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Chriss Scherer Scherer has been the editor of Radio magazine since 1997. His experience in radio includes work as chief engineer at stations in Cleveland (WMMS-FM, WHK-AM, WZJM-FM, WJMO-AM...more

Archive of the HD Radio Category

Pushing Radio to Consumers

I just finished a long weekend trip. I had a rental car this time, so I had the fun of setting up the radio so it was listenable before I left the lot. (Who turns the bass all the way down and the treble all the way up?) This radio included Sirius as well. I don’t subscribe to sat radio, so it was a good chance to check it out again.

I have always liked the depth of programming on many of the channels. It’s a nice change, but I don’t drive enough to justify paying the monthly fee for the service. Plus, I can’t stand the audio encoding. All that swishing of the encoder drives me crazy.

But this is not rant about the evils of sat radio.

While I was driving, I tuned around the FM band. I was in three medium-sized markets on my trip, so I had time to sample lots of stations.

What surprised me was that the car radio had a graphic display for Sirius, but it did not have RBDS. I saw a large numeric display of the frequency, but nothing more. That disappointed me. RBDS is far from a new technology; why isn’t it in every car radio receiver?

While I missed not having RBDS, the fact that satellite radio was included made me think that it would have been nice to have HD Radio available. What great way to introduce consumers to the newest terrestrial radio technology.

This car radio had an auxiliary input jack and a USB power jack. I could have bypassed radio altogether and listened to my media player if I wanted to.

Again, terrestrial radio is missing a huge opportunity to show consumers what is available.

Promoting and Demoting HD Radio

I was listening to a Jack-formatted staton the other day, and one of the smart-alec, prevoiced liners came on to tout that the station was transmiting an HD Radio signal. Like most stations, promoting the technology — even just saying “HD Radio” — is a step to inform listeners about it.

Unfortunately, the liner destroyed its purpose as it continued. After saying “HD Radio,” the slacker voice added, “What does that mean? It means you have to go out and buy a really expensive radio.”

Well that’s great. That liner just says that HD Radio is expensive for the listener.

Great message.

Pull that liner, please.

IBOC Power Increase: Almost There

After all the discussion, a compromis has been reached to increase the digital sideband power by 6dB. There’s still a chance an additional 4dB will agreed to. Now it’s up to the FCC to allow it.

I have heard the IBOC opponents call this the end of analog radio. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, the digital carriers can cause some interference to the analog neighbors, but when is radio going to either commit to HD Radio or give it up? The little guys say it’s being pushed down their throats against their will. The big guys see HD Radio as the way to stay current with the evolution of consumer media.

We have a partial answer on the digital power level. Unfortunately, it’s still not a final decision. A few stations may be able to move ahead and purchase equipment for the full 10dB power increase, but I think many stations will still be on hold until a final resolution is offered.

This is not quite a full step forward for HD Radio.

Something Sticky for HD Radio Multicast

You have seen by now that some radio groups are being creative with the program sources for their HD Radio multicast streams. When HD Radio first took to the air, many stations created a jukebox player to feed the multicast stream. While that creates a placeholder and puts a niche format on the air, listeners rarely just want a jukebox for an extended time.

In some cases, FM stations will multicast an AM sister station’s audio. It at least provides a cleaner version of an existing program.

So why not take this a step further? Some groups are filling their multicast channels with signals from other markets. One example: Viacom’s KTWV-FM in Los Angeles has been using the feed from its country station in San Bernardino (KFRG).

This does not sit well with a KTWV competitor in LA. That competitor — Mt. Wilson FM Broadcasters — has asked the FCC for a ruling to declare that Viacom’s arrangement violates the FCC’s multiple ownership rules and its FM allocation scheme.

The FCC has already ruled to prevent an owner from beefing up his station count to get around ownership limits. An explanation from the Commlaw Blog from Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth summarizes this well:

The Commission held that if a licensee (call it Licensee A) of a station in a market were to broker a multicast stream from another licensee’s station in the same market, that brokered stream would count towards the local radio ownership cap for Licensee A. This would prevent a maxed-out licensee — such as Viacom in this instance — from programming using another licensee’s in-market multicast channels.

It seems the Mt. Wilson claim is pushing the intent of the rules too far. Viacom already owns all the stations in question.

A better argument is that the Viacom is in essence using the LA signal as a full-power booster for the San Bernardino signal, and Mt. Wilson makes this claim as well. Wilson wants this option closed so no group owner will essentially simulcast an out-of-market stream via a multicast channel.

What will happen? Potentially another roadblock for the HD Radio rollout.

More on the Zune HD

I’m not impressed by the Zune software. However, I was able to put some audio and video files in it so I could toy with the device.

The unit itself operates well. It’s not an Ipod, so forget the Ipod-like interface. Still, it’s easy to navigate.

I turned on the radio side, and once I tuned to a station I heard audio. Then I heard it switch to the digital stream. (This station does not have its analog and digital time aligned.)

I tuned to another station in the market that runs HD1 and HD2. The display shows the frequency with an HD1 under it. There’s an HD2 to the right of that. Touching HD2 brings it up.

Sliding across the face scans to the next station up or down.

Operationally, it’s easy to manipulate. It sounds decent. Digital reception in the interior of my office building was dicey. The radio switched to analog several times.

I’ll take it around with me and experiment with the radio more.

Testing the Zune HD

I have a Zune HD. I’ll be honest and tell you that I did not buy it; it was a given to me for trial and review.

The box is attractive. It’s all black with some bright lettering. It’s almost the opposite of an Ipod package, which is mostly white with some gray.

The packaging is fine. Everything came out of the package without a hitch.

Before using it, I supposed to download the Zune setup software online. I went to the URL and selected install. It downlaods. It starts. Then I get an error. I am told I have to update my Windows installer before the Zune software can install.

I follow the instructions on how to install the update. Windows Vista says my system is up to date as of a few hours ago. No updates are needed. The Zune installer disagrees.

In Windows Update I select “check for updates.” Oh look, there is an update for Windows Update. How confusing is that? I install the updated updater for the Update. (Huh?) WIndows now says everything is up to date. I try to run the Zune setup again. This time it starts.

The installer uses the same flourescent colors on a dark background as the box. It’s attractive, I’ll admit.

The software loaded, I plug in the Zune device. It syncs fine. Now it’s charging and beckoning me to explore the device.

More later as I dive in.

Portable HD Radio Popularity

The Insignia portable HD Radio receiver was a popular item when it hit the shelves. Reports I read say that Best Buy stores were selling out of them quickly. The Best Buy website still lists the item as being back ordered. Ibiquity released a statement that demand exceeded expectations.

The acceptance of the unit shows a positive boost for HD Radio. That’s a good thing for the technology rollout that seems to have slowed.

Meanwhile, the availability of the receivers is still elusive. I don’t have a number on the number of units that were initially produced. I also have not heard when additional units would be available to fill the back orders. It was released with strong momentum, but will that momentum carry?

There are obviously people interested in a portable, FM-only HD Radio receiver. While I won’t get one for myself, I like seeing the proof of concept: portable HD Radio with a respectable battery life.

Now, if we can just get the technology into other portable devices.

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Debunking the Prometheus Top 10 Problems with HD Radio

The Prometheus Radio Project tries to further its case against HD Radio, but does so with misinformation. An article has been posted on RadioMagOnline.com to address the statements:

Debunking the Prometheus Top 10 Problems with HD Radio

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Portable HD Radio — finally

You saw the news that Insignia has released the HD Radio Portable Player this week. It’s about time, right? I saw a prototype at the 2009 NAB Show, and it looked good. I didn’t get to hear it (besides I didn’t want to put a set of public-use ear buds in my ears), but I scrolled through the display. I have heard that it sounds good and works well.

Radio is portable, and having a portable option for HD Radio is natural and necessary. We listen to radio on the go.

Now the downside: It’s just a radio. Listeners already carry personal devices for audio information and entertainment. Even at the modest $50 price, will the market be flooded with these portable radios? I doubt it. I don’t expect most listeners to add another device to the arm bands or pockets just for a radio.

Still, it’s a good step for the technology. Adding HD Radio to media players and smart phones should be high on the agenda. And once again, it shouldn’t be an option for the consumer, it should just be in the device.

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What to do with multicasts

HD Radio has taken hold in many markets. That’s not to say that everyone can hear the digital signals, but they are there. I’m looking forward to getting a portable HD Radio so I can listen to HD Radio signals when I travel. For now, I scan the stations in Kansas City where I live.

The FM multicast capability is still one of the highlights of HD Radio. As a straight replacement technology (digital for analog), HD Radio has a challenge. Adding additional program streams adds new revenue streams, which I would think any station would welcome.

But maybe not.

I talked to a radio colleague the other day about his station. He works on air, and while his FM station transmits an HD Radio signal, the station does not have any multicast streams. I asked why. He told me the program director does not want to erode the primary listening audience on the main signal.

I can appreciate not wanting to harm the prime revenue source, but this kind of short-sighted thinking does nothing to help HD Radio acceptance, let alone grow a new listening audience or create a new revenue stream for the station owner.

With a little creative thinking, that program director could create a specialized format that would complement the main channel rather that erode it.

Multicast streams often do this quite well. If the main channel is a classic rock format, make the HD2 a deep cuts format and the HD3 a live cuts format. The multicast streams can reinforce the main channel rather than detract from it.

And when a listener doesn’t want to hear what’s on the HD1, instead of forcing him to the competition, let him turn to the HD2 or HD3.

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