Category Archives: DRM

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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Radio Waves: Radio Marti DRM, Push for Shepparton Museum, APRS on the History Channel, and Radio’s “Major Cultural Opportunity”

Radio Waves:  Stories Making Waves in the World of Radio

Because I keep my ear to the waves, as well as receive many tips from others who do the same, I find myself privy to radio-related stories that might interest SWLing Post readers.  To that end: Welcome to the SWLing Post’s Radio Waves, a collection of links to interesting stories making waves in the world of radio. Enjoy!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Alan Hughes, Michael Bird, Zack Schindler, and Dennis Dura for the following tips:


Radio Marti Begins Shortwave DRM Transmissions (Radio World)

Radio Marti began Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) shortwave transmissions on Feb. 4. Part of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), Radio Marti broadcasts news and other programs to Cuba. The DRM shortwave transmissions are from USAGM’s Greenville, North Carolina, site.

USAGM has transmitted in DRM before. There were some transmissions from Briech, Morocco, in the early 2000s. Greenville tested DRM in 2009 in partnership with what was then known as HCJB Global Technology. So why are they back now after an absence of over a decade?

“We want to experiment a bit with different modes and services available on DRM. We also want to help push the development of low-cost receivers and the best way to do that is to put some transmissions on the air, explains Gerhard Straub, director of USAGM’s Broadcast Technologies Division.[]

Push for museum at Shepparton’s Radio Australia site (Shepparton News)

Amateur radio enthusiasts are pushing for the former site of Radio Australia in Shepparton North to be upgraded and retained as a national museum of radio broadcast history.

Members of the Shepparton and District Amateur Radio Club and The Vintage Radio Club of North East Victoria are due to present a 25-page proposal to an anonymous consortium of buyers said to be interested in acquiring a 258ha block of land along Verney Rd.

The block includes two buildings and several large broadcast towers on the former site of Radio Australia. The site is currently owned by BAI Communications.

The Shepparton club’s assistant secretary, Geoff Angus, said the proposal would be presented to Greater Shepparton City Council for forwarding to the consortium.[]

APRS usage seen on the History Channel “Secret of Skinwalker Ranch”

Zack Schindler writes:

I have been watching a show about paranormal activity on the History Channel called The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch. In the episode this week they hired a professor to do a balloon launch with some RF sensors. In this episode they also showed the APRS.FI webpage and I was able to read his callsign from an APRS tracker, KM4MRH.

The professor used an APRS tracking device. On the right side of the page link below you can click on Other SSID’s to see other balloon launches he has done. Normally when there is a balloon launch you can see the data from it going up and down. This page shows the Skinwalker balloon launch data transposed over a map. https://aprs.fi/#!call=a%2FKM4MRH-3&timerange=3600&tail=3600

Sadly they are using these for measuring RF fields rather than these.

In a Crisis, Radio Should Be Bigger Than Ever — So Why Isn’t It? (Rolling Stone)

Terrestrial music stations have a major cultural opportunity right now, but employees say a muddied strategy is standing in the way

Radio personality Kevin Ryder was “baffled” by KROQ’s “cold, heartless attitude” when he and his morning-show team were fired at the end of March. The station has long been an alternative/rock staple in Los Angeles, the second-largest market in the country, and Ryder had been on the air for more than 30 years.

“The new people in charge now weren’t here for the building of the world-famous KROQ,” Ryder, one-half of the popular Kevin & Bean Show, said on air when the station let him go, live one final time. “I don’t think it means anything to them. It’s a numbers business, and there’s no family aspect to it anymore. It’s only numbers, but this place was built without numbers. It was musicians, artists, and the special relationship between music, the station, and our fans.”

AM/FM radio provides localized, round-the-clock information and entertainment via friendly neighborhood voices — so in theory, it’s the perfect platform in a global crisis that forces hundreds of millions of people to stay home. But Ryder is one of many in the radio community — including on-air hosts, music directors, program directors — who have been shocked by sudden job losses in recent weeks as COVID-19 has spread across the U.S., and news out of the industry has been one bad thing after another. Why is terrestrial radio missing the opportunity here — and how should it be fighting to get back on top?[]


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DRM featured on BBC Digital Planet

DRM broadcast (left) as seen via a KiwiSDR spectrum display.

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ed, who writes:

The April 14, 2020 edition of the BBC World Service program ‘Digital Planet’ includes a story about the status of Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) broadcasts on shortwave. The segment had no breaking news, but SWLing Post readers might enjoy hearing an updated explanation on BBC of how DRM works on shortwave and other bands, where it’s being used, and what unique services it can offer. The segment includes a clip of digital audio played over shortwave and an interview with Ruxandra Obreja, Chair of the DRM Consortium and DRM Association.

The segment was followed by a casual conversation between BBC producer Gareth Mitchell M7GJM and interviewer Bill Thompson about SWLing and Amateur Radio–which was great to hear discussed on BBC World Service!

The entire segment and followup discussion begins at 21:17 and ends at 31:49 minutes into the mp3 recording found at this BBC URL:

Thank you for the tip, Ed! Digital Planet is a fantastic technology show–check out more episodes on their website.

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Radio Purga: Russia turning to DRM shortwave to reach Chukotka region

(Source: Radio World via Mike Terry)

Russia has resumed Digital Radio Mondiale broadcasts on shortwave. The country originally aired the Voice of Russia via DRM a few years ago. The new service is tentatively called Radio Purga (“Radio Blizzard”). The target area is the Chukotka region of the Russian Far East. Analog shortwave transmissions once served the area, but those ended in the early 2000s when the broadcaster left analog shortwave.

Chukotka is vast and the target audience only numbers a few thousand. Thus, shortwave is the only practical way to reach the population. The transmitter site, Komsomolsk Amur, used to broadcast Voice of Russia’s analog programming and is now being used for the DRM program.

The new service is a joint project between the government in Chukotka and the Far Eastern regional center of the Russian Television and Radio Broadcasting Network.

Using DRM for Radio Purga has several advantages over analog shortwave. Radio Purga over DRM, for example, offers a static-free and higher fidelity signal. Studies have shown that DRM is just as reliable as analog shortwave over this distance via single-hop transmission.

The broadcaster is considering transmitting two audio programs from a single DRM transmitter. This is something analog shortwave can’t do. It’s also planning on using DRM’s ability to transmit short text message or a type of RSS feed (Journaline). DRM transmissions also use only a quarter of the power that analog transmissions do.

“We have in these remote places 2,000 residents who need to be provided with communications services … the Northern Sea Route also requires attention,” said Roman Kopin, the governor of Chukotka, last spring when the project was initiated, according to a Russian press report. In addition to mariners on the Northern Sea Route, the audience includes geologists, miners, reindeer herders and hunters.[…]

Click here to read the full article at Radio World.

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Radio Waves: Plant-powered Satellite Comms, BBC Pips, Filter Basics, and Replacing Shortwave

Radio Waves:  Stories Making Waves in the World of Radio

Because I keep my ear to the waves, as well as receive many tips from others who do the same, I find myself privy to radio-related stories that might interest SWLing Post readers.  To that end: Welcome to the SWLing Post’sRadio Waves, a collection of links to interesting stories making waves in the world of radio. Enjoy!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Marty, Dennis Howard, Dennis Dura, Kris Partridge and Richard Langley and for the following tips:


Plant-powered sensor sends signal to space (Phys.org)

A device that uses electricity generated by plants as its power source has communicated via satellite—a world first.

[…]The device can inform farmers about the conditions of their crops to help increase yield, and enable retailers to gain detailed information about potential harvests.

It transmits data on air humidity, soil moisture and temperature, enabling field-by-field reporting from agricultural land, rice fields or other aquatic environments.

The extremely low power device sends signals at radio frequencies that are picked up by satellites in low Earth orbit. It was developed by Dutch company Plant-e and Lacuna Space, which is based in the Netherlands and the UK, under ESA’s programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES).[]

The eccentric engineer: a tale of six pips and how the BBC became the national arbiter of time (Engineering and Technology)

This edition of Eccentric Engineer tells the story of the BBC Time Signal and how, over the years, it has just got more complicated.

Every engineer needs to know the time, if only so as to not miss lunch. Since 1924, many Britons have been checking their watches against the BBC time signal, known affectionately as ‘the pips’.

The history of the ‘pips’ is almost as long as the history of the BBC itself. The first transmissions from what was then the British Broadcasting Company began in late 1922 and soon afterwards there were suggestions of broadcasting a time signal under the control of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich – then the arbiter of time in the UK.

No one seems to have seen a need for this degree of precision, but early broadcasts did use their own ad hoc ‘pips’, marking the 8pm and 9pm news programmes with a time signal consisting of the announcer playing the Westminster chimes on a piano and later a set of tubular bells. This proved rather popular with listeners, who could now adjust their clocks and watches daily, so the BBC decided to invest in some more high-tech clocks from the Synchronome Company. These provided audible ‘ticks’, which the announcer then simply counted down.[]

What Is Replacing Shortwave? (Radio World)

A joint effort is necessary to bring the digitization of radio to a successful end

Analog shortwave will celebrate about 100 years of existence in 2028 when many hope 5G will have been properly defined, tested and applied, though broadcasting is low on its long list of perceived advantages.

It’s true that shortwave was typically a medium of the Cold War that peaked in 1989 and that afterward its listenership dwindled. Many international broadcasters gave up on it as the post-war transmitters got rustier and the energy bills kept mounting.

After all, when budget cuts are needed, no transmitter will go on strike or write to the press, as happened when the BBC World Service tried to unsuccessfully close its Hindi shortwave transmissions in 2011. In 2020 these broadcasts stopped, when committed BBC Indian listeners, writers and thinkers who opposed it in 2011 did not protest too much.

The slow death of shortwave has been blamed on the internet and satellite. As technology and content are inextricably linked, shortwave created its type of content that is no longer favored by the savvy FM listener, internet user and cellphone obsessed.[]

Filter Basics: Stop, Block and Roll(off) (Nuts and Volts)

A casual observer might think that wireless systems consist primarily of filters connected by the occasional bit of circuit! Block diagrams of transceivers often include as many filters as any other function. This is true at the system level, just as it is at the circuit level — and many circuits behave in a filter-like way, whether intended to be a filter or not! That makes understanding filter basics important for wireless success.[]


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Radio Marti now on DRM: Seeking your listener reports!

Many thanks to Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station Chief Engineer, Macon Dail, who shareds the following announcement regarding their Radio Marti broadcasts:

We just powered up our 50 kW transmitter using DRM.

We are on a frequency of 7345 kHz and will be on daily from 1700-0200 UTC. We would love hearing from anyone that is able to copy and decode our transmissions.

The broadcast contain two audio programs.

Post Readers: If you successfully receive and decode a Radio Marti DRM broadcast, please send your detailed listener report to:  gstraub@usagm.gov This is certainly a unique opportunity to log a North American DRM broadcast!

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AM Revitalization: DRM Consortium asks FCC to adopt DRM

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Alan, who shares this editorial from Radio World that features edited comments filed with the FCC by the DRM Consortium.

The following unedited letter was taken directly from the FCC comments database:

(Source: FCC Filing [PDF])

In your document (FCC19-123) you rightly highlight the great advantage of AM broadcasts, primarily the ability to cover large areas and number of listeners, while the band itself is losing popularity because of a variety of issues to do with propagation, interference, environmental changes. At the same time, digital audio broadcasting is no longer the new platform it was in 2002. At that time FCC mandated a proprietary system (IBOC, “HD radio”) as the only system to be used in the USA with the possibility of applying DRM for HF.

Since then DRM (the ITU recommended, only digital audio broadcasting for all bands, open standard, has been tested and used all over the world on all bands, short wave, medium wave and FM).

So while you are recommending now pure digital HD, based on the NAB tests and WWFD not completely convincing trial, we would urge the FCC to consider opening the straightjacket of 2002 and allow DRM to be used as a sure, tested, efficient way of digitizing the AM band.

There are several reasons for this:

DRM digital radio delivers in the AM bands significant benefits:

    • Audio quality that is on par or better than FM. DRM of all recognized digital
      standards is the only one using the ultra-efficient and compressed xHE-AAC audio
      codec that delivers at even very low bit-rates exceptional audio quality for speech
      but music, as well. (https://www.drm.org/listen-compare/)
    • Record Data: DRM has been tested in medium wave all over the world in both
      simulcast and pure digital. A list of the main tests (some of which have become ITU
      adopted documents) are included in Annex 4 of the DRM Handbook:
      https://www.drm.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/DRM-Handbook.pdf
      At the moment, 35 MW transmitters are on air in simulcast or pure DRM in India.
      http://prasarbharati.gov.in/R&D/
    • Auxiliary Data. DRM is the newest, most complete, open standard for digitizing radio in
      all frequency bands, and is recommended by ITU. DRM has been devised as a direct
      heir to analog AM (SW, MW). It uses 9/10, 18/20 kHz bandwidth and has a useful content
      bit rate of up to 72kbps. It carries up to 3 programs on one frequency and one data channel, while data can be carried on each of the audio channels as well. One of the great advantages of DRM is that alongside excellent audio, the receiver screens will display visual information of any kind required (albums’ titles, singers’ photos, maps, visuals of any sort, data of any kind). The Journaline application allows for extra information from the internet or the RSS feeds of the broadcaster to be captured and displayed. Currently broadcasters like the BBC, All India Radio, KTWR in Guam are using this extra facility that clearly differentiates digital form analog as a superior option.
    • Power/energy efficiency. Using SW or MW in DRM can reduce the power used up
      to 80%). As per calculations made by Ampegon, a medium wave transmitter can
      cover an area of 235000 sq km with a 100kW transmitter. The DRM EPR of such a
      transmitter is about 50kW and the coverage area is the same, while instead of one
      analog programme up to three digital channels and one data channel can be
      broadcast, all in excellent audio quality.
    • Spectrum efficiency (more programmes can be broadcast on one single frequency
      used for one programme in analog) as explained above.
    • DRM, unlike analog, offers enhanced and stable audio quality that is FM-like
      (mono or stereo). DRM also offers multiservice data enabled by applications like
      Journaline (the enhanced text services, more information captured as RSS feeds or
      form other internet source), slideshows, multilingual text (practically being able to
      show any characters of any language not just Latin script), and the Emergency
      Warning Functionality (EWF) in case of disasters.
    • Interference. This has not been noted as the DRM signal will always be lower than
      the analog one. AIR has not noted any interference in its operation of DRM
      transmitters. The mask values required for an optimal functioning of DRM
      transmitters is clearly stipulated in the ITU documents and as long as the network
      planning is correct, and the mask is respected there should not be any issue of
      interference in digital-analog or digital-digital DRM transmissions.
    • Receivers. Currently there are several receiver models and SDR options for the
      reception of DRM in AM. India has almost 2 million new cars fitted with DRM
      receivers, at no cost to the buyers, that are capable of and are receiving DRM
      mediumwave signals. The audio quality is excellent and a sure benefit to the users.
    • DRM is in direct succession to the analog AM (and FM) services, not owned or
      controlled by any single company and immediately available with full know-how and
      technology access by the transmitter and receiver industry.
    • As HD in mediumwave is a bit of a necessary step but still a leap in the dark, it
      would make sense from the practical aspects and even receiver solution availability
      to allow DRM as the best, clearly proven solution of digitizing the AM band (in
      preference or alongside HD) in the US.

In short, the salient advantages of DRM are:

    1. The audio quality offered by DRM is equally excellent on all the transmission bands:
      MW, SW or VHF
    2. Robust signal unaffected by noise, fading or other forms and interference in all bands
    3. Clear and powerful sound quality with facility for stereo and 5.1 surround
    4. More audio content and choice: Up to two and even three audio programmes and one
      data channel on one frequency
    5. Extra multimedia content: Digital radio listeners can get multimedia content
      including audio, text, images and in future even small-scale video, such as:

      • Text messages in multiple languages
      • Journaline – advanced text-based information service supporting all classes of
        receivers, providing anytime-news for quick look-up on the receiver’s screen;
        interactivity and geo-awareness allowing targeted advertising
      • Electronic Programme Guide (EPG), showing what’s up now and next; search
        for programmes and schedule recordings
      • Slideshow Programme accompanying images and animation
      • Traffic information
    6. Automatically switch for disaster & emergency warnings in case of impending
      disasters in large areas, automatically presenting the audio message, while providing
      detailed information on the screen in all relevant languages simultaneously. Great
      potential to become the surest and widest means of alerting the population to
      emergencies.

Therefore, we urge FCC to take a wide view and consider all options including DRM, if AM is worth futureproofing in the USA.

[This filing also included a number of “Useful Press Links]

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