Tag Archives: Benn Kobb

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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FCC Audio Programming Inquiry: Implications for HF Broadcasting

Many thanks to Bennett Z. Kobb, Kim Andrew Elliott, and Christopher Rumbaugh for authoring “Comments of the High Frequency Parties” that is now filed with the FCC.

Update: please also check out this FAQ.

Here’s the introduction:

The Public Notice in MB Docket 18-227 requests comment on “whether laws, regulations,
regulatory practices or demonstrated marketplace practices pose a barrier to competitive
entry into the marketplace for the delivery of audio programming … [and] concerning the
extent to which any such laws, regulations or marketplace practices affect entry barriers for
entrepreneurs and other small businesses in the marketplace for the delivery of audio
programming.”

The Commission’s Rules do pose barriers to entry and unnecessarily restrict the licensing
and delivery of programming by International Broadcast Stations.

These rules originated in a period when the government utilized or countenanced privately owned, high-frequency (HF, 3-30 MHz) broadcasters as voices against foreign adversaries.
The rules prohibit stations directed primarily to U.S. audiences. They impose detailed
language, announcement, advertising and record keeping practices, require monitoring of
foreign market particulars, and mandate a minimum DSB transmission power level that is
excessive for domestic service and textual and image content.

These and certain other obsolete restrictions are overdue for review and revision or deletion.[…]

Click here to download and read the full document as a PDF.

Click here to check out the FAQ regarding the HF Broadcasting Filing.

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Report from the 2017 Radio Preservation Task Force meeting

SWLing Post readers might recall that, last year, I had the distinctly great honor of presenting at the 2017 Radio Preservation Task Force meeting at the Library of Congress.

Several readers have asked me to share my experiences at the conference, so I’ll note the conference highlights here.

I attended all three days of the conference. The first day (Thursday, November 2) was held at the Woodrow Wilson Center and focused on Cold War broadcasting. It goes almost without saying that this was absolutely fascinating.  I learned a great deal. One of the day’s recurrent discussion themes, for example, focused on the keen awareness of those inside the Iron Curtain that they had been regularly subjected to propaganda.  In other words, the Cold War somehow created very discerning news listeners savvy enough to separate fact from fiction quite skillfully––an ability that many fear may (unfortunately) be eroding among today’s media audiences.  

That afternoon, SWLing Post reader, Phil Ewing, took me on an amazing tour of NPR’s new headquarters [thanks SO much, Phil!].


Later that afternoon at NPR, I attended an event celebrating NPR’s founding father and mission creator, Bill Siemering.  Bill and I co-presented at the Winter SWL Fest in 2011, and I admire him greatly both as a journalist and as an individual; I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to be at this event held in his honor.

Friday and Saturday sessions were held at the Library of Congress and were equally riveting as they covered nearly every aspect of radio preservation.

Here’s our panel just a minute before the forum began.

I was on the Digital Curation panel along with Charles Hardy (West Chester University and National Council on Public History), Jonathan Hiam (New York Public Library), Matt Karush (George Mason University and Hearing the Americas), Elena Razlogova (Concordia University) and Mark Williams (Dartmouth College and Media Ecology Project).

The discussion was dynamic, and to my pleasure, our Radio Spectrum Archive was quite the hit. The sincere interest in this project was beyond encouraging.  Indeed, after my presentation, I wasn’t able to address all of the questions from those in the audience because there were so many in line to speak to me about it; eventually the LOC had to re-arrange the room for a televised event, the 50th anniversary of the Public Broadcasting Act.

But there’s more.  And it’s a great ending to our story, which is really only a beginning: via Alex Stinson with the Wikimedia Foundation, I was introduced to the Internet Archive team last month, whom, to our profound delight, has wholeheartedly agreed to support the Radio Spectrum Archive by giving us nearly unlimited space to store our massive collection of spectrum files.

In a word?  This conference was brilliant. There simply couldn’t have been a better outcome for the Radio Spectrum Archive and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Many thanks to the entire RPTF team, especially Director, Josh Shepperd, for putting this spectacular event together.

I’ve been invited to a couple other archive conferences as a result of the RPTF meeting, and I’ll give these some consideration.  Regardless, I know this: I’ll make room in my schedule for the next RPTF conference. No way am I missing it!

And at the next conference I look forward to speaking to each one of those people with whom tight scheduling prevented my speaking at this one. After all, it’s this kind of enthusiasm that assures the Radio Spectrum Archive’s future.

If you’d like a more in-depth report of the RPTF conference, check out this article in Radio World (via Richard Langley). If you’d like to learn more about the Radio Preservation Task Force, check out their website by clicking here.

Many thanks to my buddy, Bennett Kobb, who also gave me a tour of the brilliant LPFM station, WERA (96.7) in Arlington, VA–what an incredibly dynamic station and staff!

Ulysses E. Campbell (left) and Bennet Kobb (right) in the studios of WERA.

I’d also like to thank my friend Kim Elliott for generously hosting me during the multi-day event. Even modest accommodation in the DC area is very expensive–no doubt, Kim’s hospitality made the conference a reality for me. Thanks again, Kim!

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WINB to add new transmitter

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Benn Kobb (AK4AV), who notes:

This routine FCC HF announcement indicates that it has received an application from WINB.

http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2017/db1213/DOC-348229A1.pdf

According to Ms. Ghavami, the FCC’s engineer on HF broadcast matters, the application is to add a transmitter to the existing station, for which a new construction permit is required.

Thanks for the tip, Benn!

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New Experimental Radio Station: Skycast (WI2XER)

Skycast

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

[Skycast (WI2XER)] is a station in the Experimental Radio Service, licensed under Part 5 of the FCC Rules.

Benn provided the following details:

Licensed 3 March 2016: SKYCAST SERVICES LLC WI2XER 0809-EX-PL-2015

New experimental to operate in HF bands from 13.87 MHz to 21 MHz to pursue significant advancements in the state of telecommunications technology.

Farmingville (Suffolk), NY

www.skycastservices.com

License:
https://apps.fcc.gov/els/GetAtt.html?id=173579&x=.

Explanation, redacted:
https://apps.fcc.gov/els/GetAtt.html?id=170747&x=.

Note location of receivers, stated in section 6.

Explanation of redactions:
https://apps.fcc.gov/els/GetAtt.html?id=171385&x=.

Benn continues:

HF operations in the ERS are rare. I have been following ERS for years.

Applicants in this service are required to describe their experimental program, but can ask the FCC to withhold certain details from public disclosure. That is the reason for the redactions.

The actual purpose of this Skycast is not obvious from the available documentation, but some intrepid investigation may reveal it. SWLs should listen for these operations. The company said that the receivers are in Western Europe.

Experimental stations are not supposed to directly generate revenue. There are occasional exceptions. Most ERS stations are for defense and security related developments, specific demonstrations or academic research.

Readers: please comment if you have any information about this station or its service. Any reception reports/notes would also be welcome!

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PortableSDR: The Holy Grail of portable SDR transceivers?

PortableSDRMany thanks to my buddy, Bennett Kobb (AK4AV), who shares information about the PortableSDR, one of five finalists in The Hackaday Prize.

PortableSDR creator, Michael R Colton, describes his project on Hackaday:

“The PSDR is a completely stand-alone (no computer needed), compact, Portable Software Defined Transceiver (hence the name, sorta). Originally designed for backpacking use by Ham Radio operators. It includes complete coverage up to about 30Mhz (plus 144Mhz), it has a 168Mhz ARM processor, color display, and an innovative interface.

Vector Network Analysis (which includes antenna analysis) and GPS functions are included.

The entire design is Open Source. The electronics are designed and laid out to be easy to understand and tinker with. In addition to source code, schematics, board layout and parts lists, articles and videos describing the theory of the design are being created.”

He includes this video of his working prototype:

I will certainly follow this project with interest. I love the fact that PortableSDR has such a small form factor, yet still manages to include room for a battery, display and CW paddles.

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Dear BBG: Take note of the Radiogram!

VOARadiogramImagesMany thanks to my friends, Bennett Kobb (AK4AV) and Christopher Rumbaugh (K6FIB) who wrote a letter to the BBG regarding the relevancy of shortwave radio. They make a strong point as this article in Radio World puts it: “Hey, don’t forget about Radiogram!

I also made a case for the VOA Radiogram in my letter to the BBG, but I think Benn and Chris sum it up better. Click here to download their letter to the BBG as a PDF document–I’ve also pasted it below:

Response to BBG Shortwave Committee Request for Comment

March 14, 2014

The BBG has spearheaded ‘Radiogram’ (voaradiogram.net), an entirely novel form of international high-frequency broadcasting. Radiogram is soundly premised on modern digital techniques and mitigates longstanding impediments to HF transmission. Users around the world have documented reception of fifty VOA Radiogram programs in more than a thousand YouTube videos.

BBG must not allow its own pioneering developments to wither, but should advance them toward operational status.

Radiogram should not be confused with Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM), which employs digital modulation for sound broadcasting. Radiogram broadcasts web content via robust, interference-resistant, error-detecting/correcting AM tone modulation, using standardized formats widely practiced in the Amateur Radio Service.

The user’s ordinary shortwave receiver, tuned to a Radiogram transmission, feeds its audio to a user device. These could include mobile phones, tablets, laptop and desktop computers and the new ARM-based miniature computers and embedded devices. The user device decodes the tones and displays text and imagery despite propagation impairments and intentional interference — and without Internet connection.

Placing the radio near the phone or computer is normally sufficient. No hardwire connection is required. By adding a simple audio cable between receiver and user device, however, reception can be silent and covert. No specialized hardware is needed, and the software platform for decoding is long in the public domain.

A more advanced, yet still inexpensive setup would use existing “dongle” technology that places a software-defined radio (SDR) inside a small USB enclosure. Such units are available today for a few tens of dollars and widely used by experimenters. The operating system and decoding software could also be incorporated into the device, which could boot the computer, eliminating the need to install any PC software.

The user need not be present at the time of transmission to receive content. He essentially receives a web magazine updated at will and always ready for use. The user can redistribute it by printing, USB storage, SMS, E-mail etc.

Naturally, the audio tone transmission can be recorded for later playback. Even when buried well under music or noise, the nearly inaudible recorded broadcast can nevertheless deliver 100% copy upon decode.

Radiogram’s transmission methods provide text at 120 WPM (near to the speed of spoken English) along with images. Additional languages have been proven, including non-Roman alphabets.

Sent over regular broadcast transmitters (no modifications needed), this approach effectively extends the reach of the transmitter. In other words, the digital text mode will decode in locations where the audible speech over the same transmitter would be too low for aural intelligibility. The audio recorded or captured could be replayed over another transmitter to even further extend the reach of the broadcast.

Recommendations

BBG should:

1. Capitalize on Radiogram as a circumvention tool, readily consumable by mobile devices. It should integrate Radiogram into its media strategy and networks.

2. Retain, but reconfigure as necessary its HF facilities in view of the potentially lower costs and greater efficiency of Radiogram when compared to conventional sound broadcasting.

3. Support the development and wide distribution of simple, usable, open-source Radiogram decoding applications for popular mobile devices and platforms (Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, Linux), derived from the free Fldigi software used worldwide.

About the Respondents

Bennett Z. Kobb, M.S., SMIEEE, is the communications director for an Arlington, Virginia trade association.

Christopher Rumbaugh, MLS, is a library manager and web publisher in Salem, Oregon.

The views expressed herein are the authors’ own.

Again, many thanks to Benn and Chris for submitting such an articulate letter to the BBG and for sharing with SWLing Post readers.

If you would like to decode a VOA Radiogram yourself, simply visit VOAradiogram.net for details on broadcasts targeting your part of the world.

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