° W 0.016° 218.02° 35.45° 38217.56 km
DIRECTV 8 100.87° W 0.036° 217.88° 35.54° 38211.02 km

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

Satellite:

Satellite Location:

Dish is 2°compliant? (Y/N)

Distance to receiver location:

Dish Latitude:

Dish Longitude:

Dish Azimuth (T):

Dish Azimuth (M)

Dish Height AGL:

Dish Elevation:

Observed Obstacles:

(permanent or removable? Owned or not owned?)

Comments:

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.

Radio? Not interested

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.

Sound Hound music discovery application

Sound hound, making us look smarter than we should
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.

More news talk migrates to the FM band

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:

  1. The communications act of 1996
  2. 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.