Radio With Pictures Still A Hard Sell

Believe it or not, there are still some U.S. broadcasters tinkering with the HD Radio protocol. One of the latest is Rick Sewell, the manager of engineering for Crawford Broadcasting’s stations in Chicago.

His latest project involved implementing HD’s “Artist Experience” feature – this is a fancy name for what is basically radio with pictures. AE allows HD-compatible stations to send album artwork and advertiser-images to digital radio receivers along with the audio programming; these are things that digital-native audio streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify mastered years ago.

There’s no coordinated drive from the broadcast industry to implement Artist Experience, and HD’s proprietor, Xperi Corporation, isn’t actively marketing the technology to broadcasters much anymore. Apparently, one of Sewell’s colleagues was down in Atlanta and got a rental-car with an HD-compatible receiver. This guy stumbled across a station that had implemented AE and thought, “we should do this too.”

Thus began Sewell’s saga. He’d initially hoped that he would have time to explore the HD system in more detail, but station management had already started pitching the Artist Experience opportunity to advertisters. The first step was to make sure that the HD airchain of the station on which AE would be deployed was totally up to date. That got figured out after Sewell got over his own “ignorance as well as some misinformation along the way.” Read More

HD Proponents Seek Protection for “No New Spectrum”

An interesting trial-balloon was floated last month in Radio World. In it, John Kean, one of the founding employees of NPR Labs (who was let go in a reshuffle this past August) suggested that the FCC’s spectrum allocation rules be revised to better “protect” FM-HD Radio sideband signals.

Before going any further, it’s best to cover some history. HD Radio was adopted by the FCC in 2000 primarily on the premise that the system used “no new spectrum.” In fact, FM-HD signals double the spectral footprint of FM stations — but HD’s proponents got around this by appropriating fallow spectrum the FCC leaves between stations as the stations’ own allocation. Read More

New HD Radio Applications Seek to Fix System Flaws

There’ve been a couple of interesting developments out of the HD Radio trenches over the last few months. Both are touted as advanced “applications” for utilizing the HD Radio system — but in reality they’re band-aids that seek to fix fundamental flaws with the technology itself.

The first involves transmitter-manufacturer Nautel and its experiments with FM-HD multiplexing. This practice is inherent to the DAB/DAB+ radio systems adopted in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere: instead of every station having its own transmission infrastructure, stations send a stream to a multiplex transmitter where it’s combined with other stations and broadcast as a unifed signal. Instead of tuning to a particular frequency, DAB/DAB+ receivers look for the data-flags of the desired station and, once found, decode only that stream. In this configuration, DAB/DAB+ multiplexes can broadcast 10 or more channels of programming on a single unified digital radio signal. 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

HD Radio: New Frontier in Norway?

Fresh off the heels of the NAB Radio Show came news that an FM broadcaster in Norway is testing the all-digital FM-HD Radio system. According to Radio World, the tests have been conducted under the auspices of the Norweigan Local Radio Association, the industry’s longest-running trade association.

Recently, two large commercial broadcasters split off from the NLRA and have created their own lobbying arm, advocating for the eventual switch-off of FM broadcasting in Norway (in favor of DAB+). The NLRA has long promoted allowing broadcasters to retain their legacy FM infrastructure; is this affair with HD Radio a strategic maneuver to convince Norwegian regulators to drop the switchoff? Read More