The Future of Radio (after 2009)

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Radio is beginning to have significant competition; will it continue to stand the test of time?

Trends in Technology, Dec 2009

The Trends in Technology feature typically examines hard and fast methods to accomplish particular technical feats. This time around, the feature focuses on the trend aspect and speculates about the future of radio — how it will change in the not too distant future. For this reason, I'll make some assertions and postulate some. For starters, though, let's review some of the updates in technology that are either in the pipeline or close to becoming reality.

Power increase

A power increase for HD Radio transmissions has been in the works for some time now, and as of this writing, National Public Radio and Ibiquity have agreed to agree on a blanket 6dB power increase for HD Radio transmissions. They jointly presented their recommendations to the FCC, in the hope that the Commission will allow power increases in the immediate future. NPR and Ibiquity also propose that further power increases beyond 6dB should be considered on a station-by-station basis. For the technical implications of an increase in HD Radio power, see my article “Are You Ready for an HD Radio Power Increase?” in the July 2009 edition of Radio magazine and “Elevated Sidebands” in the August 2008 Insight to IBOC.

I am a proponent of HD Radio, having been involved with it on a first-hand basis for more than five years. It's an impressive technology and works well. It hasn't caught on as well with the public as many of us had hoped it would by now; but it took 20 years for FM radio to catch on, after all. I believe we are still in the early innings when it comes to the public's acceptance of this new technology.


Where are we with LPFM? This service has been in existence for nearly 10 years, yet it seems to have gotten little if any traction. That may be changing soon, though. The Local Community Radio Act of 2009 was passed by the House's Energy and Commerce committee on Oct. 15, and has been forwarded to the full House of Representatives. The Senate's version of the bill (S.592) appears to still be in committee as of this writing.

The aim of both of these bills is the elimination of the protection requirements that potential LPFMs have with respect to the third-adjacent channel of full-power FM radio stations. If these bills do pass in congress, the Commission may pursue further elimination of second-adjacent interference protection requirements as well. The elimination of these protection requirements will allow for many more LPFM stations to be licensed.

Looking to the future, it seems clear that if there are any “quiet” channels on the FM dial in your city that they may soon be filled with LPFM stations.

AM radio

Will there be a saving grace for AM radio? While it is clear that many AM radio stations remain successful, they are in large part high-power stations in major markets. I reached out to Steve Manuel, owner of station WWJB in Brooksville, FL, and asked him about the future of stand-alone, small market AMs such as his. “Success demands that we work harder and smarter every day. There is never a time to sit back,” he wrote. “A small market stand-alone AM must super serve its community or it simply can't work. You must provide equal or better service than anyone else, period. You better provide at least half a day of live and local programming. It's not going to work if you hook up to the satellite and forget it. Miracles are hard to come by these days, so if you want to succeed you better roll up your sleeves and get to work”.

Manuel (like many AM station owners) is of course very interested in the proposal by the Broadcast Maximization Committee that would reallocate now (mostly) unused spectrum formerly used by VHF TV transmissions on channels 5 and 6. AM radio stations such as WWJB would migrate to this new spectrum, turning on a digital (only) version of themselves. Parts of this spectrum would be allocated for LPFM, and part would become an extension of the current NCE FM band. As of the time of this writing, the Commission does not appear to have taken any action, beneficial or detrimental, on this proposal.

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