It’s not just the AM dial that’s being considered for reconfiguration.
A company called GEO Broadcast Solutions has developed a technology called “ZoneCasting,” which effectively allows FM radio stations to split up their coverage areas into unique regions featuring hyper-local content and advertising.
ZoneCasting reportedly works by melding wireless broadband connectivity with GPS location technology and FM booster stations (exactly how isn’t clear). According to the company, an FM station can theoretically split its coverage area into as many as seven zones, each of which would feature programming targeted to that zone. GEO Broadcast Solutions also claims that as listeners move from one zone to another, the programming they hear will transition seamlessly.
ZoneCasting has already been tested in Florida and Utah, to much success – so much so that GEO Broadcast Solutions plans to petition the FCC for permission to allow FM booster stations to originate programming. (There is no such petition yet in the agency’s Electronic Comment Filing System.)
FM boosters are much like translators, in that they are both intended to relay programming from a parent station. Boosters are typically employed to fill in gaps in a station’s coverage area. But as we have seen over the last decade, the role of translator stations has slowly morphed from providing a secondary service to becoming primary broadcast outlets of their own. Thus it is not surprising that some folks are considering the same trajectory for booster stations.
There’s too many unknowns about ZoneCasting technology (not to mention the company developing it) to make any declarative statements about its inherent functionality or the challenges of implementation. However, broadcasting is called broadcasting for a reason – and this idea stands to turn that notion somewhat on its head. Instead of an FM station having one transmitter, ZoneCast seems to work by allowing a station to operate as many as seven transmitters, all on a single frequency, to provide location-specific coverage.
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that broadcasters are looking to new models for using radio spectrum. In doing so, they stand to fundamentally change the nature of the medium itself. That this is happening with no participation from the listening public suggests these changes may not be net positives.