Is Your Radio Station Prepared For A Satellite’s Death?

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RBR + TVBR INFOCUS


For many, discussion of the “AMC-8” may involve what screen time the family will select when driving to Cherry Creek Shopping Center’s AMC Theatres to see Beauty and the Beast or The Boss Baby. 

For radio industry engineers, programming executives and the C-Suite, “AMC-8” is the all-important satellite that for many years has been feeding AM and FM radio stations with short-form and long-form programming.

On June 30, the aging satellite will be put to sleep. Syndicated programming will need to come from a different satellite.

Are your stations prepared?


 

There’s concern that many aren’t, and that the only “AMC-8” they are concerned about right now is indeed the cinema. For one syndicated radio programming distributor, nearly 6 in 10 affiliate stations have yet to make the switch.

That’s why five radio programming syndication companies are imploring broadcasters to act now, and not in late June.

On Nov. 10, 2016, RBR + TVBR — along with Skyview Networks — informed the radio industry of an important change set to take place.

AMC-8, at 139 degrees West Longitude, has exceeded its design life and is not being replaced by an equivalent C-band satellite at the same location.

To help avoid a transition crisis, five syndicated radio programming companies —Learfield, Orbital Media Networks (OMNi), Premiere Networks, Westwood One, and the aforementioned Skyview — joined efforts to proactively determine the best replacement.

The new main satellite for U.S. commercial radio networks is AMC-18, at 105 degrees West Longitude. This will soon be replaced at the 105 position by the new SES-11. 

SES-1, at 101 degrees West Longitude, will serve as the backup.

The transition to SES-11 from AMC-18 is expected to be seamless; the backup satellite is relatively close in the sky.

The key, of course, is getting radio stations ready to re-point from 139 degrees to 105 degrees.

All radio stations currently receiving programming from AMC-8 will have until June 30, 2017 to re-point their downlink antennas (a.k.a. dishes).

As of May 12, the majority have yet to do so.

“I’m at 43% today,” says David Dickson, VP/Engineering for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Skyview. “To my knowledge no other network has gotten to 50%.”

Dickson can’t offer any ideas as to why so many Skyview affiliates have yet to switch satellites. But, he suspects it’s tied to a long-held radio industry practice of doing things when they need to get done.

Skyview, on the other, started the transition process of AMC-8 years ago.

“We knew about this, and went looking for a new home,” Dickson says. “The result is that we are migrating to a fresher, brand-new satellite with a better look angle. And, we expect to be on this new satellite for the next decade, or better.”

With the right equipment, Dickson says the shift to AMC-18 is “flawless.”

He notes, “Early on, we got a lot of those ‘what do you do’ questions. We walked through the process with many affiliates, in terms of resolving issues, by giving good directions.”

On Wednesday (5/10), the quintet of syndicated radio programming companies provided an update on the transition process. For one, all have been up and running on AMC-18 for a month. Their full complements of satellite-delivered programming are available on their new frequencies on AMC-18. This includes all show titles, satellite channels, contact closures, PAD data, cue messages and file-delivery channels — the same ones from AMC-8.

Importantly, it also includes programming from syndication companies who lease their satellite time from Learfield, OMNi, Premiere, WW1 or Skyview.

  • ABC News is distributed by Skyview Networks. The majority of Major League Baseball and other sports programming also come from Skyview.
  • CBS News is distributed by Westwood One.
  • IMG College Sports is distributed by Orbital Media.

All three will move when their uplink distributors move.

AVOIDING INACTION A CRITICAL NEED

Of the syndication companies that are concerned about the transition, Westwood One has been perhaps the most vocal.

A company spokesperson notes, “As we are now under 60 days until the change I can tell you that there are a large number of stations who have not addressed this issue to prepare for the satellite change. I am concerned that stations are going to wait until the last minute (and there are always going to be procrastinators), and we want to do everything we can to get the word out to let stations know they must address this or risk not having their programming available on satellite come July 1.”

Indeed, not doing anything could be devastating and crippling for a radio station. That’s because they will lose their network feed for a wide variety of programming.

Literature distributed by the alliance of five satellite companies spells it out.

“If you do nothing, all network shows that are delivered via the AMC-8 satellite will go dark on your stations. This includes The Rush Limbaugh Show, CBS News, The Sean Hannity Show, NBC Sports Radio (Mike Florio, Newy Scruggs, Mark Malone), Talk Radio Network (Sam Sorbo, Roy Masters, Robert Davi), Skyview Networks play-by-play sports and news programming, ABC Radio, ABC News, Dave Ramsey, Westwood One News, Business Talk Radio Network [BTRN] (featuring Ray Lucia and the “Business Rockstars”), Michael Savage, Carson Daly, Sports Byline, Mark Levin, Sports USA, Touchdown Radio, Phil Valentine, CBS Sports Radio (Jim Rome, Doug Gottlieb, Damon Amendolara), Brownfield Ag News, Charles Osgood, Cigar Dave, Delilah, Glenn Beck, Doctor Oz, Big Boy, Steve Harvey, Learfield Sports, Bobby Bones, Dan Patrick, IMG College Sports, John Tesh, Nashville Hot Country, Ask Heloise, Café Nashville, Rocky Mountain News Network, North Carolina News Network, United Stations Radio Networks’ Nights with Alice Cooper, Lex & Terry, HardDrive XL, Open House Party, Westwood One 24-hour satellite formats, and more than 1,000 other show titles that are delivered via AMC-8.”

POTENTIAL DISH ISSUES DUE TO THE MOVE

The 139 West location is “the last house at the end of the street.”

This means that there is no neighboring satellite to the immediate west. For some affiliates whose dishes are damaged, distorted or are too small, they could purposely mis-aim their dishes a little too far to the west to avoid interference from the nearest easterly neighbor satellite, at 137 West.

This luxury disappears at 105 degrees West. That’s because the nearest easterly C-band satellite is at 103 West, only 2 degrees away. And, the nearest westerly C-band satellite is at 107.3 West, only 2.3 degrees away.

With seven weeks to go, the networks are strongly urging all affiliates to install a dish that is 2-degree compliant (generally, this means 3.7 meters diameter or larger). This ensures that interference from the two adjacent satellites is eliminated.

“This may require you to replace your downlink dish even if it is in good condition, but is too small,” the companies state.

“Some dishes were rusted in place, and those are issues that you don’t know about until you go move it,” Skyview’s Dickson says. “That’s why we want stations to not wait.”

One reason for the slow transition to AMC-18 could be tied to a difficult winter season for many stations. Another may be tied to securing the right people to guide the station’s transition.

“For some, they are using contract engineers,” Dickson says. “There are groups of these engineers traveling around the country. Most have made appointment dates, and with improved weather every week we see more stations switch over.”

This backs up Dickson’s belief that there will be no station that will willingly not make the change from AMC-8.

The worry is that, come June 30, a radio station will finally decide to move—and can’t because a problem arises.

L-BAND FREQUENCIES SENT TO CHANGE

Will the L-band center frequencies of the network carriers be the same as they are now?

No.

At the new 105 location, the L-band frequencies are different.

Your station (or your network) will need to set the center frequencies on your Wegener, XDS and STORQ receivers at the time you re-point (or replace) your dish.

Every downlink will be re-pointed on a different day.

To ease this transition, the networks are using a “fallback carrier” feature in each receiver. Each receiver stores a small table of frequencies to try if it loses lock.

Once the dish is repointed, each receiver will try both the old and new frequencies repeatedly until it successfully locks.

“Once you are successfully pointed at the new satellite, your receivers should lock to the new signal within 30 seconds to 2 minutes,” the networks state.

Here is a table showing the old and new parameters:

The symbol and data rates are not changing.

The center frequencies (and the satellite) are changing.

The networks note that Westwood’s Kalipso receivers, used for Storq automation for some affiliates, don’t have a fallback table and must be tuned from the front panel.

COULD COST BE A DELAYING FACTOR?

Who’s footing the bill for the end of AMC-8?

Radio broadcasting companies.

Network distribution companies are not contributing money toward any efforts to cut down trees, or to buy or relocate dishes.

“Each affiliate should pay its own expenses,” the network state.

Skyview’s Dickson hasn’t received complaint calls from affiliates regarding costs. In fact, he says many stations have repurposed their old satellite dishes, resulting in cost savings.

Another joint announcement from the networks is expected early next week, a Premiere spokesperson confirms.

Until then, the networks are doing all they can to help broadcasters. An antenna aiming tutorial by Fred Wilcox is being shared by the group of companies.

They’ve also provided a PDF of spectrum analyzer plots so one can see what each transponder should look like at L-Band.

Even if there’s a satellite transition mishap that occurs for a Skyview affiliate on June 30, Dickson and his team are prepared to instruct the lollygagging station on what to do.

“All of our satellites have a delayed [30-second] audio stream backup,” he says. “A station can use this until they get their satellite issue resolved. It’s a good fail-safe, but if you have top-of-the-hour news, that could be a problem.”

The delay further supports Dickson’s belief that a new satellite is the best thing for the continued delivery of radio programming.

“There is nothing as guaranteed as a satellite for getting programs to the client,” he says. “The internet is not quite ready for the reliability that satellite has.”


WHO TO CONTACT WITH YOUR QUESTIONS:

Learfield
Randy Williams [email protected]

Orbital Media Networks (OMNi)

For AMC-8 XDS networks and affiliates: 303-925-1708 (option 1) or [email protected]

For antennas, LNBs, other parts, and installation services: 303-925-1708 (option 2) or [email protected]

Skyview Networks

Technical Inquiries: 877-503-8910 or [email protected]

Premiere Networks

Technical Inquiries: 818-461-8373 or [email protected]

Westwood One

Technical Inquiries: 888-435-7450.

For Wegener- or STORQdelivered programming, press option 1, then option 2, or email [email protected]

For XDS-delivered programming, press option 1, then option 4, or e-mail [email protected]