The top questions radio station engineers ask about the radio networks satellite delivery systems are, “Why are there so many different manufacturers of receivers? Wasn't it better when the major networks used the same receiver? Now I have a rack full of receivers that all work differently from each other and they take up more space.”
A big reason is the introduction of store and forward technology a few years back that requires a closed loop network in order to work properly. Store and forward allows the radio networks to do what the advertising world commonly calls copy splitting. The network uploads the commercials in advance to the satellite receiver in a digital file format and they reside on the receiver's hard drive or flash RAM card and wait for a command to play. At the appropriate time during a commercial break, the head-end sends the command (or trigger) and the spot plays from the satellite receiver instead of streaming from the network head-end. Consider the possibilities. In a network with 2,000 satellite receivers, 2,000 different ads could play out of each of those receivers at the same moment. In reality, that's a highly unlikely scenario, but it is possible. The technology gives the networks the ability to be more geographically targeted for their advertisers by offering the ability to regionalize ad campaigns.
Store and forward depends on the receiver always being tuned to its home network so those file transfers make it to the receiver. They are uploaded via a data channel reserved for those file transfers. When this was deployed by Premiere and ABC on the Starguide III system using the EDAS card, a challenge both networks faced was stations tuning away from their carrier to pick up a program on a competing network. While the receiver was tuned away the spots wouldn't be transferred to the receiver and they wouldn't play.
Back to the original question; “Why different systems?” There are definitely other factors that entered into the selection of a manufacturer by the networks including price, long term support, system design and features. However, because of store and forward, there is a strong desire for each network to maintain a secure system to make sure their receivers always remain tuned to their home network in order to facilitate successful file transfers. As described above, a common platform actually created more problems for the networks. Even if all of the networks had selected the same manufacturer to replace Starguide, stations would have still needed a receiver for each network in order to maintain that closed system approach.
Looking at the playing field today, Jones Radio Network, now owned by Dial Global ,the BBC and EMF chose Wegener as their new platform. National Public Radio and Westwood One selected International Datacasting (IDC). ABC, who is now owned by Citadel Media and Premiere Radio Networks who is owned by Clear Channel both selected X-Digital (XDS).
Wegener Ipump 6420. The major networks now use one of three receivers.
X-Digital XDS-Pro. The major networks now use one of three receivers.
IDC SFX 3100. The major networks now use one of three receivers.
The current generation of satellite receivers offer many new features. Some are shown in the sidebar [see link below]. Let's explore more in depth what these devices can do.
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