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CPB Direct Radio Grants Set at $59 Million Total for 2004
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a major source of federally underwritten funds for America's non-commercial TV and radio stations, has more than 59 million dollars earmarked for direct radio grants during the fiscal year of 2004, according to CPB's latest published budget. A significant portion of these funds are being made available to finance the digital conversion of qualifying stations via matching grants, which are currently completing their second phase. Both AM and FM stations that currently receive some form of CPB funding are eligible. CPB technology funding has so far proven a significant impetus for the adoption of IBOC digital conversion for a number of National Public Radio Affiliate stations.
In order to provide a boost for AM non-commercial stations, CPB is also now initiating funding for engineering studies designed to detect deficiencies prior to IBOC conversion. The surveys will identify the nature and magnitude of potential problems in antenna systems and transmitters, in order to allow stations to plan their financing physical plant upgrades appropriately. The studies are essential to a smooth digital conversion because many AM transmission systems that perform marginally with analog AM will have difficulty achieving satisfactory digital performance without significant upgrading or optimization.
Popular Mechanics Features HD Radio
The magazine that once prophesized the proliferation of personal helicopters, 12-rotor Wankel engines and other techno-pop phenomena has finally set its sights on digital broadcasting. In its May 2004 issue, Popular Mechanics puts its coveted stamp of approval on radio's latest iteration in a story entitled Get Ready for HDR. The feature is noteworthy as much for its focus on major players like Ibiquity, Kenwood, Panasonic and JVC, as for the premium face time it gives HD Radio.
The article also provides readers much needed background on things like NPR's Tomorrow Radio project, possibilities for PAD and non-PAD information services, and digital storage features such as instant rewind record/playback capabilities. These are the types of value added features that drive consumer demand.
One other interesting aspect of the article is that consumers actually get a look at the available receiver options, including the elusive JVC KD-SHX900.
In short, this is the kind of positive, detailed coverage from mainstream publications that IBOC digital radio needs to succeed. Hopefully, digital radio will fare far better than did the 12-rotor Wankel.
Harris Claims New Combining Method Will Reduce Costs
Recently unveiled IBOC FM technology offers FM stations a significantly more efficient method of transmitting IBOC signal, according to reports from Harris and the system's inventor, Steve Fluker. The patents-pending approach of what has been named split-level combining can reduce an FM station's energy costs by as much as 25 percent over high-level combining, and enables stations to continue using existing FM analog transmitters that are already operating near peak capacity.
"This new, more efficient method of adding HD Radio to FM stations is sparking great interest among FM broadcasters," said Jeremy C. Wensinger, president, Harris Broadcast Communications Division. "Our engineers estimate that a station's overall power consumption could be between 5 and 25 percent less than with high-level combining."
Split-level combining utilizes the existing FM transmitter and a new common-amplification FM/HD Radio transmitter to generate the required FM analog power. Harris says that driving both ports of the high-power combiner with analog FM power improves combining efficiency, reduces combiner losses, reduces existing FM transmitter power requirements and improves overall system efficiency, resulting in lower monthly operating costs. With the split-level combining system, the analog transmitter is no longer required to operate at higher-than-normal power levels to offset combining losses.
Among the other advantages touted, split-level combining also allows a station to use the existing transmission line and antenna system for optimum radiation of both the digital and analog signals. Additionally, for stations with physical space constraints at their transmitter site, split-level combining allows broadcasters to remove the current backup transmitter and utilize the common amplification FM/HD Radio transmitter as a lower power backup FM transmitter.
Announced at the NAB 2004 Public Radio Engineering Conference in April, the split-level combining system was developed by Harris Principal RF Design Engineer George Cabrera and Steve Fluker, director of engineering for Cox Radio Orlando. In recent tests, WPYO-FM, Orlando, utilized a Harris HT-5FM analog transmitter and a Harris Z16HD digital transmitter with a standard 3dB high power combiner to prove the split-level concept and confirm the benefits of this technique.
Details of the combing system will be featured in the July issue of Radio magazine.
LPFM Group Seeks Accommodations on IBOC
A group of east coast LPFM advocates has filed comments in response to the FCC's April 15 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) regarding the implementation of IBOC digital broadcasting in the United States. In their filing, The Amherst Alliance, represented by president and long-time LPFM proponent Don Schellhardt, lays out conditions the group says must be met if IBOC AM and FM operations are to be acceptably implemented.
Among the chief concerns raised is the contention that Ibiquity's HD Radio system "expands the bandwidth of participating radio stations by 50 percent", thus reducing the available spectrum for potential LP operators. Also at issue is the cost of conversion to IBOC digital operation for financially strapped LPFM licensees. A final point addresses accessibility to digital signals by America's poor population, whom the group claims cannot afford to purchase more expensive IBOC capable receivers.
Strategies suggested to ameliorate these perceived problems vary. Amherst suggests that the FCC revisit alternate IBOC technologies such as DRM, CAM-D, and Eureka 147 (an out-of-band technology) in an attempt to maximize new allocation opportunities for small signal broadcasters. The FCC should not require IBOC digital capability in radio receivers unless the lowest cost units commercially available can be bought for $10 or less, and in any case, retain analog FM channels for LPFM's that wish to use them. Finally, the group urged that the FCC mandate a federal surcharge (such as an excise tax) on all IBOC broadcast and receiving equipment with the intent of providing digital conversion subsides to LP broadcasters.
While the voice of groups such as Amherst and Nickolaus Leggett - another LP proponent who has filed comments on the IBOC 99-325 proceeding - currently have little political or economic clout, their position may be gaining some traction. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) recently introduced the Low Power Radio Act of 2004, which aims to lift third-adjacency restrictions on LPFM applications, potentially opening hundreds of new allocations. The Act was drafted in response to last year's report by the Mitre Corporation, which indicated that LPFM stations operating on third-adjacent channels would not pose a significant risk of interference to existing FM licensees. If the Act passes, the LPFM market could significantly expand and give this class of station a louder voice in media and regulatory forums.
Eye on IBOC
FCC's Adelstein, other Notables on Hand for WAMU-FM Digital Inauguration Ceremony
WAMU-FM, 88.5, American University Radio, hosted a ceremony to formally dedicate its commencement of fulltime digital operation, including the first live broadcasts on its secondary audio channel (SAC) known as WAMU-2, on Tuesday, June 8. Under a six-month experimental authorization from the FCC, WAMU will evaluate the performance of its digital channels at a variety of data rates. National Public Radio, Kenwood America, and Harris Corporation - an industry partnership that has worked to shape the direction of digital broadcast technology implementation - are supporting the test program with joint technical and economic assistance.
Speakers at the ceremony included WAMU's Executive Director David Taylor, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, and Ibiquity President Robert Struble.
Capping off the inauguration was a live national broadcast discussion of digital radio by NPR talk radio host Kojo Nnamdi. Joining in the call-in panel were John Marino, vice president of science and technology, National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), Mike Starling, vice president for engineering and operations, National Public Radio, Michael Bergman, senior manager of digital broadcast products, Kenwood America, and Nick Higham, BBC media correspondent. Questions asked of the guests were "will digital realities live up to the hype? And what impact will this transition have on our radio listening?"
NPR predicts it will take about 10 years for all public radio stations to become fully compatible with HD Radio. WAMU intends to take the lead and has been welcomed by NPR as the region's most highly qualified public radio station to partner with them in the Tomorrow Radio Project effort.
The ultimate objective in digital conversion is to take advantage of the technology's capability for split signal transmission so that a supplementary second channel can be developed. "A supplementary channel would allow WAMU to air more of the quality public radio programming now available," remarked Programming Director Mark McDonald. "It will also give us the capacity to experiment with new, innovative programming before introducing it to our main channel."
HD Radio Terminology
An Introduction to the New Language Surrounding HD Radio
QPSK: quadrature phased shift keying. A digital modulation technique used in AM IBOC transmission for transmission of the tertiary data stream. QPSK shifts the phase of its carrier in 90 degree increments during modulation.
QAM: quadrature amplitude modulation. A modulation technique used to transmit the secondary data stream in AM HD Radio IBOC transmission. QAM varies both the carrier amplitude and phase during modulation.
Crutchfield Offers Consumers HD Radio Information, Advice
Crutchfield Corporation, a major marketer of consumer electronics products, is offering consumers detailed information regarding the digital radio revolution via its popular Crutchfield Advisor Web page. The page includes a consumer technology learning center where visitors can access the latest news about a plethora of expanding technologies, such as in-dash monitors, MP3, satellite and HD Radio.
Although HD Radio hasn't yet earned a featured place at the Advisor's table, articles available provide a basic introduction to the new technology, Ibiquity's role as its developer, and the available receiver models feature and pricing info. Consumer education is a crucial issue for consumer acceptance and growth of IBOC digital broadcasting in the U.S., particularly at a time when satellite radio is grabbing the national spotlight.
The Advisor can be visited at www.crutchfieldadvisor.com.
More From Radio magazine
What's in a Name?
The terms surrounding IBOC and particularly the use of the term HD Radio have some established guidelines that should be followed. Radio magazine editor Chriss Scherer discusses this in his May Viewpoint. Read it now by following this link: http://beradio.com/mag/radio_whats_name.
In the May 26 issue of IBOC Update, we reported that Fraunhofer, a DRM member, has tailored the system's audio compression scheme, a variant of its AAC codec, for optimized mono audio performance. While the AAC codec was developed by Fraunhofer, the enhancement to the codec was developed by Coding Technologies.