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Thursday, 09 April 2009


Steve Densmore

Interesting article and I'll accept the challenge to find the errors. First, the timeline was a little off. The "big bosses" came together in the form of the National Radio Standards Committee (NRSC) in 1998, although a digital broadcast system for terrestrial radio had been in development at least ten years prior.

Second, describing his comparison tests of table top radios, the author praises the "cleverness" of the Polk model for the way it plays a few seconds of analog audio before switching to digital. I have to wonder about the other two models, because all HD Radio receivers will behave this way. When tuned to an HD Radio station, every HD Radio receiver will play at least a few seconds of analog audio which is how long it takes to decode the first digital "frame".

Third, he was treading on thin ice when he was describing how the iTunes tagging feature works. It does work flawlessly as long as the station broadcasts the correct Program Associated Data (PAD) while the song is playing, i.e the station is sending text data that has the song title and artist for the duration of the song. Not all stations do that.

The last mistake I found was the comparison of digital radio to digital TV in fringe coverage areas. True, DTV is either there or it's not at the edge of coverage, whereas if you're at the very edge of digital coverage on an HD Radio signal, it will blend back to analog mode until you lose the signal altogether. What is a relatively unknown fact is the digital power in an HD Radio signal is one-one hundredth of the analog power. A 50,000 watt powerhouse is transmitting a 500 watt digital signal. It's a testimony to the robustness of the system that coverage is as good as it is.

Two things in the article are indisputable. First, there is confusion among the listening audience as to what HD Radio is, and broadcasters are doing little to help people sort things out. I was listening to an HD Radio ad yesterday on a local station. After the packaged spot played, the live DJ came on and described how you can now get the station streamed to your iPhone. Really. Stations using the technology play the packaged spots and that's about it. Another time I was listening to an all-news HD Radio station that broadcasts world music on its second channel and 24 hour weather and traffic on its third. On the primary channel, the news hosts were interviewing a reporter who had recently been to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas where HD Radio proponents always makes a big push to show off the technology. The reporter talked about new digital TV's and cell phones that do everything and anything. Not one word was mentioned about the technology they were using just to be heard.

The other indisputable fact is that it's all about content. Commercial FM radio is the same four or five formats going up the dial. Commercial AM is a boring drone of conservative talk radio. The only jewel worth listening to is NPR.

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