The never ending HD radio debacle continues to not end

Especially on the AM band.

Radio World, bless them, has yet another article about the public’s lack of awareness regarding HD Radio®.  Calling it a “lack of awareness,” is overly kind and I think they are missing the point.  It would be better phrased as “apathy” or “indifference.”

There is a general misconception in the world that one either loves or hates something.  That is not true, the opposite of love is indifference, not hate.  The public has voted, with their wallets, for things like 3 and 4G wireless devices, satellite radio, iPods, and other entertainment venues.  Why?  Because HD Radio® is not an advance, it is a repackaging of old ideas with slick marketing.  The general public has viewed the great digital radio conversion with a jaundiced eye, opting to sit on the fence and wait for something better.  What has iBiquity given them?

The technology itself is a step backward with many band-aids needed to affect the same coverage area as analog FM.  A technology that has poorer building penetration, less coverage area, and mobile reception issues with no appreciable difference in sound quality or program material offerings.  A power increase from 1% to 10% analog carrier power (20dBc to -10dBc) hasn’t really made a difference.  Now, studies are underway looking at asymmetrical sidebands and same-frequency repeater networks for FM IBOC.  All of these things, are not to improve radio reception, but rather to achieve the same coverage as analog FM.

The AM HD Radio® has even greater issues.

There is nothing at all surprising about the public indifference toward HD Radio®.

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13 thoughts on “The never ending HD radio debacle continues to not end”

  1. At the rate things are going it looks like HD Radio will die at a much slower pace than AM Stereo. The debacle started with the core development of the system. If the codec was designed around an already accepted standard developed by a recognized entity (i.e., Apple Quicktime, Microsoft Windows Media, Adobe Flash Media, etc) I thing there would not only be more acceptance but the cost related to licensing would be much more reasonable. The article I previously authored for Radio World entitled “HD Radio Faces Rocky Road” not only explained this but touched upon why public acceptance has been slow. Older adults aren’t going to replace radios that appear to operate fine while the younger set has pretty much abandoned radio in favor of portable MP3 entertainment and/or streaming media. I wish they would just pull the plug already – AM DX is next to impossible thanks to those stations who insist on running this junk in the evening and the few FM analog stations I would get from out of the area have been obliterated thanks to first adjacent HD splatter.

  2. I 100% agree with Bill. This junk-technology needs to disappear, as it only serves to line the pockets of iBiquity and its investors. It has damaged our airwaves on both AM and FM (especially AM). I have seen HD Radio supporters make fun of DX’ers, as iBiquity is attemptng to force listeners to listen to their local HD Radio stations only, through adjacent-channel interference. What about all of those truckers, for example, that used to WLW’s midnight Truckers Network, but WLW is now getting clobbered by WOR’s hash. This has been a disgrace from the beginning, and only serves to embarrass the radio industry.

  3. @Bill, the difference between AM Stereo (C-QUAM) and AM HD Radio is that AM stereo did not cause massive interference and it worked relatively well on a broadbanded AM tower. There are still a few stations using it today. AM HD Radio, on the other hand, makes a bad situation worse.
    @Greg, I remember the Trucker’s Network, we ran that on WPTR (1540 Albany, NY) in the mid-90’s. AM skywave used to be a viable listening mode, now all (or most all) of the big AM stations are caring the same syndicated programming. Plus, all those shows are available on Sirius-XM or via the internet. It is more of a hobby than anything else, which is not to say that it isn’t fun. What is a shame is when the local AM pee-shooter gets drowned out by adjacent channel skywave HD hash. I would think those owners actually have some basis for legal action against the FCC and iBiquity.

  4. I think there is growing public resentment towards most broadcasters, and HD radio is just seen as another profit-driven gimmick they don’t need serving up more audio junk-food. Many still resent the cost and reception problems of the switch to digital TV, and that had obvious advantages. Too bad it wasn’t around in the days when there were typically 9 minutes of ads an hour.

    Gentle clean processing on internet streams (think Optimod 8000A set to slow) would probably do more to reach these people on radio than HD radio ever will. At least they don’t need to get new radios for that.

    I think with the increasing number of ads since the requirement for a self-picked limit on license renewal applications was dropped, lack of diversity in programming, dense audio, news coverage focused on the unimportant, and a mega-corporate image, people are offended and will switch to any alternatives they can get their hands on.

    I can only think of one thing powerful enough to actually convince the public that broadcasters are really acting as responsible trustees of the public interest. It would be doing away with paid political advertising, running only non-mandatory non-paid balanced public affairs programming to inform. The hatred of corporate greed and corruption go hand in hand. Broadcasting, with the FCCs help, could cut the stream of campaign cash that invites and fuels corruption. The futures of our children and our country depend on democracy functioning well. Between fueling corruption, broadcasting misleading ads, poorly covering stories that matter, doing a poor job to educate and foster creativity, and generally lacking any sort of artistic dedication to anything but cash flow, U.S. broadcast media deserves its share of blame for the state we’re in.

    I expect HD radio to end up like 3D TV, evolving from unheard of to being viewed as just another gimmick. At least the tv sets have the potential to be used for viewing wireless streamed 3D video from remote-controlled toys. Let them transmit ATSC so the neighbors could watch their model planes too. That beats shaking flab and people eating unspeakable parts of animals.
    In some but not all ways, the deregulation of broadcasting has been just as devastating as the deregulation of banking. Will the greed never end? More radio channels with HD?

    It was a big mistake not going with the full quadrature AM stereo system as first proposed by Harris. With the full amplitude quadrature component the signal to noise ratio would have been much better, and receivers with synchronous detectors could have had very low distortion, plus products from nearby frequencies would not cause interference at lower audio frequencies. Existing radios would still work. In my area the local club of DXers and guys that liked to restore classic old AM radios has disbanded giving the lack of anything they feel is worth listening to. People at a car show made the same complaints with frustration over what they heard when restoring vintage radios. Most gave up and settled on little transmitters for iPods.

    This message isn’t meant as an attack on anyone regardless of what organization you’re with. Most of this is beyond our individual control. A wake up call is needed. What we’re doing isn’t working for America.

  5. Here is a good one for you… on January 30th, the 1kW daytimer oldies station the little farm town west of me just rolled out, get this, not HD, but C-QuAM Stereo on their station!!!!

    Installing HD NEVER crossed their minds, but they’ve been toying with the idea of turning the stereo on for some time. I’m glad they finally did, and I hope Iniquity chokes on that!

    HD Radio… coming soon to your local e-waste recycler!

  6. @DBug, my point, exactly.

    @Ed, I am surprised that a station would go to the trouble to install C-QUAM. I know where several C-QUAM exciters and mod monitors are currently stored, which would likely be given free for the asking.

  7. The main use of the HD2 and HD3 subchannels is to feed 250 watt translators. This allows the big group owners to get around market concentration rules and crowd out the LPFM’s. Brilliant!

  8. @A. Lloyd: You see, we are not as stupid as they think we are. Now what to do about it. There is an upcoming decision by the FCC on the great translator backlog of 2003. It will likely come in the form of an NPRM with public comment. Stay alert, tell the FCC what you think of these translators, many of which will be used just as you say.

  9. I’d like to see more of the small market AMs on the west coast fire up C-Quam. It’d be mostly Spanish, religious, and oldies stations still running music at this point, but there are more cars running around with C-Quam in them in those markets than HD. It seems there’s less commuting, and cars have a longer life-span in those markets.

    Many years ago I built a prototype analog signal processing and dynamics recovery system that was designed with the audiophile in mind. There was broadband gain control/limiting, and a second high-frequency modulated shelving response section. I suppose it was closer to the Orban 8000A than anything else I can think of. What was different was that the two control signals were carried by various means (modulated 76 KHz quadrature subcarrier or a limited functionality narrowband average-gain recovery signal in quadrature at 38 KHz – slower to avoid stereo cross-talk, cart tape control track, El-cassette control track, or a track on multitrack open reel) and I built a tracking expander that undid the audio processing. It sounded great and handled and restored over 100 dB dynamics (also tried with live recording, there were no CDs). It was far more effective and accurate than Dolby or DBX systems that didn’t use a control signal channel. It was something I did out of my own frustration with how everything sounded. Foolishly, I never did anything with it. At the time, the FCC hadn’t extended the allowable modulating frequency for FM from 75 to 99 kHz, I still hadn’t finished working out how it could fail most gracefully on a breaking up or distorted signal or damaged tape. Anyway, back to the present. I think radio needs a serious remake to become more appealing. The powers that be aren’t too likely to recognize that part of what made the KHJ/KFRC and Drake cousins popular was restraint on ad time. But beyond that, the audio can be made far more appealing. Competing with dynamic material from iPods and similar, radio is fatiguing and lifeless. It may not sound too clipped or hump and hiss like in the old days, but the dynamics are gone. It’s just this wall of sound, essentially with distortion adjusted to just below the point where its thought people can’t take it. A glaring omission from HD radio and modern signal processing is transmission of data that lets the user get the dynamics back as I did with my analog prototypes over 30 years ago. It could have some automatic, manual variable or partial recovery modes. That would allow for maintaining a decent signal to noise ratio in the car without blowing ears out. But where appropriate, the experience could be made into a good one with perceived dynamics competitive with the users own media. It could still be done with analog and streaming too. Even with no co-channel or other analog noise hide with processing, most broadcasters are failing to produce significantly less processed feeds for HD or streaming. There should barely be any. Think TFL-280 or Orban 8000A set all the way to slow and on occasionally providing gain reduction. How many in broadcasting can actually enjoy listening for long periods? Isn’t that a clue to do something about the reasons why?

    It’s one thing to have a digital system that claims good specs, but quite another to actually deliver dynamics to a listener. And what media has done makes me think some could take skills other places. Once after catching a program director digging into a processor, I suggested he go into tv, and program tv for blind people.

  10. @Dbug, AM is obsolete because they say it is. My former employer had a pair of very viable AM stations in the late 1990’s/early 00’s. There was a solid base of devoted listeners, I remember going into a deli or a bagel shop and hearing them often. Then, the staff was reduced and replaced with a computer and finally some syndicated sports talk crap replaced the big band music and it was all over. Now, if they go off the air, I doubt they get one phone call.

    How much of the “decline” of radio is being driven by empirical data; ratings, surveys, listener feedback, etc. and how much of it is happening because those driving the conversation say it is? It would be interesting to find out

  11. I recall a small but extremely popular local, up until that time tracked by the national music trade pubs as they made independent choices, pulling from a diverse library. The ownership joined with partners were ramping up a research group. In their early days they did some awful things. Instead of playing diverse newer material oldies that people really loved, they went to playing only high-charting new material and the very most recognizable top charting oldies, a very large percentage of which were basically the Beatles and Beach Boys songs that had previously been played to death. They reduced some really funny interesting air personalities to zombies reading from 3 by 5 cards. They went on to create what became one of the larger satellite music services. I called it mistakes from space. (They had some ITC decks with bad cue-tone relays that didn’t always trigger events. I had to troubleshoot the network over the phone, and didn’t even work for them)

    In one small market, with only a single full power tv station, two of the top reporters have taken high paying jobs as PR spokespeople for a local utility power plant in the county that has been the subject of some controversy (primary backup cooling system inoperative for 18 months and they didn’t even know it). That’s not exactly incentive to dig deep into problems. Run by the same utility, within an hour after a worker at the Milpitas mixing station (a distribution hub where natural gas pressure is regulated, scent is added, and quality monitored with gas chromatography gear) a worker dealing with problems including a malfunctioning PL C (industrial control system hardware known to have been targeted by complex malware) double-checked the status of valves that were supposed to restrict the flow of incoming 600+ psi natural gas to about 1/3 that value while he had part of the system down. In the transcripts from the NTSB, the worker said “we’re screwed, we’re screwed” less than one hour before the explosion of the San Bruno pipeline killing a number of people and destroying 28 homes (occurred on anniversary of 9/11, significance unknown). The reporters at the station near the power plant only gave a 20 second mention of the hearings, and spent 3:20 talking about Charlie Sheen. Obviously no one bothered to listen to the streamed hears, or read the supporting documents, or they chose to bury the story. They didn’t even have to leave the studio to check that out. You’d think they’d pay attention to how an operator of a very critical facility in their region does things. And maybe ask about questions about computers tied to the same headquarters controlling very important systems. But there was no mention of anything but flaky welds and falsified inspections. We’re in bad bad shape when media fails to follow important issues. I had trouble sleeping for months after finding out what happened. The hearings were mostly a joke, company suites and lawyers, when they should have had the engineers there. No sign of any media questioning any of that that, only misleading conclusions.
    Maybe news people should not be allowed to go work for the places they report on. And stations shouldn’t rake in piles of cash for feel-good promos for utilities.

    Even some of the news talk a.m. stations have seemed more focused on what their dishes picked up (with no staff around) than the community. During the period where the F.C.C. had a case pending where free speech issues as related to a pirate station, a bunch of pirates sprung up. After their local towns attorney concluded the city wouldn’t get in trouble, they agreed to having their council meetings and public comments broadcast on the pirate station because the local a mile away wouldn’t. Things are pretty bad when a pirate actually does more for the community than the local licensed stations. The F.C.C. came out and documented the tech details, and like the other pirates it went off when the court case ended. It does seem that there are some people, outside of the usual non-profit institutions, that might actually do something with low power licenses besides collect donations. There has to be someone out there to make the public heard. The low power licenses should go to operators with no other broadcast affiliation and be strictly local. No out of signal area ownership or programming.

    Meanwhile, a commercial station down the road pulled the plug. After finally having had some interference from Mexico shot down (was supposed to be 500W directed south, but was 85 KW erp, as calculated from field strength and ground conductivity, directed up the coast). It was so blatant it was funny. Harris had a full page ad in Mexico showing the engineer happy with his 25 kW transmitter. The former owner operator getting interference was a wreck and seemed to be in deep fear before he completely cut ties even with good friends and left town. The station was purchased and inexplicably badly run. No engineer at all. Not paying anyone. It turned out the people in Mexico had a front person buy it to avoid the interference complaints. Eventually the F.C.C. did find out and basically said sell or turn in the license. They were quite happy to turn it off. When that went dark, it was the last AM with a city grade signal in that town. It wasn’t long before the station in Mexico bumped up the power again.

    Maybe it’s time to get local owners running most stations, and get rid of venture capital and hoodlums that are only interested in economic loot and pillage from afar.

  12. Things are pretty bad when a pirate actually does more for the community than the local licensed stations.


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