Back to Wag-Net Main Page

Radio AM to FM: February 1, 2002

Digital Broadcasting Update

Digital AM and FM broadcasting continues to get closer to reality. The most recent news centers on Ibiquity submitting test results of its digital AM broadcasting system to the National Radio Systems Committee in the hopes of getting the NRSC's endorsement.

The NRSC has already given its endorsement of Ibiquity's digital FM system, and most believe that the group will endorse the AM system as well. However, a competing system from Europe, called Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) could throw a wrench into the equation.

A ruling from the FCC is hoped within the next few months.

First In Line

Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and San Francisco are slated to become the first cities with digital AM and FM stations, also known as In Band On Channel (IBOC) because the digital signal is sent right along with the regular analog signal on the regular channel. Current receivers pick up the station the "old fashioned" way, while new IBOC radios will decode the digital signal and play "CD quality" and "almost CD-quality" sound.

Ibiquity chose these cities because of their high consumer demand for electronics. Broadcasts may begin by the end of this year, with consumer radios being made available by early 2003.

Cox Radio president Bob Neil says that his company may be among the first to begin IBOC broadcasts, telling industry newspaper Radio World, "Converting AM and FM radio to digital broadcasting is a priority in our minds." Other companies planning to jump aboard include Infinity, Susquehanna, Bonneville and Beasley. Of all the companies mentioned, only Infinity actually owns radio stations in Los Angeles.

Lowering the Boom

Don Barrett is a highly respected man. A former broadcaster himself, he has made a name for himself through his radio personality reference books, Los Angeles Radio People, as well as through his web site dedicated to the Los Angeles radio scene, as one of the foremost authorities on the subject.

So when Barrett speaks, people listen.

This week on his web site, (subscription required ... and well worth the cost, I might add), Barrett wrote of the challenges facing another type of digital broadcasting, satellite radio, declaring, "Satellite radio will go down as the biggest broadcast failure in history."

Among the challenges Barrett sees confronting satellite radio are bad marketing, difficulty of equipment purchases, price, commercials, audio quality, lack of compelling programming that will draw listeners en mass, and the fact that as of next month, two competing but incompatible systems will be available, causing more confusion among consumers already confused.

The incompatibility problem should be taken care of as long as the two companies -- XM and Sirius -- follow through with their goal of developing receivers capable of receiving both systems within the next year. But the other concerns are valid, especially as it stands now, where you must purchase a separate subscription for each vehicle and another for your home if you want to listen to this new type of radio. XM and Sirius had better address these issues before its too late.


Copyright © 2002 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

To subscribe to The Daily Breeze, call (310) 540-5511