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IBOC Update - Mar 10, 2004
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New York - A 25 million dollar project designed to offer alternative transmission facilities to New York City FM and TV broadcasters now resides atop of the Conde Nast building in Manhattan's Times Square district. The new multi-station master antenna facility was developed in hopes of bringing fresh competition to NYC's "vertical real estate" market, which was thrown into disarray with the destruction of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
One completely unique feature of the project is that the Model 2540 balanced FM combiner system and Model 6016-3/4-Spl broadband panel antenna, both designed and built by Shiveley Labs, comprise the first master FM antenna system designed to accommodate HD Radio hybrid operation at the outset. The multi-vendor project, managed by the Durst Organization, couples a 384' custom ERI tower to the existing building, providing a total structure height 1,142'.
The master antenna, combiner and equipment rooms are being provisioned to accommodate as many as 21 stations.
This facility was showcased in the November issue of Radio magazine. Read the article online at beradio.com/ar/radio_times_square_antenna
Lured by the potential of supplemental audio channels (SAC) and the availability of matching funds to help cover conversion costs, a number of NPR Radio affiliates have begun the engineering and paperwork required for migration to hybrid HD Radio operation. According to an informal survey of some major market public radio stations, the success of NPR's Tomorrow Radio testing project in demonstrating the viability of SACs, coupled with the initiation of round two in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's (CPB) digital radio conversion grant fund have made the case for upgrading to HD Radio both "exciting and compelling."
One of the two driving forces, SAC operation, is seen by public radio stations as a potential answer to an old dilemma: How to satisfy the information needs of an intellectually active audience base, while still providing arts-intensive musical programming. For non-commercial stations relying on audience donations to hold their operating costs in the black, the answer is obvious: give both sectors more of what they want. One example of this philosophy can be found on the website of WGUC-FM in Cincinnati: "...digital radio may allow station operators to offer two distinct program "channels" simultaneously. For example, WGUC could offer classical music all day, every day on one channel, while using our second channel for spoken word programs such as All Things Considered, Car Talk and Brain Brew. National Public Radio is currently conducting tests of this feature."
Another NPR major-market NPR affiliate, WDUQ-FM in Pittsburgh, anticipates the possibility of signing on an HD Radio hybrid signal later this year. According to their website "...regular FM radios will continue to work just fine, but the potential for exciting new services might encourage listeners to try an HD Radio sooner rather than later. Those services could include customized and stored audio segments, text and even pictures. Many localized reception problems could also be improved. In addition, remarkable advances in digital technology could allow WDUQ to transmit an additional supplemental audio stream, pending [FCC] approval. A handful of public radio stations are beginning to convert their signals, thanks to significant matching funds from the CPB, WDUQ's transition could begin in 2004...however WDUQ will need local funds to match the proposed CPB investment."
Indeed, the matching grants now being offered by the CPB have entered a second round, after providing over 3 million dollars in initial transition funding. In fact, the CPB estimates that it may disburse as much as $6,750,000 in additional matching grants during the current phase of the program. In order to qualify, the public broadcaster must currently be CPB funded, certify their financial ability to complete the project within three to six months, and hold all required licenses and permits for work to proceed. Individual grants are capped at 75 thousand dollars or 70 percent of the project total for most qualifying stations, though some rural applicants may be eligible for as much as 80 thousand dollars or 80 percent of total project cost. Both AM and FM public radio stations may apply for the grants.
One beneficiary of the CPB program is northeast Ohio's WKSU-FM. While the Kent State University-based broadcaster is not currently operating its main transmitter in IBOC, the station's new 4kW FM repeater station in Norwalk, OH, is now being built as a hybrid HD Radio facility. According to Ron Bartlebaugh, WKSU's director of engineering, the station has applied to the CPB for additional grant funding that would assist in adding HD Radio to the main WKSU signal. If these monies are received, Bartlebaugh says that conversion may be completed within this calendar year, while HD Radio conversion of the station's three remaining repeaters will proceed as further funding is secured.
CPB says that a third round of the HD Radio conversion will become available pending congressional approval of an omnibus spending bill currently under consideration.
|Eye on IBOC|
As HD Radio continues a slow-but-steady rollout in the U.S., broadcasters in Canada and Mexico have expressed concern over a number of issues regarding potential cross-border effects of its implementation.
Canadian broadcasters, in particular, have long questioned America's commitment to an in-band on-channel approach, while opting for new spectrum allocations as a home for the Eureka 147 digital radio architecture. In the words of Steven Edwards, VP of engineering for Toronto-based radio group Rogers Media, "you're left with the conclusion: why did they bother? They ended up with a system that isn't particularly useful."
The Canadian's dour outlook on HD Radio is fueled by two factors. The first involves potential interference by U.S. HD Radio-equipped stations operating on adjacent FM and AM channels to those held by Canadian broadcasters. This issue comes into clearer focus when one considers that 75 percent of Canada's citizens live within 200 miles of the border, along with the recent recommendation of the NAB that the FCC permit 24-hour AM IBOC operation. Simply put, skywave interference will negatively effect first-adjacent AM signals at night. The NAB conceded that point in its comments, while concluding that the benefits offered by HD Radio AM were such that they outweighed the negative effects - unless, of course, you happen to own a Canadian AM station that not in a position to implement HD Radio AM.
The second bone of contention involves the willingness of consumer receiver manufacturers to build different radios for the Canadian and US markets. If Eureka 147 product is slow to arrive and HD Radio receivers manage to become more plentiful and lower cost, it's possible that Canadian consumers will be tempted to spend more time listening to US signals. A further complication is likely to surface as the implementation of Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) standards for North American medium-wave services are brought into play.
The situation in Mexico is more fluid, because digital standards there are still in a somewhat elastic state. In fact, one station, XHFAJ-FM in Mexico City, has been operating in HD Radio FM experimentally since last October, providing an evaluation platform for Mexican broadcasters and regulators. Still, Mexican AM stations operating near the American border are also concerned about the effect of IBOC AM skywave on first-adjacent channels. Though the FCC maintains the regulatory ability to order the shut down of offending digital carriers, some Mexican AM operators quietly point out that cross-border cooperation on interference issues has been spotty over the years.
More detailed positions from government officials in both Mexico and Canada are expected as HD Radio deployment in the U.S. matures.
|HD Radio Terminology|
program associated data (PAD): An HD Radio ancillary data service provisioned to provide information such as song titles, artist names, and other related information to consumer's radios for simultaneous display or later recall.
telematics: Mobile technology applications designed to provide motorists and their passengers a broad range of services in the areas of onboard communications, navigation and entertainment.
Kenwood America no longer holds the distinction of being the only manufacturer to realize retail sales of HD Radio receivers, as JVC's KD-SHX 900 joined the fledgling HD Radio receiver market last week. Now listed as ready to ship at a number of retail mobile audio websites, this single DIN space JVC product offers CD/MP3 playback, a 256-color display and is Sirius Satellite Radio ready.
The KD-SHX900 and Kenwood's KTC-HR100 HDE Radio tuner are the only HD Radio consumer products known to be currently shipping. Panasonic's MXE CQ-CB9900U is expected to arrive at US retail audio outlets in a matter of weeks.
Visteon May Ship OEM HD Radio Receivers as Early Q4 2004
Visteon, a major manufacturer of what have become known as telematic systems - mobile technology application in the areas of communications, navigation and entertainment electronics - reports that it may ship OEM HD Radio products to vehicle manufacturers as early as fall 2004. According to Visteon spokesperson Robin Pannecouck, those radios will probably not find their way onto auto showroom floors until the second half of the 2005 model year, even though the radios themselves are "ready to go."
Citing customer confidentiality issues, Pannecouk would not specify which automakers were negotiating with the company, but did say that there was a general consensus that the 2005 calendar year is expected to bring the number of broadcast outlets transmitting an HD Radio signal up to a level that will make the product an attractive amenity from the standpoint of car makers and dealers. Delphi, another large OEM Telematics producer, has not yet firmly committed to providing an HD Radio product, but remains "ready to support any customer request" according to Jane Williams, a company communications specialist.
|More From Radio magazine|
We will continue to cover the news and technology of IBOC and HD Radio as it develops. We want to hear your stories as well. Tell us about your experience in installing IBOC equipment and your research of the technology to implement it at your station. If you have signed an IBOC transmitter on the air, tell us.
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The Next issue of the IBOC Update – Insight on HD Radio will be mailed on March 24.
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