Recently I stumbled across the site of Radio Wars, a documentary on the development of satellite radio in the United States.
It’s difficult not to be suspicious of grandiose claims, such as these: “[F]ew of radio’s struggles have been as dramatic as satellite radio’s battle in the stars. This clash turned traditional radio business models upside down, redefined free speech, and put over one million investors on a billion dollar rollercoaster ride as companies Sirius and XM fought to survive.”
It would be interesting to see “behind the scenes of the Sirius XM satellite radio story,” but the service’s impact on the practice of broadcasting is a bit overblown. Continue reading “Satellite Radio "Documentary" In Production”
So last year’s merger of Sirius and XM Satellite radio was supposed to save that particular segment of the broadcast industry. Ain’t happening: Sirius-XM CEO Mel Karmazin sounds positively desperate to avoid bankruptcy, but nevertheless the company’s drawing up the papers to go the Chapter 11 route.
What happened? Lots of things: launching not one, but two, satellite radio networks is hella-expensive. That initial capital outlay has never been recouped. Secondly, Sirius itself bet the farm on talent – the only person that’s made money out of satellite radio is Howard Stern, and he’s been laughing all the way to the bank. Continue reading “Sirius-XM: Wall Street, We Have A Problem”
And not just to adjacent stations – iBiquity’s proposed 10-fold power hike for FM digital sidebands will cause what one commentator has called “honkin’ interference” to an HD parent station’s analog signal. Although the suspicions of just what increasing the signal strength of FM-HD sidebands would do to analog FM radio coverage have been well-discussed in the engineering community for nine months now, the new report from NPR Labs confirms the worst.
The “monumental 18-month study,” involving extensive laboratory and field-testing of increased FM-HD sideband power finds that increased digital interference is simply unavoidable. While the tests do show that increasing FM-HD sideband power by a factor of 10 will make digital service coverage equivalent to (or, in some cases, slightly exceed) the coverage of a station’s analog signal, the modification comes at a price: Continue reading “Raising FM-HD Power Levels Will Cause Increased Interference”
As lobbying over the conditions of the merger between the Sirius and XM satellite radio networks entered the home stretch, iBiquity Corporation and the National Association of Broadcasters requested that the Federal Communications Commission mandate all future satellite radio receivers to be interoperable with terrestrial digital AM and FM broadcasts.
This was a move by HD Radio‘s proponents to try and get something for nothing. XM and Sirius both subsidized the adoption of satellite radio receivers, especially in vehicles, by making the reception technology freely available and offering special deals to new subscribers (such as free service for a year or more, especially for folks who bought new cars and trucks with a satellite radio receiver as an option). In contrast, iBiquity Corporation wants those who make and market HD radio to pay it a cut from every HD receiver sold – effectively asking auto companies to partially pay the way for HD’s adoption. This is a proposal that nearly all have resisted. Continue reading “Sirius/XM Merger Sidebar”
After a week-long, non-transparent deliberation, the Federal Communications Commission has reportedly signed off on the merger of the XM and Sirius satellite radio networks.
Many of the tea leaf-readers did not correctly forecast the outcome: most expected at least one Democratic Commissioner, Jonathan Adelstein, would vote for the merger, provided there were certain public interest obligations on the new, singular satellite broadcast entity. These would have included requirements such as a percentage of total satellite radio capacity be devoted to non-commercial, possibly public-access channels, and that the new company provide tiers of service that do not gouge existing and future subscribers. Some of these conditions will apply to the merged company, but the Commissioners’ votes themselves ultimately split along party lines. Continue reading “XM/Sirius Merger Hinged on Piracy Compliance”
Last month, a consultant engineer hired by the National Association of Broadcasters filed comments with the FCC in opposition to the proposed merger of the Sirius and XM satellite radio networks. These comments stressed the unique transmission and reception infrastructure of each satellite system and pronounced them inherently incompatible. The consultant, Dennis Wallace, asserts (among other things) that the variation in the orbital paths of XM and Sirius satellites, combined with a host of differences involving how the networks encode and compress their digital signals for broadcast, makes each company’s distribution infrastructure nearly impossible to consolidate without “significant disruption” to satellite radio service more generally.
This assertion is belied by two fundamental facts. The first is that XM and Sirius do not serve their subscribers primarily via satellite; instead they use a network of ground-based repeater-transmitters. In most cases, XM/Sirius listeners are not listening to signals directly from space, but instead to a signal bounced from the ground to space and back down again, then rebroadcast from gear bolted to some rented space on a cell phone tower nearby. It doesn’t matter what the difference in XM and Sirius satellites’ orbital paths are – so long as one satellite can “see” the United States (and XM’s constellation is in geostationary orbit), the repeaters will be served, and hence the listeners. Continue reading “Good Cop/Bad Cop: The NAB and Satellite Radio”
Last October it was first disclosed that many of the terrestrial repeater stations used to boost the coverage footprint of the XM satellite radio network were operating without FCC approval. Recently XM filed a document with the Securities and Exchange Commission which seems to suggest the pirate nature of the network is more egregious than first confessed. Up to one-third of the company’s 800 repeater-stations are either placed in locations not approved by the FCC, operating at power levels well above those approved by the FCC, and several are on the air without FCC approval for their placement at all. The scope of such flaunting of the rules is unheard of: some of these illicit repeaters are operating with more than 40 kilowatts of power.
What’s more, it’s clear that XM had an economic incentive to break the law: the majority of its illicit repeaters serve the largest markets. More than half of those placed in the Los Angeles market, for example, are operating “at variance” from what they were authorized for. As a whole, according to XM’s own estimation, the 200+ rogue repeaters serve approximately 42 percent of its network’s total coverage footprint. Continue reading “XM Repeater Network Entirely Pirate”
Unlike earlier this year, when XM and Sirius admitted to selling souped-up in-car transceivers that operated beyond acceptable FCC power levels, XM Satellite Radio now reports that its terrestrial-based network of repeater-transmitters – designed to bolster its space-based coverage pattern, especially in urban areas – has not only been operating at excessive power, but on unauthorized frequencies. Continue reading “Satellite Radio Network is Partially Pirate”
Sirius Satellite Radio also filed a document with the SEC this week with regard to overpowered satellite-to-FM transceivers and its role in developing and marketing them. Check this:
[C]ertain Sirius personnel requested manufacturers to produce Sirius radios that were not consistent with the FCC’s rules. As a result of this review, we are taking significant steps to ensure that this situation does not happen again…. Continue reading “Sirius Confesses to Power-Jacking Transceivers”
So it would appear that various models of mobile satellite radio receivers are indeed little pirate stations that can intermittently and over short ranges jam other FM radio stations as their owner/listeners drive around. A Securities and Exchange Commission filing made by XM this week discloses that XM and at least one receiver manufacturer have been contacted by the FCC about bringing certain models of mobile satellite receiver “into compliance” with “FCC emission standards.”
Aftermarket, add-on mobile receivers contain small FM transmitters that take the satellite signal and relay it to a car stereo tuned to a certain FM frequency. Similar kits are available to allow people to listen to other audio devices on the road. The National Association of Broadcasters says some models of these transceivers contain FM transmitters that are too powerful, and thus technically require licenses to operate. Interestingly, the NAB report suggests some of these devices may also interfere with the reception of digital “HD” radio signals, since these, in the words of its report, occupy
“vacant” adjacent channels, it is likely that these are the exact channels a user would choose upon which to operate one of these devices. To the user, the “noise” like HD Radio carrier appears to be a vacant channel. However, with the wide modulation capability and strong signal levels emitted by these devices, it is likely that significant interference to the much lower power HD Radio signals would be caused. Continue reading “XM, Sirius Pull Pirate Transceivers”