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Digital Radio Update - December 10, 2008
FCC Making Mobile Broadband Waves
The FCC is spreading ripples in the Mobile Broadband arena by voting to approve a new Wimax venture between Sprint and Clearwire during the same month its own free wireless Internet proposal goes up for a final vote. Both proposals are significant for broadcasters, who are already witnessing a gush of new streaming audio applications for the Iphone and other portable broadband devices.
Last week, Sprint's Wimax broadband venture, Xohm, and its wireless broadband partner Clearwire won FCC approval for their new combined Wimax wireless network venture, now rebranded simply as Clear. The decision came after almost a year of complicated deals involving major investors such as Intel, Google, Time-Warner, Brighthouse and Comcast and just weeks after Sprint publicly launched Wimax to its first customers in the Baltimore market.
The new venture, in which Sprint holds a controlling 51 percent share, is now free to expand service into a number of markets where it's finishing build-outs, such as Portland, OR, Washington DC, Chicago, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Grand Rapids, MI.
USB modems for the open-network service get users online with speeds around 3Mb/s at an unlimited rate of between $30-50/month. The system is unique in that it offers open access to a host of devices using Wimax chipsets currently manufactured by Intel.
Critics say that even with new investment partners on board, Sprint will be hard-pressed to build the networks out in enough new markets to get it a major part of the 3/4G wireless broadband market, particularly at a time when consumers are cutting back on non-essential expenditures.
Another potential pothole in Clear's path is a pending vote by the FCC to create a national mobile broadband service by auctioning a national license to a 25MHz block of spectrum between 2155 -2180MHz. The auction winner would be obligated to build the network and provide free limited-bandwidth Internet service, while selling higher bandwidth services to subscribers. If successful, such a plan could blunt new subscriptions by wireless broadband providers including Clear Wimax.
But the ultimate fate of the FCC's high-profile effort to provide free wireless Internet access from coast to coast is far from assured. Even if the FCC adopts the proposal, it still needs to find qualified bidders willing to pony up an estimated $5 billion to build out the system nationally. That may not be easy. Pundits have noted that the proposed encumbrances spelled out in the rulemaking would render the venture unprofitable even under the best circumstances.
The FCC is expected to vote on the proposal at a scheduled Dec. 18 meeting, possibly its last under the current administration.
World Space UK Uplink Goes Dark
World Space UK has ceased program uplink operations and dismissed the remainder of its staff in preparation for asset liquidation, says a recent article in Rapid TV News.
The story came on the heels of parent group World Space Satellite Radio's recent move into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company's Afristar satellite is still being monitored and maintained through the application of Debtor-In-Possession financing, but its transponder is now largely silent, with the exception of a few channels that continue to be fed from a remaining South African uplink.
Whether any investor will step in to purchase the remainder of the company and its licenses as an intact business remains unknown. In September, Sirius XM CEO Mel Karmazin told a group of auto executives in Detroit that his company wasn't interested in expanding into international markets.
CBS, Yahoo Link Arms in Streaming Battle of the Brands
Yahoo's floundering Launchcast radio site will reportedly receive an injection of fresh programming from more than 100 CBS radio stations currently streaming online, and will also let the broadcaster take over ad sales management. According to a flurry of press releases from both firms last week, the agreement will roughly double the number of Launchcast's current offerings to nearly 300 channels, including heritage news, talk, and sports outlets such as WFAN and KNX AM.
As part of the deal, Yahoo will include a new CBS player fully compatible with Firefox and Safari browsers.
Yahoo's Launchcast has suffered audience losses recently, and was also stung by new Sound Exchange performance royalty fees and shutdown of its music download business. By pairing up with CBS, Yahoo will benefit from the experience of veteran CBS programmers nationwide, coupled with the company's developing online expertise garnered through the operation of its Last FM music service.
Industry observers note that for CBS, the move reflects a strategic decision to promote and distribute more of the company's top shelf programming online at a time when it is trying to sell radio properties in all but its largest markets.
HD Alliance Boosts Holiday Campaign with Print, Online Ads
Taking advantage of a soft print ad market, the HD Radio Alliance says it has expanded its holiday promotional push to include an insert in the Dec. 5 edition of USA Today along with product purchase incentives such as special pricing on an array of HD Radio items from major retail merchandisers like Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Crutchfield.
The Alliance claims this latest phase of their campaign will build upon last summer texting promotion and involve an additional $57 million in radio spots.
Although no actual sales figures have been offered, an alliance press release said the group logged 176,000 text conversations with consumers during the text "gift to 58011" promotion in the third quarter of 2008. Website traffic at the hdradio.com website is also reported to be on the increase.
IBOC Across America
IBOC by State: Washington
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 42 stations in the Evergreen State broadcasting 71 HD Radio channels.
|Market||Station||HD1 Format||HD2 Format||HD3 Format||Owner|
|Bellingham||KZAZ-FM 91.7||Classical/NPR||NPR News||-||Washington State University|
|Chehalis||KMNT-FM 104.3||Country||-||-||Bicoastal Media|
|Mount Vernon||KMWS-FM 89.7||NPR/News||-||-||Washington State University|
|Pullman||KWSU-AM 1250||NPR/News||-||-||Washington State University|
|Richland-Kennewick-Pasco||KFAE-FM 89.1||Classical/NPR||NPR News||-||Washington State University|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KJAQ-FM 96.5||Jack||-||-||CBS Radio|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KFNK-FM 104.9||Rock||Indie Rock||-||Clear Channel|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KKWF-FM 100.7||Country||Comedy||-||Entercom Communications|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KING-FM 98.1||Classical||-||-||Classic Radio|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KKDZ-AM 1250||Family Hits||-||-||Radio Disney|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KCMS-FM 105.3||Christian Contemporary||Christian Rock - Spirit Edge||-||Crista Ministries|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KWPZ-FM 106.5||Christian Contemporary||Christian Teaching||-||Crista Ministries|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KMTT-FM 103.7||Adult Rock||Blues||Entercom Communications|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KHHO-AM 850||Sports||-||-||Clear Channel|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KUOW-AM 1340||NPR/News/Info||-||-||Puget Sound Public Radio|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KMPS-FM 94.1||Today's Country||Classic KMPS||-||CBS Radio|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KZOK-FM 102.5||Classic Rock||Deep Cuts Classic Rock||-||CBS Radio|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KBKS-FM 106.1||CHR||New CHR||-||CBS Radio|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KSER-FM 90.7||Ecletic/Talk||-||-||KSER Foundation|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KIRO-FM 97.3||Classic Hits||Urban AC||-||Bonneville International|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KNBQ-FM 102.9||Country||Country||-||Clear Channel|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KNDD-FM 107.7||Alternative||Local Music||-||Entercom Communications|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KISW-FM 99.9||Rock||Live Rock||-||Entercom Communications|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KJR FM -95.7||Classic Hits||All 80's||-||Clear Channel|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KUBE-FM 93.3||CHR||Xtreme Hip Hop||-||Clear Channel|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KPLU-FM 88.5||Jazz/NPR||Jazz 24||-||Pacific Lutheran University|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KRWM-FM 106.9||Soft AC||KIXI in Stereo||Alternative Talk and Music||Sandusky|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KWJZ-FM 98.9||Smooth Jazz||KKNW-AM||-||Sandusky|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KNHC-FM 89.5||Top40/Dance||-||-||Seattle Public Schools|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KXOT-FM 91.7||NPR/News/Talk||-||-||Public Radio Capital|
|Seattle-Tacoma||KUOW-FM 94.9||NPR/News/Info||NPR News and Information||BBC World Service||University of Washington|
|Spokane||KKZX-FM 98.9||Classic Rock||Blues||-||Clear Channel|
|Spokane||KCDA-FM 103.1||Hot AC||AC - Rhythmic||-||Clear Channel|
|Spokane||KISC-FM 98.1||Lite Rock||Smooth Jazz||-||Clear Channel|
|Spokane||KQNT-AM 590||News/Talk/Info||-||-||Clear Channel|
|Spokane||KIXZ-FM 96.1||Country||Country - Mother Trucker||-||Clear Channel|
|Walla Walla||KWWS-FM 89.7||NPR/News||NPR News||-||Washington State University|
|Wenatchee||KNWR-FM 90.7||Classical/NPR||NPR News||-||Washington State University|
|Wenatchee||KLWS-FM 91.5||NPR/News||-||-||Washington State University|
|Yakima||KDNA-FM 91.9||Spanish/Educational/PBS||-||-||Northwest Communities Educational Center|
|Yakima||KNWY-FM 90.3||Classical/NPR||NPR News||-||Washington State University|
Eye on IBOC
As Comment Deadline Closes, Push Comes to Shove
A leisurely review of comments filed in any FCC proceeding is always an educational exercise. Often the reading is dry, sometimes banal and occasionally downright bizarre. But if you really want to understand an issue in full context, no one tells the story quite as well as the stakeholders themselves. So, when the FCC asked for comments regarding a request by the NAB, Ibiquity and major radio groups such as Clear Channel, CBS and Entercom for an across-the-board increase of IBOC digital carrier power, you knew the reading would get interesting. And when the comment deadline came and went last week, it did.
There were no real surprises. The NAB lined up with Ibiquity, along with the large radio groups who have collectively spent countless millions on upgrading their transmission infrastructure to accommodate a proprietary technology that has been slow to deliver what it promised many years ago. Supporters of the increase also included Ford Motor, BMW and CEMA, along with several individual receive manufacturers, all of which have a strong interest in recouping significant investments they have made in HD Radio.
Yet one of the biggest investors in HD Radio technology, public radio, has shied away from endorsing the pedal-to-the-metal, one-size-fits-all approach to optimizing digital radio. And it's not alone. A number of educational, non-commercial, and small commercial broadcasters have also urged the Commission to approach the issue with all broadcasters, great and small, in mind.
Their argument is simple, and difficult to refute. Almost without exception, NPR Lab's recently completed Digital Radio Coverage and Interference Analysis Research Project (DRCIA) is cited as a source of concern. In that report, researchers posited that a 10dB across-the-board increase of digital carriers applied universally to FM IBOC hybrid digital operations could result in analog coverage areas dropping by 26 percent on average, with 20 percent of stations losing as much as half of their current analog coverage, worst case.
In a time when radio is suffering from a serious malaise, it might be better not to risk the 99 percent of one's audience still using analog radios on behalf of enhancing the experience of the 1 percent of those who have -- or soon will opt -- for the HD experience. While just about everyone agrees that adjustments to improve digital coverage are needed, moderate voices are urging the FCC to examine the merits on a case by case basis that allows neighboring signals to receive the same protection they've always been entitled to. We've waited this long, they argue, and with consumer spending on non-essentials going south right now, we can probably wait a little while longer.
If HD Radio is really the medicine for what's ailing radio, then let's get on with the business of adjusting the dosage on a case-by-case basis. But let's also be mindful of the words of Hippocrates, who urged physicians to "First, do no harm."
HD Radio Terminology
HD Radio Notebook
Latest Round of HD Radio Spot Production Awards Announced
The HD Radio Alliance has announced 10 winners in its radio commercial contest. Each winner was awarded a $1,000 check to share with co-producers of the spots.
The winners are listed below, click on the links to hear the spots.
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