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America’s Broadcasters Should Look Like America

Tue, 12/10/2019 - 12:16

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks spoke in November at the Media Institute “Free Speech America” Gala. He addressed issues involving freedom of speech as well as diversity in broadcast ownership and hiring. His text:

THE FIRST AMENDMENT 

The need has always been clear: for free men and women to commit to the ideals of liberty and self-determination, they must be well-informed. A free press is the sentinel of our democracy. On this score, perhaps the greatest observer, and the greatest account, is Alexis de Tocqueville in “Democracy in America.” He writes: “The sovereignty of the people and the liberty of the press may therefore be looked upon as correlative institutions; just as the censorship of the press and universal suffrage are two things which are irreconcilably opposed, and which cannot long be retained among the institutions of the same people.”

In our current moment, perhaps more than ever, the need for a robust, independent free press has never been more critical. 

Today, there is an overload of information. It can be difficult to discern what is true, what is not; what are facts, and what are not; what is worthy to be called news, and what is not. And just as the promise of the First Amendment supported the free exchange of ideas in the age of typewriters and telegraphs, it continues to do so in today’s era of broadband and network broadcasting. Social media, deep fakes and the barrage of information that comes to each of us through the internet are potent new influences upon our democracy that admonish us to develop new responsive interpretive muscles.

But part of this hearkens back to the era of our nation’s founding. In the 1830s, Tocqueville wrote that “[t]he number of periodical and occasional publications in the United States actually surpasses belief.” The American people have a deeply ingrained urge to seek out and wade through what the Supreme Court has called a “multiplicity of information.” 

That’s a good thing because it is essential to our democracy that the American people go through the process of hearing from a wide range of sources, ideologies and viewpoints. The fabric of our shared culture has long understood how to make decisions in the midst of this fog. Democracy is inherently curious and competitive, which is why we often speak of our culture as the product of a marketplace of ideas.

Like all markets, the one of ideas rises and falls upon the quality and depth of information. As they say, “Garbage in, garbage out.” What we need, then, is a press that pursues unvarnished facts and, above all else, truth.

MEDIA DIVERSITY

The rights enshrined in the First Amendment, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press, guide the Federal Communications Commission’s public interest standard, which must inform everything that we do. But the fact that those celebrated words were written into the Bill of Rights does not, in and of itself, guarantee that it will work as intended. The First Amendment is not self-executing. Preserving its guarantees requires the vigilance of regulators, the media, and the public alike. 

Ida B. Wells once said: “The people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press.” For its part, the FCC has an incredibly important role to play in supporting the First Amendment and preserving the freedoms it affirms. 

Namely, the FCC, by statute, is tasked with facilitating greater diversity in our national discourse. As the Supreme Court has stated, when considering the First Amendment, “the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public.”

Those in the media are both the beneficiaries and the guarantors of our First Amendment rights. They have the power to inform, to educate and to impact the way we view ourselves and the world. Where we strengthen our media, we strengthen our national conversation and reaffirm our freedom of speech at the same time.

The FCC, which governs our communications networks, has a critical role to play in securing and protecting public access to information. One of the many roles the law assigns to the commission is licensing broadcasters to use our public airwaves. In doing so, our controlling statute demands that we distribute these licenses in a way that prevents too many from winding up in the same hands and promotes ownership by women and people of color. 

[Starks Criticizes FCC Record on Media Diversity]

This is important. The capacity of broadcast media to empower and inform is indisputable, and it is critical that those exercising this power represent all of us, not a mere privileged or anointed few. Eighty-six percent of Americans get their local news from local TV stations, while only 23% get their local news from sources that are exclusively online. And numerous studies suggest that most of the news consumed online is originated by traditional sources, like broadcasters or newspapers.

Of particular concern to me, then, is the persistent lack of diversity in broadcast media ownership, and among its rank and file. 

America’s broadcasters should look like America. Ownership sets the tone for a media outlet, and employees manage its day-to-day operations and provide its public face. Given the crucial role our media plays in informing the public, it is critical that it reflect the nation at large, both behind and in front of the camera, and that our local media also be reflective of the local communities it is bound to serve. These institutions should mirror the richness of our population and give expression to its diverse voices.

The need for a greater focus on diversity and inclusion has never been more apparent, and the commission has, largely and over many decades, failed in meeting its statutory goals and obligations in this regard. 

This isn’t conjecture or political posturing. It isn’t even an opinion. It is a fact borne out by our data. 

The FCC’s numbers on broadcast ownership are collected every two years. The latest dataset was released in 2017. According to our most recent data, there are more than 1,300 full-power television stations licensed across the country, with only 12 owned by African Americans. If you were rounding, that would be closer to zero percent than 1% — and this has been so for a long, long time.

OPPORTUNITY

However, now we may finally have a chance to get this right. 

The FCC has been given a golden opportunity to succeed where it has previously fallen flat. As the Third Circuit Court of Appeals observed in its most recent media ownership decision, Prometheus v. FCC, the commission can and must do better in addressing the impact of its regulatory efforts on the ability of women and people of color to own stations. No longer can it rely on bad data and analysis while ignoring its obligations. The court sent back the FCC’s latest deregulatory efforts and demanded that we get the data and perform the analysis necessary to ensure that we are fully meeting our statutory requirements. [In November, the FCC, led by Chairman Ajit Pai, filed an appeal of the decision vacating the FCC’s media ownership rules. — Ed.]

Beyond ownership, the commission must redouble its Equal Employment Opportunity efforts to ensure that broadcasters are seeking diverse employees. For 15 years, the commission has had an open rulemaking proposing to continue a decades old data collection on the diversity of the broadcast workforce. And for 15 years, while we’ve been stuck in neutral, we’ve elicited zero visibility on whether station management and news teams reflect our communities. We cannot fully engage on this issue when our ability to understand the problem is compromised.

On both counts, when it comes to ownership and employment, there are those that would argue that collecting data or adopting meaningful policies to promote diversity would be unconstitutional. I couldn’t disagree more. 

First, collecting and analyzing data is a core function of an expert agency, and having a better understanding of the industries that we regulate is also just common sense. 

Second, when it comes to designing programs that would help improve our stagnant and declining ownership numbers, we can target our efforts based on race, ethnicity and gender, so long as we are careful and provide a well-supported reason for doing so. The Third Circuit Court has instructed us to do so. Given the historic problems we’ve had with broadcast diversity, new research like disparity studies identifying past discrimination in licensing, could be critical to both addressing the concerns of the Third Circuit and finally making good policy in this space.

So, we must get this right. We must do better in fulfilling our statutory obligation to promote diversity in broadcasting. And we must support the inclusion of marginalized voices in the national conversation. Only then can we claim to have upheld our responsibilities under our statute and secured the guarantees of First Amendment in the field of broadcasting.

Geoffrey Starks, a Democrat, was nominated by President Trump to the FCC seat formerly held by Mignon Clyburn. He was sworn in in January 2019. 

The post America’s Broadcasters Should Look Like America appeared first on Radio World.

Inside the Dec. 4 Issue of Radio World

Tue, 12/10/2019 - 10:59

We are proud to announce the 16th recipient of the Radio World Excellence in Engineering Award. Also: Radio places a bet on gambling; best practices in RF safety; keeping mice out of a transmitter; and Paul Rotella sounds off about the latest attempt in Congress to pass a “performance tax.”

EXCELLENCE
He Sees the Promise in All-Digital AM

Our honoree Dave Kolesar of Hubbard Radio is an innovator and disruptor. Hear about his career and what he sees coming next for AM.

SAFETY
Staying Safe Around RF

James O’Neal shares lessons learned at a seminar tailored to assist transmitter/tower workers.

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE:

The post Inside the Dec. 4 Issue of Radio World appeared first on Radio World.

Are Digital Radio Coverage Maps Useful?

Tue, 12/10/2019 - 02:00

The author is chairman of Digital Radio Mondiale.

A picture is worth a thousand words and a digital radio coverage map might be worth a million dollars or more in business.

Ruxandra Obreja

We might stress in documents and presentations the undeniable benefits of digital radio: Better audio, extra data, more choice, emergency warning capability and less spectrum. For DRM specifically the list also includes, the capacity to offer improved audio and data for large or local coverage very often using the existing basic infrastructure.

This can be illustrated with audio and can be doubled by screen grabs showing data, like names, colorful pictures of singers and albums, stock exchange values, etc. This is often impressive but not as easily understood as a map.

CORRECT REPRESENTATION

To many of those interested, a big global map showing the progress of one or another digital audio broadcasting standard is unbeatable. It is also immediately understandable and appreciated, especially by regulators, cost-conscious receiver manufacturers, the car industry and even listeners.

Seeing your [digital radio] standard represented by deep (actual transmissions) or faint colors (trials and demos that might lead to rollout or nothing at all) over large swathes of Europe, India, China, the Middle East or Asia, certainly gives confidence and creates the image of unstoppable progress.

But are clever marketers just using these maps as a fictional tool to impress the right audience?

Firstly, several standards claim the same territory on their respective maps. Is China a DRM, a CDR or a DAB country? DRM in shortwave (pumped 80 hours a day) giving actual and huge domestic coverage is the latest digital radio project in China.

So, maybe, the previous DAB broadcasts are no longer of great significance? Is South Africa a DRM or a DAB+ territory? For the time being, neither, since the country has tried or rather is trying both standards but the Pretoria government has not announced a policy. And the decision might go both ways, which would be good for the country, the standards and the maps.

Photo Credit: Radu Obreja

Then, does a short workshop, a much-touted future trial, a feeble transmission on a low-power and unloved transmitter or a favorable meeting at a ministry turn a country into a colored spot on the global map? And how many transmitters and broadcasts and receivers qualify a country as a truly digital radio territory?

 

BLURRED LINES

The purists might say the only truly undeniable deep color patches on anyone’s map represent the following: DRM in India, DAB in Norway and the United Kingdom (though FM continues to function in the country), and HD Radio in the United States.

And there is also the question of actual coverage. We might say DRM is covering the whole of Western Europe in shortwave but this is mainly for a short time and for the BBC World Service and digital pioneers. We could also say that a DAB transmission in a capital city, sometimes of a small Central European country, does not represent coverage of a whole country.

Is HD Radio really taking hold of Mexico when just some border stations are using the standard? There is no right or wrong answer, just the realization that generalization can often lead to distortion. We might even have to agree with what a famous politician was glossing on the famous saying: “One picture is worth a thousand denials.”

Rather than using the map argument, proponents of the various digital broadcasting systems need to give a true picture of what is really happening, while admitting that true coverage without false extrapolations is important but so is engagement and extending listening time, especially for the younger generation, Generation Z and the Millennials.

Radio is doing well everywhere but the big brands like Disney+ and now Amazon HD Music are muscling in. Streaming is everywhere and soon we’ll see the unthinkable, a Podcast Radio station (announced recently for London) using the radio platform to attract young listeners to a format they know and have grown up with, the podcast, whose roots were in radio in the first place.

PROMOTE THE FACTS

It is against these developments that digital radio needs to hold its own and do much better. Internet is not a threat; it is just an accompaniment. In the U.K., according to Rajar, 23% more audio hours have been consumed in the last four years. But many broadcasters are looking at how audio is being consumed by the younger generation and a more realistic picture of how audio is being enjoyed is shaping their thinking and strategies.

Instead of playing with maps, which become often obsolete and inaccurate the moment they are included in the slide pack, digital radio proponents could show that digital radio can deliver all that’s needed to attract the younger listeners: Better audio and larger coverage (DRM), greener broadcasting, news, emergency warnings, pictures and even podcasts.

Maps are flat and inaccurate, often a blunt instrument used to persuade the industry that there is only one standard or one version of the digital radio world. Digital radio is many-layered and very relevant in all parts of the world, in all countries developed or developing. It is also still gatekeeper-free and protective of the listener’s identity.

So maybe a picture is worth a thousand words but be sure to use only those that illustrate the picture accurately. This way the picture will provide encouragement and good vibes for the future of radio.

The post Are Digital Radio Coverage Maps Useful? appeared first on Radio World.

FCC Seeks Input on Analog Radio as Digital TV Service

Mon, 12/09/2019 - 18:27

The FCC’s Media Bureau is seeking comment on whether analog LPTV stations should be able to continue to program an analog radio service after the deadline to switch to digital.

While full power stations were required to go all digital in 2009, the FCC allowed LPTVs to continue to broadcast in analog until 12 months after the completion of the post-incentive auction repack, currently on track to meet its July 3, 2020 deadline, which means LPTVs would have to make the digital switch by July 3, 2021.

[Read: Is There an Afterlife for “Franken FMs”?]

Some analog LPTVs (operating on Channel 6) use their spectrum to program an ancillary audio service available on the FM dial (87.76 MHz) and want to continue to be able to continue to deliver that analog signal after the mandatory transition to digital.

The commission has sought comment on the issue before, but citing the approaching deadline and “recent developments,” said this month it wanted to refresh the record.

The FCC wants to know if its supplementary service rules mean that the ancillary analog service is OK even after the deadline, and whether, in that case, the FCC could limit the number of such services — say, applying only to existing services — whether such rights could be transferred, or whether, alternatively, an analog service is not consistent with the designation of digital as being for the provision of “advanced television services.”

Finally, if an analog audio service is consistent with that digital mandate, can the FCC subject it to the fee of 5% revenue currently levied on ancillary services.

The FCC is providing commenters 45 days to weigh in, with 30 days for initial comments and another 15 for replies.

 

The post FCC Seeks Input on Analog Radio as Digital TV Service appeared first on Radio World.

FCC Allocates $17.2 Million to FM Stations Hit by Repack

Mon, 12/09/2019 - 16:07

The FCC is starting to allocate the reimbursement money for FM stations affected by the TV repack, beginning with $17.2 million to be disbursed to 87 radio stations that met its qualifications.

The FM spectrum in the United States was not subject to the television spectrum repacking process; but as we have reported, some FMs with antennas on or near a tower supporting a repacked TV antenna may be affected if, for example, the FM antenna must be moved, temporarily or permanently.

[Read: FCC: The Time to Request Repack Reimbursements Starts Now]

Congress provided $2.75 billion for the Reimbursement Fund, with up to $50 million to reimburse FM radio stations. Now this initial allocation step enables the Media Bureau to start reimbursing FMs that submitted approved invoices.

The commission says it has received 93 submissions from FM stations, of which 87 met the requirements. The FCC said each will receive an email communication describing the results of its review, and that the approved stations may now begin submitting documentation of actual expenses incurred for approval to be drawn down against their allocations. Those stations will upload invoices or receipts and resubmit a reimbursement form using a Media Bureau’s online data system.

The FCC added that it is holding back a percentage of total estimated costs to ensure that eligible entities don’t face an undue financial burden but also with an eye on reducing the likelihood of the FCC having to “claw-back” payments later. “We will monitor closely the drawdown of the fund as well as revisions to initial cost estimates to determine if additional allocations are warranted. It is therefore important that eligible FM stations seeking reimbursement timely submit invoices after incurring costs.”

The FM stations seeking this funding muse certify that they meet the required eligibility criteria and provide documentation or other evidence to support their certification. They also must report estimates of the types and amounts of repack-related costs that they expect to incur, relying on a range of costs set out in an FCC Cost Catalog or on their own estimates or actual expenditures. The FCC then reviews the eligibility and estimate submissions and issues an initial allocation from that $50 million.

 

The post FCC Allocates $17.2 Million to FM Stations Hit by Repack appeared first on Radio World.

Severe Weather Knocks Down Eagle Tower

Mon, 12/09/2019 - 12:39

When a nearly 40-year-old Nebraska radio tower was felled by ice and high winds in late November, it was immediately clear that KQSK(FM) would require an interim solution to get back on the air, according to the Panhandle Post.

(The Panhandle Post is the online presence for Eagle Communications’ radio stations in the region.) 

General Manager Olivia Hasenauer told the Panhandle Post, Eagle Radio now has “a temporary antenna and transmitter for KQSK” in Chadron, Neb., but the broadcaster intends to rebuild the tower at its current site in 2020. 

Eagle Radio Chief Engineer Kevin Wagner said this has enabled “the majority population of Dawes County” to hear the country music-formatted station again.

Prior to the incident, the nearly 500-ft tower also provided leased space for National Weather Service’s NOAA weather, as well as other agencies and organizations. Until the permanent solution is constructed, the National Weather Service is attempting coverage with help from sister stations, but NWS’ Bill Mokry also told the Panhandle Post that residents should turn to other sources of weather information for now. 

The post Severe Weather Knocks Down Eagle Tower appeared first on Radio World.

Failing to Notify FCC of Primary Station Change Proves Costly

Mon, 12/09/2019 - 12:30

It’s important for a licensee to notify the Federal Communications Commission of certain licensing changes. Otherwise it can turn into a costly mistake.

In this case, Carolina Radio Group applied for a construction permit for a translator in Raleigh, N.C. and specified WQDR(FM) as the translator’s primary station. After the Media Bureau granted the permit application and then the license application, a Petition for Reconsideration was filed by Triangle Access Broadcasting who said that not only was there was no technical need for the translator but that the translator was not being operated as authorized. Specifically, Triangle’s said that the CRG translator was broadcasting an unauthorized station.

[Read: FCC to Two AM Licensees: Pay Fees or Nixed Licenses Could Be Next]

In response, CRG said that no “technical need” showing was required and that the translator was currently rebroadcasting the signal of WQDR. However, CRG did not respond to Triangle’s claim that the translator had previously rebroadcast the signal of a different station.

Upon investigation, the Media Bureau found that when the translator commenced operations, it was rebroadcasting WPLW(AM) rather than WQDR. For about a month, CRG’s translator had been broadcasting a station other than its approved station, which is a violation of failure-to-file rules and the unauthorized broadcasting rule book.

The Media Bureau also found that CRG did not properly notify the commission of this change.

As a result, the bureau proposed a forfeiture for CRG of $2,000. Although the commission had the authority to establish a base forfeiture of up to $7,000 (for two violations: failure to file and unauthorized broadcasting) the Media Bureau said a reduced forfeiture was appropriate in this case. “We reach this conclusion based on the fact that CRG’s violations were not prolonged and the fact that CRG has no history of prior offenses,” the bureau said in its ruling.

The Media Bureau also moved to dismiss Triangle’s request that it reconsider the  licensing of CRG’s translator. Under FCC rules, a permittee “is entitled to a high degree of protection” and presumption that public interest is being served during the construction permit process — unless circumstances arise that would make operation of the station against the public interest. That’s not the case here, the bureau said.

As a result, the Media Bureau proposed a $2,000 forfeiture for CRG. The licensee has 30 days to pay the full amount or file a written statement explaining why it deserves reduction or cancellation of the forfeiture.

 

The post Failing to Notify FCC of Primary Station Change Proves Costly appeared first on Radio World.

DEVA Broadcast DB4005 Promises Precision

Mon, 12/09/2019 - 02:00

BURGAS, Bulgaria — DB4005 is the latest monitoring product from DEVA Broadcast.

The company explains that the unit makes use of sophisticated DSP algorithms and provides SDR FM tuner-based signal processing. “Its powerful digital filters are a guarantee of precision and enable the FM signal to be accurately and repeatedly analyzed with each device,” the company adds.

A leading feature of the DB4005 is the MPX input, which allows users to monitor external composite signals, regardless of whether they are from a composite STL receiver/stereo FM encoder, or from an off-air source. In addition, the loudness meter allows for measurements to be shown as defined by ITU BS.1770-4 and EBU R128 recommendations — the DB4005 supports both standards.

DB4005 is easy to use and packs a host of features. These include TCP/IP connectivity, audio streaming, and automatic alerts for operation outside of predefined ITU-R ranges, as well as GSM connectivity.

For information, contact DEVA Broadcast in Bulgaria at +359-56-820027 or visit www.devabroadcast.com.

The post DEVA Broadcast DB4005 Promises Precision appeared first on Radio World.

Community Broadcaster: Will 2020 Elections Doom Radio Fundraising?

Fri, 12/06/2019 - 16:47

The author is membership program director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. NFCB commentaries are featured regularly at www.radioworld.com.

The last week or so, it seems like almost everyone in the United States has been transfixed on the impeachment hearings being held in Washington. Riveting testimonies, piercing questions and literally around-the-clock analysis of every word and nuance has made for penetrating coverage. If you were among the noncommercial media watchers, all of this focus may have prompted anxiety. Not for what is happening in Congress at the moment, but what is to come around the country in 2020.

This election year is shaping up to be a big one. With all seats in the House of Representatives, one-third of the Senate, and the White House being contested, interest is going to be tremendous. Plus, love him or hate him, Donald Trump is going to inspire fiery passions for and against the incumbent president. Volunteer block walkers, phone callers and campaign workers will dot communities as they do every election, and indubitably shall in 2020, in presumably growing numbers.

[Read: Community Broadcaster: Be Thankful for Community Radio]

And then there is the matter of money.

Even with the elections a year away, donations have been pouring in for all the Democratic and Republican contenders. By next spring, the massive field will whittle down and fundraising will be in full court press for advertising, staffing and winning.

Guess what is also in the spring? Pledge drives.

Is your station ready to go one-on-one with the election cycle?

For noncommercial stations, competing with others for financial support is nothing new. However, when other organizations have the greatest lightning-rod issues and personalities in recent memory that motivate people to give, stations must make a fresh pitch.

Right now, many community radio and noncommercial media institutions are doing year-end fundraising. If you’re a listener, you should certainly support your local radio. If you work with a station, the close of 2019 is a good time to map out your 2020 strategy.

Attention will be high for every election. Residents will be seeking context for the races and issues that they care most about. Understanding how your station can sustainably deliver election coverage is crucial to your audience. Your station’s ability to be relevant to your community also makes a strong case for giving in the future.

With a high-stakes election almost here, why not take an audit of your service? Making an appraisal of your news, talk and community coverage; what each of your programming resources can practically do; and possible collaborations and partnerships with your city and local nonprofits to get out the vote and elections education are all a good place a start. What questions do your listeners feel are most in need of answers? How are they even getting their information, and how can you reach them about the elections?

These questions are not intellectual exercises at all. They are asked with a purpose: to understand how community radio can have the greatest connection to the audience, and to create the best engagement possible.

Stations provide valuable coverage to their communities. The 2020 election promises to draw many ears and dollars. Whether your station stays in the hearts and minds of your listeners rests on your ability to respond.

The post Community Broadcaster: Will 2020 Elections Doom Radio Fundraising? appeared first on Radio World.

Inside the December issue of Radio World International

Fri, 12/06/2019 - 08:27

Soundware Norway ran a live radio broadcast using the touchscreen monitor inside a Tesla 3 electric car. In the Tesla parked outside the firm’s Oslo headquarters, Soundware Sales Manager Ketil Morstøl managed a mock live broadcast using the Tesla 3’s web browser, which accessed the web via the car’s built-in LTE wireless modem.

The “broadCARst” project aimed to demonstrate that physical radio stations are no longer necessary. Read about this and more in the December issue of Radio World International.

GUEST COMMENTARY 

What Exactly Happened to Ampegon?

The company provides an update on recent changes.

INNOVATION

Project MARCONI Brings Stations Closer to Listeners

EU-backed program aims to automate and increase listener engagement.

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE

NXP and DRM Hold First India Infotainment Forum

Podcasts, On-Demand Challenge Traditional Radio

Buyer’s Guide: Streaming Radio, Podcasting, Online Content Delivery 

The post Inside the December issue of Radio World International appeared first on Radio World.

FCC Takes Your Questions on AM All-Digital

Thu, 12/05/2019 - 13:36
Getty Images/Caiaimage/Rana Dias

The FCC tentatively plans to allow AM stations in the United States to convert their transmissions to all-digital on a voluntary basis, using the MA3 mode of HD Radio. The five commissioners in November unanimously approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposes technical standards for all-digital AMs, including adoption of the NRSC-5-D Standard, and asks for comment on the impact of all-digital operations on analog stations and listeners. 

The proceeding was prompted by a petition in March from Bryan Broadcasting Corp., as RW has reported.

MANY QUESTIONS

Below are highlights of the 33-page NPRM. At press time the final text had not been published, but details had been published before the FCC vote and were not expected to change in substance:

The NPRM opens with background about the state of AM and its various challenges; the benefits of digital transmission; and the history of in-band on-channel technology including the hybrid (MA1) service mode. 

It then described technical testing by NAB Labs (now Pilot), noting that field testing found that all-digital transmission resulted in a clearer, more robust signal, with greater daytime coverage than a hybrid signal, but that lab testing raised concerns about possible co-channel interference and the ability of all-digital signals using standard transmission equipment to stay within the HD Radio emissions mask.

The NPRM then detailed the experience of Hubbard Radio’s WWFD(AM) in Frederick, Md., which operates MA3 full-time under an experimental license. It noted that Hubbard experienced significant improvement in audio quality and signal robustness in the all-digital mode, but that its facilities first had to undergo considerable upgrades, and that the station continues to experience transmission issues that limit all-digital capabilities, such as the ability to transmit song and artist visual metadata.

The FCC then set out a list of areas it wants to hear comments about. 

Regarding the predicted benefits of all-digital AM broadcasting, it asks dozens of questions about improved audio quality, auxiliary data, improved useable signal coverage, increased programming choices (such as music) and energy and spectrum efficiency. 

It also asked for comment on potential interference, including adjacent-channel, co-channel, digital-to-digital and nighttime interference. 

[Dave Kolesar recognized for converting WWFD(AM) to full-time, all-digital transmission]

It set out proposed operating standards, including power limits, emissions mask requirements, a new carrier frequency tolerance standard, a notification requirement for stations converting to all-digital and EAS requirements, and asked for comments on all of that.

It further wants to know about the costs of conversion for AM licensees, the readiness of the public to transition to all-digital reception and the rule changes needed to implement the proposal.

SOME SPECIFICS

Specifically about the potential benefits, the FCC tentatively concluded that all-digital operation would improve the audio quality of AM broadcasts. “Compared to hybrid mode, all of the modulated transmitter power is dedicated to the digital carriers, in theory resulting in a significantly more robust reception even in the presence of a stronger analog co-channel signal.” 

But it listed some qualifications — for instance, that NAB Labs had reported some interference from bridges and power lines that caused the all-digital signal to drop out, and one instance of apparent nighttime interference to all-digital reception from first-adjacent stations operating in hybrid mode. 

So it asked for input on numerous questions around signal quality, such as whether all-digital operation would provide listenable signals at relatively low signal strength levels or at the outer listenable fringes of the all-digital signal coverage, particularly where a co-channel signal is encountered. It asked about the reception capability of digital receivers over analog, as well as the impact of power lines and other potential noise sources.

Regarding the work by NAB Labs work and the reports from WWFD, the FCC said that this research “confirms the overall value and feasibility of all-digital broadcasting” but noted that those results have not been evaluated by the National Radio Systems Committee. And it asked whether certain areas need more research, including RF mask compliance, the effects of noise on all-digital coverage area and potential co-channel and adjacent-channel interference.

[Read our ebook: Digital Radio Developments]

The NPRM then digs into other areas over 33 pages. Here’s just a sampling:

Auxiliary data — Backers say all-digital will let AMs provide services like stereo audio, song and artist ID, and emergency notifications with text and images. The FCC asked, among other things, whether it should allow flexibility regarding the use of additional channel capacity as it does with hybrid stations, and specifically whether there’s potential in the AM service for future multicast channels.

Signal coverage — Do people agree with the FCC that based on available evidence, an all-digital signal offers the potential of greater useable signal coverage than analog or hybrid? The commission also asked whether it should monitor that a station’s digital coverage corresponds to its previous analog coverage, and if not, what it should do.

Energy efficiency — Will all-digital operation offer greater energy efficiency and utility cost savings for AM broadcasters? 

Spectrum efficiency — Will all-digital operation help realize the full potential of digital technology for spectrum efficiency? What are the implications of using current 20 kHz AM channel assignments in all-digital mode?

Interference — The NPRM’s many questions around interference include whether the existing framework for interference protection is sufficient, or whether there are concerns unique to all-digital that should be accounted for in rules governing groundwave and skywave protection of AM stations. 

Will all-digital cause interference to co- and adjacent-channel analog stations? Shouldn’t all-digital present fewer interference concerns than hybrid mode? 

Is the FCC right in thinking that co-channel interference is more of a concern than adjacent-channel? What does the industry think of existing research about the potential impact of all-digital signals on co-channel analog stations, in and outside their protected contours?

[Letter: Digital Radio vs. 5G]

The FCC noted that when it first authorized nighttime operation for AM stations, it had stated that “the benefits of full-time IBOC operation by AM stations outweigh the slightly increased risk of interference …” The FCC asked whether that earlier reasoning applies to the potential for co-channel interference as a result of all-digital operation.

How might the likelihood of co-channel interference from all-digital stations be minimized; and how should the FCC resolve impermissible interference if it occurs?

What about digital-to-digital interference? Is it true that if all AM stations were digital, co-channel interference would be less, thus potentially increasing groundwave coverage for a given power level and carrier frequency? If the all-digital mode increases the power and bandwidth occupancy of the digital carriers, how might this affect adjacent-channel digital transmissions? What would be the impact of all-digital stations on hybrid ones? 

Nighttime operations — Should the FCC allow AM all-digital at night, given that propagation characteristics vary markedly between daytime and nighttime? How would all-digital affect potential interference caused by skywave propagation? What additional study and testing might be needed?

Receivers and consumers — Are consumers ready? Is 55 million HD Radio-equipped cars a sufficient number? Are non-car receivers readily available and affordable? How many HD Radio receivers sold in the past are still in operation? 

[Symposium Examines Changing Radio Landscape]

The FCC also wants to know about the impact of all-digital on listeners with analog-only receivers. “What is the estimated size of this audience, and their estimated frequency of use of such receivers? In a market with very few stations, a single station’s conversion to all-digital could reduce options for analog-only listeners.” Should the FCC require a station converting to all-digital to show that it is not the only full-service aural service within its community of license county? Would preserving the long-term economic viability of an AM station and the public benefit of improved service to some listeners justify the present-day loss of service to other listeners? Should the FCC require a converting station to notify its listeners, and in what way?

The NPRM also includes discussion about operating rules; emissions mask compliance (with the FCC noting that “the NRSC has not evaluated it and NAB Labs testing indicated that all-digital stations might have difficulty complying with it”); how signal power should be measured; what carrier frequency tolerance standard to adopt; the impact on EAS and TIS/HAR operations; the likely costs to station of converting; and other factors that might encourage more widespread adoption of all-digital broadcasting within the AM service.

The final NPRM text had not been published at press time, and comment deadlines were not yet set. The first deadline would be in or after late January. Search for “All-Digital AM Broadcasting Revitalization of the AM Radio Service” in MB Dockets No. 19-311 and 13-249.

The post FCC Takes Your Questions on AM All-Digital appeared first on Radio World.

They Don’t Call Capacitors “Old Sparky” for Nuthin’

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 10:58

We’ve written about electrolytic capacitors lately. I found a funny video of what happens when you mistakenly connect the “+” voltage to the negative terminal of an electrolytic in a simple flasher circuit. Take a look online at https://tinyurl.com/rw-work-cap (and don’t try it at home).

No identities of where this submission originated. After all, we’ve all probably experienced this or seen it happen to someone not respecting that “+” symbol.

****

While we’re on the subject of capacitor education, have you heard of ultra-capacitors? A brief tutorial explains the ultra-capacitor and its ability to store tremendous amounts of energy. Watch it at https://tinyurl.com/rw-work-cap2.

Also discussed is ESR, Equivalent Series Resistance, which we’ve covered in this column. ESR is a small internal resistance that limits current. In the case of the ultra-capacitor, the ESR is an amazingly low 7 milli-ohms! This means the ultra-capacitor can discharge hundreds of amps.

Capacitors of this size are used to dump hundreds of amps quickly; one application is handling the sudden stops and starts in electric cars. In the experiments in the video, you can see them used to vaporize bits of metal and circuit board traces. These are powerful components, not to be played with, as you will see. In addition to explaining some capacitor theory, the video demonstrates how dangerous innocuous components like capacitors can be. 

****

Paul Sagi writes from Malaysia that the company SDRplay has released a software update that allows you to scan a wide swath of bandwidth using a software-defined radio. For those new to this technology, SDRs replace traditional components like mixers, filters and amplifiers inside a receiver using software on a personal computer to replicate those component effects.  

This new software permits rapidly scanning in 10 MHz (or less) chunks over the SDRplay’s frequency range. It’s a software-defined spectrum analyzer! See www.rtl-sdr.com/tag/spectrum-analyzer-2 for more info.

Paul writes that years ago he had equipment on the bench and physically adjusted tuned circuits. Now that function is all handled in software, which makes sense; tuning a filter simply changes the mathematical function of the filter, and computers now have the capability to perform the math quickly enough.

**** Fig. 1: Home Depot has a clamp assortment every engineer can use.

My Telos colleague (and SBE board member) Kirk Harnack found a virtual bonanza for engineers at Home Depot! It’s a 22-piece reinforced spring clamp set, made out of fiberglass nylon. The best part? The set costs less than $10 for 22 clamps! These aren’t cheap clamps, either. They have non-slip grip handles and vinyl tips to protect the work they are gripping. 

At homedepot.com, enter 302755768 in the search field to find this.

Readers who have seen my Workbench presentations for the SBE may remember using the spring clip on a clipboard to hold components while soldering. With the variety of sizes in this set, there’s a clamp for any size job.

[Scarlet Knights’ Station Gets a Fresh Start] ****

You know how important it is to conserve your resources, even if it’s cool air. Kevin Wagner is the operations director for Eagle Communications in St. Joseph, Mo. Not long ago, Kevin invested in a new, smaller transmitter, and the upgrade left him with a large empty room.

Fig. 2: Plastic flaps contain the cool air at a transmitter site.

The snag was that he was now cooling all that empty space. He needed an inexpensive means to reduce the size of the conditioned area. Sure, he could have built a wall, but what if a future tower lessee required the empty space to be cooled again? Fig. 2 show’s Kevin’s solution.  

You see these plastic flaps used in refrigerated storage areas in supermarkets; they keep the cool air contained, but the overlapping flaps can be parted to permit entry into the cooled area. Plus, the fact that the plastic flaps are clear, you can see if someone enters the building while you are working.  

These freezer curtain strip sets run between $80 and $200, depending on your size requirements. Search “freezer curtain strips” on Amazon or Google.  

****

Readers enjoyed the EAS loop antenna project we told you about from Ken Beckwith, EMF field engineer. Several readers have inquired about the physics behind the wiring method used; Ken has been gracious enough to explain. 

The question dealt with grounding the shield of the conductors. In Ken’s design, the shield on the wiring is the primary of a transformer that actually receives the AM signal. The wire conductors form the secondary of the transformer, and provide the signal to the RF connector going to the receiver. If the shield was not grounded, there would be no voltage generated in the loop. 

Not everyone knows all the tricks and tips you’ve used for years. Share your ideas in the pages of Workbench — help other engineers while you qualify for SBE recertification credit. Send tips and high-resolution photos to johnpbisset@gmail.com.

John Bisset has spent 50 years in the broadcasting industry and is still learning. He handles western U.S. radio sales for the Telos Alliance. He holds CPBE certification with the Society of Broadcast Engineers and is a past recipient of the SBE’s Educator of the Year Award.

The post They Don’t Call Capacitors “Old Sparky” for Nuthin’ appeared first on Radio World.

DAB+ Development Resumes in Poland

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 08:46

The author is project directory for WorldDAB.

Bernie O’Neill

Today, there are more than 25 DAB+ audio services available to listeners in Poland, eight of which are exclusively available on DAB+ digital radio. That said, much of the radio landscape in the country has remained unchanged, and despite a number of stations launching on DAB+ in recent years, the geographical share of DAB+ in the country is the same as it was when it first launched just under five years ago.

However, as confirmed by KRRiT [the National Broadcasting Council of Poland] at the WorldDAB General Assembly 2019 at the start of November, all this is about to change as Poland prepares to resume the development of its DAB+ network over the next few years.

Poland’s (national and regional) public broadcasters are currently operating the only multiplex in the country, but as revealed at WorldDAB’s flagship event in Brussels earlier this month, a new, three-step expansion plan is set to start in October 2020 and conclude in October 2022.

As part of this plan, which for the most part will focus on highways and other main roads, population coverage is set to reach 68.2% by the end of the first, 77% by October 2021 and over 81% by the end of the third phase, in October 2022.

Speaking at the General Assembly, KRRiT strategy expert Krystyna Kuhn touched on KRRiT’s five-year regulatory strategy for the period leading up to 2022, pointing to the growth of DAB+ and the launch of two new multiplexes as one of the key priorities for the National Broadcasting Council of Poland.

DAB+ digital radio first launched in Poland in 2013, with two transmitters going into operation in Warsaw and Katowice — two the most populated agglomerations in Poland — and covering over 17% of population.

In October 2015, Poland’s DAB+ network included 24 transmitters in 17 locations across the country, covering over half (55.5%) of Poland’s population and a third of its territory, and it now seems the Polish radio industry is ready to take another step forward towards digitisation.

November also saw the first licences for regular transmissions on local multiplexes being granted for the cities of Warsaw, Katowice, Poznań, Rzeszów, Częstochowa, Toruń and Tarnów.

And despite an apparent lack of DAB+ marketing campaigns, the new international DAB+ logo is increasingly being used by key stakeholders in Poland, while the number of receiver sold in the country continues to grow — there are now over 100.000 DAB+ receivers in the market, excluding devices sold over the internet.

The post DAB+ Development Resumes in Poland appeared first on Radio World.

Digigram IQOYA *VIP Eases IP Radio

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 08:34

Digigram says its IQOYA *VIP software brings flexibility to the way users manage, connect and deliver content for radio.

A scalable solution, IQOYA *VIP provides comprehensive audio routing along with IP audio streaming, encoding and decoding. It helps telcos and content delivery networks (CDNs) to design full end-to-end IP audio transcoding and routing functions, it opens doors to “radio-as-a-service” solutions.

In addition, says the company, by offering easy integration of IP streams, it adds value to automation system providers and radio stations.

IQOYA *VIP is hosted on a server in the cloud and brings studio facilities to one’s fingertips. It features simultaneous encoding/decoding, with transcoding capabilities, encoding of multiple audio streams, multiformat IP live streaming (including RTP/UDP, MPEG-TS, and Icecast/SHOUTcast) and stereo audio or multichannel I/O.

IQOYA *VIP runs under Windows or Linux. The service can be operated through a web GUI or a web service API. Once setup, it’s autonomous, hidden inside the system. When used as part of an automation system, IQOYA *VIP works just like any standard audio device.

For information, contact Digigram in France at +33-4-76-52-47-47 or visit www.digigram.com.

The post Digigram IQOYA *VIP Eases IP Radio appeared first on Radio World.

Kolesar Sees the Promise in All-Digital on AM

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 07:56
Dave Kolesar
Photo by Jim Peck

The recipient of the Radio World Excellence in Engineering Award for 2019-2020 is Dave Kolesar, CBT, CBNT, senior broadcast engineer at Hubbard Radio. He is recognized for his initiative in converting AM station WWFD in Frederick, Md., to full-time, all-digital transmission, the first AM station of its kind in the United States, and for advancing our industry’s discussion and awareness of the potential uses of the HD Radio MA3 mode. 

The FCC in November proposed to allow all U.S. AM band stations to convert to all-digital if they wish, and is taking comments on the idea now. While many people have played a role in advancing voluntary conversion, Kolesar is recognized for advocating within Hubbard for the experiment, which necessitates turning off a station’s analog AM signal entirely, and then executing it over several years. The experiences and findings at WWFD are an explicit part of the FCC’s NPRM text, and its project continues to produce insights that are likely to be of benefit to other broadcasters.

Kolesar is transmitter engineer for WTOP(FM), Federal News Radio as heard on WFED(AM), and WWFD. He also is program director of The Gamut, the format broadcast on WWFD. Prior to Hubbard, he worked as an electronics engineer in the Information Technology Division of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. He holds Master of Electrical Engineering and Bachelor of Science in Physics degrees, both from Catholic University.

We talked with him in late November.

Radio World: What brought you into radio engineering?

Kolesar: It goes all the way back to when I was five or six years old, when my parents bought me one of those Radio Shack AM broadcast station kits. I put it together and it was magic. 

I borrowed my older sister’s record player and her stack of 45s, and I would torture my parents playing DJ and making them listen to me on the radio. 

Growing up in the D.C. area and listening to some of the big radio personalities in the 1980s, I was inspired by all of this. I ended up teaching myself electronics to build bigger studios and bigger transmitters. By the time I was 13, I put on the air this little radio station out of my bedroom. We’ll call it Part 15 and a half. 

The basement studio of what Kolesar, right, calls his “Part 15 and a half” station in 1999, operating by then online. He is with co-host Brennan Kuhns. “Most of the people who passed through the station were musicians, performing live on the weekly Friday night show and causing the show to become a focal point in the local music scene in Prince George’s County, Md. The Gamut on WTOP HD3 and WWFD is a direct descendant of this station.”

I started a campus radio station in high school. I was the engineer of our college radio station. I went to Catholic University in northeast D.C. I kept my station. In college, I took my little hobby venture online and I kept running that even throughout my career.

I tried to get a real job. I worked for the Naval Research Lab for five years as an electronics engineer after grad school, and I still kept my hobby going online. When a job opening at WTOP appeared, I decided to finally give a shot of unifying my hobby and my career. I started working part-time at WTOP; in 2006 I started working full-time. 

Then my career life took another random direction in 2011 when WTOP was sold from Bonneville to Hubbard. The HD3 station on WTOP, which had been, by corporate edict, airing the Mormon Channel, went silent. Joel Oxley, the GM of WTOP, suggested that we put my own internet radio station on the HD3, and that’s how The Gamut was born. 

Eventually it got put on 820 [kHz], so having control of that station, it became easy for me to suggest digital on it.

Installation of a new phasor for WFED in 2008. RW: There must have been a day when you said to somebody, “Hey, I’ve got this idea. Let’s turn off the analog and try out all-digital.” Most AM owners aren’t going to jump at that.

Kolesar: What made the conversation easier was the fact that we had gotten an FM translator for the station. I think it was about Christmas-time 2016. I knew the translator was coming. At a lot of other stations, as soon as they get the translator, especially a music station, listenership migrates immediately to the FM translator, making the AM station little more than a legal justification to put this low-power FM signal on the air.

Knowing that this was in the future of that signal, I thought, “Well, what can we do to make this more than just a legal justification? What can we do to actually have the station add value in the quest for listeners? How can you make this valuable?” 

Onsite in 2008.

Around 2008 or 2009, I’d heard the MA3 tests that iBiquity was running on 1670 on its experimental station, which was diplexed with WWFD. I was already privy to firsthand knowledge of how MA3 could sound and how robust it was and how well it covered. 

The thought occurred to me, well, why don’t we just try that; that way we could use our FM signal and tell people that, “Hey, you know, we’ve got this AM station. When you start to lose reception, flip back to 820 and listen to the station for another 30 or 40 miles while you’re driving.”

And I’ve told people before how I went to the CES in 2017 and approached the Xperi booth.

In order to sell it to management, the process was not as difficult as I’d anticipated, because the FM translator seriously reduced the risk of a digital conversion. Also WWFD is not one of the main signals in the Hubbard D.C. market. It’s up in Frederick; I guess you could say it was never going to be a big moneymaker anyways. It was easier for Hubbard to say, “Let’s take the risk on this smaller asset and see if you can make something of it.” I wasn’t going to convince Hubbard to do it on a 50 kilowatt AM signal first.

I should stress that I’ve been working extensively with Mike Raide at Xperi Corp., who having worked with MA3 himself, didn’t need convincing that this was a great idea. All of these digital AM efforts wouldn’t have happened without him. 

RW: Somebody who runs an AM station will want to know how good it can sound.

Kolesar: An honest assessment, it can sound as good as the best FM HD2 signal that you’ve ever heard. The bitrate for the digital signal is about 40 kilobits, and so that’s about equivalent to probably one of the higher-quality HD2 signals. And with proper audio processing, you can make that sound just as good as an analog FM. 

It’s got frequency response out to 15 kHz; it’s stereo; you have title, artist and album metadata, as well as images such as station logo and album artwork. So not only do you have aural parity with everything else that you might find in a car dashboard, you have visual parity as well.

RW: The FCC has opened an NPRM now. 

Kolesar: I think that it was very wise of the FCC to act quickly on the NPRM. The analog AM audience is not getting any bigger. AM is in a bit of a race against time to reinvent itself before, quite frankly, at least in many areas of the country, it’s forgotten. AM is battling for relevance right now.

Everybody will say content is the problem or content is key, and that’s absolutely true; but the medium itself limits what kind of content can go on it. As a result, AM is at a competitive disadvantage, it’s only conducive to certain types of programming. 

All-digital AM erases that disadvantage; any kind of programming that you could put on FM or even a streaming broadcast or a satellite broadcast can be put on an AM station with digital. 

RW: Do you see a day when this dramatically revitalizes the band, because suddenly AM stations sound a lot better, and big-market stations would start to consider doing it? The answer clearly involves receiver availability, but is there a big-picture upside, or is this more sort of a holding strategy?

Kolesar: Let me tell you where I think receiver design is going. Most terrestrial broadcasts are listened to in vehicle, so we need to talk about what the car radio of the future is going to look like. 

For Kolesar, a key selling point of digital is that “it puts AM in the ecosystem of digital audio delivery into the dashboard.” Here, WWFD “The Gamut” is displayed on the HD Radio receiver of a 2019 Toyota Highlander.

Receiver design is trending towards tuning by visual metadata. You’re going to see receivers that scan the bands and will display the content available in the area as thumbnail icons on a screen. You see the programming that’s available to you, then you’ll see a bunch of station logos. You press the button and you hear programming that is available in your area. Now that programming could be on AM, FM, it could be a satellite program, it could be a stream that you have bookmarked. It won’t necessarily be obvious; it’s just content; but it has to be digital content in order for the receiver to display that metadata. 

The way that you’re listening to an audio program in the car won’t necessarily be inherently obvious; it’s just that digital AM is going to be one solution “under the hood,” to get local content to receivers. It puts AM in the ecosystem of digital audio delivery into the dashboard. People aren’t necessarily going to say, “I listen to AM radio,” it’s just yet another way of delivering content. 

Kolesar did some work at the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) site in Gakona, Alaska. Early warning radar that shuts down the transmitters when a nearby plane is detected is to the right, with the array in the background.

Since we’ve got all of this broadcast infrastructure in the United States already built for medium-wave transmission, this is a great way to bring it up to date and to keep it relevant in the car. That is what I see as the end game. It will probably go that way with or without AM; this is just a way of making sure that AM is part of that solution.

I imagine there’s going to be a number of stations who see a competitive advantage to going digital early on, stations frankly with not as much to lose; and they will build, like WWFD is building, a new audience from scratch. Then as people start listening to those services, the bigger stations will take note. Probably the last stations to convert will be the established legacy stations with significant analog audiences. 

Right now about 25% of cars on the road are capable of receiving HD Radio. As the program director of a triple A station on AM, I would rather take my chances with that 25% than with the 100% who could get it but would refuse to because of quality. 

RW: What question do you hear the most from industry colleagues?

Kolesar: The biggest concern is receiver penetration right now, because an AM station with a substantial analog audience is going to take a look at the 25% number in the car and say that’s not good enough to switch. If they have an established audience, they may want to wait a few years. 

Over half the cars being sold now have HD built into them, and that number is going to continue to go up, so both through attrition and new sales, the percentage of cars with HD Radios are going to increase. For an established analog player, it becomes a waiting game of at what point would you switch over and perhaps even gain a new audience from people who are willing to hear your programming in higher quality.

Receiver penetration numbers are good enough for new players; established players would probably want to wait a little bit.

RW: What would a typical station expect to spend to update their facilities?

Kolesar: There’s two pieces to look at. There’s your antenna system and there are the transmitters. If you’ve maintained your antenna system and you have a new transmitter or one that’s capable of all-digital operation, your costs of going digital could be very minimal. If you have to do a complete site rehabilitation, you might be spending tens of thousands of dollars, and you might be talking about buying a new transmitter. If you’re a 50 kilowatt AM, that’s well over $100,000. 

I ask people, “Have you done the hybrid mode of HD in the past? If you have, then your antenna system is already compliant for MA3 operation, so you likely will not have to do anything with your antenna system.” Then I ask what kind of transmitter they have. If you’ve got an old tube rig, you’re going to have to buy a new transmitter. If you have something like a Harris DX series, a Nautel NX series or even an XR series, chances are your transmitter is ready or could be easily modified. It really depends on what kind of shape your antenna system is in and what kind of transmitter you have.

RW: If the FCC acts quickly and makes it optionally available to everybody, how many stations would switch?

Kolesar: I truly do not know. You’ll probably see a number of smaller stations, maybe Class B and C stations with translators, switch relatively quickly. 

A number of stations have approached Xperi and me about converting; the stickler is the fact that an experimental is required. Informally we could probably say that the FCC, looking to further the art of AM broadcasting, would be inclined to renew an experimental for MA3 operation; but a station owner may not want to make an investment in something that could be taken away in a year. 

RW: Is it going to add a lot of interference on the band and make noise even worse?

Kolesar: I don’t believe so. Remember, these digital stations are living in the analog allocations world. They still have to meet the same emissions mask, they still have to meet the same power levels, they still have to abide by the same protection scheme. 

Dave Kolesar and his husband Patrick Wojahn visit the WSM transmitter site on a 2013 visit to Tennessee. Note base insulator in rear. Challenging convention is not something new for Kolesar; in 2006 he was among several people represented by the ACLU and Equality Maryland in a marriage equality case considered a landmark in efforts to assure same-sex couples the right to marry.

I can just relay my qualitative experiences with WWFD. For instance, in our nighttime interference-free (NIF) contour, when we were analog, you couldn’t listen to adjacent-channel stations, 810 and 830, because of modulation splatter. When we went digital, all of a sudden you can hear 810 and 830 — not perfectly, because you hear the digital hiss underneath these stations, but the digital-to-analog interference, at least to my ear, is more palatable because it just comes across as background static rather than a splatter that would ruin intelligibility. My personal experience has been that digital-to-analog interference is not as severe as analog-to-analog interference. 

RW: Closing thoughts? 

Kolesar: I think MA1, the hybrid mode of HD Radio, did a disservice to MA3, because MA1 doesn’t work well. At best MA1 is a compromise. It compromises the analog and it certainly compromises the digital. So people have based their perceptions and have hardened their opinions about digital AM based on their experiences with the hybrid mode. In that sense hybrid has done a disservice to the potential of a digital transition for AM. 

The MA3 mode of HD Radio is much more robust because all the power goes into the digital carriers rather than the digital carriers being 30 dB down from the analog signal, as it is in the hybrid.

You have better sound quality. Even though the bitrates are somewhat comparable, the sound quality in MA3 in general is so much better because you can process it specifically for a low-bit rate digital stream; in the hybrid mode you have to process the digital signal similar to how you would process an analog AM signal, so that it would be an easy transition on the ear between analog and digital, and as a result the digital didn’t sound nearly as good because a lot of stations processed their digital portion of the hybrid signal too aggressively. The codec didn’t have that many bits to work with, and it ended up sounding muddy, whereas in this case you really can approach FM-like sound quality with the all-digital mode. 

In summary, the hybrid mode did a disservice to the all-digital mode. And now there’s a bit of re-education that has to go on in terms of selling people on the notion of digital AM.

Comment on this or any story to radioworld@futurenet.com.

Past recipients of the Radio World Excellence in Engineering Award are Andy Andresen, Mike Starling, John Lyons, Clay Freinwald, Jeff Littlejohn, Gary Kline, Milford Smith, Barry Thomas, Paul Brenner, Marty Garrison, Wayne Pecena, David Layer, Mike Cooney, Larry Wilkins and Russ Mundschenk.

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Broadcasters Foundation Gets in Giving Spirit

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 14:15

Dec. 3 is Giving Tuesday, and the Broadcasters Foundation of America wants radio and TV people to get in the holiday spirit.

Today, the foundation is launching its year-end campaign for donations to support its mission to “provide an anonymous safety net” for broadcasters and their families in times of need. 

This year, the 501(c)3 charity says it will grant at least $1.3 million in aid. This represents a sharp uptake in giving; since 2000, the BFA has given out about $11 million, and the association says the number of monthly grants it awards have “increased over 75% since 2015,” according to a press release. For example, in 2000 the foundation gave $61,000 to those in need, compared to $802,800 in 2016. Additionally, the BFA says it has awarded more than 500 emergency grants since 2015.

“Requests for assistance have escalated at an alarming rate over the past several years,” Broadcasters Foundation President Jim Thompson said in the announcement. “At this giving time of year, we ask every broadcaster to give thanks for their success and good fortune with a tax-deductible contribution that will help us continue our mission of providing aid to those in our business who need it most.”

The foundation requests tax-deductible personal donations be made out to the Guardian Fund and corporate contributions to the Angel Initiative. Bequests can also be made through the foundation’s Legacy Society.

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SBE President and Other Colleagues Memorialize John Lyons

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 14:08

Colleagues are remembering engineer John Lyons this week; and his memorial service details are now available.

As Radio World reported earlier, Lyons died unexpectedly Friday. In response to the news, Society of Broadcast Engineers President Wayne Pecena released a statement, calling him “a bigger-than-life icon of the broadcast engineering community in New York City.” Pecena said that Lyons’ “handprints were on all major New York City broadcast and communications facilities from Empire State to 4 Times Square.” 

The SBE Education Summit held Sept. 28, 2016, at OWTC. John Lyons is in the front row left.

Lyons’ most recent and ambitious project was the design and buildout of Durst Corp.’s broadcast facilities at One World Trade Center. In 2016, prior to OWTC’s completion, Pecena remembered, the site hosted the SBE Education Summit, during which Lyons gave attendees a tour, which Pecena says was a special occasion and now a memory “to be cherished.”

Lyons was a longtime member of the SBE. Pecena noted that Lyons had served on the board of directors for four years and subsequently was elected a Fellow. Lyons and Pecena also shared the distinction of the Radio World Excellence in Engineering award; Lyons was named the third recipient in 2006, and Pecena joined the ranks in 2014, upon which occasion, Pecena recalls, “When I received that award, his email to me simply stated, ‘Congratulations to #11 from #3.’”

 [John Lyons Dies; Helped Shape New York’s RF Skyline]

In response to a Radio World invitation, other colleagues have sent thoughts.

Warren Dyckman remembered Lyons as a friend and client of Hanson Broadcast Engineering for the fitout of the 1 WTC 90th floor and master antenna system. “John was always a great manager and always made time to facilitate and build and support not only on the work site but also on the teams bringing the technology and the broadcast clients to 1 WTC.”

Another colleague recalled his addition to trains. “He was a devout rail fan and took the train whenever he could,” said Richard Ross of Univision Communications. “I met him in the dining car of the Lake Shore Limited on route to Chicago some years back and he greeted with a usual insult ‘I didn’t know they let bums like you on the train,’ which reassured  me all was well.”

Clay Freinwald remembered Lyons for his “wry humor and gracious ways.” Colleague Josh Gordon called Lyons “quick witted, incredibly funny and one of the best organized people I have ever known. I never understood how he could manage so many people, tasks and details and still have time to respond personally to small requests for details and decisions in near real time. He was a giant in our industry, yet very humble.” 

[Lyons Takes Helm at AFCCE]

Consultant Paul Shulins recalled “a real family man who was always full of energy and ideas. He spent countless volunteer hours running AFCCE meetings and working as the treasurer of that organization. He also helped so many fellow engineers as a mentor and advisor. We will miss you, John. When I look at the New York City skyline I will always think of you. There is no better honor.”

Fellow broadcasters and friends are invited to share their memories at DignityMemorial.com. That obituary page includes information about a visitation scheduled for Thursday Dec. 5 from 2 to 6 p.m. at Chas. Peter Nagel Funeral Directors in New York. His funeral is scheduled for Dec. 6, 11–11:45 a.m. and will be held at Maple Grove Cemetery, according to the website.

The post SBE President and Other Colleagues Memorialize John Lyons appeared first on Radio World.

Alexa Is in My Ears and in My Eyes

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 11:06
credit: Getty Images/CSA Images

The author is founder of Jacobs Media. 

It used to be Apple’s big announcements were what captivated the tech industry — and the rest of the world. And not to take anything away from iPhone 11, but Apple’s been making a pretty cool phone with most of these features for some time now. There hasn’t been a lot of whiz-bang, oh wow! news coming out of Cupertino lately.

The action is happening over at Amazon, where new Alexa-ish products keep on rolling out. Surprisingly, media coverage of Amazon’s recent media event in Seattle paled in comparison to what Apple gets out of their new product extravaganzas.

But when it comes to Alexa devices, Amazon may have outdone itself in late September.

KEEP AN EYE ON VOICE

Of course, everything revolves around Amazon’s voice products as it continues its drag race with Google in this space. Oddly enough, Google does well outside the U.S. But here in America, it’s an Amazon-dominated landscape. (And where’s Apple when it comes to voice?)

That’s why it’s important for everyone in radio to keep pace with how “voice” is growing and changing — in much the way the industry was hyper-focused on social media and mobile just a decade ago.

That’s because “voice” is moving fast as a discovery/usage engine, and yet, many radio brands and companies are not thinking about it all that much. But they should be.

We’ve talked about Amazon’s Echo Auto product — the cheap (under $25) aftermarket add-on that brings Alexa into vehicles. It’s being distributed by “invitation only” (whatever that means). I haven’t gotten my hands on one of these yet (although I ordered mine back in the winter), but I know a number of you have. And you’ve been kind enough to give me your reviews of this new device. 

KUPD’s visionary head of programming, Larry McFeelie, shot me a note after his Echo Auto showed up. Here’s his take: 

“Quite frankly, it was a clunky experience and I’m not sure I understand the necessity for having Alexa available in the car. The unit comes with a mount that magnetically holds the Echo Auto and connects to your air conditioner vent. Then you have a power cable that sticks out of the side and they even include a cigarette lighter power charger with extra USB ports in case you have other items to charge. Even still, this felt like I was plugging things into things into things with cables hanging off of stuff. It just felt too ‘after market’ for my taste.

[Smart Speakers Grow in Importance]

“The Echo Auto uses your phone (and Alexa app) for internet access and if your phone connects via Bluetooth, the Echo Auto can transmit its messages directly through your phone’s audio. So it’s not like it’s taking up your connection in the car, it just needs to be there to transmit messages through your phone. If you don’t have Bluetooth, they included a 3.5 mm auxiliary cable you can connect directly into the unit.

“Other than requesting ‘Flash Briefings’ and ordering more garbage on Amazon, I wasn’t able to find too many things that the Echo Auto could do … that my iPhone couldn’t. It’s nice to tell Alexa to ‘play 98KUPD,’ but I can just as easily hit the 98KUPD app on my phone. The unit came with a free audio book from Audible, but again, why couldn’t I just use the Audible app on my phone? 

“Anyway, that’s my short, quick review on the new Amazon Echo Auto. I don’t think it will be taking the world by storm. Just my two cents.”

At times, it seems like Amazon may be throwing techie spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. That became evident at September’s event where several new “Take Alexa with you wherever you go” products were introduced. It’s hard to say which, if any, will still be around in a year or two. But that seems to be part of the Amazon game plan.

Echo Buds.
Courtesy Amazon.com LIFESTYLE TOOLS

The first of the these new Alexa-powered peripherals is Echo Buds — earbuds that instantly connect you with Alexa (and apparently even Google Voice and Siri).

Yes, this is how Alexa gets in your head — literally. The buds are wireless, of course, with Bose noise reduction technology. (You can tap a bud to cancel the feature when you’re ordering a latte.) The price? About $130, shipping in time for the holidays, oddly enough.

The second product may have a ring of familiarity to it: Alexa-enabled glasses. Now, if this sounds a little like the ill-fated Google Glass from a few years back, we’re thinking along the same lines. 

Echo Frames.
Courtesy Amazon.com

These Amazon glasses — dubbed Echo Frames — allow you to converse with Alexa without having to take your phone out or look at your wrist. As Wired suggests, this might allow you to interact with Alexa in places that are phone-inappropriate — movie theaters, gyms or at a restaurant (although that rarely stops people these days). Unlike Google Glass, you can get a prescription filled with Echo Frames, so you can actually see what’s in front of you while chatting with your favorite voice assistant. The price? $180 is the number, and Amazon will be beta-ing these eye wearables this fall.

Echo Loop.
Courtesy Amazoncom [Read: Radio Warms Up to Mobile Apps and Smart Devices]

And the other new Amazon gadget that resonated for me, sort of, is Echo Loop. I’ve tested similar products at CES these past few years, where you put a “ring” on your finger, wave it around, and things happen (the TV volume goes up and down, etc.). Amazon’s ring product is a little different. It has two mics and you speak into it to connect with your bud, Alexa. That seems a bit odd — speaking to a ring, but then again, Dick Tracy spoke into a watch, and now many of us do every day.

But Amazon isn’t just thinking gadgets with Alexa — they’re focused on personality. The Amazon team also announced that Samuel L. Jackson is now the first celebrity replacement voice for Alexa on Echo-embedded devices. At a cost of just 99¢, the star of many Quentin Tarantino films and endless Capital One commercials can tell jokes, set timers and even play music. It turns out there’s a clean and an “explicit” version of Jackson available, depending on your sensibilities and whether there are children or bosses around.

This is apparently the beginning of a personality program for Alexa, as other voices from the worlds of sports, entertainment and music — like Cardi B and Harrison Ford — will be available in Amazon’s updated version of ring tones for Alexa devices. 

FANCIFUL NOTIONS

Amazon’s rush to “productize” Alexa makes you wonder what other products they’re cooking up that would go well with voice commands. That might mean connecting Alexa with things we do several times a day — eat. And thus, it’s not surprising there are rumors of food-related applications in the Echo pipeline, designed to combine some of our favorite activities.

Echo ’Za is one of these — a clever way of enjoying your favorite music or radio station while you scarf down a pepperoni pizza. You can definitely see a bidding war breaking out between Domino’s, Little Caesars, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s to see who will nail down the Alexa naming rights.

But my favorite rumored Alexa beta product is all about how many of us start our days — and no, I’m not talking about turning on a radio station. Perhaps the most mind-blowing Alexa application is rumored to be embedding its voice technology into coffee cups, items that many people carry around all the time, from Seattle to Sarasota.

I’m thinking Echo Caf could be the next breakout product for Amazon’s growing line of Alexa items, a unique way to combine our addiction to caffeine with our addiction to giving voice command orders to invisible devices and hoping for a positive result. Alexa, order me a “Skinny grande frappuccino.” 

[Radio Seeks Smart Speaker Home Audience]

At CES in January, we’ll be on the lookout for the next line of Amazon Alexa products, with an eye — and ear — on how Google will respond, hopefully with clever, innovative products of their own. Maybe Amazon’s Echo Frames will signal the resurrection of Google Glass, which would make me happy. Mine has been gathering dust since I took the plunge back in 2014, spending an obscene amount of money to be one of the first to try on a pair of these techie specs. My Google Glass is still in great shape, hardly used, and well-maintained.

Make me an offer.

If you’re still reading, I made up those last two Alexa products. Who in their right mind would embed a voice assistant in pizza boxes or coffee cups?  

This article originally appeared at https://jacobsmedia.com/blog.

The post Alexa Is in My Ears and in My Eyes appeared first on Radio World.

Dave Kolesar to Receive Radio World Excellence in Engineering Award

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 10:21

Dave Kolesar, CBT, CBNT, has been named the recipient of the Radio World Excellence in Engineering Award for 2019–2020.

Radio World Editor in Chief Paul McLane said Kolesar, senior broadcast engineer at Hubbard Radio in Washington, D.C., is being recognized for his initiative in converting station WWFD in Frederick, Md., to full-time, all-digital transmission, the first AM station of its kind in the United States, and for advancing our industry’s discussion and awareness of the potential uses of the HD Radio MA3 mode.

The FCC in November proposed to allow all U.S. AM band stations to convert to all-digital if they wish, and it is taking comments on the idea now. “While many people have played a role in advancing voluntary conversion, Kolesar is recognized for advocating within Hubbard for the experiment, which necessitates turning off a station’s analog AM signal entirely, and then executing it over several years,” McLane said. “The experiences and findings at WWFD are an explicit part of the FCC’s NPRM text, and its project continues to produce insights that are likely to be of benefit to other broadcasters.”

Kolesar is transmitter engineer for WTOP(FM), Federal News Radio as heard on WFED(AM), and WWFD. He also is program director of The Gamut, the format broadcast on WWFD. Prior to Hubbard, he worked as an electronics engineer in the Information Technology Division of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. He holds Master of Electrical Engineering and Bachelor of Science in Physics degrees, both from Catholic University. The Dec. 4 issue of Radio World features an interview with Kolesar about his career and the digital initiative.

He is the 16th recipient of Radio World’s annual award. Last year’s honoree was Russ Mundschenk. Prior recipients are Andy Andresen, Mike Starling, John Lyons, Clay Freinwald, Jeff Littlejohn, Gary Kline, Milford Smith, Barry Thomas, Paul Brenner, Marty Garrison, Wayne Pecena, David Layer, Mike Cooney and Larry Wilkins.

 

The post Dave Kolesar to Receive Radio World Excellence in Engineering Award appeared first on Radio World.

iHeart Taps Nashville for Digital HQ2

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 09:56

iHeartMedia says its second major iHeartRadio hub will open in Nashville, Tenn., in the first quarter of 2020.

iHeartMedia Chairman and CEO Bob Pittman said the company plans chose Nashville to capitalize on the “city’s diverse pool of high tech and creative, ambitious talent.” The area is home to 20 universities and colleges, as well as tech start ups and Fortune 500 companies, from which iHeart likely hopes to hire.  

The new location will house many members of the iHeartRadio digital product team who will collaborate on initiatives with teams in New York, San Antonio and Silicon Valley.

The media company says it’s already listed new Nashville-based positions in engineering, product development, data science and more, which can be found here.

[Read: iHeart Sees Opportunities Combining Radio With On-Demand]

In the announcement, iHeartRadio President Darren Davis said, “This is the right time to expand our digital team — and what better location than Nashville, given that music is at the heart of our business. Nashville’s technology ecosystem is thriving, and combined with the city’s rich history in music, entrepreneurial spirit and diverse culture, we believe this is the perfect location for us to extend our digital leadership and recruit highly skilled and passionate candidates for our second iHeartRadio Digital headquarters.”

The post iHeart Taps Nashville for Digital HQ2 appeared first on Radio World.

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