NOT Your Father's AM
As the days move us closer and closer to NAB Show 2014, I get more and more excited at all the new things and technologies that are going to be displayed! Right now, my thoughts are still with the NAB Labs Futures Park, and the advanced work they're trying to accomplish in the field of digital radio and radio over smartphones.
As a matter of fact, the more I think about the applications of digital radio (such as being broadcast over smartphones), I consider the importance of such a technology and what it could potentially mean to emergency/crisis situations.
In today's world, NOBODY carries a radio anymore! But when was the last time you left your cellphone at home? (I know, right?)
Unfortunately, most cellphone users (and, yes, even those with smartphones) have some sort of "plan" that monitors their data limits. Right now, if you want some type of radio content, you have to be in range of Wi-Fi or it has to be broadcast over the 3G/4G network.
Broadcast radio, on the other hand, is free. The advertisers pay for it. You can't get it, though, on your phone. That's because YOU pay for the phone and the carrier gets your money, which is why they are against smartphones with radio receivers. Let's go back to the emergency/crisis scenario.
When the Twin Towers fell in New York on that fateful day of September 11, 2001, cell service was also knocked out because the Trade Center held satellite antennas. If cell phones had radio, the Emergency Broadcasting Network would have been able to send-out news and important information... instead, nobody really knew what was going on, except that their cells couldn't get service.
As I pointed out previously, over 84 million smartphones were sold in the U.S. and were equipped with an FM radio inside (in more than 90 percent of all top-selling models), and FM reception was activated for users in only about 2 percent of those phones. Approximately 24 million of those same phones (over 26 percent of the top selling brands) have operating FM radios in versions sold outside the U.S. This means that FM reception could be switched-on by carriers in the U.S. versions, with the existing smartphone hardware. It's already happening in other parts of the world - only the U.S. is lagging... and WHY?
For YEARS people in the U.S. listened to their radios. They were on in the background in just about every story you went into or even blaring on the street. Ah, those analog receivers. You got distance out of the AM band and clarity from the FM band. Somehow, in this "age of cellphones," we've lost that. But we need that. It's that constant flow of information that made the United States great. But how can we return to that? NAB Labs is working on that.
In 2002, The FCC approved In-Band On-Channel (IBOC) digital radio operation for AM (both day and night) and FM broadcast stations. "IBOC" is the process of transmitting a digital radio broadcast signal centered on the same frequency as the AM or FM station's present frequency. The current IBOC system is referred to as a "hybrid" because it is neither fully analog nor fully digital, but a mixture of the two. It was developed by iBiquity Digital Corporation and standardized by the National Radio Systems Committee (NRSC).
The importance of this developing tech is so that digital signals can be delivered over current and existing (established) frequencies and be as robust as a digital broadcast television signal, in clarity and other audio factors. This will put the "sexy" back into radio!
Aside from smartphones, the other major market is automobiles. According to NAB's 2013 Annual Report, the development within NAB Labs has resulted in a successful effort to have digital radio offered in 33 automotive brands. Because of the technology, a whopping 1,450 additional channels became available to listeners!
The 2012 results, published in 2013, were definitely promising. Taking place at "Sports Radio 1660" WBCN, Charlotte, in-car reception for WBCN's all-digital AM signal and its 10,000-watt daytime and 1,000-watt nighttime output measured signal reception in eight test routes (physically driving off and seeing where the signal degraded beyond listening ability); full all-digital in-car reception was achieved out to about 40 miles (daytime) and 11 miles (nighttime). Fifteen random indoor locations were tested, and for daytime operation, the all-digital signal was significantly less for indoor reception, with almost 13 miles daytime and about 7 miles nighttime from the transmitter site. The FCC provided a special license for this full-digital test; but to date, only hybrid digital has been approved for general use.
At this time, over 2,200 radio stations are broadcasting a hybrid HD Radio signal. But as the technology develops, there will be more. On Sunday, April 6, 2014 at 11:00 am - 11:30 am, as part of the "AM Revitalization" Seminar (S227) at NAB Show 2014, a presentation will provide an update on the NAB Labs all-digital AM field testing project. It will be made available to those with NAB Conference Flex Pass, and SMART Pass, and will be presented by David Layer, Senior Director, Advanced Engineering, National Association of Broadcasters.
For more about IBOC technology, visit the FCC's website at: https://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/iboc-digital-radio-broadcasting-am-and-fm-radio-broadcast-stations. For more information about NAB Show 2014, please visit their website at: www. http://nabshow.com.