I've been having the most interesting discussion on PDX Radio.com
. For those interested in Portland, Oregon (and some Salem Eugene discussion under the radar) this is a great site, with lots of interesting people posting regularly.
First a little primer.
IBOC stands for 'In Band On Channel
'. This means the digital signals are going to occupy the same space as the analog ones do today on your radio dial. Technical measures have been taken to hide these from ordinary radios seen today, but this requires tradeoffs in the quality of service we have today. Right now, these choices are largely being made by the producers of the proprietary digital technology
and the broadcasters looking to use it to improve their bottom line.
On the FM dial, these changes will not have too great of an effect on most of us, though FM purists, DX 'ers and fringe area listeners are likely to be dissappointed by some combination of the lack of IBOC reception and reduced ability to receive distant stations.
On the AM dial, things are quite simply going to be a mess. The less sophisticated technical nature of AM does not allow for the tricks possible on FM. This means more noise for lots of listeners and marginal digital quality. (See the board for lots of discussion on this that cuts both ways.) Many people already think poorly of AM radio, this effort is just going to make things worse overall.
These changes do mean a new generation of radios though. With these new radios come an interesting time for radio to shine or diminish further, depending on your point of view. Geeks have something to chatter about regarding radio again regardless. Personally, I have always enjoyed watching technology develop and ideally mature. We do live in interesting times.
I fear these digital radio efforts will cost all of us more than just a new radio. The quality and consistancy issues digital radio look to bring to the table, particularly on AM, are likely to turn a lot of people off. Radio consolidation already brings a bland mix to what once was a vibrant local medium. Will this next big turn off further marginalize radio in the face of new media in the form of Internet and satellite delivery methods? Could AM and FM radio become bastardized loss leaders for XM and Sirius? Both of whom offer more choice combined with a coast to coast listening experience.
One notable problem with the current efforts seems to be a lack of public input and comment to the process. The radio industry wants to compete with the new technology and is looking hard at digital in order to be able to do that.
I believe the choices being made to favor digital programming on AM radio are the wrong choices, but I am somewhat of a geek/radio purist. This means I probably don't count.
The potential advantages are:
- Better quality signals on both AM and FM
- More programming choices with digital being one program and analog being another
- quality or premium radio content via subscription for live performances and such
- FM surround multi-channel audio
- add on value services, such as program title display, interactive radio console ads and such
- potential for all digital radio
Potential disadvantages are:
- Increased noise on AM
- Lower quality AM analog broadcasts to make room for digital ones
- Higher cost of radio in general for both listeners and broadcasters
- fewer listenable / availiable stations
- potential for expensive radios to become useless if digital fails as AM Stereo did
So how would you, the radio listener choose?
Would you lower the quality of all AM stations in order to make digital AM a more viable option? Would you do this if you knew most folks would not notice too much and also knowing digital would only be viable in limited areas regardless of your choice?
Would you favor FM digital capability over the ability to hear distant stations? If a radio were made that improved non digital significantly, would you make the same choice?
Would you advocate technology decisions that would significantly degrade a large number of radios purchsed over the years still in regular use? Why?
Does radio being a quality medium matter to you? Do you see it as a quality medium?
Would you trade quality of signal for an increased number of programming choices or stations on the dial?
If a radio were made that had more controls that let you achieve better quality, particularly on AM stations, would you take the time to learn them, or is it simply easier to tune the station and listen anyway?
How do you use radio today? What are its strengths compared to other media delivery methods? What makes you continue to listen?
What would you want to see radio change?
If you are considering a comment, I would really appreciate it. I don't think anyone in the radio industry is asking these kinds of questions. Our FCC is not asking them to do so either. I am particularly interested in opinions from regular people (non radio geeks) who want to comment on their radio experiences and priorities.