Digital Radio’s Global Consensus

It’s a tale of two futures for broadcasting. In the United States, as the radio industry and regulators wrestle with a poorly-designed and proprietary digital radio standard, online competitors are eroding the market share of stations and redefining radio itself in the process. Our reaction so far has been carefully-cultivated denial and wild swings between cheerleading and hand-wringing. Contrast that with Europe, which has widely adopted the Eureka 147 DAB standard. Now nearly 30 years old, DAB has gone through an evolution of its own, and the latest variant is called DAB+.

Many countries that initially adopted DAB are rebuilding their networks to accommodate DAB+. Cross-compatible receivers are on the market, and since the system works on non-broadcast spectrum, countries have some flexibility on how to build and deploy their digital radio networks. Read More

HD Radio in 2015: Threads Make a Strand?

This begins HD Radio’s 13th year as the de facto U.S. digtital radio standard. With a broadcast penetration rate still hovering at around 15 percent and listener uptake at a third of that, there’s still a long road ahead before the technology reaches any semblance of marketplace criticality. That said, HD proponents have many narrative threads in play, all of which will bear watching in the coming 12 months.

The Coattails Effect. Broadcasters have demurred investing in HD transmission technology until listeners have receivers. By and large, they still don’t, but HD proponents are hanging their hopes on two primary vectors: the car and the phone. Read More

FM-in-Smartphones Effort Goes Global

A consortium of broadcasters, including the The European Broadcast Union, the BBC, and several commercial broadcasters in the U.S., U.K, and Australia have launched the “Universal Smartphone Radio Project,” a campaign to lobby for building radio reception into smartphones. Sales of stand-alone radio receivers (both analog and digital) have been in steady decline for the last decade, and as media consumption-time shifts to mobile devices, radio broadcasters have found themselves by and large not in the mix.

The fix for this is what is now being called “hybrid radio,” defined as a radio signal plus a mobile data connection to provide enhanced content beyond audio and some interactivity. In the EU, this effort is being led by RadioDNS; in the States, it’s NextRadio. The campaign’s been in the talking stages since at least February and covered extensively in a presentation to the EBU in July. Read More

Canada Considers Adopting HD Radio

iBiquity Digital Corporation’s recent claim that HD Radio is on the way to becoming the North American digital radio standard actually has some merit. More than enough, in fact, that it’s surprising that the company didn’t announce how far along things are in Canada: as part of a wide-ranging proceeding on rules revisions to the radio sector, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is now soliciting formal comment on the notion of adopting HD Radio.

In 2006, the CRTC announced that it was prepared to reconsider its adoption of the Eureka 147 DAB standard as Canada’s digital radio platform. Since then, broadcasters have abandoned it and the CRTC is phasing out DAB licenses.

In 2012, iBiquity made approaches to several broadcasters in Canada about becoming test-beds for HD technology. Three stations in the Toronto area accepted the call. CING-FM, an adult-contemporary station owned by Corus Entertainment—Canada’s fourth-largest commercial broadcaster—has been the primary platform for technical tests, including datacasting experiments. The other two stations, CFMS-FM and CJSA-FM, are classified as "ethnic" stations, which basically means the majority of their programming isn’t in English. Canadian Multicultural Radio, the owner of CJSA, announced just last week that it will soon roll out FM-HD multichannel programming in Tamil, Hindi, Urdu, and Punjabi. Read More

Preliminary AM Revitalization Comments Roundup

With the first round of public comment on the FCC’s AM revitalization initiative due next week, it’s not a bad time to sample the feedback that’s come in so far: just about 65 comments in total.

There are some general points of consensus across most commenters. The strongest involves the increase of interference across the entire AM dial. Much of this comes from improperly-shielded consumer electronics, lighting fixtures, and power lines, which can wreak absolute havoc on AM reception in localized areas. The FCC has the authority to require that all such devices meet standards to reduce harmful emissions—but the huge influx of cheap sh*t from overseas is far, far more than the FCC can handle without a substantial increase in enforcement resources.

Another point of consensus is that the FCC should require AM radio receivers to work at a certain level of quality. Another side-effect of the influx of cheap electronic componentry means that the sensitivity and fidelity of modern AM receivers (especially in automobiles) is actually worse than they were, say, two decades ago. There is regulatory precedent for the FCC to consider and adopt minimum AM receiver-standards, but the power of the consumer electronics industry in D.C. will strongly resist any such notion. Read More