Category Archives: News

San Diego HD-Radio Progress Report

Digital radio broadcasting seems to be catching on in San Diego despite the high cost of installation and low listenership. Ibiquity Digital Corporation, sole provider of the FCC-approved IBOC system, built into its growth plan heavy financial incentives, including lower or no license fees for early adopters. Large groups like Clear Channel endorsed the move to IBOC, too.

Ibiquity is working the backend, too. We’re beginning to see and hear commercials boosting HD Radio and mentions of commercial-free subchannels. And radios with digital capability are showing up at Radio Shack, Best Buy, and Fry’s.

So what’s going on in San Diego radio?

Here’s a table of San Diego HD-Radio stations, courtesy of Ibiquity:

89.5 KPBS-HD1 FM News/Talk/Info San Diego State University
89.5-2 KPBS-HD2 FM Groove Salad from NPR San Diego State University
93.3 KHTS-HD1 FM Top 40 Clear Channel Radio
93.3-2 KHTS-HD2 FM Mega Spanish Clear Channel Radio
94.1 KMYI-HD1 FM Hot AC Clear Channel Radio
94.1-2 KMYI-HD2 FM Variety Clear Channel Radio
95.7 KUSS-HD1 FM Country Clear Channel Radio
95.7-2 KUSS-HD2 FM New Country Clear Channel Radio
97.3 KSON-HD1 FM Country Lincoln Financial Media
101.5 KGB-HD1 FM Classic Rock Clear Channel Radio
101.5-2 KGB-HD2 FM All Dave, Shelly & Chainsaw Clear Channel Radio
105.3 KIOZ-HD1 FM Rock Clear Channel Radio
105.3-2 KIOZ-HD2 FM Rock Clear Channel Radio
107.1 KSSD-HD1 FM Spanish/CHR Entravision
600 KOGO-HD AM News/Talk Clear Channel Radio

I asked three San Diego engineering managers about their HD-Radio projects:

Leon Messenie, KPBS

When did you first hit air?

July 29, 2005

What is on your subchannel?

Groove Salad – KPBS’s secondary digital channel. Groove Salad, a 24-hour music station, is a partnership between National Public Radio and Soma FM; and the result is, well, “groovy.” (From our WEB site, not my wording)

Any notable project stories?

The one thing that sticks in my minds was the first morning we were digital. The newscast came up to the point where we cue the traffic report and there was nothing but silence…dead air…. It seems that none of us Engineering or Programming types thought about the newly induced digital delay in the analog signal. This is done to align the analog and digital program streams for a seamless switch between them. This delay is about 8 seconds.

So here is what happened: The Traffic service listens to KPBS-FM off air. When they heard their cue it was already 8 seconds past the real point when they should have started talking. This confused them so much they just stopped talking for the entire report. The Engineering cell phones lit up like a Christmas tree. Needless to say emergency orders for dedicated mix minus phone lines between KPBS and the Traffic office were installed. I am just glad the Traffic service did not have a helicopter….

Recommended receivers?

Not that I recommend them but we use the Boston Receptor HD desktop receiver. They work pretty well with an outside antenna.

Are you considering a closed service for your reading service?

In May 2006 KPBS-FM was part of a test with NPR to test what is being called the extended digital service. We put the KPBS Radio Reading service into this area and then compared the sound quality and reception to that of the analog Sub Carrier receiver. This test was presented at the IAAIS conference at a hotel in Mission Valley. The Mission or as we in radio call it Missing Valley hotel was the perfect place to test this. In a room with about 150 people we listened to first the analog SCA receiver. The sound quality was terrible and you could barely hear the KPBS Radio Reading Service. When we switched the room audio over to the audio from the digital feed the room of people just gasped. The sound was perfect. It was very cool to be a part of something that was such a success. Work is being done now to make this a closed system in order to broadcast Radio Reading Services around the country without violating copyright laws.

John Rigg, Clear Channel Radio

When did you first hit air?

The Clear Channel San Diego stations were on in May of 2006, with the exception of KGB and KOGO which were on in early 2005.

Any notable obstacles?

No two installations were the same, even though the application for HD is software written by Ibiquity, manufacturers integrate differently and apply their own GUI to the exporters and importers.

Any warnings?

Planning, Planning, Planning.  If someone has already done this in your group, ask lots of questions, no need to re-invent the wheel.

Recommended receivers?

I have a JVC KDR1 in the car. It’s a great radio, no RDS on the analog though. I’ve heard great things about the Sangean Component Tuner although I’ve not personally seen one.

Is your group adding more HD-Radio stations?

Clear Channel is currently adding stations to the digital offering. I’m not sure of the schedule, but hey, Tucson just did an install.

Eric Schecter, Lincoln Financial Media

 

What stations have HD-Radio broadcasting? What format?

KSON-FM has country on HD-1. We don’t have an HD-2 yet

When did you first hit air?

December 22, 2006, just in time for Christmas.

Any notable obstacles, funny stories, warnings?

Yes, several. The obstacle that was eventually overcome was getting the data to the Harris Flexstar Exciter from the studio where the Exporter (fancy name for a Linux box with soundcards) lives. We use 7 of 24 time slots in a T-1 Intraplex  multiplexer to accomplish this. It appears that the the module adaptors that present a 10 Base T interface only operate at half duplex. In the end, we used a hub rather than a switch at the studio end, and everything seems happy.

In the warning department, first some background: Our transmitter is a Harris HTHD+ and it utilizes a 4CX20000C tube biased AB1 (sort of) to make 18kw transmitter power output (TPO). The FM+HD signal combining occurs in the Flexstar Exciter. This is known as low-level combining. In order for the transmitter system to make spectral compliance, the exciter uses RTAC, or Real Time Adaptive Correction. While you can get away with some VSWR on a regular transmitter, a hybrid digital system really needs to have a flat transmission system (antenna, feedline, fittings, switches) to achieve optimal performance. We have work to do to optimize a system that is about 25 years old.

Recommended receivers?

I’ve evaluated the Boston Acoustics Receptor. With a good antenna, it’s a good performer. With a short piece of wire close to the radio, the display electronics tend to de-sense the receiver, and it’s as deaf as rocks. BA is now supplying folded dipole antennas based on NPR Labs tests. It receives both AM and FM. There are some good hidden menus for the experimenter in all of us.The price point for this fine sounding radio is $299.

I’ve also evaluated a professional tuner by ADA. It’s actually two tuners in one chassis, and is made for tech centers in the stations. It will do both AM and FM HD, displays RDS and HD PAD data, and is a finer performer. Price tag is about $3500.

Do you plan to outfit your other stations?

Yes, KIFM and KBZT.

Mike Prasser, CBS Radio

Which of your stations have HD Radio?

Currently neither of my stations in San Diego are broadcasting HD. We are looking at second quarter of this year for both. The HD2 formats have not been finalized.

Recommended receivers?

Most of the receivers on the market are good. The most exciting thing that I saw at CES last week was a company called Sideport. They have created a single HD chip that contains all of the components needed for HD with a much lower current draw for $20. Currently there are two chips needed one at $15 and one at $20. So this make HD Radio smaller and cheaper to make.

KSDS Gets FCC OK to Raise Power

(Disclosure: The author is employed by Bay City Television, San Diego-based programming, advertising, and marketing arm of XETV Tijuana)

The FCC issued on October 31 a construction permit for KSDS (FM), 88.3 MHz, to increase power from their current 3 kW vertical to 22 kW ERP vertical, upgrading the facility from class A to class B1. The station, operated from the campus of City College downtown, but transmitting from a tower at Mesa College in Linda Vista, has been operating since 2002 with 3 kW ERP vertical polarization after a compromise worked out with Fox Television affiliate XETV, channel 6 in Tijuana.

The latest CP approval comes as a surprise to XETV, which has fought the increase in power since 1995 on grounds that it creates a substantial interference zone since the stations are only separated by a minimum of 200 kHz between allotments, or 550 kHz between carrier centers. The stations represent a unique situation in the U.S., where a border non-commercial FM had protected a channel 6 TV signal broadcasting in English-language from Mexico. The new construction permit appears to change the crossborder relationship by declaring previous protections null and void.

The new FCC ruling says that previous international broadcast treaties do not specifically deal with the TV-FM interference issue, so the XETV signal has no rights to protection from U.S. non-commerical FM stations after all. At the same time, the order gave recognition to XETV public service efforts and ordered that KSDS broadcast its increased power in vertical polarization only. KSDS must provide a shallow null to the southeast, and they must remediate any known interference and report unsolved cases to local FCC inspectors.

KSDS intends to have its facilities ready for increased power by spring 2007.

Yuma Market First in Nation to Adopt New 12 MHz BAS Plan

The Yuma-El Centro TV market underwent a changeover to the new BAS 12 MHz per channel ENG microwave spectrum plan Friday, September 22, according to Robbie DeCorse, Chief Engineer at KYMA (NBC) in Yuma. He says that they “haven’t had any issues since the switch; it’s business as usual.

Meanwhile in San Diego, Nextel is working to get the necessary 75%
of the market under contract. Pat Hughes of Sprint-Nextel says that
they believe it will be next summer sometime before the switch takes
place here. He forsees Santa Barbara switching soon, then Palm Springs
and San Diego. Los Angeles will be last due simply to the sheer number
of people involved in the project.

Once the market has contracted for the changeover, there has to be a “caucus” to decide the exact swapover date.

Hughes encourages those who want to learn more to get updated information from their special website at www.2ghzrelocation.com.

FCC Fines 106.9 Pirate in Encanto

The FCC issued September 27 an order asking Joni K. Craig to pay $500 for operating an illegal FM transmitter on 106.9 MHz in the San Diego neighborhood of Encanto. The commission had issued in May two Notices of Unlicensed Operation (NOUO) for the pirate station, located a few blocks south of the KOGO towers. That notice addressed Alan M. Conrad and Maria A. Conrad, who are listed as owners of the property and addressed the assumed name of the station, “Radio Active Radio.

In the latest FCC order, the original $10,000 fine was reduced to
$500 when Craig provided tax documents that proved to the commission’s
satisfaction that she was unable to pay the full fine. She was also
able to convince them that she played only a passive role in the
station and “took steps to shut down the station.” San Diego inspectors
had monitored the station several times between October 2004 and August
2005.

Joni K. Craig is a spokeswoman for the San Diego Foundation for Change.

Making Waves Commentary: Gonsett Fights Satellite Receiver Makers

(Commentary) The popular industry email bulletin CGC Communicator published by Communications General Corporation consulting engineer Robert Gonsett ran a series of summary articles this year on the emissions of what he terms “mini-transmitters” used for getting audio from satellite receivers to automobile FM radios. At question was the power and frequencies chosen for the job.

Sometimes taking on entrenched forces of big business and big government becomes a hopeless morass of stonewalling and legal manuevering; the one with the most expensive den of attorneys wins. At other times, the system works. Follow along as we piece together the story of how one person can shed enough light on foul activity to make a difference.

This story began nearly two years ago, shortly after I took the job as Chief Engineer at the XETV Fox 6 studio in San Diego. Disclosure: XETV retains well-known consulting engineer Robert Gonsett specifically to deal with matters of interference, be they intentional or incidental. The actions taken by Bob were largely done by his own initiative, though I am left personally grateful and somewhat astonished from the lesson of power in process and persistence.

The Punching Bag of TV Spectrum

Pity the poor channel 6 over-the-air viewer in San Diego. First of all, the signal’s low band VHF, which means viewers must contend with urban electrical noise and the visual blight of a large antenna, if they bother at all. Then there’s the distance from the transmitter in Mexico to viewers north of Mission Valley. Add that the XETV’s power is split between horizontal and vertical polarization so that unless you have a special circular polarization receive antenna, you can’t receive the full signal. And then we deal with the adjacent band noncommercial FM broadcasters who want nothing worse than to improve coverage for their deserving listeners. The latest assault, however, comes from the proliferation of little FM modulators people use to transfer without wires the audio from their file players and various satellite receivers to a stock automobile FM stereo radio.

Those FM modulators are termed by the FCC “intentional radiators,” which means that their radiation is intended, in contrast to the unintended radiation from, say, your computer’s switching power supply. Under FCC regulation 15.209(a), such intentional radiators must have a fundamental signal within the FM band measured at no more than 150 uV/m at 3 meters distance, and they’re just plain not allowed on TV channels 5 and 6.

The  Journal

2005 – I begin receiving occasional calls from viewers who say that they are watching us when the colors  flash and they can hear music or voices unrelated to the video emanating from their TV speakers. Their interference comes and goes as do their neighbors. Obviously, this must be occurring with other channel 6 outlets around the country.

December 2005 – Gonsett’s newsletter, the CGC Communicator, relays a report from an LA radio chief engineer that a pirate broadcaster he picks up on his car radio is actually an XM satellite receiver FM modulator. “It amazed me how far I could hear the FM modulator….at least 250 feet if not further. This is the second time that this has happened to me while driving around…I strongly question whether these XM modulators are Part 15 compliant because they are able to radiate signals over 250 feet….”

March 11, 2006 – The Philadelphia Inquirer runs a story about the interference to non-commercial FM stations caused by satellite radio receivers. By this time, it is common knowledge that the default frequency on many of those receiver modulators is 88.1 MHz, much to the dismay of stations like KKJZ in Long Beach. Mike Starling, NPR Director of Engineering and Operations in Washington, promotes using 87.9 MHz as a default frequency—understandable in light of the fact that many, if not most, of these mini-transmitters come equipped to transmit only on non-commercial frequencies at the lower end of the FM band.

March 29, 2006 – Bob Gonsett writes a detailed letter to Sirius Radio Public Relations officers, with copies sent to various FCC contacts. In it, he asks that the satellite radio companies provide proof that they have received from the FCC a specific waiver that allows them to market satellite radios with FM modulators, “intentional radiators,” operating outside the FM broadcast band on 87.7 and 87.9 MHz.

March 30, 2006 – TV Technology magazine, in Doug Lung’s RF Report, highlights the FM modulator issue as a result of correspondence with Fred Lass, director of engineering at WRGB channel 6 in Schenectady, N.Y. Doug names the names of several modulator manufacturers that advertise illegal modulators and clarifies the FCC rules regarding continuous intentional radiation either misunderstood or ignored by those manufacturers. Doug reveals that Lass has notified the FCC Office of Technology about these transmitters. Lass tells Lung, “All that is required to find [illegal transmitters] is to do a Google search of ‘87.9 MHz’ to get a list of manufacturers and retailers selling these devices in the U.S.”

April 8, 2006 – Bob Gonsett “gets the ball rolling” by filing a complaint with the FCC in Washington against Sirius Satellite for incorporating 87.7 and 87.9 MHz into the intentional radiator mini-transmitters that are built into many Sirius consumer satellite receivers. He chooses to focus the filing on a single high profile case in order to simplify the process, shed light on the problem, and hope that the FCC would itself broaden the investigation.

April 27, 2006 – XM Radio files an 8-K form with the SEC in which it reveals to investors that it has received an inquiry received from the FCC OET on April 25 regarding the emissions of the Delphi SkyFi2 radio. The company states that it is making an internal review and anticipates “responding to the letter shortly and cooperating fully.”

May 8, 2006 – Bob Gonsett posts on his CGC Communicator an anonymous comment from a Los Angeles FM broadcast engineer favoring modulators operating below the FM band. “My feeling on any small transmitter for an XM, Sirius, HD or MP3 players is that they SHOULD use these out of band frequencies. Currently, FCC Rules do not allow this, but the situation deserves careful examination and consideration. Given the interference these devices cause to mobile on-channel reception of legitimate stations, we should give them out of band authorization (but not above 107.9 MHz). As a user, I cannot find a clean channel to use in Los Angeles for my XM receiver. As a licensee, I would not want them on my channel.” A sort of spectral NIMBY statement, but who wants mass transmitters on his frequency?

May 16, 2006 – Reuters reports that Audiovox Corp. suspends shipments of its Xpress Model XMCK10 XM satellite radio receiver after the FCC says the unit “did not comply with either operating bandwidth or related emission specifications.”

May 30, 2006 – XM Radio files another Form 8-K with the SEC in which it reveals to investors that it has suspended marketing of radios made by Delphi and Audiovox in order to comply with an inquiry received from the FCC on April 25. XM says it will modify the radios in question and submit them for Part 15 compliance testing. “We plan to have modified devices shipping to retailers in the near term.”

May 31, 2006 – Orbitcast.com quotes Sirius Radio EVP/CFO David Frear as saying that “all SIRIUS Satellite Radio receivers are in full FCC compliance. Some letters were sent regarding some Sirius devices that were out of spec. Frear stated that they then went to the receiver manufacturers and took care of the problem a while ago. All SIRIUS Radios are in full FCC compliance. Case closed.” Phewww.

Like the Whac-a-mole amusement at your local Chuck E Cheese, getting a couple of vendors to change their ways through FCC inquiries will inevitably result in another vendor producing a replacement product. After all, consumers demand a convenient way to transfer audio without wires. And none of this activity has yet dealt with the multitude of transmitters out there designed to transmit Apple iPod audio over FM. Some of those mini-transmitters are reported to put out suspiciously high signal levels. The work continues.