It’s a tale of two futures for broadcasting. In the United States, as the radio industry and regulators wrestle with a poorly-designed and proprietary digital radio standard, online competitors are eroding the market share of stations and redefining radio itself in the process. Our reaction so far has been carefully-cultivated denial and wild swings between cheerleading and hand-wringing. Contrast that with Europe, which has widely adopted the Eureka 147 DAB standard. Now nearly 30 years old, DAB has gone through an evolution of its own, and the latest variant is called DAB+.
Many countries that initially adopted DAB are rebuilding their networks to accommodate DAB+. Cross-compatible receivers are on the market, and since the system works on non-broadcast spectrum, countries have some flexibility on how to build and deploy their digital radio networks. Continue reading “Digital Radio's Global Consensus”
This begins HD Radio’s 13th year as the de facto U.S. digtital radio standard. With a broadcast penetration rate still hovering at around 15 percent and listener uptake at a third of that, there’s still a long road ahead before the technology reaches any semblance of marketplace criticality. That said, HD proponents have many narrative threads in play, all of which will bear watching in the coming 12 months.
The Coattails Effect. Broadcasters have demurred investing in HD transmission technology until listeners have receivers. By and large, they still don’t, but HD proponents are hanging their hopes on two primary vectors: the car and the phone. Continue reading “HD Radio in 2015: Threads Make a Strand?”
A consortium of broadcasters, including the The European Broadcast Union, the BBC, and several commercial broadcasters in the U.S., U.K, and Australia have launched the “Universal Smartphone Radio Project,” a campaign to lobby for building radio reception into smartphones. Sales of stand-alone radio receivers (both analog and digital) have been in steady decline for the last decade, and as media consumption-time shifts to mobile devices, radio broadcasters have found themselves by and large not in the mix.
The fix for this is what is now being called “hybrid radio,” defined as a radio signal plus a mobile data connection to provide enhanced content beyond audio and some interactivity. In the EU, this effort is being led by RadioDNS; in the States, it’s NextRadio. The campaign’s been in the talking stages since at least February and covered extensively in a presentation to the EBU in July. Continue reading “FM-in-Smartphones Effort Goes Global”
iBiquity Digital Corporation’s recent claim that HD Radio is on the way to becoming the North American digital radio standard actually has some merit. More than enough, in fact, that it’s surprising that the company didn’t announce how far along things are in Canada: as part of a wide-ranging proceeding on rules revisions to the radio sector, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is now soliciting formal comment on the notion of adopting HD Radio.
In 2006, the CRTC announced that it was prepared to reconsider its adoption of the Eureka 147 DAB standard as Canada’s digital radio platform. Since then, broadcasters have abandoned it and the CRTC is phasing out DAB licenses.
In 2012, iBiquity made approaches to several broadcasters in Canada about becoming test-beds for HD technology. Three stations in the Toronto area accepted the call. CING-FM, an adult-contemporary station owned by Corus Entertainment—Canada’s fourth-largest commercial broadcaster—has been the primary platform for technical tests, including datacasting experiments. The other two stations, CFMS-FM and CJSA-FM, are classified as "ethnic" stations, which basically means the majority of their programming isn’t in English. Canadian Multicultural Radio, the owner of CJSA, announced just last week that it will soon roll out FM-HD multichannel programming in Tamil, Hindi, Urdu, and Punjabi. Continue reading “Canada Considers Adopting HD Radio”
With the first round of public comment on the FCC’s AM revitalization initiative due next week, it’s not a bad time to sample the feedback that’s come in so far: just about 65 comments in total.
There are some general points of consensus across most commenters. The strongest involves the increase of interference across the entire AM dial. Much of this comes from improperly-shielded consumer electronics, lighting fixtures, and power lines, which can wreak absolute havoc on AM reception in localized areas. The FCC has the authority to require that all such devices meet standards to reduce harmful emissions—but the huge influx of cheap sh*t from overseas is far, far more than the FCC can handle without a substantial increase in enforcement resources.
Another point of consensus is that the FCC should require AM radio receivers to work at a certain level of quality. Another side-effect of the influx of cheap electronic componentry means that the sensitivity and fidelity of modern AM receivers (especially in automobiles) is actually worse than they were, say, two decades ago. There is regulatory precedent for the FCC to consider and adopt minimum AM receiver-standards, but the power of the consumer electronics industry in D.C. will strongly resist any such notion. Continue reading “Preliminary AM Revitalization Comments Roundup”
In many parts of the world, radio is slowly transitioning to a digital transmission platform—but so far, this new frontier has not been plumbed by pirates. Part of this is due to the relatively immature state of radio’s digital transition, but some of the systems have been around long enough that they’re ripe for experimentation.
In very simple terms, the primary thing to keep in mind is that the heart of a digital radio transmission system is the software that controls the transmitter. The more freely-available the software, the more possible to play with. In global contention, there are three contending platforms of note, though their DIY-potential varies: Continue reading “Pirate Broadcasting in the Digital Age”
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai recently spoke at the the Missouri Association of Broadcasters’ annual convention, where he repeated his call for the FCC to undertake an "AM Revitalization Initiative." Telling the assembled broadcasters that "you’ve got a friend in me," he again listed off the possible policy options to help the beleaguered band, one of which includes its complete digitalization.
If Pai is truly a friend of broadcasters and the public interest, and seriously considers digitalization a viable option for AM, he should open the inquiry to alternatives to HD Radio, such as Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM). Continue reading “Expanding the Options for Digital AM”
A new web site has been launched to provide information on the idea of promulgating the use of Digital Radio Mondiale in North America.
The site grew out of a four-year old mailing list which originally began as a place for listeners to post logs of DRM signals. Notably, the site contains a bibliography of journal articles written about the technology.
So far the group’s only superficially engaged in the change-process through comments on the reboot.fcc.gov site, but hey, you gotta start somewhere. Continue reading “Digital Radio Mondiale Proponents Organize in U.S.”
Two notables in spectrum policy, Bennett Kobb and Don Messer, recently filed comments in the FCC’s inquiry into the potential expansion of the FM band. While not directly related to the DoD testing of Digital Radio Mondiale in Alaska, the comments make a strong case for considering the 26 MHz band be a perfect space for utilizing DRM to provide a new class of local radio stations.
The comments, while brief, are very specific about the benefits of extending DRM to uses other than those currently considered in the ongoing testing. While it’s not a formal proposal for rulemaking, it’s an interesting seed planted in this ongoing policy story. Continue reading “Comments Filed in Support of DRM Broadcasting”
According to my pal Bennett Kobb, limited tests of the DRM broadcast protocol are now taking place on a station in Alaska specifically licensed for the research. It is important to note, however, that the tests do not involve the broadcast bands – although Digital Radio Mondiale has been certified to work on them all.
Instead, the ultimate hope of these DRM tests is to assess the protocol’s performance in the 26 MHz segment of the spectrum. This falls between frequencies designated for radio astronomy and maritime mobile use – and, according to the experiment’s proponents, could be utilized to provide “hundreds” of new, low-power community-based broadcasting stations across the country. Continue reading “Digital Radio Mondiale Tests Underway in Alaska”