Lying Media Bastards

January 28, 2006

Radi0 Killed the Radio Star

(I really need to stop biting The Buggles for my blog post titles)

I’m a bit ignorant on the tech behind this, but let’s see if I can keep up…

The broadcast industry is making moves towards digital TV and radio (often called “high definition” or “HD”). Allegedly these technologies make for better media quality, but require the purchase of all new digital receivers to make them work. And at least in the case of TV, the plan is to completely phase out analog broadcasts by the start of 2009. At which point, if you want to watch broadcast television, you’ll have to buy a new TV, or converter box. Which is pretty ridiculous. When was the last time you said “this show is good, but I wish that Spongebob’s face was just a bit crisper“?

Anyhow, I’m drifting.

One of the other (supposed) benefits of digital broadcast was that you could fit more channels in there. And just this month, radio started giving this a try. As I understand it, you would tune into a regular station, like 90.7FM, and have the option of listening to the old station at that frequency, or push a button on your digital radio to hear a second station coming out of that same frequency (of course, given the state of most radio, both stations will likely suck).

Except… maybe none of this works like it’s supposed to. DIYMedia.net tells us that the technology used for this new “multicasting” is highly flawed. For example, the sound quality of a multicast signal can’t go above 96kbps. And if you want to have more than one channel coming out of there, you have to divide that 96 up between the multiple stations. Your average mp3 file is at 128kbps, and mp3s are only “near CD quality”, and most of us internet broadcasters settle for 64kbps. Frankly, I have to wonder if my source here is accurate, just because this seems so idiotic. Would you pour money into a radio station like this if you knew that the sound quality was going to be that shitty?

DIY also tells us that digital broadcasters are looking to build anti-copying technology into the mix, so that you couldn’t pirate their low quality crap.

In conclusion, it seems that HD radio is destined to die a painful death.

Posted by Jake on January 28, 2006 10:03 pm

9 Comments »

  1. “it seems that HD radio is destined to die a painful death.”

    That’s what they said about satellite radio five years ago. Who in their right mind would spend $12 a month for the same crap you get on the radio?

    HD radio is commercial free, just like satellite. It offers formats not currently available on the main FM channels, just like satellite. The only real catch is you have to buy a radio that can receive it. Just like satellite. Except the electronics manufatures are in bed with satellite radio, and get a kickback on every radio sold. That sounds to me like the real bastards here are the elctronics manufacturers whose greed is preventing the people from receiving this content unless they spend $500 for the proper reciver. The electrnics companies are the enemy here.

    By the way, the anti-copying thing is coming from the RIAA, and no one I know in the HD Consortium cares. Making money for the recording industry doesn’t make money for broadcasters.

    Comment by George — January 29, 2006 @ 11:21 am

  2. George is incorrect on several points. HD Radio transmitter manufacturers must pay a royalty to iBiquity (holders of the rights to the proprietary broadcast framework) to use the digital broadcast technology. Receiver manufacturers must also pay a percentage of revenue (4%) to make receivers that will decode HD Radio signals. And, worst of all, broadcasters will pay both one-time and recurring license fees for broadcasting in the HD Radio standard. This includes a special fee for rolling out secondary channels - $1,000 or 3% of revenue derived from the channel (whichever is greater), per year, per channel, in perpetuity.

    Fortunately, since the members of the “HD Radio Alliance” are also the primary investors in iBiquity, they’re essentially paying themselves. Independent and community radio stations, though…well, you can see where we’re going here.

    When the FCC initially took up the topic of digital broadcasting around 1990, its inquiry studied both terrestrial and satellite digital broadcasting. But because the radio industry had no workable digital broadcast standard yet (IBOC never made it out of the proof-of-concept stage until 2000), it petitioned the FCC to put the whole proceeding on ice. The FCC declined and went ahead with a study of S-DARS (satellite radio). Had terrestrial broadcasters had their way, they would have postponed satellite’s rollout indefinitely (or until they had a workable digital technology of their own). It is partially because of satellite radio that HD Radio has been rushed to market.

    The “sidechannels” HD Radio stations will provide will indeed be commercial-free….for the first 18 months. “Primary” signals will continue to have commercials.

    And, had George listened or watched the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the broadcast flag, he would have seen Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, tearing RIAA chief Mitch Bainwol a new asshole over the overyped threat of “piracy of perfect copies” of digital music.

    Comment by John Anderson — January 29, 2006 @ 1:01 pm

  3. John sees this from only one point of view. Electronics and auto manufacturers are investors in satellite radio companies, and they receive kickbacks from the satellite companies any time anyone subscribes to satellite radio. Why would these companies be anxious to make a free competitor available to the public?

    I personally attended the hearings in the early 90s that dealt with satellite radio. Terrestrial broadcasters like Clear Channel were early investors in companies like XM. The issue was the huge start-up cost and the limited chance for return on investment. Clear Channel has since sold its stake in XM.

    I expect HD channels will remain commercial free for longer than the initial 18 months, especially since the elctronics industry and auto manufacturers are dragging their feet on making the hardware available at a reasonable price to the public.

    As I said, the RIAA is concerned about taping from digital media, whether it be HD radio or XM. The HD consortium doesn’t share that concern. Bainwol works for the recording industry, not broadcasters. Two different things.

    Comment by George — January 29, 2006 @ 1:41 pm

  4. Let me add that independent and community radio are also embracing HD radio. I know of several non-commercial stations that have already begun offering HD service, including the two NPR stations in Washington DC.

    Comment by George — January 29, 2006 @ 1:43 pm

  5. George, non-commercial is not he same thing as independent or community radio. NPR is an enormous organization, and many of its stations are quite successful financially — often more successful than commercial stations. Those big NPR stations will have the money to jump to IBOC — but not the real community and independent stations that sit outside the big NPR system.

    Comment by Paul — January 31, 2006 @ 4:36 pm

  6. I founded a community radio station. It was licensed to the community. In a few years, we became the most successful station of its kind, to the point where NPR came to us for programming. I understand this issue pretty well.

    Here’s the thing about IBOC: Sure the sound isn’t perfect. Sure you have to pay for the rights. That’s the situation with any invention. Sarnoff didn’t like FM because he’d have to pay Armstrong a fee. Edison didn’t like alternating current because he’d have to pay Westinghouse a fee. Name brand drugs are more expensive than generic because the name brand invested the money in research and development and holds the patent for a period of time. That’s the case now with IBOC. It won’t last forever, and eventually this technology will become generic.

    Twenty years ago, we battled over competing systems in AM stereo. The end result is the public gave up, and it died. This is a case where some broadcasters sought to cut the crap and just settle on a system. It’s not the best system, but it serves the purpose.

    Comment by George — January 31, 2006 @ 5:52 pm

  7. What is the purpose of IBOC, exactly?

    What community station did you found?

    Comment by Paul — February 1, 2006 @ 6:28 am

  8. IBOC is the broadcast framework. The operating system, if you will. I’ll email you the other info.

    Comment by George — February 1, 2006 @ 11:18 am

  9. 96k does seem like a low bit rate, however I have heard the IBOC encoder and it sounds suprisingly good. It sounds much better than a 128k mp3. At the 2004 NAB I was suprisingly impressed with the sound of a 5.1 mix encoded with a Fraunhofer codec and squeezed inside an IBOC signal. After the stearing controls only about 80k was left for the audio. However, I am worried how a 48k IBOC channel will sound. When you take 96k and use it for 2 audio streams this is what you get. I plan to find out at this years NAB.

    Comment by Gene Simmons — April 3, 2006 @ 1:26 pm

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