Breakaway Broadcast

I am a strong proponent of non-computer based air chain processors.  Something about listening to dead air while the computer reboots is annoying and every computer needs to be rebooted every now and again.

All of that being said, I recently had a chance to play around with Breakaway Broadcast audio processing software.  I have to say, as a low cost, very versatile platform, it can not be beat.  I would put it up against any of the high end FM audio processing, provided one uses a high quality sound card with an adequate sample rate.

Claesson Edwards Audio has developed several software based audio processors for a variety of end uses.   They make several recommendations for hardware and operating systems, Pentium 4 3.2 GHz or better, dual core preferred.  If one is interested in used the sound card to generate composite audio, then any sound card capable of true 192 KHz sample rate will work.  They list several that have been successfully tested on their web site.

For approximately $1,200 dollars or so, one could buy a decent computer, the Breakaway Broadcast software and the Airomate RDS generator software.  For a Mom and Pop, LP or community radio station that is looking to do some high end audio processing and or RDS, that is a good deal.  I would add a UPS to the computer and keep back up copies of the software installed on an emergency computer just in case.  One can never be too safe when it comes to computers, viruses, hackers and other malicious persons.

Things that I like

  1. Inexpensive, the fully licensed version is $200.00.  The demo version is free but there is a 30 second promo every thirty minutes.
  2. There are several factory presets, but everything is fully configurable, changes can be named and saved allowing some experimentation.
  3. Audio cards with 192 KHz sample rate or greater can be used to generate composite audio, eliminating the need for a separate stereo generator
  4. RDS capable with additional software (Airomate2, approximate cost $35.00)
  5. The same processing computer can be used for streaming audio and or AM audio processing simultaneously.
  6. Full set of audio calibration tools for AM and FM transmitters, allows correction for tilt, overshoot and linerity.  Can add pre-emphasis at any user selectable rate.
  7. Fully adjustable phase rotators.

Things that I don’t generally like:

  1. Computer based system using Windoze operating system

WXPK in White Plains, NY has been using this software to process their streaming audio for about 2 years now.  The software itself is extremely stable running on a stand alone Windows box with XP service pack 2.

Move AM stations to channel 5 and 6

It might happen, at least according to Commissioner Clyburn, they aren’t saying no right away.  According to her prepared statement:

I believe it is time that we consider the fate of Channels 5 and 6 as they relate to current radio service. These channels have proven difficult for television broadcasting, and I have a hard time imagining that they would fare much better as additional spectrum for mobile broadband use. This spectrum is not well suited for digital transmissions. It certainly is possible that this spectrum could be used for LPFM, expanded NCE use, and AM broadcasters.

That would, indeed, be an interesting development, if it were allowed to happen.  Of course, there are quite a few hurdles to get over, even if it gets the FCC’s nod, which is a long shot to say the least.  There would likely be some type of congressional “input” into the matter, which could stall things for years if not forever, depending on which way the money flows and which one of our wonderful congressional representatives can be bought and sold.

  1. Getting new radios on the market with the expanded FM band (77 through 87 MHz) will take some time.  Thankfully, unlike HD radio, no licensing fees will be required.  Manufactures simply need to increase the frequency range down.  It might take several years, but it would happen eventually, as is the case with expanded AM band radios, which are universal now.
  2. Existing AM stations should be given the option to move, those that stay on the AM band will get the option to improve their facilities or go non-directional as the interference contours allow.
  3. Those that choose to abandon AM need to surrender their AM license before commencing broadcasting on FM, none of this expanded band crap where they were supposed to surrender licenses after five years and never did.
  4. Those that choose to abandon the AM band also will not be assured the same theoretical coverage areas they had on the AM band.
  5. AM migrants should not have to compete in an auction.

Indeed, if LPFMs get a boost in the process, all the better.  It might actually give radio the shot in the arm it needs, add a good deal of local competition and satisfy several needs.

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?