AM HD Radio hasn’t done all that well in the US, with numerous stations in markets across the country having turned off the sideband signals a while back over technical glitches, interference and listener complaints.
But iBiquity Digital’s HD Radio, while not mandated by the FCC (like television) to convert to all-digital at some date, was originally supposed to someday supplant the current hybrid analog/digital mode for all-digital. It was supposed to organically happen, with the marketplace deciding when the full switchover would occur.
With consumers gravitating to listening via online, smartphones and satellite radio, the adoption of HD Radio is not all that great.
Some reports said last month that the national HD Radio receiver penetration rate stands at 1%, nearly 10 years after the technology was first authorized for use by the FCC. As well, these current receivers cannot decode a fully-digital HD Radio signal. They were all designed to work with the hybrid broadcast mode we have today.
However, with the thought in mind that perhaps AM HD would sound much better with only one digital signal on the main channel—sans analog–members of the NAB Radio Technology Committee are looking to test iBiquity’s all-digital AM system to find out. The idea is to put all-digital AM signals on the air at existing allocations/stations with an experimental license.
Committee members hail from Beasley Broadcast Group, Buckley Broadcasting, CBS Radio, Disney/ABC, Cherry Creek Radio, Clear Channel Radio, Cox Media Group, Cumulus, Delmarva Broadcasting, Emmis, Entercom, Greater Media, Hubbard Radio, Journal Broadcast Group and Lincoln Financial Media.
Beasley, CBS Radio and Clear Channel, have reportedly said they want to participate in all-digital testing.
Beasley, which tried HD on AM and turned it off – has offered one of its stations for use in the experiment. VP/Engineering and CTO Mike Cooney is looking at using an underperforming AM, turn off the analog temporarily and test both day and night, reports The Long Beach Press-Telegram.
Cooney tells RBR-TVBR: “Beasley is committed to supporting an all-digital AM test but we have not made a decision on which (or if) one of our AM HD signals fits the requirement.”
iBiquity CEO Bob Struble adds: “We are excited broadcasters are moving forward with AM all digital testing. AM broadcasting has long suffered from technical issues around noise and interference which are getting progressively worse. All-digital AM HD Radio Technology was designed to solve those issues and secure a bright future for AM broadcasters.”
We also wanted to know if the current receivers we have today can receive AM and FM in an all-digital mode. Says Struble: “Most radios in the market today receive and decode the AM all digital signals. That is the important piece for the testing. FM all-digital–which has a lot of modes, is a bit more complicated–but if an FM station turns off their analog, receivers will receive and decode a digital only-signal. Different chips do not have every FM all-digital mode implemented.”
RBR-TVBR observation: Perhaps the tests will show some good results, but without an analog backup, weaker or obstructed signals might make Rush Limbaugh sound like a bad cellphone call with all of the signal dropouts. However, what smartphone doesn’t drop out or buffer a bit while listening to radio in a mobile environment?