High-Frequency Parties asks FCC to question proposed Chicago DRM broadcaster’s true mission

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Bennett Kobb, who shares an FCC Informal Objection he drafted and filed together with Kim Elliott and Christopher Rumbaugh.

Click here to download the Informal Objection. (PDF)

Radio World published a great summary of the filing today:

There’s a plan in the works to build a new international shortwave radio station in Illinois, one that would use the Digital Radio Mondiale modulation system. But now several prominent members of the U.S. shortwave community are asking the Federal Communications Commission to take a closer look first.

Parable Broadcasting Co. in April asked the FCC to allow it to build the station in Batavia, Ill., west of Chicago, using the call sign WPBC. It wants to offer “broadcasting and data services.”

Specifically, Parable wrote that the station would “serve the areas of Europe that may be authorized by the commission. The planned broadcast content includes religious and educational programming, as well as data content provided by third parties.” It added that it wants to “take advantage of the recent push by the National Association of Shortwave Broadcasters to develop and provide content for the growing DRM market.”

Now three individuals, collectively called the High-Frequency Parties, filed an informal objection. It’s that wording about data content that concerns them.

Bennett Z. Kobb, Kim Andrew Elliott and Christopher D. Rumbaugh said international broadcast stations in the U.S. are intended “to be received directly by the general public in foreign countries.”

Now they told the FCC that it is impossible to tell from the Parable application whether all of the data services and data provided by third parties will qualify. [Continue reading at Radio World…]

Bennett clarified with me:

The [FCC] rules require these [broadcasters] to be 100% broadcast stations, not a cover for some other kind of service.

Because there is no established radio service for international shortwave trading, some have used the workaround of calling them “experiments”. Quite a few such “experimental” stations have been licensed, some at rather high power levels.

See for example this article.

But legally, the Experimental Radio Service is supposed to be for temporary scientific purposes, not ongoing for-profit operations. We don’t know what those stations are really up to because the FCC has kept the details secret. All we know is some technical data such as callsigns, frequencies, QTH.

Instead of experimental stations, others wanting to get into the data business — including the Turms Tech station in New Jersey, and this Parable station in Batavia IL — seem to be using the work-around of the International Broadcast service. That is, proposing an audio programming station that uses the DRM data channel for trading messages.

We are not in the 1970s or 80s. There’s not enough money today in broadcasting audio to other countries, to justify the millions spent on real estate, engineering, antennas and transmitter plant. Most SW broadcasting around the world is not commercial. So it is very peculiar for new entrants to drop major bucks in this field.

The new guys are probably not getting in to spread the gospel. That is a surface paint. There are already several U.S. HF stations with religious content, as you know, including WTWW, WWCR, WRMI, WRNO, WINB, WWRB, WHRI, WBCQ, WJHR etc. and most would welcome new customers for airtime.

No need to construct new stations.

So what is this new station really? Get it out in the open and ask them how they intend to comply with the existing rules. If they are in the business of carrying secure messages for traders, that does not qualify and will need some special FCC action to allow it. Let the public see the reasoning.

The rules that exist are very old. We think FCC needs to do a top-to-bottom review of the HF broadcast rules and scrap a lot of it. FCC should permit stations to be built for U.S. domestic audiences, and they should reduce the minimum AM power (50 kW) to lower this barrier to
entry.

And they should perhaps consider how data communications could be formally authorized. Maybe it wouldn’t be just a broadcast service any more, it could be a HF Communications Service with the old restrictions on languages and advertising discarded and more opportunities for people to try out creative ideas.

So we’re pressing the issue that this needs to be examined. Thanks for reading.

Thank you for sharing this, Bennett! We hope your filing gets its due attention. I also agree on one of your final points, that the FCC lower its 50 kw AM power requirement of a shortwave station as it places a huge barrier in front of would-be shortwave broadcasters.

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15 thoughts on “High-Frequency Parties asks FCC to question proposed Chicago DRM broadcaster’s true mission

  1. Vince

    I know nothing, it’s just the wildest of guesses: Could the proposed data service be stock and commodities trading related?????

    Reply
  2. Radioguy

    I LOVE the comments from people who clearly haven’t actually turned on a SW radio in the last 5 years.

    That said, DRM is a solution looking for a problem from what I can tell. It MAY (and note those large capital letters) work for short range local coverage and it DOES work as a relay source (ala satellite replacement for rebroadcasters) but it certainly won’t work RELIABLY (note those letters again!) at low power over long distances. Especially if broadcasters continue to insist on using the 64 QAM configuration that most seem ‘stuck’ on.

    As far as ‘experimentation’ to see if it will work, that has already been done. The broadcasters haven’t really listened to actual listeners because the ‘experts’ keep saying ‘it should work’. It doesn’t as presently configured. It just doesn’t.

    As for ‘not seeing reports’ that is because you aren’t actually looking at what hobbyists are reporting! WINB is ALREADY hiding some ‘proprietary data’ in its DRM broadcasts. I specifically tweeted them about that and they ignored / didn’t actually answer what was in the lower half of the DRM signal that wouldn’t decode using DReaM software. Yes, they’re broadcasting 5 kHz of audio signal in DRM. They are ALSO broadcasting 5 kHz worth of ‘digital’ signal that they won’t talk about. I wonder what’s in that half?

    Me? I don’t have a dog in this fight except as a listener. I wish if there were going to be ‘experiments’ they would be more along the lines of what Kim Elliott has been doing for several years with SW Radiogram on now on WINB and WRMI where he actively encourages listeners feedback and is using OPEN source modulation modes so we can all ‘listen’ in. This? Seems suspect, but I guess I don’t really care too much so long as they actually maintain the pretext and actually broadcast SOMEthing that can be tuned in. Well that and I wish the broadcasters would actually listen to the audience instead of the ‘experts’ who haven’t listened to a radio in a dog’s age.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: High-Frequency Parties asks FCC to question proposed Chicago DRM broadcaster’s true mission – dxradio.de

  4. April

    I thought DRM was all data? I am aware WINB was broadcasting supposedly in DRM, but I’ve never seen any reception reports of it.

    Reply
    1. Mike

      I think I saw it once in the last few months. I don’t seem to have logged it (I just recently got back into actively listening to shortwave, including logging) but it was unusual enough that it stuck out.

      Reply
    2. Vince

      Yes, DRM is data, but its touted main use is for shortwave broadcasting. The data they are likely referring to here would use the sub-channel/s that, when used today, carries info related to the encoded audio program (Journaline).

      In the past, I have received German forces DRM transmissions (the audio was encrypted but the ID was in clear text), WINB (the only one confirmed with a QSL), Voice of Nigeria, Voice of Kuwait, and just a couple of weeks ago, Radio Marti. Actually, I should send a RR to Radio Marti, as it used to be a good QSLer.

      The current propagation conditions do not favour DRM broadcasting for the most part, if it ever will. I still see possibilities for DRM as a kind of STL, the way RNZI uses it to distribute programs to Pacific Island Nations.

      Reply
  5. Mangosman

    As far as I am aware, there are no high frequency broadcasts aimed at the USA market from USA soil. I expect this is because AM and FM broadcasters have licence areas which are devoid of any competition from high frequency broadcasters because their coverage area usually exceeds a single licence area.
    If domestic high frequency broadcasting is allowed it should be DRM only so that the sound quality is equal to that of FM stereo given that the number of high frequency AM receivers is already low. HD radio will not work in the high frequency bands.

    High frequency broadcasting in the remote areas of the USA such as the desert states and Alaska using DRM would give those areas digital radio for the first time including stereo sound, no noise and phasing distortion.

    Reply
    1. Mike Bennett

      ..good comment! Perhaps DRM can be used , in this case, to see how it would function as a future transmission forum in the United States/Canada?
      But , in a democracy, they should be able to use any broadcast method that they want…….as long as they have the $$$$ to pay for it! We should see if DRM is better than IBOC, DAB+, etc.!

      Reply
      1. Mangosman

        Mike,
        DAB+ will not be possible in the USA because nearly all of the channels a DAB+ receiver will tune, are occupied by TV channels 6-13.
        DRM will also operate in the virtually empty TV channels 2 – 6 which makes more channels available than the AM and FM bands have now. You can even transmit 6 channels of upto 3 channels of audio each from a single transmitter. In this system there is no reduction of digital power due to interference to the same broadcaster’s own FM or AM signal. Unlike AM radio and HD radio, the DRM signals in this band does not overlap into the adjacent channels of other broadcasters. Lastly neither DRM or DAB+ charge royalties on broadcasters or receiver manufacturers.
        If DRM is broadcast in Band 1, all existing broadcasts are unaffected, however the Government/Regulator needs to specify a start to digital broadcasting date and a switchoff date along with a ban on receivers incapable of digital reception. This is what happened for the conversion from NTSC to ASTC digital TV.

        We are yet to see if the FCC or the CRTC will do a side by side trial on high powered transmitters in the day and the night.

        Reply
      2. Laurence N.

        “But , in a democracy, they should be able to use any broadcast method that they want…….as long as they have the $$$$ to pay for it!”
        I disagree entirely. The regulation of the radio spectrum exists for the reason that there is a limited quantity of it to go around and that nobody can simply own it. On that basis, there are legitimate reasons to restrict broadcasters from, for example, turning a certain frequency into their personal playground. I am all for experimentation. That’s why we have amateur bands, for individual experimentation, and official FCC experiments including higher power transmitters often operated by commercial entities, for tests which can’t be accomplished using traditional amateur equipment. We don’t need to start allowing people universal licenses to do whatever they please in order to experiment. If we decide that we want to allocate some frequencies to be sold for people wanting one-to-one communication, we can do that. If we want to make DRM the standard, we can do that. In both cases, we probably should do that, but we don’t need to let the highest bidder control what is or isn’t allowed.

        Reply
    2. bennett

      There are no high frequency broadcasts aimed at the USA market from USA soil because that has been prohibited by law for 50 years.

      To be more specific, it is allowed to include the US among the target zones for an international broadcast, but the station must be designed, built and programmed for audiences in foreign countries. Creation of a US based shortwave station for US audiences has never been permitted. We cited this in our FCC filing.

      Reply
  6. Jake Brodsky, AB3A

    I’m left wondering if the “High Frequency Parties” are actually interested in radio, or in High Frequency Trading.

    Reply
    1. Andrew

      Which proves that A) you don’t listen to shortwave, and B) you’re too lazy to do a basic web search.

      Reply
    2. BC

      If you follow the link above in the sentence, “See for example this article,” you’ll find references to several companies (e.g., Raft Technologies, http://www.raft-tech.com) who are using SW broadcast frequencies to transmit stock trading data for purposes of high frequency stock trading. Notwithstanding the vagaries of HF propagation, Raft Technologies in particular is interested in the ability to use HF to send data faster than using fiber or shortwave, especially to other continents. If you check out their web site, you’ll find news stories announcing every time they are able to cut latency by a few milliseconds.

      I remember first reading about this in Bloomberg a few weeks ago and was curious about the technology behind it. Since these firms are mostly privately-funded startups, naturally they are keen to keep the details to themselves. This FCC complaint sheds a bit of light on that.

      Reply

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