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Digital Radio: When More (bandwidth) is Less (choice)

By Brooke Saunders

In the 1930s Hitler gave away 9 million AM radios to the German public, all calibrated to one channel. People who listened to forbidden stations such as the BBC were sent to concentration camps. Every single radio blared the Nazi  party line, you could not escape it anywhere.

 Something similar is happening with radio in America today, but without swastikas and death camps. A coalition headed by the National Association of Broadcasters would eliminate choice on the airwaves just as effectively as any dictatorship. Their lobbyists are pressuring the Federal Communications Commission to force approval of a two-part proposed regulatory standard called "In-Band, On-Channel, Digital Audio Broadcasting " or IBOC-DAB.

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The Effect is like the Nazi radio giveaway
because it destroys by law our ability to
receive weaker or more distant signals.
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 Digital is a new way of using electricity to preserve and now transmit music, voice, and data. It uses bits and bytes to code the signal on compact discs and computer chips, instead of smoothly varied signals taken from vinyl records, for example. Currently radio stations transmit in analog, but take the music from a digital format.

 IBOC-DAB would cause mandatory sunsetting or prohibition of existing analog FM stations, making them broadcast in digital. Adding insult to injury, it would allow big stations to more than double their bandwidth. To see how this works, go to a major FM station and click once in either direction, the signal is still there. Click twice, it vanishes. Under the proposed rules, two clicks in either direction would be taken and the powerful station would bleed into other signals.

 The effect is like the Nazi radio giveaway because it destroys by law our ability to receive weaker or more distant signals. All Germans, whether they liked it or not, heard Hitler 's latest speech. Under IBOC-DAB, repetitive programming, blaring ads, and irritating call-in schemes broadcast at 40,000 watts would dominate..
 

Commercial radio content has little to do with Nazism, unless the latest
 bleating teen idol brings you to a murderous rage. But IBOC-DAB would knock out what many listeners prefer the smaller noncommercial college, community, and religious stations.

 An FCC vote in February this year created more legal channels for noncommercial stations called Low-Power FM or LPFM. The commission determined it wouldn't interfere with existing signals to do this. Thousands of petitioners nationwide, including the Richmond City Council, supported the new stations, which would have a maximum of 100 watts.

The NAB filed suit, claiming LPFM reduces audio quality by creating interference, despite the fact that their own 1996 studies proved it wouldn't. Looking deeper, an explanation could be a 12 percent drop in radio listenership in the 1990s, (according to Industry Consultants such as Duncan American Radio) caused by excessive ads and "lack of programming innovation". Rather than compete fairly, they want to steal the space competitors might use and make it too expensive for them to operate, at the same time.

 What happens to WDCE 90.1 at the University of Richmond with its $20,000 yearly budget? It costs $60,000 to $200,000 to change to digital. Will WDCE and other college stations disappear? One survivor would be National Public Radio, which oddly enough opposes LPFM. . Such a viewpoint seems to go against everything NPR stands for. Some say diversity would be provided by Internet radio. That's fine at home, but not in cars: imagine your music with the signal dropout and gurgling sounds of cell
 phones. Nor can everyone afford a computer or Internet connection. That's like saying "Let them eat cake," as Marie Antoinette pronounced when she heard the peasants had no bread.

 Expanded bandwidth is supposedly for improved signals, but according to Sony Corporation's official FCC statement, only a fraction of the requested space is required for digital audio. Big Broadcasting's real agenda looks eerily like a money grab; they will sell wireless Internet Broadband, pagers and other services on that extra bandwidth. IBOC-DAB literally "jams " weaker stations and fattens radio station coffers in one go.
 
 
 EXAMPLE TWO:
A radio station is not a "point" on a line representing the FM dial's 20mHz bandwidth (from 88.0--108mHz).

A radio station slot is a "channel" encompassing a RANGE of frequencies. A legal FM radio station is currently 200kHz [0.2mHz] of that dial.

Due to the lack of regulation requiring a minimum level of performance for  FM receivers ... a large buffer was established in 1963 of three "channels" (also known as "third adjacent channel prohibition") to each side of a station.

So Q94.5FM uses a range of frequencies centered at 94.5mHz (m="mega" Hz="Hertz", which means "million vibrations a second) on the electromagnetic spectrum of frequencies available to current technology. 

Q94.5FM encompasses a 200kHz bandwidth centered at 94.5FM, therefore half (100kHz or 0.1mHz) is updial and half is downdial. So the range is 94.5-0.1=94.4mHz and 94.5+0.1mHz=94.6mHz thus the range is 94.4--94.6mHz.

The DAB-IBOC proposal plans to expand that bandwidth from 200kHz to 430kHz.

Thus Q94.5FM would under IBOC-DAB encompass on the FM dial a range from 94.285--to-- 94.715mHz on the FM dial.

Similarly, WTPE 94.9FM's  new signal encompasses 94.685--to-- 95.115mHz on the FM dial

Graphically: (ascii charted)
     Q94.5 
94.285 |  94.715mHz
  |iiii|iiii|
         ||||<0.3mHz of mixed signal!
         |iiii|iiii|
      94.685  |   95.115mHz
             94.9
Losing the competition provided by 94.9FM for Richmonders with a good radio is bad enough ... but the rural listeners between Richmond and Norfolk will likely lose access to both stations!

 FM radio space is finite, like public access to water. An outcry would certainly occur if big hotels were given all the prime beachfront. Or suppose there are only a dozen distribution boxes in a city to place newspapers, and the six big publishers in town got together and demanded the other slots. Then they required all newspapers to have a full-color press run of 200,000, or go out of business. Ridiculous, you say, but this is exactly what is happening to radio.

 Since Republican John McCain opposes LPFM; perhaps he should look up "cartel " and "corporate welfare." The IBOC-DAB bill is so drenched in pork and skewed by special interests that it would offend anyone, Republican or not. Congress might as well write checks directly to big broadcasting and not bother with the deception. In the same dirty-coalition are the companies
 that make radios; they love the fact that existing equipment would become obsolete.

 Thomas Paine would have supported LPFM, along with George Washington, Martin Luther King, and Ghandi. I can't imagine Stalin, Castro, and Hitler supporting it, and the National Association of Broadcasters are opposed...You won 't hear about LPFM in the mainstream media because a handful of companies own many major television, radio, and print outlets. They keep it
 in the dark by the nature of their business. But if you go on the Internet and type in  "LPFM " or  "IBOC-DAB " you will find plenty of information.

Having radio lobbyists decide radio issues is like putting foxes in charge of chicken security or letting Standard Oil handle oil business competition. In truth, you'd be far more likely to hear Churchill's riveting "Blood, Sweat, and Tears " speech on a German radio in the Second World War than an LPFM discussion of mainstream radio today.

Brooke Saunders is a co-founder of the Floating Folk Festival and Radio Free Richmond in Richmond, Virginia
 

VCPP official Congressional Testimony regarding IBOC
 

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