IBOC Reception and Politics Panned

Interesting hubbub in the trades surrounding the first digital radio-compatible receiver to hit the U.S. market, the Boston Acoustics Recepter HD. For $299 it promises to “receive and seamlessly play” HD Radio signals, including the new multicast channels some HD-equipped stations have begun broadcasting. But when a New York-based broadcast veteran plunked down the cash and got the box home, he found it didn’t work as advertised.
I went to the Ibiquity Web site to find that there were at least 13 stations broadcasting in HD in New York. One by one I tried to tune them in, and one by one I was met with frustration. Constant fiddling with the antenna yielded part-time successes. I managed to get Z100’s second channel for about three seconds, then three seconds of dead air, then on, then off….
I took the radio upstairs to the bedroom. This time I had some success…But mind you, every time I changed the channel, I’d need to go fiddle and reposition the antenna. Sometimes, as the digital signal faded in and out, a phasing sound would occur. On the AM side, continuous play with the antenna yielded a promising digital WNYC AM, but WOR’s digital signal amounted to a great big hum.
Sh*tty reception with this particular receiver has been such a problem that National Public Radio dropped “a testy note” to Boston Acoustics suggesting an antenna upgrade to the Recepter, and the company will apparently comply.
In more wonkish news, J.H. Snider of the New America Foundation just published a short paper critical of the U.S. digital radio standard-setting process. Snider likens the new-found ability for radio stations to multicast to the spectrum windfall TV broadcasters got as part of the digital television transition, although he considers the radio transition to be even more sickly genius.
I think Snider plays a little loose with the technical facts and history of the IBOC standard and thus overstates the implications of the effective doubling of every radio station’s spectral footprint, as well as the multicast function of IBOC itself. He does, however, propose some interesting public interest obligations policymakers might be wise to consider before they formally rubber-stamp the new digital standard. It’s great to see other critical research on the issue.