The rhetoric’s heated up, for sure. Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, who’s made cracking down on unlicensed stations one of his signature issues, calls them infectious squatters, casting the phenomenon as a cancer preparing to metastisize. And he’s gotten much more critical about his own agency’s handling of the problem: when the FCC proposed to fine a Kentucky couple more than $144,000 last month for operating a low-power TV station for nearly twenty years after its original license had expired, he likened FCC enforcement to “a sometimes annoying, sometimes sleepy, but ultimately harmless Chihuahua when it came to protecting broadcast spectrum licenses.”
That makes “paper tiger” sound almost tame.
Industry trade-press has taken the cue and upped their coverage of the FCC’s anti-pirate broadcast enforcement. Radio World trumpets warning lettters, fines, and threats of fines issued by the Enforcement Bureau as if they’re landing knockout blows. It even got Chairman Ajit Pai to concede in a March interview that pirates are a “serious concern.” Continue reading “FCC and Pirates: A War of Words”
Radio World revealed earlier this month that the acting chief of the Enforcement Bureau, Michael Carowitz, held a videoconference with members of the Bureau’s field-agent staff. The call revealed that the FCC’s downsizing of its enforcement resources has begun, with 11 field offices closed over the last several months (Anchorage, AK; Buffalo, NY; Detroit, MI; Houston, TX; Kansas City, MO; Norfolk, VA; Philadelphia, PA; San Diego, CA; Seattle, WA; Tampa, FL; and San Juan, PR) and 14 remaining open.
At present, that leaves just 34 field agents covering the entire country – this includes one of two roving “Tiger Teams” of agents organized to backstop the decimated staff in-residence. That’s almost a cut of half from the prior force of 60 that spanned the nation. It’s also important to keep in mind that these agents are responsible for enforcing all FCC regulations, not just the broadcast license requirement. Continue reading “Now They Tell Us: FCC, Congress Rethinking Enforcement Drawdown?”
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”
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”
With unlicensed broadcast operations taking place with impunity in several of the nation’s largest media markets, and facing near-emasculation in the field, the Federal Communications Commission is taking a new tack to try and ameliorate the “pirate problem.”
A letter co-signed by all five Commissioners was mailed out last week to several local government and industry trade groups, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Association of Chiefs of Police, Association of National Advertisers, and National Association of Realtors, among several others.
This letter seeks to inform the recipients about who pirate stations are and asks that they avoid doing business with them. The letter claims that unlicensed broadcasters “can cause harmful interference to licensed radio broadcasters serving their communities, thereby starving stations of their ability to reach their listening audiences and obtain necessary advertising revenues.” It also claims that pirate stations have the potential to interfere with public-safety radio systems.
The tone is slightly admonishing: the recipients are informed that they “may be unknowingly or unintentionally providing aid to pirate stations. . .including buying advertising on such stations to housing the physical stations themselves.” The Commissioners hint that this may expose them to “potential FCC enforcement or other legal actions,” and cautions that being in business with a pirate station may also “sully the reputations of those businesses with the licensed broadcast community and other professional organizations” – sort of a “Scarlet P” approach. Continue reading “Paper Tiger Warns: Don't Do Business With Pirates”
2015 was a potentially pivotal year for HD Radio, if only for a changing of the guard in the system’s ownership. In September, audio technology company DTS Inc. announced the acquisition of iBiquity Digital Corporation, the proprietor of the HD Radio Standard, for $172 million. Last month, DTS’ chairman and CEO, Jon Kirchner, penned a paean to the technology in an industry trade.
Calling HD “the biggest advancement in terrestrial radio broadcasting since the advent of FM radio,” Kirchner is obviously very upbeat on the technology’s prospects. His biggest hope is pinned to using HD Radio as a pipeline for “wider adoption of HD Radio and various DTS technologies,” supposedly working in concert, primarily in the automotive space. This, Kirchner believes, will foster an “independent and neutral [digital radio] platform for the radio industry.”
Two weeks after penning this missive, DTS announced a management shakeup at iBiquity. Founding CEO Bob Struble has been set aside (to become a “special advisor” to Kirchner) while iBiquity chief operating officer Jeff Jury was promoted to a new managerial-level position within DTS responsible for both “Automotive” and HD Radio. Continue reading “HD Radio's High Hopes for 2016”
A couple of weeks ago, Radio World‘s Leslie Stimson contacted me for some thoughts on HD Radio as part of a "status report" the newspaper was working on. That turned out to be a 35-page "e-book" in which the "skeptics" and "critics" got three pages sandwiched between some "sponsored content" from iBiquity and a piece from the company’s director of broadcast sales singing the praises of the "HD Radio-On-Translator play."
While I’m glad that Radio World considers me a "responsible viewpoint" in the ongoing digital radio transition, it’s a bit unnerving to be tossed into the "haters" camp so nonchalantly. So here’s the entirety of what I wrote Stimson when she asked for comments: Continue reading “Digital Developments in Vegas”
The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism has released its annual State of the Media report, and it does not have kind words for radio. It laments the decimation of radio journalism and documents how other digital audio platforms are gaining traction at the expense of broadcasters. It also minces no words about the state of HD Radio:
AM/FM’s beleaguered attempt to draw people back to radio through HD did worse than ever. For the first time since 2004, when HD radio receivers became available for retail sale, more radio stations dropped their HD signal [in 2012] than adopted the technology.
The entire mention of HD is just two paragraphs, and includes a graph illustrating the net decline in the number of HD stations on the air.
The technology’s proprietor, iBiquity Digital Corporation, was quick to pounce on the "error" of Pew’s analysis. iBiquity CEO Bob Struble claims there was a "net gain" of 16 HD stations in 2012. Continue reading “HD Radio: By the (Disputed) Numbers”
There’s a running debate taking place between the collaborative blog Radio Survivor and the industry trade newspaper Radio World about the “merits” of pirate radio. You’d think, after 20+ years of organized unlicensed broadcasting (and the resultant creation of an LPFM service), that this argument would have been settled long ago.
It all began in July with a tongue-in-cheek piece penned by Matthew Lasar. In mockery of a National Association of Broadcasters “analysis” which attempted to (inflatedly) quantify the importance of the radio industry to the national economy, Lasar conducted a “guesstimate study” which suggested that pirate radio generates some $576 million annually in jobs and services.
Radio World editor Paul McLane took Lasar’s piece a bit too seriously and filed commentary asserting the premise that any positive implication of pirate radio – economic or otherwise – was simply illegitimate. Continue reading “Pirate Radio: A Natural Part of the Airwaves Since 1912”
Radio World Engineering Extra dropped a bomb this month with a very provocative cover story: “What Are We Doing to Ourselves, Exactly?” Written by Doug Vernier, the man who authored the technical specifications for an ongoing Corporation for Public Broadcasting-sponsored HD Radio interference analysis, the report is the first of its kind to document interference between FM-HD stations around the country.
Using anecdotal reportage, some sophisticated contour-mapping, and presumably “early data” from the CPB study, Vernier’s article conclusively proves how stations running in hybrid HD/analog mode can (and do) interfere somewhat significantly with not only themselves, but their neighbors on the FM dial.
Most interesting tidbits: Continue reading “HD Interference: Not Just For AM Anymore”