NASB & DRM REPORT 2006

 

 

2006 American Shortwave Conference
DRM and NASB Meetings
By Richard A. D’Angelo

Reprinted by permission from the NASWA Journal

Day One

Adventist World Radio ("AWR") played host to this year’s annual meeting of the US DRM Group and the National Association of Shortwave Broadcasters at their headquarters location in Silver Springs, Maryland on May 11th and May 12th. This was the third annual meeting of the DRM group with about 50 people attending. The meeting was recorded for distribution through the Internet as a Podcast. Did anyone mange to hear it?

Adrian Peterson of AWR welcomed the group and introduced Greg Scott who provided a comprehensive history of the organizations shortwave broadcasting history including a discussion about Adrian’s Radio Monitors International that was broadcast from Sri Lanka many years ago.



Mike Adams of the Far East Broadcasting Association and Jeff White of Radio Miami International jointly hosted the proceedings. Mike handled speaker introductions while Jeff handled the behind the scenes activities. Mike informally polled the room noting that this meeting was being attended by broadcasters, transmission providers, transmitter and antenna manufacturers, regulatory industry, receiver manufacturers, radio amateurs, and shortwave listeners.


The Status of HF and DRM

Adil Mina, a Vice President at Continental Electronics with 40 years of industry experience, began the program. He mentioned that in the last four to five years over 90% of new shortwave transmitting equipment has been purchased by the Chinese (later he mentioned that China will be installing seven 500 KW transmitters in Cuba this year). However, recently other organizations have been doing the purchasing. A lot of recent interest has been generated by DRM and the opening of new markets. Everyone wants to know where are the cheap receivers? Adil showed a Sangean receiver that came off the production line just four weeks ago, which is marketed under the Roberts name. The first production run was 150 but Sangean is now beginning another run. The price was 299 Euros. The next batch of $200.00 or less is expected to be available by August. He expects them to be available before the IBC conference in the summer.

Adil expects that in three years or less DRM receivers will be $50.00 or less mainly because of the strong interest the Chinese have in manufacturing them. He noted a 100 KW Continental transmitter and a 500 KW Harris transmitter being copied in a Chinese factory using the Company pictures from the catalog. Plus he saw a Thompson exciter for DRM being copied for future production runs. He expects China’s continuing interest in high frequency for communication around the country to help drive cheaper DRM receiver manufacturing.

Adil noted that there seems to be interest in three main areas. The first is an international interest in DRM as shortwave broadcasting moves into the digital world. The second seems to be the special tests in the 26 MHz range with line of sight coverage. Finally, there is a growing interest in commercial competition in high frequency broadcasting. Adil and Dr. Don Messer both believe that the Federal Communications Commission will enable broadcasting to the USA from within the USA. They indicated that five transmitters could cover the entire country. This was later clarified as not through 26 MHz transmitters but through long haul shortwave DRM transmissions.

Adil was very firm that "Shortwave is the only media that you can broadcast from one place to another under your control. Satellite systems can be shut off." There is a strong belief that digital shortwave has a bright future because of listening quality and the potential of the big savings from the reduction of energy usage. At a recent National Association of Broadcasters ("NAB") meeting in Las Vegas experiments were able to cover the entire city with a 30 watt transmitter on 26 MHz with excellent sound quality reported by listeners.



Introduction of DRM in Region II (the Americas)

Don Messer, Chairman of the DRM Consortium Technical Committee, spoke about the introduction of DRM in the Americas. He firmly believes that within 2 years DRM broadcasts will be available either commercially or as public broadcasting or both with people using affordable receivers.

Don focused on some of the technical aspects of DRM broadcasting from a presentation he made in Las Vegas earlier this year. The ability to multicast 4 programs within a 10 kHz channel has been successfully tested in Mexico. DRM is very versatile with what broadcasters can do for frequency selection and target audiences.
Utilizing the underutilized shortwave broadcasting band at around 26 MHz was selected because a study of frequency usage showed this band to be under utilized. Various tests in this range have been successful leading the DRM folks to focus more of their time and energy on making 26 MHz a prime target for DRM shortwave broadcasting. The potential for 43 non-overlapping 10 kHz channels exist providing plenty of spectrum for high quality radio.

The Mexico City 26 MHz test utilized a 200 watt transmitter (the size of a vending machine) on the edge of town. Engineering analysis determined that 2-6 KW transmitters can cover all of Mexico City. Tests in Europe have provided similar results.

Shortwave listener Ulis Fleming asked about the potential to jam DRM signals. Don responded that the key was the signal to noise ratio. Signals can be jammed but the potential to overcome is there with using higher power. Nevertheless, Don wouldn’t go to DRM to overcome jamming but for its programming potential. Four speech programs can be broadcast into one area on a 10 kHz channel simultaneous providing tremendous opportunities for broadcasters to reach target audiences.


Demonstrations

Ongoing demonstrations using the two Roberts DRM portable radios, without an external antenna, were conducted with mixed results. DRM is either "in" or "out" but not in between. These receivers are also capable of analog shortwave reception. The programs were transmitted by Radio Canada International in Sackville. There was a range of programming available for sampling throughout the day with our own Kim Elliott running the display. When DRM signals are "in" the quality is quite impressive.


The Latest Prototype Receivers

John Sykes, Project Director Digital Radio for BBC World Service, spoke about receivers. He began with where things were 2 ½ years ago before getting up to the present. He addressed many technical aspects of receiver technology to determine how to maximize the signal to decode the broadcast information.

Sykes is a strong believer in radio although he acknowledged that BBC management is enamored with the Internet for program delivery. Although the ability to "time shift" listening exists with digital delivery, Sykes is convinced that radio has a long future in the marketplace. Ultimately, consumers will want radios that deliver program content without the need to understand the technology behind the scenes. He is convinced that there will be plenty of DRM radios on the market in 2006.

Currently, the BBC is carried by both Sirius and XM satellite radio companies so the urgent need for the BBC to go digital in the USA appears to be minimal at the moment. The two private companies spent billions to get their networks up and running. The BBC is able to use that platform and their combined marketing activities. Things could change but for the moment the BBC seems satisfied to use these two companies as a platform in the USA.

The Starwaves Radio

Johannes von Weyssenhoff, Technical Director of Starwaves GmbH in Germany, spoke briefly about and demonstrated the Starwaves DRM-DAB receiver. They had a receiver on display that retails for about 1,500 Euros in Germany. Johannes offered me a very good price if I purchased three or four thousand at one time. I told him I would get back to him after I talked to Mike Wolfson at the Company Store.

DRM Receivers

Charlie Jacobson of HCJB Engineering presented a report by Andy Giefer of Radio Deutsche Welle providing comparisons of DRM receivers with different front ends in conjunction with the DReaM software on a PC. Also, he discussed some activities at Radio Deutsche Welle. DW currently transmits 66 hours a day to Europe using DRM so they are gathering substantial experience in broadcasting and monitoring DRM.

DRM Demonstrations at Winter SWL Festival

Kim Elliott of the Voice of America and NASWA talked about the DRM demonstrations conducted at the Winter SWL Festival each year in Kulpsville. He mentioned about our first, although brief, trans-Atlantic DRM reception last March and the uneven results from Bonaire and Sackville.

Mike Adams asked me to address the group about a listeners perspective where I focused on the need for adequate, reasonably priced equipment to be available if DRM listeners are to be developed. Mike mentioned holding special events QSLs and contests to help develop listener interest.

The Future of U.S. International Broadcasting

Alan Heil, former VOA broadcaster, spoke about the Voice of America and the current state of affairs. Among Alan’s topics was the reduction in English language broadcasts and the recent closing of the Kavala, Greece relay site. He talked about the proposals to reduce English even further and the complete elimination of many other languages. VOA will rank 6th out of the G8 nations in English language broadcasting under these proposals.

Jamming is still taking place for most broadcasts to China but the VOA’s English service reaches an estimated two million listeners without jamming. Alan referred to discontinuing the English service to China is the equivalent to jamming ourselves.

He made a strong case for continuing America’s voice strong in the post 9-11 era. Today saving the VOA is one of Alan’s major retirement activities. He distributed a fact sheet providing a "what to do" list for those opposing these changes at the VOA.

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DRM Antennas

Gordon Sinclair of TCI International talked about long range, short range and local DRM shortwave broadcasting. His presentation featured pictures of antenna arrays to cover desired regions and target audiences. He discussed some of TCI’s antenna experimentation in various locations around the world including the 26 MHz demonstration at the NAB gathering in Las Vegas with good results using just 30 watts. Another case was made for the FCC to allow domestic transmitters to transmit to a domestic audience in the 26 MHz shortwave band.

Transmitters

Don Sprague of Continental Electronics spoke about implementing DRM on existing transmitters. Compatibility with existing equipment and flexibility concerning future uses of transmitters were important issues. The technical discussion about the DRM transmitter options was of interest to many of the broadcasters present although I glazed over a little. He talked about an experiment his company did at transmitters at Biblis.

Brainstorming

Mike Adams closed the day’s program with a group discussion about implementing DRM in the US. Don Messer focused his comments on instituting DRM broadcasting in the US to a US based audience. Don concentrated his remarks on the use of 26 MHz, which was a regular theme of this meeting, to the NASB broadcasters. He indicated that National Public Radio ("NPR") expressed strong interest at the NAB meeting in Las Vegas in DRM. NPR has informally committed to doing 26 MHz tests in major metropolitan areas. Adil Mina talked extensively about the positive coverage DRM received at the NAB convention in Las Vegas. Like Messer, he sees a great future for 26 MHz and the possibility of testing for NPR provides and excellent opportunity to test DRM. He also talked about being approached by a commercial medium wave company about DRM testing. Apparently, the opportunities to test DRM in North America are growing rapidly. Brazil, Canada, Mexico and US medium wave tests are scheduled for the rest of 2006. Adil’s a great salesman for his company and he was certainly doing his best to get the NASB thinking about doing some planning. Johannes von Weyssenhoff, who is part of the German DRM Forum, discussed how that group functions and compared it to the US DRM Group.


The day’s activities were well worth attending as experts in the evolving DRM field shared their knowledge and experiences as this new technology emerges. However, not everything was all technical. Although receiver progress is slow in developing, it appears that the pace is picking up with many of the engineers predicting cheap portables coming in the next two years. In the meanwhile, early adopters will need to have a little bit of an experimentation mindset as the technology develops. However, not every moment was a techie adventure. At one point I heard George Jacobs ask Adrian Peterson, "How is the QSL card collection?" They continued talking about QSL collecting and which stations have been difficult and which one’s have been responsive over the years. There is a little bit of radio hobbyist in all shortwave radio aficionados.

Day Two

Day two started off with opening remarks by Doug Garlinger, NASB President, who was the moderator for the NASB meeting. Many of the same people that attended Day One activities were present again with many new faces so some of the material was duplicative.

The first speaker was Don Messer, NASB Consultant and Chairman of the DRM Technical Committee with a brief overall status of the US position on the 2007 World Administrative Radio Conference ("WRC07") and a brief update on DRM for those that were not present for the previous day’s session. The themes of 26 MHz and "like an FM station" were prominent. He elaborated further on 30 days of 26 MHz testing in Mexico City last summer with successful results. DRM for local use has overtaken long haul shortwave transmissions that use sky wave propagation. More discussion was focused on getting FCC approval of domestic shortwave to enable the roll out of digital shortwave in North America.

Walt Ireland of the American Radio Relay League and Chairman of the US Working Party -GE ("WP-6E"), Vice Chair of Informal Working Group-4 ("IWG-4") and a retired Voice of America employee, reported on the results of recent IWG-4, ITU-R, WP-6E and SG-6 meetings. He talked about the WRC efforts of broadcasters to obtain greater use of the 4 to 10 MHz spectrum. He talked about the International Broadcasting Board's ("IBB") seeming lack of interest in high frequency broadcasting as priorities change. Therefore, IBB did not request additional spectrum in the HF bands. The overall US position isn’t firm as all the spectrum users (NASB, ARRL, Department of Justice, emergency services, etc.) can not agree on allocation needs. Post 9/11 demands for high frequency spectrum have created some of the problems. Further remarks talked about broadband over power line efforts that have manufactures attempting to notch out interference in the amateur bands. Work is continuing internationally on this matter. If WRC decides to give broadcasters additional spectrum, Walt has no idea what the US position would be. During the question and answer session he mentioned he was very impressed with the development of DRM in the last twelve months. He also spoke of the users of DRM in the amateur world today.

Gary McAvin from WMLK gave a report about one of my favorite subjects, the Winter SWL Festival. WMLK represented the NASB at last year’s FEST. He called it a very productive event and with individuals seeking knowledge and information. The Scanner Scrum, Uncle Skip Arey and Tom Swisher and their activities were discussed. He talked about the importance of keeping listeners involved in the process because politics does come into play (WMLK and WRMI have lost frequencies). He requested other NASB members to attend because of the value of the meeting. Keep the shortwave listeners involved because they provide valuable technical feedback.

Stephen Hegarty, Deputy Research Director of Inter-Media, spoke about comparative trends in shortwave ownership and listening in Eastern Europe, east and southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Shortwave radio ownership is on the decline worldwide because of more local choices except in Africa. Shortwave does provide a niche with heaviest users tending to be well educated men. Specifics were offered about Bosnia, China, Kuwait, and Nigeria. Throughout sub-Saharan Africa radio remains the most widely accessible and heavily used medium. It is very much a mass medium and is used most often for news, music and religious programs. Bosnia reflects people turning to the Internet to sample radio programming. Adil Mina questioned the China statistics because his travels in China relate different facts reflecting the wide use of shortwave in the provinces. Hegarty defended his research as representative of urban and rural populations. Don Messer questioned the rural representation based on his prior VOA experience with similar research studies where shortwave tends to be more heavily used. Kim Elliott felt the research was based on a good sampling based on his prior research experiences. Other transmitter manufacturers suggested there has to be a bigger rural market based on their transmitter sales to China for domestic usage. It was a lively exchange of opinions and facts. Hegarty was asked a question by Mike Adams about North American shortwave listenership. He indicated Radio France was interested in data recently but none existed. He talked about the time might be right to conduct such a survey. Mike asked for the NASB to be considered in the process.

Steve Claterbaugh of Comet North America, talked about what his company can do for broadcasters with repairs or equipment maintenance.

John White of the US division of Thompson Broadcast and Multimedia (formerly Thales) talked about Thompson’s latest DRM activities and recent organizational changes at his company. He noted that many of his company’s transmitters installed around the world were capable of being modified for DRM use.

John Sykes, Project Director Digital Radio for the BBC World Service, returned to discuss what the BBC is doing with DRM. He gave a brief overview of Thursday’s presentation for those that were not present for that session. He talked about DRM use in low population areas where dense networks don’t make much sense or city-wide with FM like service on 26 MHz. John included mobile audio samples recorded by Peter Senger of Deutsche Welle while driving from Germany to Belgium.

Tom Lucey of the FCC International Bureau offered some comments about the June frequency coordination meeting in Hilversum, Holland. The next HFCC will be in Greece in August so he requested proposed schedules from NASB members by June 29th.

The brief public session in the afternoon featured an informal question and answer session with some IBB representatives. This was followed by Adrian Peterson, AWR International Relations and NASWA Editor, who presented "Wandering the World with a Radio." Over the years, Adrian has been a monitor for many broadcasters while stationed overseas (VOA, BBC, DW, FEBA Seychelles, and Radio Australia). Adrian has in his possession a 1902 radio card of Marconi believed to be the oldest known radio card.

That was the last "open" presentation of the meeting. The NASB Business Meeting began at 1:30 PM. During that session, Jeff White was selected to be the new NASB president. The two-day combined meeting of the US DRM Consortium and the NASB was a wonderful opportunity to hear what was going on in the shortwave world from North American broadcasters and, equipment manufacturers.

 

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