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Kolesar Sees the Promise in All-Digital on AM

Radio World - 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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Podcast #222 – Marking the 20th Anniversary of Indymedia

Radio Survivor - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 23:49

November 30 was the 20th anniversary of the “Battle of Seattle” protests against the World Trade Organization ministerial meetings in that Pacific Northwest city. The broad array of groups and 80,000 people who assembled understood they would not receive a fair hearing in the mainstream press, so they built their own internet-based platform to instantly publish accounts from the street in words, sound, pictures and video. They called it Indymedia, sparking a citizen-journalism movement that quickly went worldwide before the invention of YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.

To mark this anniversary we return to our conversation with Slate journalist April Glaser, who was active in the Indymedia movement and low-power FM. Earlier this year April wrote a piece for Logic Magazine called, “Another Network is Possible,” observing how the path of what we now call “social media” is just one possible outcome, and that Indymedia was another possibility. That said, we discuss how the innovation and spirit of the movement lives on today.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #222 – Marking the 20th Anniversary of Indymedia appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Applications

FCC Media Bureau News Items - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 20:00
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Actions

FCC Media Bureau News Items - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 20:00
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In The Matter Of Online Political Files Of Meredith Corporation, Licensee Of WPCH-TV, Atlanta, GA And Georgia Television, LLC, Licensee Of Station WSB-TV, Atlanta, GA

FCC Media Bureau News Items - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 20:00
Media Bureau issues Order resolving complaints and admonishing licensees for violation of section 315(e)(2) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (Act)

Pleadings

FCC Media Bureau News Items - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 20:00
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Broadcast Actions

FCC Media Bureau News Items - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 20:00
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Broadcasters Foundation Gets in Giving Spirit

Radio World - 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.

The post Broadcasters Foundation Gets in Giving Spirit appeared first on Radio World.

SBE President and Other Colleagues Memorialize John Lyons

Radio World - 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.

NOTICE OF EXPARTE filed in 19-3 : Reexamination of the Comparative Standards and Procedures for Licensing Noncommercial Educational Broadcast Stations and Low Power FM Stations

MB Docket 19-3 - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 13:00

Proceeding(s): 19-3 : Reexamination of the Comparative Standards and Procedures for Licensing Noncommercial Educational Broadcast Stations and Low Power FM Stations

Filers(s): America's Public Television Stations,,Corporation for Public Broadcasting,National Public Radio, Inc.,Public Broadcasting Service

Lawfirm(s): Gray Miller Persh LLP

Comment Type: NOTICE OF EXPARTE

Date Received: 12/3/2019

Date Posted: 12/3/2019

Address: 2233 Wisconsin Avenue NW Suite 226, Washington, DC, 20007

Alexa Is in My Ears and in My Eyes

Radio World - 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.

NOTICE OF EXPARTE filed in 19-3 : Reexamination of the Comparative Standards and Procedures for Licensing Noncommercial Educational Broadcast Stations and Low Power FM Stations

MB Docket 19-3 - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 11:00

Proceeding(s): 19-3 : Reexamination of the Comparative Standards and Procedures for Licensing Noncommercial Educational Broadcast Stations and Low Power FM Stations

Filers(s): Discount Legal

Lawfirm(s): Michael Couzens Law Office

Comment Type: NOTICE OF EXPARTE

Date Received: 12/2/2019

Date Posted: 12/3/2019

Address: 6356 Telegraph Avenue, Suite B01 oakland, CA, 94609

Dave Kolesar to Receive Radio World Excellence in Engineering Award

Radio World - 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

Radio World - 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.

From Brooklyn to Afghanistan, The Verge Does Right by Pirate Radio

Radio Survivor - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 03:05

Last week The Verge wrapped up a three-part series on pirate radio, examining a US-government-sanctioned form in Afghanistan, radio-like conference call services used by the Hmong diaspora and unlicensed Haitian stations in Brooklyn, NY. Recovering from the holiday weekend I finally had a chance to catch up, read the three articles and listen to their accompanying podcasts. They’re well-researched pieces that put the production and use of radio in social and political economic context, rather than relying on well-worn tropes of over-romanticized rebellion (not a single skull-and-crossbones image to be found!).

The value of radio communication to communities that are not well served by mainstream broadcasters is something we’ve emphasized here at Radio Survivor when discussing unlicensed or pirate radio. For the article on Brooklyn stations, reporters Bijan Stephen and Andrew Marino use the looming specter of the PIRATE Act as a frame for understanding why government prohibition, even escalated by the threat of multiplied fines, poses little disincentive for the unlicensed broadcaster serving their friends, families and neighbors.

Stephen and Marino profile a former news program host on an unlicensed station, Joan Martinez, who studied broadcasting in college. Now in graduate school, Martinez reflects a first-person insider’s view that is informed by her broader understanding of the tightly controlled radio industry, especially in New York City, where opportunities for new stations are few and far between.

In fact, only three low-power FM stations are licensed in the entire city: one in Brooklyn, one in Queens and one in Flushing. All were approved only in the last LPFM licensing window, and have been on the air only a few years. Just one LPFM seems hardly enough to serve the diverse needs of Brooklyn alone, home to 2.5 million people.

For the podcast the hosts talk with scholar John Anderson, who has been studying pirate radio for some two decades, and journalist David Goren, who created the Brooklyn Pirate Radio Sound Map. Both John and David discussed the Brooklyn scene on our podcast last year.

David’s comments on why he thinks the PIRATE Act will not do much to stem the tide of pirate radio were particularly incisive. He predicted, “it will be gentrification that takes the pirate stations off the air,” as new, high-rent residential high-rise buildings go up in the Flatbush neighborhood that is home to countless broadcasters.

That’s probably true, and it’s also likely that stations will spread out to new areas as people are pushed out or Brooklyn by a skyrocketing cost of living. At the same time, pirate radio is a pervasive phenomenon throughout the New York City area. I’m not sure other hotbeds, like Paterson, NJ, will gentrify at the same rate. Nevertheless, the point is well taken. Go to other cities with prominent ethnic and immigrant communities, but where they’re not so densely clustered as around NYC, and you’ll encounter far less pirate radio, too.

Calling the Radio

While comparisons of other media to pirate radio – like internet radio, in particular – often grates on me, I’m fine with reporter Mia Sato’s likening Hmong conference call services to it. These conferences are as similar to terrestrial radio as podcasts and internet radio. While not legally prohibited, like pirate radio, they serve a very similar communitarian function as the Haitian stations in Brooklyn, though obviously with the opportunity for more immediate dialog.

Moreover, telephone and radio have been intricately tied pretty much since the beginning, noting that radio was a two-way medium before one-to-many broadcasting came to predominate. And, of course, listener calls have long been a feature, making the one-way medium more two-way.

Outside of broadcast, amateur radio and citizens’ band radio are also two-way, where monopolizing a frequency to broadcast is actually prohibited. So I see these conference call “stations” as a sort of hybrid.

Back to the radio-telephone connection. There have long been stations that also simulcast on the telephone to reach listeners without access to their air signals. In the days before cell phone and unlimited minutes, this could be an expensive service for listeners outside of a station’s immediate area. But today that’s much less of a concern.

In fact, a couple of dozen stations around the world currently simulcast over the phone using a service called Audio Now, including BBC World Service and Voice of America service programs in Somali, as well as news radio WTOP in Washington, DC. If you’re low on smartphone data and don’t have access to a radio, then it’s not a bad alternative.

The Irony of the Radio in a Box in Afghanistan

The first article in the series tells the story of Afghan broadcasters who were given a “radio in the box” to broadcast on behalf of U.S. military PsyOps during the heat of the American invasion. These broadcasters created programming in opposition to the Taliban, including popular music, alongside news and propaganda. Unfortunately, they were also left high-and-dry when the U.S. military pulled out.

Radio has long been a tool of war, and of those opposing totalitarian rule, both from within and outside the borders of conflict zones. Of course, it’s hard to escape the irony that the American government is happy to promote pirate radio elsewhere, while simultaneously working to stamp it out at home. But any student of history should know such ironies are not that rare.

The post From Brooklyn to Afghanistan, The Verge Does Right by Pirate Radio appeared first on Radio Survivor.

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