Posts Tagged ‘digital radio’

Forward: What’s Next for Radio?

September 11, 2015 Comments off

I read the trades and hear the talk of the future of radio.  The competition between Internet radio and broadcast radio.  Many years now we have had this radio stigma that we are the best.  Best at what?  All of it to me is a moot point.  Looks like we in radio are better at content providing than leading the charge to innovate and improve technology.  The future will soon see a paradigm change that will split radio as a whole into Content Providers and Content Delivery (technology).

I have talked with some colleagues and manufacturer reps about the future of radio.  I get asked the question all the time.  Many focus on the immediate future, but I think about the real future as I see it.  We are at the beginning with HD radio and I watch closely as other countries move to digital.  I watch the trends of our own digital development.  I see we keep putting a band aid on old technology like the new RDS2, granted is really cool, and we keep adding to the HD sidebands.  This is not enough.  I see the trends of where and how content is consumed.  I see a change.  As we move to all digital, we are looking at the analog carrier going away and becoming one large digital carrier.  We can split digital sidebands into multiple channels.  Look what we can do with a single digital carrier.

We take a digital carrier and we can split it into a number of channels.  For the sake of argument, we choose 100 channels.  Yes, that may be too many for a single carrier and it may take a wider bandwidth, consuming the adjacent radio channels as we saw in the Nautel presentation at the NAB show earlier this year.  Open you mind and let this sink it.  100 channels.  What does that mean?  100 streams of content.  Place 10 FM stations on the air with 100 channels each.  1000 streams of content.  We see a change.  One facility as we know it no longer can handle 100 channels.  Content providers must split from the content delivery mechanism, or hardware provider.  A large radio group becomes a large content provider group.  Look at iHeartMedia.  They have an app for that.  Content being pushed across all mediums.  They are unloading transmitter sites no longer wanting to be the landlord.  What next?  The transmission systems themselves?

Yes.  The transmission systems.  The delivery systems.  A new business model emerges.  Content providers will lease from the “delivery” providers, or Content Delivery companies.  The delivery folks will offer bandwidth for a price.  No more maintaining a technical department, the providers now can concentrate on content, advertising, business.  The deliverers, or whomever you want to call them, maintain the delivery systems.  This splits open a whole new world for the providers.  They can concentrate on what they do best.  The content delivery companies do what they do best.  They provide a means to get that content to the masses.  They do it now.  They just do not have the mass delivery capabilities, but they will.

Who are these delivery companies?  Look at your mobile device, and you have found the new content delivery company.  AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, even Sirious/XM  You name it, the game is, or will be, in their hands.  The paradigm shift; these companies will hold the licenses to the “big sticks”.  This will give them the means to get the mass, one direction, streams off their standard network, and put it out there on their “broadcast” network.  It will be the same data we see today, but it is now totally wireless.  New “radios” will be capable of picking up and “tuning” into any stream a user/consumer wants, seamlessly between the off-air network and the Internet network, as they will become one and the same.  These same companies own their wireless cell networks.  They have 4G LTE, 5G, or whatever.  These cell sites fill in the gaps and supplement the broadcast signal.  The radio hardware will be capable of switching between the two or three delivery paths.  The hardware will allow the consumer to provide feedback, or interact, with the content because there will be a return path, the cellular network.  The two, broadcast and cellular, will work side-by-side, hand in hand, seamlessly.  Look at the connected vehicle.  A single point to receive content.  A single point to respond and have an input.  The mobile phone, or smart phone is the other.  The device becomes the center of interaction, and the content provider will now have a direct connection to their “audience”.

This may be difficult to digest for some.  This is a paradigm change.  Many little changes will take place.  The obvious is the physical hardware of the transmission facilities.  All digital transmitters will most likely mean lower transmitter power output (TPO), so a currently licensed 50kW ERP facility may be now become 20kW ERP or less.  The licenses will transfer from traditional owners to the new content delivery companies.  Imagine an AT&T or Verizon owning a broadcast license.  Difficult to imagine, but it will happen in this shift.  The very heart of regulation will change, too.  The Federal Communications Commission media bureau will have to change.  The rules will have to change.  The way emergency information is spread will change.  Go back to our original 100 channel block.  A low bandwidth channel may be set aside for emergency information only.  The “receiver” will automatically change to that channel if an alert is issued.  Alerts can be issued to specific geographical areas.  It can be done. The old ways will change, and that will leave a bad taste for many, but it will have to happen if radio will survive, and it is human nature to detest change.  Change is painful, but constant.

This change will not happen tomorrow, or even 5 years from now.  It will be slow, but it will happen. It is very exciting to think about this paradigm shift.  Consumers will be happy getting, and interacting, with what they consume.  No more ambiguity for advertisers on how and where their audience is.  Content providers will get the metrics they need directly from the devices in cars, in pockets, on belts.  It is all data.  The delivery companies are already in place doing what they do, delivering content to their network subscribers.  A win all around. These are some of the thoughts I have.  Maybe I have too much time to think, and maybe now that my thoughts and concepts are out there I can get credit for this paradigm changing concept of the future.  (That’s my ego talking.)

Stay connected and I will pursue posting more thoughts on this as it develops.



Forward: Part I

December 6, 2013 Comments off

Are we losing our vision?  Are we not looking forward?  Forward: Part I.

All we hear is “do not spend money.”  All we hear is “can we doing it cheaper?”  We make due to keep our stations on the air.  That is all we do.  A live broadcast here, a broken button there, and the spilled coffee.  All parts of our daily lives, but how many of us take the opportunity to move forward? Even though we do not have the money, do we take the time to look on how to improve our systems we currently have and when the time does come, are we prepared?  It seems I run out of time to make my lists to submit for another budget.  I must improve on this so I can move forward.  How do you move forward?

I discovered recently that our Lanlink (Moseley) is “outdated”.  Purchased by my predecessor only 3 years ago, it was never implemented to its fullest due to bandwidth limitations.  It was never used for telemetry.  It sat there, stagnant.  A simple call and a question and I find out the bandwidth can be doubled by purchasing an upgraded radio.  If I knew this, it would be in the budget, but it is not.  Will I drop it?  No.  I can use it.  Is it the best system for what we do today?  No.  Until we can make the case we need to use what we have, so in this case a backup segment.  Slow, but useful.  There is always room to improve.

Audio over IP is everywhere today.  Some systems use it as their main backbone and others use it as an extension of their existing, proven systems.  Bandwidth is the limitation.  How much can we squeeze through this pipe?  How much are we willing to give up in quality to make it happen today because we are the first?  There are webcasts on audio over IP (AoIP).  Hit This Week in Radio Tech as Kirk Harnack  talks with engineers who live this stuff every day, and learn what we do.  Almost all of these fall during times I cannot “attend” and what do we do, AoIP!  We do it successfully, everyday.  (Good thing they all have sites for replaying and reviewing.)  I am now testing and evaluating a new AoIP box.  Will this be the next STL?  Can it be used in conjunction with existing STLs?

Do you keep looking for room to improve?  Do you give suggestions to manufacturers on what you would like to see or use?  Do you look or do you wait?  How does the NAB convention help or hinder your decisions?  Where do you think this industry is going.  My thoughts are coming….


Coming soon:
Forward: Part II
A different line on a similar topic.

Radio and the Future IMHO

September 20, 2012 Comments off

All this talk about secret meetings and radio’s future at the NAB Radio show really bothers me.  The future of radio is divergent between programming and technology.  The big radio companies of today, and little ones, will have to decide are they in the programming business or the transmission, or delivery business.  Here is my take from the technical point of view.  (Drop government regulations for a moment and open your mind.)

We already see a divergence between programming and transmission of programming with this thing call HD Radio.  Many programmers find this a waste of time and money.  Even engineers find it a waste as I believe they see the potential of digital, all digital, in the future.  Radio needs to grow up.  My take is to get rid of this duality of HD and Analog transmission.  This is the 21st century, so why not push for all digital.  Drop this analog and transform.  Once a signal is all digital and the right minds build it well, it becomes a digital carrier capable of, say, 50 or 100 independent channels for an example.  This could be more or less depending on the brains behind it and can it be split based on required bandwidth.  The divergence is clear at this point, what radio station owner has the ability to program 50 channels, they cannot even program a single channel.

As the two diverge, I see the physical radio plant becoming a technical operation center for the distribution of content, not the origination, and I see programmers becoming content providers.  I see radio station owners eyeing the money at becoming content providers.  Great!  Concentrate on programming something well.  The technical side now splits off and companies that know how to distribute, technically, start looking at owning the actual signal.  The plant becomes a technical operating center (TOC) or a network operating center (NOC).  Now the programmer leases a channel or more from the distributor. Sound familiar?  Cable, satellite television, satellite radio, the Internet?

Who buys the technical side?  Who is already capable of wireless transmission?  The wireless companies are!  The licenses of the radio stations will be purchased by the likes of Verizon and AT&T.  The “big” signals become the focal point of pushing data to the wireless world.  The cellular system becomes the receiving end of the system and a fill for the areas that do not get covered by the broadcast signal.  You now have your bi-directional communications.  It is all about pushing data and this is a good medium for doing such.

At this point, yes, radio as we know it needs to change.  The FCC would have to treat the licenses of radio stations similar to cellular wireless.  The purpose of radio stations needs to be redefined.  Name a radio station that actually serves the public interest.  Do not give me music stations.  Public safety notifications or whatever propaganda the government wants to feed must be dealt with in a new way.  I foresee an allocation of a channel or two for such services based on the geographical area.  I also see them pushing a means, like EAS, that the TOC or NOC owners will need to be able to insert.  The burden moves from the programmer to these owners.  Programmers will not have a choice if an alert or emergency that meets a certain criteria occurs, it gets pushed on all channels.

At the same time the choices of programming become more.  Again, depending on how this digital carrier is built and how much can get squeezed in will determine the number of channels available.  The whole argument of an FM chip on a cell phone will go away as regulations would change and most likely these channels will be available on other data feeds, read Internet, that the point it moot.  If not, this could actually go the opposite way and cellular devices, smartphones, will get FM, or even AM, chips as this medium becomes the backbone to pushing data for wireless carriers.

All in all there will be a paradigm shift in the radio and broadcasting world.  It is a matter of when.  All this half-assed business with HD and iBiquity is just a start.  A learning experience.  Eventually someone will suggest an alternate future like this.  The picture will become clear.  The divergence of programming and distribution will occur.  How that is handled is up to us in the industry.  What side are you on?  I am an engineer.  I am on the distribution side.  You?


PS:  As my thoughts congeal, I may post more on this.  Please openly send comments and smack me down or add your thoughts!  I, for one, would like to know how you really feel about this subject.

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