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The FCC Tunes Into HD Radio--And May Turn Off Distant AM

Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission gave a big boost to HD Radio, the digital technology that permits an FM station to broadcast multiple channels and allows AM stations to sound like FM.

The FCC ruling (109 kb PDF) leads off by eliminating filing requirements for FM stations that want to offer secondary, digital-only channels. The important part, however, comes farther down, and covers the so-far neglected area of digital AM: Stations can now broadcast digitally at night, not just during the daytime.

That's good news in a purely selfish sense; I'm looking forward to hearing Rich Chvotkin call a Georgetown game without the usual static and hiss. The vastly superior sound quality of HD AM could also allow broadcasters to offer music programming as well as the usual talk/news/sports mix.

(Would-be merger partners XM and Sirius seized on this angle in a press release today, arguing that a single satellite radio firm would still have plenty of competition: "The FCC decision underlines that HD radio on the AM/FM bands provide a real alternative to satellite.")

But HD Radio AM broadcasts may also obstruct one of AM radio's oldest attractions--so-called skywave reception, in which AM signals bounce off the ionosphere after sunset and allow listeners to tune in from hundreds of miles away. For example, two years ago, a Cleveland station's broadcast of an Indians game kept me entertained on the New Jersey Turnpike; a couple of nights later, I tuned into WTWP-AM's coverage of a Nationals game in north Jersey.

A nearby HD AM (I realize this sounds like an oxymoron) signal, however, can interfere with a distant analog signal if the two stations are adjacent on the dial. For instance, a Jersey station's digital broadcast on 1510 or 1490 AM might have stopped me from getting WTWP's analog signal at 1500 AM.

People in the radio industry have known about this issue for years. The FCC, however, judged it an acceptable tradeoff for better-sounding local broadcasts--which it does not think will be threatened by HD AM. Said FCC spokesman Clyde Ensslin on Friday afternoon: "We do not anticipate that AM nighttime [HD Radio] operation will increase interference in AM stations' core service areas."

So we'll have higher-quality AM at home, but we may lose some of our favorite AM stations on the road. Is that a fair deal to you? Sound off in the comments!

By Rob Pegoraro  |  March 23, 2007; 6:37 PM ET
Categories:  Telecom  
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Comments

At last... the FCC couldn't leave AM owners dangling much longer. I believe HD-AM will provide new life to music on AM and will draw listeners with the FM Quality sound and absence of familiar AM noise, static & interference. It was mindless to approve daytime only HD on AM. As far as skywave... that was part of the analog world. Be nostalgic if you want, but I prefer a 24hr quality local audio service. Somehow we've lived quite well without night skywave on FM or the Pony Express. Welcome to 2007!

Posted by: Steve in Detroit | March 23, 2007 11:01 PM | Report abuse

Keep the crappy AM radio. As a high-schooler in Milwaukee, Chicago AM sports radio kept me awake and I spent many school days in a sleep deprived daze.
More recently, I was baffled by the fact the I could pick up Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey games (broadcast from Minneapolis) in Milwaukee but not Wisconsin Badger hockey games (broadcast from Madison) in my car while delivering pizza. I guess the bouncing off the ionosphere was a semi-blessing (they would give UW updates occasionally). A few months later, a Milwaukee station finally picked up Badger games but if I was a gopher fan, god forbid, it would have been a nice benefit. Being able to choose from all the garbage from other markets is probably the best part of AM.
Of course now...who would listen to AM anyway? Nostalgia is for assholes. It is another dying industry trying to squeeze the last little life out itself as possible.

Posted by: Dan | March 24, 2007 12:50 AM | Report abuse

Without skywave, I never would have become a big star broadcasting from XERB in Mexico during the early 60's, a signal you could catch all the way to Northern California, every night.

No skywave, no Wolfman, no cruising, no American Graffiti, no Star Wars--what a different world it would be, all because of radio signals skipping off the atmosphere.

Ain't life grand?

Posted by: Wolfman Jack | March 24, 2007 12:51 AM | Report abuse

It's no surprise that skywave reception will be sacrificed in the process. As much as this phenomenon is a part of AM's history - and a source of wonder to radiophiles who grew up on this stuff - it's not, in any sense of the word, monetizable.

Distant listeners don't frequent the advertisers who buy time on this localized medium. To the broadcasters, it's neat to get the occasional letter from a distant listener. But it doesn't touch the ratings and it will never pay the bills.

So out it goes. One wonders what magical offshoot of broadcast technology will fire the dreams of tomorrow's media wizards. Time will tell.

Thanks, Rob, for continuing to share background on issues that matter to consumers more than even they may be aware.

Carmi
http://writteninc.blogspot.com/

Posted by: Carmi | March 24, 2007 3:48 PM | Report abuse

I too was part of the Wolfman Jack era and can remember those long skip radio signals coming in at night. Raised on Long Island, NY in the early '50's I would never have been exposed to the Grand Ole Opera on WWVA out of Wheeling, W Virginia and my introduction to Country music if not for that AM radio station night time signal. I started my radio career at WEOK in Poughkeepsie, NY in the in the early 60's and yes it was a thrill to receive reports of long signal hops but times have changed.

Today of course we are not isolated from any sort of radio, TV, Sat. Radio or Internet Programming we desire to hear or see. However there is one very important point that has gotten lost in the "noise" so to speak in the discussion of AM radio Stations and this Long Distance night time coverage is a major part of it.

Most readers I am sure were not here yet during the war years of WW-II. The FCC set up the AM radio station structure to provide "Nation Wide" coverage in case of an enemy attack. Night time long range coverage to every nook and cranny of this great nation would allow most all to keep "Tuned In" during any form of attack and of course under everyday conditions the nightly news to know just what was going on in the world.

Look around folks "We are at War again" and yes our new technology is wonderful BUT please consider where would be without all of this new technology? What if all of our communications satellites were taken out? Where would our news and safety of life and property information come from if not from the Clear channel 50,000 watt AM giants located in vital parts of the nation as well as the other night time giants?

These AM stations were not placed where they are by accident, there was, still is I hope, a plan for their Radio Information service if, GOD forbid, the Satellites, Internet, Cell Phone networks and other major communication links are taken down by terrorist activity. Good old Basic AM broadcast band, yes with its noise problems and all will still serve this nation in a major time of need.

Do away with Medium Frequency AM radio completely or destroy the night time signal characteristics and you have broken the countries emergency communications backbone. Yes we are at war and yes these terrorist things can happen! Who among you born in the last 40 years ever felt we would hear of "Beheadings" in this day and age? Well we have them and all else is possible!

Thanks for reading,
"Charles August"

Just an old time broadcaster
keeping in touch with reality!

Posted by: Charles August | March 24, 2007 9:24 PM | Report abuse

Great news! I have four HD Radio multicast channels that I now listen to full time. Clear Channel has it's local talk station as an HD2 channel. AM radio needs this just to be competitive to FM and satelite.

Posted by: martin_c_e | March 25, 2007 11:07 AM | Report abuse

There is a possible solution to this HD vs. Analogue conflict: Just expand the AM band once again as was done back in 1994. Allow the AM HD band to be above or below the current AM (Middle Wave) band, for 24 hour service, and this way we will maintain the integrity of the clear channel analogue nightime transmissions of the likes of WABC, WHO, KMOX, WSB etc. Additionally, those of us who enjoy listening to the distant nightime catch will have our listening fun, and rights to information, respected.
Is this cost effective? Maybe or maybe not. Yet the public does have final ownership over its airwaves. We do have the prerogative to differing voices, opinions and forms of entertainment, without having to pay for it.

Posted by: Rob | March 25, 2007 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Other posters have covered the significant issues relating to HD radio and skywave AM reception. Growing up along the Connecticut coast many years ago I listened to stations from Baltimore to Boston at night and it was a thrill. Here in South Florida I have the nostalgic pleasure of occasionally picking up WCBS or WABC from New York.
But to me the real magic today is internet radio. Sitting at my computer I have my favorite jazz stations from Worcester, Newark, San Francisco and Los Angeles instantly available without interference at any time of day. Plus talk radio, sports, news, classical music and much more.
Seems like a pretty fair trade off. Please don't let them take that away from us.

Posted by: Phil in Florida | March 25, 2007 8:03 PM | Report abuse

hey rob--please weigh in on how apple plays media favorites and delayed your apple tv demo

Posted by: reader | March 26, 2007 5:05 AM | Report abuse

I'm too young to remember the era some of you are discussing, but I still have a sense of lost romance. Nevertheless, a generation from now, some of us will be nostalgic for today... The next Wolfman might be a transnational skypecast, or a virtual-reality phenomenon, or something we can't even envision now. Things aren't always what the seem. The 'next Elvis' was MTV, not another star. The 'next MTV' was the internet, not another cablechannel...

Posted by: Rich | March 26, 2007 8:56 AM | Report abuse

My comment is not quite on topic. However . .
Analog AM causes major interference problems in any analog home electronic device that is not super insulated. Head up to Wheaton around the WTOP tower some time and you'll find out what I am talking about. Even metal duct work also picks up the signal and, because of its outside surface area and being hollow, can actually amplify and play it. In Wheaton, DSL service is degraded by WTOP. I am not sure if HD AM will eliminate the interference problems, but I suspect it will. Analog AM is something that should have died a long, long time ago, and I am all for technology that will hasten its demise.

Posted by: bkp | March 26, 2007 9:43 AM | Report abuse

I'm an old radio hog myself. I started out broadcasting on AM. I even remember when I put the first AM radio in my car, It was a technological wonder. Charles August covered the most important topic to me. The fact that analogue signals can still be transmitted from an older, small transmitter, with none of the bells and whistles that come with HD, means that a man in his home can set up a radio and actually communicate with others when all the digital files and codecs have been "hacked."
I just wonder what will happen to a few of us "Pirate Radio" fanatics.

Posted by: Craig | March 26, 2007 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Great comments all around. To "bkp"--I hadn't heard about this WTOP-vs.-DSL issue before. Could you e-mail me (robp, washpost.com) with the details? Thanks!

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | March 26, 2007 10:26 AM | Report abuse

How would this affect those of us living in smaller population areas? I live in rural Montana where the local radio stations (1 AM and 1 FM) still shut down at 10 pm. I do listen to skip radio when I go to bed, and w/ baseball season kicking in, I can pick up the broadcasts (and re-broadcasts) of 3 different MLB teams (Seattle, San Francisco and Colorado) on AM later in the evenings. Would those stations disappear on my radio?

I do listen to web radio all the time and am more concerned about losing those stations. Especially public radio, which we don't receive in my small town (thanks for reminding me about KEXP in your other posting). My personal music library (all properly purchased) has grown substantially since I have started listening to web radio.

Posted by: Brian | March 26, 2007 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Bring it on. I, too, grew up in a time when I could listen to the Chicago White Sox down here in Dallas via bounced skywaves. The local stations have tripled since then and, indeed, have blocked most distant station reception anyway. But there's also the infrastructure -- buildings, power lines, overhead lights, electronics, flashing static everywhere. Population has grown from a million and a half in the 50's to six million today. Yet, in the lesser populated areas outside the metro areas, reception is still keen and clear. Give me the clear reception of locals (where my auto pre-sets are tuned), and I'll be happy. It's been a long time coming.

Posted by: Dean | March 26, 2007 1:20 PM | Report abuse

I disagree with Phil in Florida about the magic of internet radio for the simple reason that, while internet radio is generally better reception, what's lost is the magic of tuning the dial to find something on the airwaves, whether it's a different music, an athletic even you wouldn't have found otherwise, or even talk subjects; with internet radio you need to know in advance what you're looking for (and the station's web address); you lose the magic of simply turning the dial back and forth. And isn't that what radio's about? Imagination and magic?

And, I agree with others who found the Wolfman coming from Mexico across the U.S., WSM's Grand Ole Opry and Bill Mack broadcasting out of Fort Worth, as well as Jean Shepherd. None of those greats would have been found, let alone appreciated, by internet radio.

Posted by: Dungarees | March 26, 2007 2:40 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree whole heartily with Mr. August's comment regarding AM radio and it's role as the backbone of our communication system in times of national emergency Despite it drawbacks AM's ability to cover large swaths of territory makes it the most cost effective way reach both congested urban as sparsely populated rural areas. Destroy that and we leave ourselves even more vulnerable in times of disaster or attack. As an old radio guy I think it would be a mistake to destroy this capability in the name of so called "progress."

I've spent the last 45 odd years DXing stations from all over the globe. Beginning with a 1947 Admiral "All American Five" to today's Eton E-1 I still get a thrill each time I log a station be it small local to one of the remaining 50,000 watt "flamethrowers."

As for HD radio the March issue of Monitoring Times (Yes, there is still several magazines devoted to radio) discusses the lack of consumer interest in the HD radio medium. Even with box retailers like Wal-Mart and Target now selling the units sales have been lackluster at best. Just for kicks I recently went to a fairly high-end audio store and asked about HD radio. The clerk informed me they stopped carrying it due to poor sales and the one unit they had remaining was part of a home theater system retailing for $600. Only in Europe has HD gained some foothold with the BBC operating in HD since the late 1990s. Currently, all services including Radio One to Seven as well as language minority programming, and the World Service are available in HD. Both Germany and the Netherlands are also expanding their HD services. For these countries this makes some sense since the there has long been a shortage of wavelengths in the Long wave and Medium Wave (AM) bands. Only the introduction of FM in the mid 1950's allowed many European countries to expand their radio services including the introduction of so called local radio. We, however, are not so restricted with regards to radio allocations and in fact the number of AM only stations increased in 2006.

With regards to bkp's comments the problem outlined with the WTOP facility is not unique and can occur with any high-powered transmitter. In terms of FM we call it "drop in" and it occurs when a close by station drowns out a more distant one on an adjacent frequency. It's the nature of the beast, but I don't think HD will improve it. As an aside from 1935 to 1937 WLW in Cincinnati was allowed to increase its power to 500,000 watts. People living with in a mile or so of the station reported that common house hold items could and did pick up the signals.

Posted by: Peter Eldridge | March 26, 2007 2:44 PM | Report abuse

On a related topic...

Shortwave broadcasting is dying. The BBC World Service hasn't broadcast shortwave to North American in several years.

The march of progress? Well I suppose.

But I have fond memories of twisting the dial and getting up-to-date news and perspectives from the BBC, Deutche Welle, Kol Israel, Radio Moscow, Radio Kiev, Radio France Internationale, etc., etc.

Back before you could read newspapers from all over the world in real time on the internet, that was really kind of exciting.

Sigh.

Posted by: Jeff | March 26, 2007 3:35 PM | Report abuse

If you're close enough to a 50 or 100 kWatt transmitter, AM or FM, lots of things may be affected. I used to be able to hear WAER coming in on the speakers of my turned-off stereo when I lived less than 1/4 mile from the tower in college.

Posted by: Dan | March 26, 2007 4:14 PM | Report abuse

I, too, sympathize with the potential loss of hearing the distant AM stations around the country. But, hearing what is airing around the country at night, Wolfman Jack will never happen again. So many stations at night are airing syndicated programs, up to a 12 hour delay (Dr. Laura comes to mind on WHO-AM Des Moines) where does the next Wolfman Jack have airtime? AM needs all the help is can to survive the next wave of listeners - and I mean the boomers, not X-ers. The Boomers cut their teeth on experimental FM. Quality is what they will gravitate to.

Posted by: Brett | March 26, 2007 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Slight oversight. In approving 24-hour operation of AM HD radio, the FCC forgot to rescind the laws of physics.

There will be more than a few AM radio stations who's night-time signal won't be listenable much beyond their parking lots. I'm talking about smaller, independently-owned, lower-powered stations that are not owned by a handful of big broadcasters. Most of the big radio consolidators are part-owners of this HD radio "technology".

Remember, the digital hash will still bounce off the ionosphere after sunset, rendering many local signals almost completely unlistenable, even in HD mode. That sprinkler, shower-like sound or electronic hash is being touted as "progress".

Posted by: J. Hollander | March 26, 2007 8:38 PM | Report abuse

The FCC has botched the conversion to digital in both radio and TV, kowtowing to big money instead of the public interest they are required to by law. We could've had patent-free DAB/DMB (and DVB for TV) with the latest and greatest compression technology, already implemented in most of the rest of the developed world, but the FCC chose to sell both the frequencies and the technologies which should have been used to the highest bidders instead.

HD Radio is an inferior technology with inferior compression, and public radio stations (college, indie, religious) will never have the 100k$+ iBiquity charges for the system, on top of the royalties they charge every year. The FCC didn't even bother to consider FMeXtra, which costs a small fraction of HD Radio to install and has all of the same features without any of the excessive royalties.

Just as with the ATSC TV format, we are stuck with another inferior, expensive, incompatible, and patent-encumbered broadcast system which benefits the company that invented it at the expense of the public that owns the airwaves they use.

Posted by: Joe | March 27, 2007 12:51 AM | Report abuse

Jeff I wouldn't give up on short wave radio just yet. A number of countries have, in fact, increased their output the most notable example being China, which has increased its North American coverage in the past several years. Others included Australia and New Zealand whose world band transmissions have come roaring back after nearly being killed off a decade ago. The same is true for Radio Slovakia who returned to the air in late 2006.

Unfortunately, the Bushies and their top 40 mentality now threaten the Voice of America. Under a proposal now before Congress nearly all English language services would be reduced or cut out, as would several other languages. The running down of such a prestige service at a time when this country needs to cultivate world opinion is nothing short of stupid. Again, short wave transmissions are an inexpensive and extremely cost effective means to disseminate information especially where Internet services are a rarity.

As for the BBC well you can still get although it might take some doing. Normally I get the English language services beamed toward Africa on Sunday afternoon around 3pm. You might also try for those transmissions beamed toward the Caribbean and South America in the early evening.

Lastly, in conjunction with the Radio and TV Museum in Bowie MD and the Fairfax County Public Libraries I have a display running entitled Short Wave Today. The display is designed to show off contemporary examples of world band radios available through box retailers or specialty stores such as Universal Radio. The show has already run at George Mason, Tyson's Pimmitt, and Kingstown branches and will close on March 31st at the Martha Washington branch. The message is simple-- short wave is alive and well in the age of the 'net.

Posted by: Peter Eldridge | March 27, 2007 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Here are some interesting articles on HD Radio, especially the East Bay Express article:

"Sirius, XM, and HD: Consumer interest reality check"

"While interest in satellite radio is diminishing, interest in HD shows no signs of a pulse."

http://www.hear2.com/2007/02/sirius_xm_and_h.html

"What kind of digital radio are listeners searching for?"

http://www.hear2.com/2006/10/what_kind_of_di.html

"HD Radio on the Offense"

"But after an investigation of HD Radio units, the stations playing HD, and the company that owns the technology; and some interviews with the wonks in DC, it looks like HD Radio is a high-level corporate scam, a huge carny shill."

http://www.eastbayexpress.com/2007-03-07/music/hd-radio-on-the-offense

"RW Opinion: Rethinking AM's future"

"Making AM-HD work well as a long-term investment is seen as an expensive and risky challenge for most stations and their owners. There is the significant downside of potential new interference to some of their own AM analog listeners as well as listeners of adjacent-channel stations."

http://www.rwonline.com/pages/s.0044/t.557.html

Greg Smith
Olney, Md.

Posted by: Brian G. | March 28, 2007 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Night time AM HD radio will be just as receivable across hundreds of miles via skywave propagation as analog AM. In fact AM HD at night has every possibility to be even more receivable.

Currently, ALL radio stations that broadcast HD do so at 1/100th the power level of the analog signal. Yet, I have been able to receive AM HD stations many hundreds of miles away during the dawn or dusk hours in crystal clear digital quality. AND the station is automatically identified right on the front panel of my HD radio.

The only difference at night between listening to distant AM station in analog or HD is simple: In order to enjoy HD radio you will need to buy a HD capable receiver. Of which many more are expected to hit the marketplace soon along with lower prices.

You want to get rid of AM "noise"? - static, fade, adjacent chanel interference... HD radio is digital radio.
There is no noise.

Posted by: Paul C. in Chicago | March 28, 2007 3:57 PM | Report abuse

A lot of this is speculation. There are not enough AM stations broadcasting HD yet to tell. I hope that this is not going to be as much of a problem as predicted. I too loved listening to sky wave AM.

However the FM side of HD is terrific! I purchased the Sangean HDT-1 component tuner a couple months ago and have never heard anything like it before. The ability to listen to 2 or 3 different formats broadcast on one frequency blows me away. In central New Jersey we have 20 HD stations I can tune in from Philadelphia, and 25 HD stations from New York, almost all of them are multicasting. What a selection of different kinds of entertainment.

HD FM is going to be a huge success. As soon as HD becomes a standard on all newly manufactured radios you will never look back. I can't believe that it has taken us this long to catch up to the Europeans. They have had RDS text on all of their stations for years. We now have a text system with HD. To me the song titles added to the superior sound of HD is all worth it.

I hope the FCC takes the best part of the band and revokes the priviledges of stations to broadcast AM HD there. This would allow for sky wave on a couple of high power stations. This would allow us the safety of a national broadcast system and for others, a better sounding AM band. Everybody wins in this scenario. Face it, radio has come of age. The information age. (text included) and its free!

Posted by: Ami | March 28, 2007 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Iboc takes 30 KHZ to implement, which is the equivalant of 3 analog channels. Open sorce DRM on the other hand, takes 12 to 15 KHZ, which would allow the analog and digital channels in the same 30 KHZ with a little space for channel sepparation.
This would allow existing receivers to be modified to receive digital on home computers where the fidelity can be appreciated.
Analog would be used for portable use, or at work, or in emergencies were power comsuption could be a life saving factor.
I sure the Katrina victims were not thinking of high fidelity when they were trying to find information that could save their lives.
Esspecially, when most of the local stations were knocked off the air, due to antenna damage or power outages.

Posted by: Ken | March 28, 2007 6:04 PM | Report abuse

HD audio sounds 'like a lousy webcast', say some. HD range is short. HD jams AM & FM. It's disrupted both by other HD signals and even mild interference.

Promoters deny HD jams. When no longer able to do so, they try talking their way past jamming concerns with inflated claims.

HD promoters keep citizens in the dark. They reportedly exert undue influence against broadcasters unwilling to convert.

Retailers don't care for HD, as customers, disappointed by reality vs. fanciful claims, return HD receivers.

A few monopoly broadcasters want HD, as many increasingly see it, to take control of public airwaves.

Until recently, FCC would laugh at this destructive scheme, let alone approve it.

We're in a trial period. Promoters boast 'HD is a done deal!' It isn't. Nonsensical, meaningless claims suggest they well know, HD may not fly.

Nor should it. Nothing less than free access to our public airwaves is at stake.

HD renders billions of radios worth trillions worthless. How convenient. Will you discard all your radios, and buy HD sets costing ten to twenty times more, simply because HD promoters want more money? They're already talking about paid programs - on publicly owned airwaves.

We're on the cusp of April. Isn't it a bit late in the season for dogs in the manger?

Our influence counts. Let's use it.

Dr. Paul Vincent Zecchino
Manasota Key, Florida
28 March, 2007

Posted by: Paul Vincent Zecchino | March 28, 2007 7:23 PM | Report abuse

Is this wonderful? The Grand Ol' Opry buzzed from Saturday night radio by some talk station's digital splash? Baseball games relegated to memories out here, where a wireless internet everywhere won't happen for decades. Local radio at 25 miles away destroyed by a station hundreds of miles away at night, or even in the daytime if the conditions are right. The forced retreat of progress eminating from Washington continues to amaze even the most jaded denizens of small town America.
Do that buzzing noise stop at the border, or are we going to annoy the Canadians and the Mexicans yet again with foolish arrogance?
GerryB

Posted by: GerryB | March 28, 2007 9:35 PM | Report abuse

Joe pretty much nailed it. A proprietary system that is encumbered by patents and royalties! What happened to free radio? Basically one company now owns the AM and FM American broadcast bands!

Pete

Posted by: Peter | March 28, 2007 10:00 PM | Report abuse

The FCC has just given away our free airwaves to a few corporate thugs, including iBiquity Digital Corporation. Especially on AM, HD/IBOC causes adjacent-channel interference, which I have confirmed listening to WTWP in Wash., D.C.- the digital sidebands are over-powering on 1490 and 1510 and would clobber any existing stations on those frequencies. Few HD radios have been sold, as consumers have not bought into this farce. This whole setup is just to the advantage of the HD Radio Alliance, as they own most of the 1,200 stations broadcasting in HD - the small mom-and-pop stations have lost coverage and will probably disappear. This FCC sole-source, non-competitive contract award to iBiquity is a total travesty !

Posted by: Tony R. (Maryland) | March 29, 2007 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Wow! A lot of memories, a lot of anger. I feel some areas need to be redressed:
- The US digital radio scheme *IS* DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) or better yet, TDR (terrestrial digital radio, to quote Commissioner McDowell.) What the "Euros" call DAB is not H ybrid D igital (NOT High Definition, as many believe the HD in HD Radio stands for) but archaic MP2 streams, that seem to work OK in mobile situations (your car - masked by road noise?) but are reportedly mediocre on home systems. Guess what? Many European broadcasters (most state-run and mandated, that's why they had RDS on analog long before we did) are now considering ALTERING DAB to stream AAC+ signals - meaning that millions (?) of existing receivers will be rendered redundant. Even the French have experimented with HD Radio (iBiquity) transmitting from the Eiffel Tower.
- Could redundancy hit us in this slow-growing industry? Although many of the large cities have 20 to 30 HD streams, the uptake of receivers is low. The only car that offers it as a factory *option* is BMW! Maybe it's all for the best - In Commissioner McDowell's statement re: the above order, he happens to mention: "Since the Commission's selection in 2002 of the in-band on-channel (IBOC) technology and the iBiquity IBOC systems as the standards for *interim* digital operation, 1,225 radio stations have begun broadcasting in digital. Since the Commission endorsed
*experimental* authorizations for multi-casting just two years ago, approximately 300 broadcasters have sought and received authorizations to multicast their audio streams." [*Emphasis* mine]
Did you notice he said *interim*? Does that mean our current system could go the way of Europe's DAB? The new rule merely legitimizes what was once considered *experimental*. Maybe America is right in taking a "let's see what happens" approach.

As for me, I desperately need a new radio in the car, so I'm going to plonk down for a "reasonable" HD Radio receiver (probably the JVC) and see what happens.

Posted by: Finn P., Florida | March 29, 2007 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Everyone posting here, should read this article:

"HD Radio on the Offense"

"But after an investigation of HD Radio units, the stations playing HD, and the company that owns the technology; and some interviews with the wonks in DC, it looks like HD Radio is a high-level corporate scam, a huge carny shill."

http://www.eastbayexpress.com/2007-03-07/music/hd-radio-on-the-offense

The only issue not addressed, is the HD Radio Alliance's ability to block out competitors' stations, with HD/IBOC's adjacent-channel interference, especially on the AM band. This is a disgraceful and outrageous situation !

Posted by: Greg S. Olney, Md. | March 29, 2007 7:11 PM | Report abuse

The United States and Canada should adopt the European DRM radio system and the whole world can have standardised radio!!!
DAB is a failure in Canada and never adopted by the United States!!! But it would be too bad if "SKYWAVE" was eliminated as I can remember being in Edmonton (Alberta Canada) in the summer of 1983 and I could pick up KOMO radio in Seattle!!!

Posted by: Mike from Kanada | March 29, 2007 8:44 PM | Report abuse

I also grew up through the Cold War Era of the 60's 70's and 80's. AM radio was and should remain a network of LD communication. The divide and conquer tactics for poorly designed receivers and an end-run around the FCC protection limits serves to blind the American public from essential news. In the bosnywash region there are way too many mirror stations spewing the same entertainment talk. Diversity has has been talked into near extinction.

The demonstrated fact that a very expensive radio $300-600 is a worse receiver than a $20 pocket AM/FM radio illustrates the desparation of both manufacturers, and broadcasters. The FCC pandering to this debacle, is the most sublime April fool's joke in recent memory. Just pay, and pay some more, and keep paying. So what if the public doesn't buy in. HD and its sinister brother IBOC might become a huge tax write-off if not careful. A Convincing research experiment that fails outside the lab.

Posted by: Paul S | April 1, 2007 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, the FCC has already pretty much killed long distance AM reception.

Once upon a time there were clear channel stations which were just that. During the nighttime hours there would be only one or two stations, "nationwide" (including US, Canada, and Mexico, theoretically) on many frequencies. I could tune into Los Angeles and San Francisco stations from Michigan.

These days, with those clear channel frequencies jammed by ten or twelve regional stations each, pretty much all the frequencies are a mishmash of interference at night. (Or at least this is true from my location.) The FCC might as well go ahead with digital signals. It might at least improve audiences a bit, and if it does the radio station owners MIGHT decide to spend a buck or two on programming. Not that I expect anything more than the usual cheap shoddy national satellite feeds and five thousand relays of Rush Limbaugh, but at least it shouldn't make things even worse.

Posted by: Havoc | April 1, 2007 8:41 PM | Report abuse

Two AM radio towers are to be erected within 320 feet of residences near where I live. My house might be a quarter mile away from the proposed towers. The power is 15kW, referred to as a medium size station. What will I be in for??? Will this be a nightmare? Will I be hearing radio interference on every piece of electronic equipment I own?

Posted by: Dianne Smith | April 3, 2007 1:13 AM | Report abuse

IBOC or HD (which by the way stands for Hybrid Digital not High Definition as it does for TV)is one of the biggest shams to come down the pike in recent memory. First of all it's adjacent channel noise completely blanks out the two channels on either side of the station itself. Ex: WBZ 1030 AM here in Boston also completely obliterates 1020 and 1040 with noise all day. This station is a very powerful station heard up and down the east coast and into the middle of the country at night because of the way the AM band propogates at night and at night this noise will also travel up and down the East coast along with it's signal. I've got a little example for you that will be multiplied hundreds of times all over the country when IBOC is in wide usage at night:
WBZ 1030 and KDKA Pittsburg 1020 both running IBOC at night. OK, you live somewhere in the middle, what are you going to hear on 1020 and 1030? Noise, that is it, noise, multiply this with the hundreds of powerful stations in the US. Who is going to put up with that? A trucker driving down the highway at night? Joe Blow who wants to listen to a baseball game? Don't think so. If IBOC is allowed to continue, all that will be left in the not so distant future is a few very powerful stations in each city, what's going to happen to the little guy, the small stations that don't have the money or do not believe in IBOC (of whch there are many) with all this intefering noise all over the band? Adios. IBOC was a bad idea and is bad technology, why did this rubber stamp FCC allow it to happen? Ask them, although I doubt it will do much good. It's viablity is questionable on FM and is simply not viable on AM radio at all. Obviously iBiquity who owns and licenses this sham technology must have a lot of money and friends in high places. Do we see perhaps a potential monopoly in the making with all the little guys being driven off the band by the racket and just the big guys left to rule over what's left, their own little fiefdoms? hmmm. One last thing: Are you prepared to relegate ALL your radios to the landfill? All radios now in existence made since the early 20th century will be obsolete, including that nice Marantz receiver you've had for years and still performs better and sounds better than receivers of today, that beautiful McIntosh receiver that you paid 800.00 for last year, that 2000.00 Collins communications receiver, on and on. Does the FCC have that right to mandate an obviously flawed technology on all of us whether we want it or not? I think not.

Posted by: Robert D Young Jr | April 4, 2007 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Incidently to bkp: you must live very close to WTOP's towers and no, IBOC will do absolutely nothing to minimize any inteference you are getting on any home appliance which is very rare, in fact it may make it worse as the signal is three times wider than analog AM. I live about 5 miles from a 50 KW AM transmitter (maximum power allowed on AM in the US) and get absolutely no interference on anything I own. It sounds like you have a grounding problem in your home electrical system, I would call an electrician. I am not being facetious.

Posted by: Robert D young Jr | April 4, 2007 12:33 PM | Report abuse

HD radio would disenfranchise many listeners, day or night.

I do listen to long distant stations (FM and AM), and on the computer, too. I listen at home and in the car.

Sometimes, progress makes us pay a price for what we already had.

I think it is a sham for manufacturers to produce a poor AM section in a home A/V receiver and a quality radio for your car or portable.

DON'T THROW AWAY WHAT WE DO HAVE.


Posted by: Paul Feldstein | April 15, 2007 3:12 AM | Report abuse

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