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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 Technology Category

Mark Ramsey: Consumers Don’t Seek FM in Cell Phones

In a blog post, Mark Ramsey looks into the FM in cell phones question more closely. The NAB has pushed for FM chips to be installed in all cell phones, citing consumer demand and practicality during emergencies. The NAB has also used the FM in cell phones ideas as a bargaining chip in the performance royalty debate.

Ramsey says the NAB is asking the wrong questions. He notes that surveys say consumers would use FM radio if it were built into their mobile phones. He says the surveys ignore that there are many phones on the market already that already have FM built in. Ramsey says the better question to ask is, “Have you ever used FM radio as a decision factor in the mobile phones you have purchased?”

Ramsey worked with VIP Research to ask a national sample of more than 1,000 radio listeners ages 10-54 whether they had ever specifically looked for a mobile phone that contains FM radio. 88 percent said no. 4 percent said yes. 8 percent said it does not apply.

Ramsey says FM radio is not a feature that motivates decision-making about which mobile phone to buy.

The next question: If you didn’t look for a phone containing an FM radio, why not? 83 percent said they wanted a particular phone regardless of whether or not it had an FM radio. 17 percent said they weren’t looking for a phone to be able to play radio.

For the group that wanted FM in the cell phone, the stats say 69 percent purchased a phone with FM, 28 percent purchased a phone without FM and 3 percent don’t know.

It seems FM in a cell phone is a nice idea, but it’s not being actively sought, nor is it a deciding factor.

Read Ramsey’s full report.

More Tech for the 2010 Radio Show

With a little more than 3 months to go before the 2010 Radio Show, details are starting to be released. I was concerned that there would be no real technical element to the convention. It seems there will be something for the tech crowd after all.

The NAB announced the tech slate recently, and we shared it in the Radio Currents:


The NAB Science and Technology Department has put together a series of panel discussions on various topics. The panels will include representatives from manufacturers to discuss their various fields of expertise. The session announcement noted (several times) that nothing is off limits for the discussion, and controversial topics will not be avoided.

In addition, the exhibits will be called The Marketplace. It appears these will be table-top displays outside the session room and will feature the companies who are speaking on the panels.

The 2010 Radio Show will be a modified format from the previous NAB Radio Shows of the past, and it seems many details are being set as the event draws nearer. What initially appeared to be initially a sales, management and programming conference has now added a serious engineering component.

Kill an Idea Before it Grows

I’m watching a discussion thread on one of the many e-mail lists I monitor. This thread is about adding FM receivers to cell phones and distributing emergency alerts to mobile devices. Part of this discussion includes using RBDS (such as GSS Alert FM or Via Radio) to distribute the emergency messages.

There are some good ideas being posted, but there are many more comments stating that it’s all a bad idea:

  • “Listeners may not want to receive alerts on their devices”
  • “How will the FM receiver know to listen to the right channel to get the alert?”
  • “Phone users will complain about their Ipod or phone switching when they don’t want it to.”

    While these are valid concerns for a final implementation, it seems the idea is being killed before it even has a chance to be explored. By all means, let’s ignore technology improvements and by no means implement them for the greater good. Let’s leave radio exactly the way it was in 1948!

    Yes, I’m being sarcastic.

    First rule of brainstorming: There are no bad ideas. Accept everything and then put them together. Design a system and then consider the drawbacks. Then alter the solution to address the perceived shortcoming.

  • 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.

    The end of POTS lines?

    When ISDN was introduced, it was believed it would be the next common wired communications service. I remember looking at an office phone system and being told that POTS lines would go away and ISDN would be the norm.

    20 years later, ISDN is fading away. It’s unavailable in many areas already. Funny how POTS has managed to stick around.

    Or has it?

    AT&T filed comments with the FCC that say for broadband deployment to continue, the legacy circuit-switched network must be phased out to make room for broadband and IP. A main argument is that as demand and usage of POTS lines decreases, the cost to maintain that network increases. The money spent on maintaining the circuit-switched network could be better applied to broadband services.

    I can’t say I totally disagree with the general idea. We’re using IP connectivity for almost everything already. It’s also much more efficient than circuit-switched networks. But still, the idea of not have any tip-ring anywhere? It’s almost hard to believe.

    Recording the radio

    I received a product release today for a stand-alone radio that includes 1GB of storage and a timer interface to record up to 70 hours of radio programming. I wasn’t sure what to make of the idea.

    The idea is that the unit can be set to record favorite programs for later playback. It’s a radio Tivo. This is not a new idea. There have also been similar functions offered in HD Radio receivers.

    I looked at a few syndicated show sites to see if they all offered archives of their shows. They do. Some provided an easy way to save the shows or transfer them to a media player. Others were a little more difficult to navigate.

    Regardless, the tools are there, although it might not be intuitive for some listeners.

    Is there a need for this radio Tivo? For certain radio listeners it makes sense. It’s a self-contained system, although I have no idea how easy it is to use.

    I then turned to some local station sites to see if the morning shows were offered as archives. In most cases, they had archives of clips. A few sites did not, which surprised me. Why would a station not offer its prime content online somehow? Even if that content is behind a registration wall (which also provides some info about the listener) it’s something.

    More Power: Ionic Batteries

    I read recently that Fluidic Energy is working on a new energy cell technology that uses metal-air ionic liquid (MAIL). Another battery technology? This one is interesting because it promises to potentially extend the battery life of portable devices by a factor of 11 when compared to existing lithium-ion batteries.

    The secret: it uses an ionic liquid salt to conduct electricity. The technology results in a more stable power source that isn’t prone to drying out.

    One of the portable HD Radio challenges has been the power consumption, which has recently been addressed. Add MAIL cells and the portable device has an even longer playing time.

    It’s not certain when the technology will be ready for consumer use.

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    Windows 7 is Available

    The new OS from Microsoft is on the shelves now. Have you seen it yet? I know some of my colleagues will jump right in and install. I like to wait and see how a new operating system works first.

    The initial reports say that it looks good and works well. I might have to visit a shop soon to check it out.

    Looking Back, Looking Ahead

    I attended the NAB Radio Show last month. Because the exhibit floor was smaller (that’s not a slam), I had more time to attend some sessions. I noticed something interesting between the engineering and the management/programming sessions.

    For the most part, the two tracks covered very different views of radio. The management/programming sessions were full of forward-looking ideas. How to embrace online marketing and distribution. Where the future revenue will come from. Then in the engineering sessions, the topics covered existing ideas. AM transmission systems. The digital power level debate for IBOC.

    I’m not saying the engineering sessions were not important. Indeed, some very good information was presented. But while the managers and programmers are looking ahead, the engineers are staying in place or looking back. I understand there are practical issues involved, but after the convention, I can see a manager approaching the engineer to discuss some of the ideas he picked up at the convention, and the engineer looks at the manager with a blank stare.

    I encourage engineers to attend non-engineering sessions all the time. We include many of the management session descriptions in our convention preview. And while keeping the current state of the station up and running is important, are you as an engineer doing all you can to help the station prepare for tomorrow?

    Video in Print

    Here’s something interesting:
    Video ads in print.

    Think of having a video demo in the next print issue of Radio magazine.

    I’ll bet the green folks will have a fun with this one, too. All that stuff ending up in a land fill.

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