Opening a Window

Electronic media always involve a chicken and egg scenario in which the consumer has to buy a piece of equipment in anticipation of being able to consume desirable content in that medium January 19, 2017

Unlike print newspapers, traditional printed books and their lineages, electronic media always involve a chicken and egg scenario in which the consumer has to buy a piece of equipment in anticipation of being able to consume desirable content in that medium.

There are books about the technologies that consumers took years to adopt and many, many more on technologies they did not. The consumer electronics industry has a constant supply of new media and technologies for which they can make devices. Only a fraction of these new device opportunities is ever turned into products, and only a fraction of those products are ever commercially successful. If millions of pieces of hardware are necessary to be successful, success rarely comes, and when it does, a rare window of opportunity exists.

AM stereo and 3D TV made it to the product level before the customer voted no interest. Domestic IBOC has taken forever to grow.

If today there were no AM band and you proposed creating one, there would be absolutely no chance in our world of satellite radio, FM and internet that the new service would catch on.

The window of opportunity is narrow, in AM’s case 1925-1975. It’s also no secret that at its core, IP-delivered media has huge advantages over hardware-specific platforms.

One has to ask: if over-the-air broadcasting didn’t exist, in this world of rapidly increasing IP connectivity, would one bother to invent it? Would OTA radio and TV even exist if the internet had come first?

Broadcast television is in the process of fusing with the internet world — taking the best of both to construct a remarkable OTA media platform. If the end game is that all the world is IP, when and where does radio make its move?

HYBRID AND DIGITAL RADIO

In the United States, IBOC is a path with a low-pain transition plan. Digital Radio Mondiale is out there for the medium and short waves. TV has beachfront UHF spectrum, and big 6-MHz slices (more in some countries). FM radio has marsh-front VHF with a tiny 0.2 MHz and MW sits in the swamp with a mere 0.01 MHz of bandwidth.

As TV goes to single-frequency-network boosters, it penetrates as well, if not better, than wireless data services. It’s big, uninterrupted and very cost-effective payload can easily carry everything we know of as radio as a sideline, to the point where, soon enough, the current high-power OTA radio transmitters make no sense beyond serving the legacy AM and FM receivers.

Is there a need for a digital narrow-band radio service? There probably is a window for a DRM service on the medium and short waves, designed to reach rather affordable “radios” in much of the world, especially as much of the world is not well served with affordable wireless Internet access. Using DRM, you can distribute everything from copies of the Bible to short videos along with the audio program.

You might have seen something about marrying an Android tablet with a DC-to-blue light RF front end, making a “receiver” that can obtain and decode a digital broadcast from long wave to UHF for something less than $100. Besides being the ultimate radio hacker’s toy (with software, you can make anything from a spectrum analyzer to a TV out of it), it is also the ultimate electronic media device for a really big part of the world, maybe even in the domestic US.

The window for this now buildable technology in the less connected world might just open a seemingly un-openable window in our congested domestic media landscape. It might just be that the AM band is best split up into good old analog stations (serving a declining listenership while an invincible and rising noise floor overtakes the swamp) and mega-power DRM stations. Let the big footprint DRM transmitters reach out to unreachable places… and maybe even into the mix of IP entering the domestic home’s gateway router along with the internet and next generation TV.

In electronic media, windows don’t open all that often. Perhaps a cheap super receiver such as this could open a really big one.

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