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Fewer owners means more diversity!

Alternate title: Less is more (and other non-sense)!

The NAB has come out with their latest interesting opinion on radio station ownership in comments to the FCC regarding the 2014 Quadrennial Regulatory Review.  They state that “Retaining the local radio ownership rule unchanged would be arbitrary and capricious” because the audio market place has changed radically over the last ten years.  The introduction of online listening via Pandora seems to have created competition that can only be adequately dealt with by further consolidation, it seems.  Also, the Commission cannot demonstrate that the current rules promote localism or viewpoint diversity.  That last sentence is a fair statement.  What the NAB does not say is that there is no evidence that further consolidation will promote localism or viewpoint diversity either.

The comment then goes into a lot of information and statistics on smart phone usage; who has them, what they are using them for et cetera.  It is very interesting to note that there is no reason given for the sudden and alarming upswing in mobile online listening.  But, let us examine a few interesting data points first:

  • Mobile data is not free.  There are very few unlimited mobile data plans out there anymore, most everyone now has some sort of data cap.  Extra data can be purchased, but it is expensive
  • On line listening uses data at a fast rate.  According to Pandora, they stream at 64 kbps, or 0.480 megabytes per minute or 29 mega bytes per hour.   Spotify uses quite a bit more, 54 megabytes per hour.

Let us assume that the average commute to work these days is one hour.  That would mean two hours per day of driving and mobile listening.  That adds up to 1.16 GB of data per month just in on line listening.  Assuming that the smart phone functions as more than just a radio and will be used for email, maps, news, web browsing and other downloads, a fairly hefty data plan would be required of the smart phone user to accommodate all this data.  Why would somebody pay considerably extra per month just to listen to online radio?

Do you get where I am going with this?  Good, compelling programming is what people are searching for.  If they cannot find it on the radio, they will go elsewhere.  Nature abhors a vacuum.  Want to compete against Pandora, Spotify, XM or whoever?  Offer up something good to listen to.  These days, competition seems to be a dirty word.  Yes, competition requires work, but it, in and of itself, is not bad.

The NAB seems to be saying that relaxing ownership rules and thus, presumably, allowing more consolidation will promote diversity.  In my twenty five years of broadcasting, I can say that I have never seen this to be the case.   Some of the most diverse radio stations to be heard are often single stations, sometimes an AM/FM combo, just out there doing their thing.  Stations like WDST, WHVW, WKZE, WHDD, WJFF, WTBQ, WSBS, WNAW… I am sure that I am forgetting a few.

You can read the entirety of the NAB’s comments here.

Stay sharp, do not be fooled

I am wondering what is going on with the HD Radio roll out these days. Particularly the all digital AM conversion scheme being bantered about so often last spring. Not much is being discussed publicly about that or the AM revitalization.  I have found FCC Commissioner Clyburn’s remarks at this week’s NAB Confab interesting.  HD Radio is paid lip service here:

There are hurdles: if broadcasters do not broadly embrace the HD technology and the multicasting and other enhancements that it makes possible, listeners will have few incentives to buy digital receivers. Likewise, if no consumers own digital receivers, then there is no reason to broadcast in digital.
But I’m not worried. More than 15 million digital receivers have been sold so far, and that number will only rise. Thirty-three auto manufacturers include or plan to include digital receivers in their cars, and those receivers are standard equipment in over 80 models. This will dramatically increase the number of digital receivers in the coming years.

But in the solutions for AM broadcasters, HD Radio is not mentioned at all.  What is put forward as a six (actually five) step plan to revitalize AM radio turns out to be some rearranging of the deck chairs and little more. Cliff notes version for the FCC’s AM revitalization:

  1. Open a one time filing window for AM license holders to acquire an FM translator
  2. Relaxing community coverage rules for AM licensing allowing greater flexibility for transmitter siting
  3. Eliminating the “Ratchet Rule” used in night time allocation studies for new facilities
  4. Permitting more widespread use of MCDL technologies by eliminating STA requirements
  5. Reducing minimum field strength requirements by twenty five percent allowing the use of shorter towers

While those options may save an AM license holder some money, none of them do anything to improve the technical quality of AM broadcasting.  Several of them (#2, 4 and 5) will, in fact if widely implemented, reduce signal levels over cities of license, making electrical noise and interference problems more prevalent. This is a step in the wrong direction.

These points are basically a rehash of some to the MMTC’s (Minority Media Telecommunication Council) ideas for a radio rescue first bantered about in 2009.

This demonstrates that the NAB and the FCC are not at all serious about revitalizing the AM band but merely marking time and making it look good until the final transmitter is switched off.

AM licensees are on their own, but all is not lost.  I have noticed several successful stand alone AM station that are not only surviving but thriving.  The common thread in these station is good local programming.  On the technical side of things; a well maintained plant with good quality audio feeding a properly operating transmitter and antenna array will go a long way to providing good service to the city of license.

The AM HD all digital test, part IV

Continued from part III

Profile of a successful AM radio station, March 2013: WSBS, Great Barrington, Massachusetts

Great Barrington is a either a large village or medium sized town with a population of approximately 7,100.  There are many listenable FM and AM radio stations from Albany, NY, Pittsfield, Springfield and Poughkeepsie, NY markets.  There are also a few local stations; WBCR-LP, WMAQ (WAMC repeater) and W254AU (WFCR repeater).  While the competition is not fierce, citizens have a variety of stations to choose from.

WSBS is a class D AM station on 860 KHz with 2,700 watts daytime power, 250 watts critical hours and 3.9 watts night time power.

WSBS approximate daytime coverage area

WSBS AM 860 KHz approximate daytime coverage area

This is the approximate daytime coverage area for WSBS AM.  I could not find any good coverage maps on line, so I made this one myself.  When I am driving, I get the station reliably to Kingston, NY, however, indoor listening may be a different matter.  With 3.9 watts ERP, night time coverage does not include much of the city of license.

They have a translator on 94.1 MHz, W231AK.  This is an example of when an FM translator on an AM station is a benefit to the community of license.  W231AK has recently been moved from the top of the roof of the Fairview Hospital to the WSBS AM tower.  During this move, the ERP was increased from 35 watts to 250 watts and the highly directional antenna was replaced in favor of a 2 bay half wave spaced circularly polarized Shively 6812.

W231AK old service contour

W231AK old service contour

W231AK new service contour

W231AK new service contour

Not only did the move increase the translator’s coverage area, it also reduced operating expenses for the radio station, as they no longer have to pay rent or TELCO charges.

WSBS Harris SX2.5 transmitter, courtesy of NECRAT

WSBS 860 KHz Harris SX2.5 transmitter, courtesy of NECRAT

The main transmitter for the AM station is a Harris SX2.5 .  It transmits from a 79 degree tower, the tower and antenna field are well maintained.

WSBS 860 KHz, Great Barrington, MA tower base and ATU

WSBS 860 KHz, Great Barrington, MA tower base and ATU

The studio has a new Audioarts Air4 console, which we just finished installing last December.

WSBS Great Barrington, MA control room

WSBS Great Barrington, MA control room

More pictures available at NECRAT.

The station has an AC music format, which is quite popular.  As the FM translator’s coverage has been quite limited until recently and there have been issues with the telephone company circuit taking the translator off the air, the majority of listeners are tuned to the AM signal.  There is a live morning show and afternoon show, the rest of the day is voice tracked with music on hard drive.  They have frequent contests and give aways.  They also do local sports, community events, news and things like live election night coverage.  In short, the station serves its community and, as demonstrated by a recent Chamber Business event at the station’s studio, the community appreciates its radio station.

There is nothing magic here; no gimmicks, IBOC, or other technical wizardry.  This facility is at best, technically average, albeit well maintained.  There is an older Orban Optimod processor, an older AM transmitter and the original, electrically short tower.  The station also has a working emergency generator.  The only new tech is the web stream, which all radio stations should have.

The station is successful because of its programming, period.  People love local radio.  Making connections with listeners imparts a shared sense of community.  Being on the air with a local presence during storms, even when the power is out, is a big deal.  When it comes to relevance within the community and local businesses; in 2013 all radio stations need to earn that.

Conclusion:

I do not suffer from technophobia; when digital radio was first proposed, I welcomed the idea.  It was not until I began looking at the technical proposals and iBiquity’s proprietary system that I became concerned.  After hearing the initial implementation of AM HD radio on WOR in NYC, I was not impressed with either it’s audio quality or the side band interference that the analog/digital hybrid AM HD system created.  What is of an even greater concern is the propensity for government regulatory agencies to rubber stamp technical proposals by lobbying associations without testing or even fact checking.

Digital modulation methods at medium frequencies presents a unique challenge where the ratio of signal bandwidth to available frequency spectrum becomes too great to be practical.  This is exacerbated at the lower end of the band where side band symmetry is difficult to achieve at ±15 KHz required by the all digital and the analog/digital hybrid version of AM HD radio.

Clearly, AM radio needs a technical revamping.  Can it be saved?  Yes.  Is it worth saving? Yes.  Is a yet unproven proprietary digital modulation scheme the way to do it? No.

And that is all I have to say on the matter.

The AM HD all digital test, part III

Continued from part II:

Can the AM broadcast service be revitalized and returned to relevancy?  If so, how?  The previous post demonstrated that AM radio services problems are multigenerational and multifaceted.  There is no one solution that will make everything better.  Pushing an all digital solution will not solve electrical noise issues or the overcrowding issues on the AM band.  It will not address the paucity of local, unique programming that is the bread and butter of successful AM operators.  Because the issues that face AM operators cover many different areas of broadcasting, any proposed solution must address every aspect.  Any proposal that simply addresses the poor fidelity, for example, will simply be another band-aid (no pun intended), placed on top of numerous others which have been previously ineffective.

The FCC is looking for deregulatory solutions to the AM problem.  Deregulation and the FCC’s lasissez-faire attitude is exactly why the AM broadcast band is in the condition it is today.  Relaxed technical standards have allowed the creeping crud to take over like Kudzu.  Further deregulation will only exacerbate the problems.

In broad categories, AM radio’s problems are:

  • Noise and interference
  • Low fidelity
  • Lack of ratings
  • Low profitability

Electrical Noise on AM broadcast band

In order for any solution to be effective, this problem must be addressed first.  Noise and interference are at the heart of the technical issues confronting the typical AM radio listener.  These problems come from multiple sources, but the worst of which are electrical devices such as CFL’s and other fluorescent lights, LED lamps, street lights, utility company wires, computers, computer monitors, TVs, power line communication, appliances and other intentional emitters.  The FCC has, within it current powers, the ability to address at least some of these noise generators.  Devices like CFL’s, LED lamps, computers and others are regulated under Part 15 and 18 of the FCC rules.  While there is little that can be done with fluorescent lights (they work using an internal electrical arc), other emission standards can be tightened and better, more specific warning labels can be implemented on packaging.

Station to station interference on the AM broadcast band

Another aspect of this problem is mutual interference on the AM broadcast band.  In short, too many stations are licensed to a small slice of the electromagnetic spectrum.  The increasingly poor condition of many directional antenna systems ensures that there is a cacophony of interference at night.  While this is a politically sticky situation, some tough love is needed to solve these problems.  There are many under performing AM stations on the air that are junkyards of last ditch formats that have little or no hope of success.  These stations are often technical disasters that pollute the spectrum with interfering signals.  Compounding this issue is the transmission of IBOC at night.  The current iteration of IBOC (HD radio) intentionally transmits on adjacent channels creating more problems than it solves.

Confronting any of these issues is almost certain to be a non-starter and that is a shame because real, meaningful steps can be taken here.

One scenario would be a one time test, applied during the next license renewal cycle, that allows station owners to assess their operations.  Those that do not pass the test would be able surrender their license for a tax credit.  This type of culling is not unprecedented, as the FRC did something very similar during the early days of broadcasting when the AM band became a free for all.  The test should have three areas of consideration; technical operations, programming and business profitability.  Something like this would be a reasonable example of a re-licensing test:

Technical operations
Test Points
Does station have its own studio 1
Are DA parameters or base current as specified on license 2
Is antenna array being maintained, field mowed, trees cut, tower fences secure, signage posted, catwalks or access roadways maintained 1
Does station have a working backup transmitter 1
Does station have a working backup STL 1
Does station have a working emergency generator 1
Does station have a current transmitter maintenance log 1
Are NRSC measurements up to date 1
Are monitor points measured at least biannually 1
Minimum score to pass technical operations: 5 points
Programming
Test Points
Does station originate local programing 1 point per average weekly hour
Does station have local news 1 point per average weekly quarter hour
Does station appear in market ratings survey 1 point per survey period (or 4 points for continuous survey markets)
Minimum score to pass programming test: 5 points
Business
Is the station profitable ¼ point for every profitable quarter during last license period
Minimum score to pass business test: 3.5 points
Minimum overall score for all three tests combined: 16 points

This is a fairly low bar to get over. I generally do not advocated more government regulations and regulatory burden. However, this is one case where relaxed regulations lead to the problems currently being encountered. Perhaps a one time re-regulation would be warranted in the public interest.

Audio quality and other technical improvements

There are several areas where new technology can be used to improve AM stations technical quality.  There is a common misconception that AM broadcasting has low fidelity due to inferior bandwidth.  Truth be told, AM broadcasting can pass 15-20 KHz audio.  It is restricted to less than 10 KHz because of the aforementioned band congestion problems.  Since the NAB and the FCC has made exceptions to the NRSC-1 requirement in order to transmit HD radio, perhaps other wide bandwidth uses can be considered.  One possibility would be to allow transmission of 15 KHz audio during daytime hours, switching back to NRSC-1 standard after dark.  This may not work on local (class C) channels but for regional and what remains of cleared channels, it may offer some improvement.  Also, turning off IBOC hybrid analog/digital transmissions after dark should be examined regardless of whether an all digital solution is sought.  Hybrid IBOC is a part of the night time noise problem and not a viable solution, particularly troublesome are class A skywave signals.

Also, much benefit could be derived from requiring that all AM stations sync their carriers to GPS.  If all of the stations on the same channel are on exactly the same frequency, it will eliminate carrier squeals, growls and whines.  This is something that can be done very easily and inexpensively, especially with newer transmitters.

Double sideband AM is wasteful, as both lower and upper sidebands contain the same information.  Suppressing the lower sideband and transmitting just the carrier and upper sideband would free up quite a bid of bandwidth and reduce adjacent channel interference.  Most simple diode detectors demodulate the upper sideband anyway.

A concerted effort must be made to restore all of the technically deficient antenna systems.  Not only fixing out of tolerance DAs but also addressing bandwidth issues, general maintenance, ground systems, clearing away brush and undergrowth can all have noticeable positive effects on signal performance.

At the same time, better receivers are making their way into the market place.  Receivers that have auto variable IF bandwidth based on signal strength could greatly improve audio quality.  The auto bandwidth function could be overridden by user selected bandwidth, if desired.  I know that wider IF bandwidths are in the current chipset because of IBOC and DRM, I do not know to what extent they can be adjusted, but it is something that receiver manufactures should consider.

None of these solutions are Earth shattering, nor would they require great sums of money to implement.

AM to FM Translators

The current thought process is that using FM translators for AM stations is a fantastically great development.  For a class D AM station with little or no night time power, an FM translator is a good way to maintain service to the community.  For class C or some class B AM stations where night time interference greatly degrades the station’s service area, an FM translator is a good way to maintain service to the community.  Does a 50 KW blow torch really need a 250 watt (or less) FM translator to aide with reception in its city of license?  No.  Yet, this is how the AM to FM translator service will be rolled out, those that already have sound technical operations will be given FM authorizations.  This does nothing to actually fix AM broadcasting technical issues, it is a well meaning measure that will be incorrectly applied by the broadcasters that need it least.

Programming

All of the technology and gadgets will not solve the problem of poor programming.  This is an area where the FCC should not tread, however, broadcasting associations can assist their members with local programming issues.  Broadcasters need to understand that good local programming that is unique will attract listeners, worthless junk will not.

Continued in part IV

The AM HD all digital test, part II

Continued from part I:

In order to get to the root problems of AM (aka Medium Wave, or Medium Frequency) broadcasting, a bit of history is required.  For the sake of brevity, here is the cliff notes version:

  • Early broadcasting services were entirely AM and heavily regulated by the FRC and later FCC
  • FM broadcasting was introduced in the late 1930’s experimentally, then commercially circa 1947
  • In 1946 the FCC relaxed its regulations allowing many more AM stations to be licensed as both class II (currently class B regional) and class II-D, II-S, and III-S (currently class D) stations.  Between 1946 and 1953 the number of AM stations more than doubled from 961 to 2,333
  • In spite of FM’s technical superiority, AM remained dominant until approximately the mid to late 1970’s when the FCC forced FM stations to end simulcasting with co-owned AM stations
  • Broadcast deregulation came in small waves at first; programming rules, business rules, some technical rules, operator license requirements were done away with, enforcement of other rules became more selective
  • Deteriorating antenna systems, splatter, modulation wars, declining technical resources and increased electrical noise created interference issues
  • The electrical noise floor gradually increases as more electrical appliances, street lights, fluorescent lights, and other intentional emitters increase
  • Radio manufactures responded to consumer complaints by greatly reducing the audio bandwidth of their AM receivers
  • Broadcast deregulation greatly increased in the 1980’s
  • The FCC voted in 1980 to limit skywave protection of clear channel (class I or A) stations to within 750 miles of transmitter site allowing former daytime only stations to stay on at night which increased interference
  • AM Stereo is implemented in 1982 to improve quality and compete with FM broadcasting.  Competing systems are proposed, FCC does not mandate a standard, lets the market decide, the technology dies off
  • The National Radio Systems Committee (NRSC) is formed and comes up with a standard (NRSC-1) that restricts AM broadcast audio to 10 KHz or less, mandates yearly measurements
  • Ownership rules are loosened somewhat in 1994, then greatly in 1996
  • The expanded AM band (1,610 to 1,700 KHz) is opened up in 1997 to existing AM broadcasters.  Once stations are licensed to operate in the expanded band, they are supposed to surrender their former licenses, few do
  • The great radio consolidation takes place; 1997-2004.  Synergy is the word of the day, stations are overvalued in multiple transactions which created a debt bubble
  • Skywave listening is mostly depreciated as an acceptable communications method by the industry
  • The introduction of IBOC hybrid analog/digital broadcasting in 2002 greatly increased the adjacent channel interference issues.  Sidebands out to ±10-15 KHz of carrier are introduced with power levels of -16dBc.  For a 50 KW station, this equals approximately 2,500 watts power transmitted on each of the adjacent channels.  Analog audio of stations transmitting AM IBOC is restricted to 5 KHz, background digital noise is often present in analog audio, further degrading the quality
  • Inside electrical noise greatly increases as compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) and LED lamps become popular energy saving measures
  • Night time operation of HD radio permitted in 2007 creating greater interference problems to distant adjacent channel stations
  • There are 4,738 AM stations licensed, 89 are silent, approximately 210 transmit HD radio, approximately 66 (mostly class A and B stations), transmit HD radio at night

There is not any one development that can be singled out as the smoking gun that killed the AM broadcast band, it is rather, a death from a thousand cuts.  Because of heavy debt loads, technical, programming, promotional and personnel resources are directed away from AM stations (and FM stations too).  After staffs were reduced and news departments eliminated, AM stations became a dumping ground for mediocre satellite syndicated talk programming.  Eventually many also became a technical nightmare due to deferred maintenance.

There can be little doubt, AM broadcasting is a tough business to be in.  In spite of all of that, however, there are several AM stations that are not merely surviving but thriving.  What does it take to be a successful AM broadcaster in 2013?  There seems to be several common threads, but the two most common are a good technical operations and local programming.

Continued in Part III

The AM HD all digital test, Part I

After reading this article in Radio World it seems the all digital AM testing completed last December was “nearly flawless.” This comes as no surprise considering that WBCN is owned by CBS, also an iBiquity investor.  Could there really be another result?  I think not.  But let us examine the technical aspects of the WBCN test itself.

WBCN is on 1,660 KHz in the expanded part of the AM band.  According to the FCC database, it transmits from a single 90.7 degree tower.  As such, the tower is likely either broad banded already or easily modified to be.  Also according to the FCC database, there are eight other stations licensed to 1,660 KHz, all of which transmit with a power of 1 KW at night.  This eliminates much of the interference issues found on the rest of the AM band.  It can be further noted, the problem with electrical noise is most prevalent below 1,000 KHz.  There is little wonder in the nearly flawless results.

From a technical standpoint, this is about as favorable a testing configuration as can be conceived for AM IBOC.  If AM HD radio did not work under these test conditions, then it would never work at all.  The actual data from the tests has yet to see the light of day and it may never be released.  This is likely due to the same reason the NAB will not release its technical improvement study on AM; we simply won’t understand it.

Near the end of the article someone (it is not exactly clear who) asks the NAB, “why the opacity?” For which the answer given is “to get stuff done.”  There is a fair bit of hubris in that statement.  Is the NAB now the technology decider for the rest of us?  I think not.  Shutting out everyone but a very select few rightly causes suspicion, something that the Radio World article acknowledges.

Accurate, real world testing involves more than using one technically favorable test subject.  In fact, the tests should be run in the most technically challenged environment to present meaningful data points in real world conditions.  Stations like a six tower directional on 580 KHz, or a 190 degree tower with a folded unipole on 810 KHz, or pretty much any class C AM station at night time.  These types of test will represent at least a few of the existing antenna systems and stations.  Will that happen?  It depends on whether the FCC will hold somebody’s feet to the fire and demand meaningful testing.

Much ink has already been spilled by various trade publications debating the future of AM broadcasting.  Most take the position that there are several technical issues which makes AM broadcasting problematic if not downright untenable.  There are indeed some technical issues with AM when compared with FM or IP based audio distribution.  There are also several ways that AM broadcasting is superior to both FM and IP based audio distribution.  The truth is that AM broadcasting’s issues are complex and involve technical, regulatory and operational considerations.

These can be broken down as follows:

  • AM is prone to electrical noise interference
  • AM is prone to co-channel and adjacent channel interference
  • AM has inferior bandwidth and thus audio quality
  • AM has poor signal quality
  • AM has low or no market share

All of these problems conspire to make AM broadcasting unprofitable, or so the narrative goes.  Does all digital AM HD radio really solve any of these problems?  From the WBCN test alone, results are inconclusive.

Transmitting a signal in digital format does not make it immune to noise or interference.  It simply masks the interference until the noise floor becomes too high causing excessive bit errors, at which time the receiver mutes.  Thus, with AM HD radio in a noisy environment, the listener will not hear static, that much is true, they may not hear anything at all.  Is this all or nothing reception an improvement?

AM broadcasting audio bandwidth problems are mostly self inflicted.  AM stations created loudness wars in the 60’s and 70’s, causing splatter and adjacent channel interference on older, cheap diode detector type receivers.  Receiver manufactures responded by limiting IF bandwidths to 3-4 KHz, slightly better than telephone quality.  The industry came up with the NRSC-1 standard which limited AM bandwidth to 10 KHz or less.  For a long while, AM radio receivers remained very poor.  This appears to be changing with newer receivers that are both more selective and more sensitive.  My Toyota has a Pioneer radio which has good bandwidth on AM.  Is it as good as FM?  No, but it is certainly listenable, especially if no other station is playing that style music.

That brings me to programming, which is the real crux of the issue.  Continued in part II.

The NAB’s AM study

As has been widely reported in other places, the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) has completed its study of AM Radio and recommendations to improve the service.  The NAB has taken a cautious, if not somewhat paternalistic approach of holding the report while they review their options.  It seems that the technical nature of such a document would not be understood by us mere mortals.

Some of the AM improvement options that have been bantered about in the past include:

  • Moving AM stations to the vacant frequencies of TV Channels 5 and 6, see this.
  • Reducing the number of AM stations on the band, see this.
  • Increasing transmission power of AM stations, see this.
  • Converting AM stations to all digital modulation, see this.

There may be a few other options considered also.

It does not take too much analytical prowess to deduce where the NAB’s proposal is going.  My prediction is that they will be promoting an all digital “solution” to the AM broadcasting issue using iBquity’s HD Radio product.  I base this prediction on the fact that all of the major radio members of the NAB (Clear Channel, Cumulus, CBS, et al) are heavily invested in the iBquity product.  For this reason, the NAB will find (or has found) that digital broadcasting in the medium wave band will solve all of the current perceived problems with AM and everyone should embrace the technology.

A few numbers to note:

  • iBiquity and the FCC data base reports that there are currently either 270 or 299 AM station licensed to operate with HD Radio. Other sources note that several of these stations have been turned off and the actual number using HD Radio is 215.
  • There are 4754 AM stations licensed by the FCC.
  • Currently HD Radio is transmitted 4-6% of the AM stations in the country.
  • It costs $25,000 US to license a single HD Radio station through iBiquity.  They are, however, discounting that to between $11,500 and 13,500 and have a convenient payment plan (limited time offer, expires December 31, 2012, FCC license fees are extra).
  • It costs between $75,000 and $150,000 to equip and or modify a single AM station with HD Radio gear.

Unless iBiquity drops all patent claims and licensing fees to use its product, an FCC mandate for AM stations to install HD Radio would be skating dangerously close to corporate fascism (AKA Mussolini Fascism or Corporatism) as one corporate entity would then control broadcast radio by licensing its modulation scheme.  And no, the patent is not going to expire.

Digital modulation schemes used in the medium wave band have their own set of technical issues.  HD Radio is not the panacea for AM broadcasting’s self inflicted woes.

Shocker: LPFMs have little or no impact on commercial FMs

The long awaited report, required by the NAB as a part of the Local Community Radio Act has concluded that LPFMs have little or no impact on commercial FM stations. No kidding?

The executive summary states that:

LPFM stations serve primarily small and rural markets and have geographic and population reaches that are many magnitudes smaller than those of full-service commercial FM stations. In addition, LPFM stations generally have not been in operation as long as full-service commercial FM stations, have less of an Internet presence, and offer different programming formats. We also found that the average LPFM station located in an Arbitron Radio Metro Market (“Arbitron Metro”) has negligible ratings by all available measures and has an audience size that lags far behind those of most full-service stations in the same market.

Followed by:

Although each of the stations differs considerably in its individual characteristics, the results of the case studies show that the selected LPFM stations generally broadcast a variety of programming continuously throughout the day, operate with very small budgets, rely on mostly part-time and volunteer staff, do not have measurable ratings, have limited population reach, and do not generate significant underwriting earnings. All but one of the station managers that we interviewed stated that the LPFM station is not competing directly for listeners with any specific full-service stations.

And:

We conclude that, given their regulatory and operational constraints, LPFM stations are unlikely to have more than a negligible economic impact on full-service commercial FM stations.

Forgive my excessive block quoting of the FCC report titled: Economic Impact of Low-Power FM Stations on Commercial FM Radio, I found those portions of text far better than anything that I could write on the subject.

The NAB is reportedly “reviewing” the results, which the cynical me thinks is just another way of stalling a potential LPFM window later this year.

AM radio sucks! It's horrible, sounds terrible and should be turned off!

This is a youtube video of a Police song from the 1980’s received via skywave and recorded off air on an AM radio.

Video Description:

The classic 1983 #1 smash hit, as received in analog C-Quam AM Stereo… in Japan… via nighttime skywave in the Tokyo area, roughly 500 miles away from Sapporo (ed: where the station is located). The audio quality is among the best I’ve ever heard from analog AM radio, thanks in large part to an excellent wideband receiver, very quiet band conditions, and the Orban Optimod-AM 9100 audio processor being used by HBC Radio to its maximum extent: 12.5 kHz audio bandwidth with stereo enhancement added (above and beyond the amount naturally provided by the matrix processing used by AM Stereo).

Absolute trash, I tell you. Just awful.

Of course, I know several FM stations around here that wished they sounded as good. Naturally, in Japan, they have sought to minimize night time interference problems by limiting the number of stations on air and enforcing the rules and regulations in place to protect those stations on the air. They also seem to allow greater bandwidth, out to 12.5 KHz in spite of the narrower channel allocations (9 KHz in ITU regions I and III, vs 10 KHz here in the US, ITU region II). One other thing to note, there is no digital buzz saw occupying several channels of broadcast spectrum. Keep in mind, this was received in Tokyo, likely a very high noise environment.

I was trying to find out the power level of the transmitter, the call sign is JOHR in Sapporo Japan, frequency is 1287 KHz. HBC is the Hokkaido Broadcasting Company, a privately held company. The state run radio outlets in Japan are NHK, which have several radio and TV stations throughout the islands.

Anyway, AM is dead. Killed by the very owners of the broadcasting companies themselves with help from the NAB. They are the ones that petitioned the FCC to loosen up the allocations and allow more and more stations to be crammed into the band. That is old news. The new news is same forces that killed AM radio are diligently working their magic on the FM band as well. More stations, translators, digital IBOC nonsense that doesn’t work, more of everything. After all, more is better. Until it is not. Then it’s too late.

I like my smart phone the way it is, thank you.

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.

Axiom


A pessimist sees the glass as half empty. An optimist sees the glass as half full. The engineer sees the glass as twice the size it needs to be.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
~1st amendment to the United States Constitution

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
~Benjamin Franklin

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
~Rudyard Kipling

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
~Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, Article 19

...radio was discovered, and not invented, and that these frequencies and principles were always in existence long before man was aware of them. Therefore, no one owns them. They are there as free as sunlight, which is a higher frequency form of the same energy.
~Alan Weiner

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