2017 came and went with no great movement in the HD Radio space. According to FCC records, fewer than 2,000 FM stations have received authorization to broadcast in HD, which represents an adoption rate of 15% – a number that has not changed significantly during this decade.
On the AM side, although some 240 stations (5%) are authorized to broadcast in HD, this curated list shows that about half of them have abandoned the protocol. Penetration of HD receivers into the automotive space remains at just under half of all new cars sold in the United States and there’s still no meaningful market for non-automative portable receivers.
Yet the broadcast industry would rather you believe that HD is thriving. A new “e-book” from the folks at Radio World, New Directions for HD Radio, contains useful information about ways to optimize the system, including making sure that the analog and digital signals are properly time-aligned, the necessity of seamless audio processing across the airchain, and National Association of Broadcasters effort to standardize the broadcast of metadata on HD signals. One would think those core operational principles would’ve been hammered out nearly twenty years ago when the technology was first authorized for deployment, but it was more important to the industry to make a digital beachhead on the airwaves than it was to deploy something that worked out of the box. Continue reading “HD Radio Still in Stasis, But Has New Friend at FCC”
Believe it or not, there are still some U.S. broadcasters tinkering with the HD Radio protocol. One of the latest is Rick Sewell, the manager of engineering for Crawford Broadcasting’s stations in Chicago.
His latest project involved implementing HD’s “Artist Experience” feature – this is a fancy name for what is basically radio with pictures. AE allows HD-compatible stations to send album artwork and advertiser-images to digital radio receivers along with the audio programming; these are things that digital-native audio streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify mastered years ago.
There’s no coordinated drive from the broadcast industry to implement Artist Experience, and HD’s proprietor, Xperi Corporation, isn’t actively marketing the technology to broadcasters much anymore. Apparently, one of Sewell’s colleagues was down in Atlanta and got a rental-car with an HD-compatible receiver. This guy stumbled across a station that had implemented AE and thought, “we should do this too.”
Thus began Sewell’s saga. He’d initially hoped that he would have time to explore the HD system in more detail, but station management had already started pitching the Artist Experience opportunity to advertisters. The first step was to make sure that the HD airchain of the station on which AE would be deployed was totally up to date. That got figured out after Sewell got over his own “ignorance as well as some misinformation along the way.” Continue reading “Radio With Pictures Still A Hard Sell”
One of the largest controversies involving the U.S. digital radio standard, HD Radio, has been its proprietary nature. The technology’s owner,
iBiquity DTS Tessera Xperi Corporation, has refused to make public all the necessary technical information within the standard, dubbed by the National Radio Systems Committee as NRSC-5; this ostensibly prevents anyone from developing or manufacturing any HD-related transmission or reception technologies without express licensure from Xperi.
The specific “black box” that has kept the technology proprietary has been the algorithm Xperi uses to encode and decode HD audio signals. If you look at the publicly-available NRSC-5 documentation, you find no meaningful detail about this aspect of HD technology beyond a description of how it works.
This was a site of controversy during HD’s tortured development: initially, the standard was to utilize an algorithm derived from publicly-accessible code – but once the FCC gave the standard its blessing, then-developer iBiquity swapped out the codec under which the technology had been tested with a new one that it had ginned up wholly in-house. But it performed so poorly that HD’s proprietors replaced it again with the variant onboard transmitters and receivers today. Continue reading “HD Radio Cracked on Receiver-Side”
Another LPFM station has taken the plunge into the HD Radio space: introducing KVCB-LP, run by the Vacaville (CA) Christian Schools. KVCB is the second LPFM station to be authorized by the FCC to broadcast in HD – the first was WGVV-LP in Rock Island, Illinois, which received FCC authorization for digital broadcasting last decade, though it’s unclear if the station ever deployed it.
KVCB-LP was the brainchild of music teacher and genuine prodigy Ralph Martin, who’s long had the radio-bug: in 1997 he built a network of Part 15 AM transmitters for the students to use, and when the LPFM service was initially authorized in 2000, Martin made all the necessary plans to apply for a license.
Congressional meddling into LPFM – namely, tightening the interference-protection standards on these small stations – meant that Vacaville went from having potential channels available to having none. But Martin bided his time, and when Congress undid many of the restrictions on LPFM earlier this decade and the FCC opened another application-filing window, he was ready. Construction permit in hand, the station went on the air, initially analog-only, in 2014. Continue reading “LPFM + HD Radio = 💰🔥”
There’ve been some interesting developments in the digital radio realm over the last couple of months. The one that’s gotten the most press is Norway’s decision to begin shutting down its FM radio stations in favor of its DAB/DAB+ digital radio network. This has been a long time in coming, first proposed in 2015 by the Norwegian government and with buy-in from the country’s national broadcasters. That’s an important point, because the FM-shutdown, as reported in various press outlets, insinuates that all FM broadcasting in Norway is being silenced immediately.
Not true: the shutdown of stations that began this month, and continues incrementally throughout this year, only affects the country’s national broadcasters; local FM stations have at least another five years on the air before they, too, may be asked to cede the analog airwaves. A lot can happen in those years…at present, the popular sentiment in Norway about the FM shutdown is running 2-to-1 against it, especially as the analog stations disappear, their coverage areas are not served by DAB/DAB+ to the same extent as they were with plain ol’ FM, and Norwegians find themselves forced to buy digital receivers to stay engaged with radio.
It comes as no surprise that American journalists, seeing themselves at the center of the universe, would pose the question: could such an analog/digital shutdown happen here? If they were more knowledgeable about the digital radio technologies that exist they’d know the answer is no, as the U.S. has elected to use its own homegrown and proprietary digital radio technology, whose adoption is entirely voluntary. There’s also the fact that Norway only has a population of five million people — equivalent to the state of Wisconsin – and navigating a shutdown in a nation with 64 times the residents means an entirely different transition-mechanmism, which hasn’t even been seriously consered by any constituency here. Continue reading “Digital Radio: Norway and U.S. Pursue Different Paths, Yet Share Uncertainties”
The closure of Tessera Technologies’ purchase of DTS Inc., the owners of iBiquity’s HD Radio system for just one short year, is set for sometime in December, and the combined companies will adopt a new name and stock symbol on NASDAQ in the new year. But just how much did the HD system itself drive its sale twice in 14 months, and what are the prospects for its future development?
Turns out, not very much on both counts: buried at the bottom of a story published by iHeartMedia-owned Inside Radio in early November was this gem: “DTS had been in sale mode since June 2014 when it was first approached with a $29-$32 per share buyout offer that proved to be too low for the board’s approval. But it set into motion the process that ultimately led financial advisors to shop the company. Tessera first appeared on the radar in August 2015 — two months before DTS bought the HD Radio business from iBiquity — and those discussions continued for months [emphasis added].”
In other words, DTS had put itself up for sale before negotiations began to acquire the United States’ troubled digital radio broadcast platform. And in fact, two months before DTS actually bought iBiquity and the HD system, it had already received acquisition-inquiries from Tessera. At the time, DTS’ board of directors considered the sale-price per-share too low…but what better way to bump that up to a more lucrative level then to acquire some additional intellectual property for the corporate portfolio? Continue reading “HD Radio's Next Bling Things”
Revisiting a subject from three years ago: the health of U.S. radio by the FCC’s broadcast station totals. Published quarterly, these figures over time show the relative growth of station-classes, and trends especially over the last couple of years are quite eye-opening.
What sparked my interest was a celebratory missive from FCC Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake released last week. Having completed two filing-windows this year allowing AM radio stations to acquire FM translators, Lake says they’ve been a “resounding success” – nearly 1,100 translators changed hands, and the FCC has already signed off on the vast majority of these deals.
The chart above tells the tale, tracking station-counts over the last 25 years. As of this year, FM translator and booster stations now comprise the largest segment of licensed radio stations in the country, both in raw numbers and percentage. Continue reading “Translators Now Constitute the Largest Number of U.S. Radio Stations”
It came as a surprise to attendees of last week’s NAB Radio Show in Nashville: just a day before the CEO of DTS, the company who bought HD Radio proprietor iBiquity just last year, was to be a featured guest at a convention luncheon, his company was acquired by Tessera Technologies in an $850 million deal.
Who is Tessera? Founded in New York back in 1990, the company initially began as a designer and manufacturer of semiconductor chipsets, including memory modules. It went public on the NASDAQ stock exchange in 2003; five years later it acquired FotoNation, a company devoted to image analysis. Continue reading “HD Radio: Sold…Again”
It’s still more than two months away, but in late November Americans will sit down with their families/friends and gorge themselves on food, then satedly lounge around giving thanks for their bounty. The U.S. radio industry’s going through that process presently, having spent most of the year scarfing up and then trading around FM translator stations.
In quick summary: FM translators are a class of radio station limited to a broadcast power of 250 watts but unlimited in antenna height (the key factor for good FM coverage). They are considered secondary services, in that they must rebroadcast another radio station. For decades, translators have been used as stand-in broadcast nodes by interests who wanted to build out radio networks on the cheap — by and large, these have been religious and public broadcasters who pipe in programming via satellite to air on a translator. Translators don’t require any staff and since they don’t originate their own programming all they need is a shack for the RF-boxes and a tower nearby.
This all began to change last decade when, after a multi-year freeze on new translator stations in order to implement the LPFM radio service, the FCC opened a filing window for new translators in 2003. Several cunning parties were well-prepared for this opportunity, flooding the agency with tens of thousands of translator applications — a 250-watt FM spectrum gold rush. Out of these came thousands of new translator stations, which in the intervening years have been fodder for speculative development of the FM dial around the country. Continue reading “Thanks to Translator-Mongering, AM Broadcasters Now Openly Advocating Band's Abandonment”
Earlier this summer Radio World published one of its occasional special “e-books,” this one called “HD Radio From the Ground Up” (form-filling required to download). Like most industry trade publications, it’s a celebratory document that seeks to paint the U.S. digital broadcast system in the best possible light.
Kicking things off is a tech-centric column from Scott Fybush in which he talks with various enginerring principals about the efficiency of today’s FM-HD Radio systems. Unlike the first few generations of the tech, which involved wildly inefficient combination of the analog and digital signals, improvements to the HD system now make for a better marriage. In HD’s early years, more than 30 percent of the power that went into the analog/digital combination process was lost as waste heat; now that number is down to something like 10 percent. Continue reading “HD Radio Makes "Progress," But Analog Still Rules”