Day 2 and the new half-day session of Day 3 of the PREC opened with a new set of topics. Rather than go into too much depth again I’ll list some of the key topics and points.
Next Generation of HD Radio
There is a lot of study and development going into the future of HD radio. One point of clarification about the “HD” label that will get its own post at some point. HD in this case actually means “Hybrid Digital” rather than “High Definition” as you more commonly see that definition used. The hybrid comes from the fact that the core of the FM signal is still analog and it is flanked on either side by two digital shoulders. This allows listeners with standard analog radios to continue listening to broadcasts unhindered and also allows those with radios that are capable of demodulating the digital signal access to other content streams (in our case on 88.1, HD2 is BPR News).
On the hardware side there are improvements being made to devices that allow stations to further customize what artwork might display on a vehicles radio, or what other information might be conveyed. On the RF side, experiments are ongoing into potentially expanding the digital portion of a HD broadcast. This could give stations increased digital bandwidth that could be used for multiple things. It could be used to provide a higher quality digital signal, more digital channels, or other yet unexplored data transmission uses.
As cryptic as the title sounds, this was actually an interesting talk. It was actually put on by our Attorney, Melodie Virtue of GBS Law. Her primary focus concerned FM stations at are currently effected by the TV Repack process. In brief, TV stations on lower frequencies are being shifted to higher ones in a process that will eventually re-allocate portions of the RF Spectrum. The impact on FM radio stations is less a signal interference issue and more of a physical one. TV antennas are large. And many radio station antennas are located on the same tower as TV antennas. This may mean while work is being done on a TV antenna, the radio station may need to turn their transmitter off during that time so as to protect tower workers, or they may even need to move to a new tower temporarily during the process. The FCC has set up an allocation of funds that stations can apply to be reimbursed from for any expenses related to this process.
It should not surprise you that the FCC has extremely strict requirements for the process. To the point that if receipts are off by even 1 penny between different forms they will be kicked back for resubmission. For all the hassle, this is an extremely important service. If stations were forced to bear the financial burden of moving transmitting locations for a long period of time or if they reduce power and lose market coverage and thus advertising revenue, it could spell disaster. Thankfully BPR has not been impacted by this process.
Other bits from other presentations that don’t deserve their own section.
Interesting updates from Comrex about the advancing quality of Audio over IP (AoIP) codecs for use in long distance connections, like how BPR currently uses our ISDN connections. Many stations have been forced to abandon their ISDN connections and are seeing quality results with some codecs.
Lots of little tips and tricks for site work and little quality of life improvements for engineers. I saw some new labeling methods that I’ll have to put into place at some sites.
While a lot of it was over the top of my head, Steve Dove of Wheatstone gave a very interesting talk about the real world types of microphones and their patterns. He also talked about all the little things in a audio recording system that can have a large impact in how that microphone might perform from one setup to another. I have a few books to add to my reading list after this one.
There has been a surprising shift in the radio industry to what could be called “off site” radio infrastructure. A highlighted system is the one BBC radio launched recently. It converted about 80 stations that had local audio automation, storage, and processing hardware to a centralized infrastructure model. In this new model there are only two primary locations that have redundant hardware for the computers that run the automation schedules, audio recording, processing, and distribution to transmitters. All the local studios have are a small computer that connects to a virtual desktop at the two datacenters, audio mixing console, microphones, and that’s all they need. The studios are connected by redundant private network connections to avoid any disruption from a potentially cut connection. It would be fair to say that most station engineers would be extremely uncomfortable with this setup, as is only natural. Radio stations existed long before the internet, and have been designed with a priority on redundancy in a hardware sense, as well as maintaining as much control over the system as reasonable. Placing your trust in a wide area network system that you have little control over is an unsettling thought. But as network infrastructure improves, you may see more stations move this direction. Between all the stations in the BBC Radio network, in the last two years that the system has been running, they have accumulated just about 500,000 hours of airtime, with outages that amount to a few minutes to maybe 2 hours (it depends who you talk to).
Next time I’ll talk about the NAB!