Growing Resistance to HD Radio

After feeling like I’ve been shouting into the wind alone for so long about this, it’s great to see others taking a critical perspective on HD’s fundamental flaws. Check the following blogs for lots of information about this tainted technology, especially since these folks are also doing an excellent job aggregating news coverage of the issue:

Is HD Radio a Farce? – A good collection of information on what’s happening both within the radio industry and among consumers, who, by and large, seem to be holding their noses once they get a whiff of those “secret stations between frequencies.”

HD Radio on the Medium Wave (AM) Band – An excellent, if somewhat disorganized, collection of coverage about the increasing problems with AM-HD interference. Read More

AM Broadcasters Back Away from HD Deployment

According to a leaked memorandum from ABC/Citadel‘s executive chief engineer, all AM stations in the company’s stable have ceased broadcasting in digital at night, effective immediately. The memorandum does not give specifics, but follow-on reports cite interference between AM stations on adjacent channels as a major factor for the decision. Interestingly, some suggest Citadel executives knew such a problem might be in the offing, but they went ahead and turned on their digital signals at night anyway.

This is a major setback for the adoption of HD Radio, especially on the AM dial, and Citadel is the first large broadcast conglomerate to back away from full deployment of the HD broadcast technology. Although the company’s gone out of its way not to characterize its move an indictment of iBiquity’s proprietary digital broadcast standard, the problems with AM HD broadcast interference are wellknown and -documented. Read More

Alternatives to HD Radio

Believe it or not, “HD Radio” is not the only digital audio broadcast system in the world. Alternatives do exist: one of the most promising is Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) (which should not be confused with “digital rights management,” a whole other (evil) animal), which has been jointly developed and deployed by some 30 countries around the world. It’s an open-source standard, which has the potential to operate on either new or incumbent spectrum, and contains the potential to practically advance the service terrestrial broadcasting provides; it is not just a “better than analog” standard, featuring chimerical vaporware such as “buy buttons” for the download of digital music – services for which radio was not initially designed.

At present, while Digital Radio Mondiale is gaining traction around the world, it’s all but been ruled out as a potential alternative to HD Radio in the United States, though that may be changing. A coalition of spectrum experts has been formed to advance the notion that broadcasters should be afforded the choice of picking between HD and DRM. As of now, this advocacy is restricted toward the possible deployment of Digital Radio Mondiale on the shortwave and AM bands only; although an FM version of the technology is under development, HD’s relatively slow but steady adoption by U.S. FM broadcasters may make it a tough sell in the marketplace (even though some transmitter manufacturers are making dual-compatible HD/DRM transmitters, and there’s no reason why receiver manufacturers couldn’t follow suit). Read More

Good Cop/Bad Cop: The NAB and Satellite Radio

Last month, a consultant engineer hired by the National Association of Broadcasters filed comments with the FCC in opposition to the proposed merger of the Sirius and XM satellite radio networks. These comments stressed the unique transmission and reception infrastructure of each satellite system and pronounced them inherently incompatible. The consultant, Dennis Wallace, asserts (among other things) that the variation in the orbital paths of XM and Sirius satellites, combined with a host of differences involving how the networks encode and compress their digital signals for broadcast, makes each company’s distribution infrastructure nearly impossible to consolidate without “significant disruption” to satellite radio service more generally.

This assertion is belied by two fundamental facts. The first is that XM and Sirius do not serve their subscribers primarily via satellite; instead they use a network of ground-based repeater-transmitters. In most cases, XM/Sirius listeners are not listening to signals directly from space, but instead to a signal bounced from the ground to space and back down again, then rebroadcast from gear bolted to some rented space on a cell phone tower nearby. It doesn’t matter what the difference in XM and Sirius satellites’ orbital paths are – so long as one satellite can “see” the United States (and XM’s constellation is in geostationary orbit), the repeaters will be served, and hence the listeners. Read More