The further we get into HD radio, Ibiquity‘s IBOC system, the weaker it looks. Ibiquity has admitted that the digital signal lacks building penetration, calling indoor reception “impossible” and “non-existent” 10 miles from the transmitter site. They have also stated the system has serious coverage problems during driving tests. Even with the proposed power increase from -20 dB to -14 dB, a 6 dB increase (squaring the power) showed some improvement, but still had significant signal problems.
Good thing all of those early adopters plunked down $25,000.00 in licensing fees to use it. At least it provided “High Definition” radio, right? Well, not exactly. The HD in HD radio really doesn’t stand for anything, so says Ibiquity, it is just two letters they picked to name the system. As far as the improved audio quality between the analog FM signal and the HD Radio signal goes, will the average listener care? I doubt it very much.
Well then, what, exactly do stations get for implementing HD radio? For a cut of the action, Ibiquity will allow stations to broadcast a second channel, which, isn’t that nice, especially since Ibiquity is paying all of those FCC spectrum use fees, right? Wrong again, the station pays those fees every year and they can get quite hefty for class B radio stations in major markets.
Then there is the complete lack of public awareness, which, in light of the above problems, might be a good thing. To date, only one car manufacturer, BMW, has installed stock HD radios in any car models. If one where to go to a best buy and ask for a “digital radio,” they would likely show a radio with a digital readout on the tuner. If one were to ask for a “HD Radio” they may or may not know what you are asking for.
Ibiquity’s answer to this is “Well, you guys are radio stations, right? You should be able to market this system yourself.” Okay, true enough. If station WXYZ ran a HD radio awareness campaign, where would they send the bill? That would be fair, after all, for using the station’s inventory to promote somebody else’s product. Would Ibiquity take some money off the substantial licensing fee for this? Somehow, I doubt it.
AM HD radio is is even more of a mess. On AM HD Radio stations, analog signals are limited to 5 kHz, slightly better than telephone audio. The digital signal washes out the first two adjacent channels on either side of the assigned carrier and can only be used during the day. To me, last time I listened to it, it sounded strident and harsh, sort of like Sirius Satellite Radio, altogether another topic.
Then, there is the FCC mandating a proprietary codec for digital broadcasting. I am not the only one who is being rubbed the wrong way by this, others have commented on it too.
If we are serrious about adopting a digital radio format in this country, all of the above issues need to be worked out. It is time to sit down and take a long, hard, critical look at the IBOC system and evaluate it on its merits, not its marketing. If indeed, an IBOC system is the best way to impliment digital radio, then the kinks need to be worked out now, else it will spell the end of part 73 broadcasting.