Digital Radio Update - June 18, 2008


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Kevin Martin

Chairman Martin says Sirius/XM Merger now "In the Public Interest"
In a reversal of his previous stance that a proposed buyout of XM by Sirius Satellite Radio faced high hurdles, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin now says he'll recommend that his agency vote its approval for the transaction. According to the AP and other sources, including the Wall Street Journal, Martin's recommendation will be buoyed by majority support for the move among the agency's Media Bureau staff.

With the issue now before the Commission for an excruciating 15 months, several key concessions offered by Sirius are attributed to Chairman Martin's attitude adjustment:

  • A promised three-year rate cap and some level of ala carte or tiered service packages.
  • Commitment to set aside approximately eight percent of channel capacity for use by non-commercial and minority-based programming interests.
  • Opening receiver technology, the end of exclusive receiver manufacturer deals and production of interoperable receivers within one year of the buyout.

Martin said the voluntary commitments suggest this transaction would be in the public interest.

No mention of requiring satellite radios to include HD Radio tuning capability (a stipulation formally requested of the FCC by Ibiquity Digital) have emerged from the latest round of negotiations. That conspicuous omission may reflect comments objecting to the Ibiquity proposal filed with the Commission by Pioneer Electronics just weeks ago.

While a vote by the FCC could now come very quickly, it's still unclear whether Chair and staff support for the measure are sufficient to close the deal. Some reports suggest that at least two other commissioners remain hesitant on approval, while certain congregressional factions continue to oppose it, pending further concessions from Sirius.


Business

Australia Delays Official DAB Launch by Six Months
A well-meaning attempt by the Australian government to ensure a smooth rollout of that nation's DAB+ radio system has resulted in a bit of a media dust-up down under.

According to a report in The Age, an Australian newspaper, the flap began when broadcasters requested an assurance from the government that new DAB licenses would not be forfeited if any channels weren't immediately ready to go on January 1, the official system start date. So in the interest of reducing perceived anxiety among the licensees, officials simply elected to push the date back to July 1.

What the government hadn't counted on was the reaction of broadcasters who've become sensitized to public perception of the new service's prospects for success after financial setbacks befell commercial DAB operators in the UK over the winter. As a result, executives from several commercial Australian radio groups decried the delay, in large part because the industry had not specifically requested it.

"What I thought was unfortunate was the way they worded it -- that there's a delay -- there's no delay at all from our perspective," said Commercial Radio Australia CEO Joan Warner. "Our planning is on track for the early 2009 switch-on."


One Step Forward, Two Steps Back for World Space
Tight credit markets and flagging subscriber numbers are taking a toll at World Space as the company attempts its first foray into establishing Europe's first satellite radio service.

According to a press release, the company has just inked a deal with ST Semiconductor to develop, manufacture and distribute chips for European Satellite Digital Radio (ESDR) receivers planned for a World Space pan-European and Middle East service offering, starting with Italy in 2009.

But the announcement was blunted by the fact that the company now has less than two weeks to resolve a pending default on $17.7 million in bridge loan notes, and word that two of the company's most prestigious directors have announced their departure.

Stepping down is Dr. Michael Nobel, who has served as a director of World Space and its predecessors since 2001. He also serves as chair of the Nobel Family Society and as a consultant to UNESCO in Paris and the United Nation's Social Affairs Division in Geneva.

Also resigning his seat is Dr. Frank-Jürgen Richter, who joined World Space in June 2007. Dr. Richter is founder and president of Horasis, The Global Visions Community, incorporated in Geneva, Switzerland.

Neither Nobel nor Richter has publicly offered an explanation for his resignation.


IBOC Across America

IBOC by State: Delaware
Ibiquity has a list of stations with licensed HD Radio technology and notes those on the air now. IBOC by state looks at various states and lists the stations making the transition. There are five stations in the First State broadcasting six HD Radio channels.

MarketStationHD1 FormatHD2 FormatOwner
DoverWRTX-FM 91.7Classical/Jazz-Temple University
WilmingtonWWTX-AM 1290Sports-Clear Channel
WilmingtonWILM-AM 1450News/Talk-Clear Channel
WilmingtonWSTW-FM 93.7Top 40Graffiti Radio-Alternative RockDelmarva Broadcasting
WilmingtonWXCY-FM 103.7Country-Delmarva Broadcasting

Eye on IBOC

It's Official: Broadcast Groups and Manufacturers Seek FCC Blessing on Digital Power Run-up
An industry initiative to boost digital carrier power in FM HD Radio signals by as much as 10dB went into high gear last week, as a group of broadcasters and equipment manufacturers signed on to an official request before the FCC, with the enthusiastic support of both Ibiquity Digital and the NAB.

Filed concurrently with the request were a series of technical reports based on studies performed by consulting engineers Hammett & Edison and drafted by Ibiquity Digital, which tend to support the contention that digital carrier power can be increased by as much as 10 times current levels, increasing digital coverage by over 50 percent without a significant corresponding increase of interference to most adjacent channel analog and digital signals. Likewise, CBS introduced a report regarding improved digital signal penetration of buildings by elevated digital signals.

Also filed were comments by the NAB's Executive Vice President of Legal and Regulatory Affairs, Marsha MacBride, encouraging the Commission to expeditiously authorize FM broadcasters to increase their digital power level by up to 10dB. The NAB comment also noted that while interference might result in certain instances, such as in the case of short spaced Class B facilities, those issues could be addressed on a case by case basis.

The names of the 22 joint parties signing on to the June 10 request are familiar: Clear Channel, CBS, Entercom, Greater Media, Journal, Beasley, Radio One, and 12 other groups that have already established substantial financial commitment to HD Radio conversion. Manufacturers include BE, Continental, Nautel and Harris, all of which build and market HD transmission systems.

While no organized opposition to the proposal has yet emerged, some radio engineers are openly questioning whether the potential for interference resulting from full-scale increases is being given sufficient consideration. While industry technology forums began buzzing over the increased proposal weeks ago, the tendering of a formal proposal is likely to escalate that discussion considerably

Should the FCC acquiesce to the proposal, it's likely that most stations currently operating HD Hybrid digital signals won't be in an immediate position to take full advantage of the increase, since the vast majority of those installations will need substantial modification to achieve the higher digital power levels.


HD Radio Terminology

The New Language of Digital Radio
frequency modulation (FM): Modulation in which the instantaneous frequency of a continuous wave carrier is caused to depart from the channel center frequency by an amount proportional to the instantaneous amplitude of the modulating signal.

configuration administrator: The configuration administrator is an IBOC system function that configures each of the layers using SCCH information or parameters which do not change often.

protocol stack: The organization of the various protocols for services and transports into a hierarchical structure such that the sequence of information flow is downward through the stack for transmission and upward upon reception.


Products

Frontier Offers One-Size-Fits-All Approach to DAB
Frontier Silicon has introduced a unified digital radio receiver module designed to support all current Band 3 (174-240MHz) and L-Band (1.45 – 1.49GHz) digital radio standards for Europe and Asia. The new receiver addresses marketplace demand for a core platform compliant with all Eureka-147 based standards, including DAB, DAB+ and DMB-Audio.

Speaking at the Broadcast Asia conference in Singapore this week, Frontier Silicon CEO Anthony Sethill outlined his company's rationale for bringing their newest product to market, suggesting that flexibility is now key to the successful implementation of DAB globally. Along those lines, Quentin Howard, president of World DMB, noted that his organization is currently working with the EBU, EICTA, and with industry leaders in Germany, France and the UK to create consensus on adopting standardized, interoperable receivers.

Frontier Silicon's unified digital radio module will be based on its Venice 5.1 receiver unveiled earlier this year in Australia. The module is a low-cost receiver for DMB-Audio, DAB, DAB+ and FM-RDS, and is a drop-in replacement for existing products designed around the company's Venice 5 module already used in some digital radio products.

A Frontier press release describes the module as a complete solution, requiring only a power supply, display, keypad, audio amplifier and speakers to produce a complete radio. The company plans to offer samples in Q3 2008, with volume production slated for the end of this year.




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