Sporadic news-updates will continue for the next month and a half, as I tackle my last preliminary exam. But the rest of the site is current (save for a batch-check of the links library for broken stuff). So, in the meantime here are some updates on a few of my favorite things:
HD Radio: Industry skepticism of and resistance to the technology is growing. Oppositional broadcast engineers, who used to be considered on the “fringes” are now getting at least a semblance of respect in the trades dialogue. Much of this has to do with the real-world impact of HD-related interference, most notable now on the AM band but soon coming to an FM dial near you, especially when stations are given permission to boost the power of their digital sidebands (at the expense of analog signal quality). Results of an HD signal-related interference analysis commissioned by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting – the first of its kind to really go into detail about FM-HD-related interference – should have been released by now, but hasn’t yet.
Meanwhile, market adoption of HD technology is worse than flat, the marketing strategy for getting consumers aware and excited about the technology continues to flounder, and the FCC continues to cast a blind eye on it all. In a what some see as a desperate move to save the technology, the National Association of Broadcasters says it will drop its opposition to the XM/Sirius satellite radio merger so long as HD compatibility is built into all radio receivers following the deal – a clever regulatory end-run to access the dashboard, something XM/Sirius actually invested in accomplishing but the HD Radio Alliance has not.
AM Stations’ Grab for FM Translators: The ball is now in the FCC’s court on this one; the formal comment and reply-comment periods on its proposed rulemaking are now closed. Paul the Mediageek and I parsed this issue in a much more energetic fashion on the latest edition of his radioshow. In a nutshell, it sounds like this proposal is pretty much a done deal; the only saving grace may be to delay its implementation until other potential FM spectrum-users (like new LPFM stations) get first crack at what is quickly becoming a dwindling spectral resource.
If you look though the record of comments filed in this proceeding, it’s pretty depressing. The NAB is essentially advancing this proposal behind an avalanche of comments from individually-distressed, mostly-rural and suburban, independent AM broadcasters. These folks would most likely benefit from supplementary FM broadcasting (if we take the NAB’s proposal at face value), but when push comes to shove it will be the Clear Channels of the industry that will take the lion’s share of the frequencies. (Clear Channel begs to differ.)
The only bona-fide opposition to this train wreck in the works, minus myself, comes from a somewhat unlikely coalition: CBS Radio, National Public Radio, and the Prometheus Radio Project. Only Prometheus came outright and called this translator-grab for what it is: “a blatant tactical artifice designed to divert the Commission’s attention and resources from existing policy objectives” – giving incumbent broadcasters one last crack at the crumbs left on the FM dial before the spectrum is officially declared “full.” Even so, over the course of time, Prometheus has softened its commentary tone, preferring to emphasize making LFPM stations primary relative to translators, and emphasizing the FCC’s guarantee that new LPFM stations will be allocated before AM stations execute their own spectrum-grab.
For its part, NPR is looking to protect the noncommercial-educational portion of the spectrum (88.1-91.9 MHz) from commercial encroachment. CBS and I, surprisingly enough, agree on one common-sense point: giving FM spectrum to AM stations does nothing to address the increasing reception-degradation of the AM band itself. It’s interesting hearing this from a company such as CBS, which owns “clear channel” AM stations (50-kilowatt, 24/7 operations) in nearly every major market in the U.S. – and, as such, might be considered most-responsible for the increasing AM-HD hash heard on the dial.