Now that NAB2005 is behind us, our attention turns to the post-show impressions. While our next issue will cover many of the details from the convention, the timing for the May issue allows me the chance to share some brief thoughts from the electronic media bonanza. In general, three terms can summarize most of the discussion I heard at the convention.
Terrestrial digital radio continues to be a hot topic. For the past few years, the Ibiquity HD Radio system has been the system getting all the attention from the exhibitors and in the sessions. However, HD Radio is not the only IBOC technology.
Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) has been gaining interest, and it's now common to see transmitters with the ability to work with the system. There are some who would rather adopt DRM than HD Radio for AM in the United States, but Ibiquity has the lead currently. Technology adoption can be fickle, so it's still something to watch.
The newest introduction for FM is from Digital Radio Express, a company that was active with an IBOC system a few years ago before going underground. The company's new introduction is called FM Extra, which is a digital transmission system using an FM station's subcarrier spectrum. Demonstrations of the system were provided by Armstrong and Bext, and it created quite a buzz on the convention floor. This is one to watch for a variety of reasons.
One added push for IBOC came from the NRSC, which adopted NRSC-5 during the convention. This standardizes the technology for IBOC transmission, of which Ibiquity's HD Radio is a specific implementation. This move is expected to help push the IBOC rollout.
The term may be relatively new, but the concept has been discussed for two years already. Call it Tomorrow Radio, Supplemental Audio Channel or Supplemental Program Service, it provides an FM station the ability to transmit multiple program streams via a single carrier. Fortunately, the term multichannel — which was too easily confused with surround-sound — has been dropped. Stations see multicasting as a new source of revenue, adding value to the HD Radio system.
While surround has some interest behind it, many see it as a special feature instead of something that will drive IBOC acceptance. For some stations, surround may be a full-time offering. For many, I believe that multicasting will be the norm, with special programs and features dedicated to the use of surround.
The third term for convention buzz is not surround. While the subject was raised many times, it's because of the special nature for its use that I don't see it as a convention buzzword. In addition, stations are already capable of creating an additional mono or stereo program stream, but producing, storing and routing surround information is a new concept that is just beginning to be recognized. In fact, right after the convention, a certain unmoderated e-mail list (which is little more than a chat room anymore) devoted lots of time to rhetoric and unfounded name calling, which shows that this is a technology yet to be fully understood and implemented.
It's not a bad word for radio, yet many seem to fear the idea. While many enthusiasts providing podcasts from their cars and homes, the production is far from the professional offering that a radio station can create. Nearly every automation system on display offered something that could be used to create a podcast. While some broadcasters see it as a fierce competitor to their terrestrial broadcasts, others embrace it as a new revenue stream. Regardless, it is a technology that must be watched.
The irony is that many exhibitors, including the NAB, offered Ipods as giveaways. Some attendees saw this as the demise of radio as we know it. In reality, change is good.
In general, the convention carried a positive feel. The registered attendance figures are up. The exhibitors seemed satisfied with the audience. The attendees seemed happy with the exhibits and sessions.
Overall, 2005 was a good year for the NAB convention.