USA DRM Group Annual Meeting
May 11, 2006
By Ulis Fleming
k3lu @ radiointel [remove for spam] dot com

It was with great pleasure to have the privilege to attend and participate in the 2006 USA DRM Group Annual Meeting held at this year at Adventist World Radio HQ in Silver Spring, Maryland USA. This event was co-hosted along with the annual NASB meeting which was held the following day. In attendance, along with North American Shortwave Broadcasters members and a small handful of radio listeners, were some of the leading minds on the cutting edge of DRM technology and developments.

A podcast of the meeting will be available for download in the near future but here are some of the highlights of the meeting that I thought were interesting.

Adil Mina of Continental Electronics, one of the companies that make transmitters, gave a very charismatic and positive speech on the outlook for DRM. Mr. Mina mentioned that Sangean has made 150 DRM-DAB (MP40?) receivers in their first production run and they are in the second phase of production. It is expected that these radios will sell for 299 Euros and that perhaps by summer more DRM radios will be available for under $200 US though no specific manufactures or models were mentioned. Mr. Mina also noted that that there are several commercial groups expressing interest in broadcasting on shortwave in DRM and the US Department of Defense is evaluating DRM though for what purpose was not mentioned. One of the appealing aspects of DRM Mr. Mina pointed out is that a country the size of the continental US can be covered with only 5 transmitters and with minimal power.

The DRM Consortium Technical Committee Chairman Don Messer spoke of the technical aspects of DRM technology, developments and upcoming tests to be done in Canada, Mexico, Brazil and the USA. It is anticipated that DRM will be tested on MW in the US. One idea that Mr. Messer mentioned was the possibility to utilize the current allocated and under used 11 meter SW band (26 MHz) for regional broadcasting. 43 channels could be set up in this band for regional/local use via DRM and offer very good local coverage with only a few hundred watts and a city the size of Mexico City can be covered with 2 to 6 kW. Mr Messer also acknowledged that some current FCC regulations would have to be changed to allow domestic SW US broadcasting but this was one of the possible uses of DRM in the future. The 26 MHz broadcasting scenario has also caught the attention of NPR (National Public Radio).

Alan Heil, former deputy director of the Voice of America and author of "Voice of America: A History", gave a very moving speech. Mr. Heil's speech, "Why Is America Jamming Itself?", addressed the illogical and unnecessary dismantling of the VOA now at a time when the USA's voice of public diplomacy needs to be heard globally more than ever and especially in English. Mr. Heil points out that the VOA's dismantling comes at a time when other countries are ramping up their international services on the internet and the airwaves. After Mr. Heil's speech, Adil Mina noted that China has actively been copying transmitters and from 2000-2006 purchased more than 40 HF transmitters. In 2006 China will install 7 new shortwave Chinese made transmitters in Cuba.


Adrian Peterson (AWR)


Mike Adams (Far East Broadcasting Corp) KFBS &
Jeff White (Radio Miami International) WRMI

Adil Mina (Continental Electronics)

Alan Heil, former deputy director of the VOA

Don Messer (DRM Consortium Technical Committee Chariman)

John Sykes (BBC World Service)
Project Director Digital Radio

Richard D'Angelo (Executive Director of NASWA)

Johannes von Weyssenhoff (Starwaves)

Gordon Sinclair (TCI International) talks about DRM antennas.

Left to Right
Mike Adams (Far East Broadcasting Corp) KFBS
Don Messer (DRM Consortium Technical Committee Chariman)
Adil Mina (Continental Electronics)

The Radios
Thanks to Dr. Kim Andrew Elliott and others at the meeting a table was set up with DRM receivers to tune in to the special broadcasts for the USA DRM Group Meeting from CBC/Radio Canada International on 11730 kHz.

Here are a the radios that were on display. The only radio not shown is a Ten Tec RX320D.

Below is the radio that was first introduced at the meeting by Mr. Adil Mina, the Sangean (Roberts MP40). The MP40 is a DAB and DRM digital radio that covers AM (MW), FM and Shortwave. Also featured in this radio is a MP3 player/recorder that allows the listener to "time shift" listening. There is also SD memory card slot on the right side of the radio.

Sangean (Roberts MP40)

 

From Coding Technologies the Digital World Traveller

 

The StarWaves W37 high fidelity receiver

Final Thoughts
I walked away from the meeting feeling that analog will be around for a good while yet though in time perhaps, and maybe not even DRM, there will come a day when digital radio is as common as analog is today but how long will this take is anyone's guess.

If there ever was a catch 22 situation this one is it. If you are upset that you are not able to go out today and purchase a DRM radio off the shelve it's not the DRM Consortium's fault. They really have no special power in forcing manufactures to take the lead by producing DRM stand alone radios. Radio manufactures are a business and that means they expect to make money making radios. If there's a demand for these radios then the manufactures will follow. Today not a single US broadcaster has converted a transmitter for DRM capability. It was mentioned at the meeting that most shortwave transmitters can be DRM ready within a few hours with the right engineers but this also takes money which is something that many shortwave US broadcasters either don't have or are yet not willing to give up. If this was 25 years ago we would probably be seeing the pockets of the VOA taking an active lead in this process but since they are being sliced and gutted like a fish that isn't going to happen either.

The 26 MHz reutilization scenario seems like a good one. There is without a doubt a demand and need in the USA for good community and local radio as evidence of the FCC finally allowing some licensed LPFM stations on the dial but at what expense? Many people feel that the large mega radio corporations are not serving the local and community needs as well as they should. Day in and day out listeners are offered the same "canned radio" coast to coast on their AM and FM dials. The NAB, as well as NPR, initially opposed the rule making to create LPFM licenses which is rooted in serving the community. Unfortunately many LPFM applications and wannabes don't fit the bandwidth requirements as there is little to no spectrum available for them to use in metropolitan areas. I can't see the NAB giving up any more possible listeners to a 26 MHz community/local band without a fight. After all it was the NAB who opposed something to me that seems so trivial as US satellite radio from broadcasting local traffic reports. Today podcasting has many broadcasters scratching their heads wondering if they are loosing even more listeners. Mentions at the meeting of NPR as being interested in 26 MHz DRM is also suspect. If NPR opposed LPFM then why would they support 26 MHz DRM? FCC leadership has been dismal when it comes to their stewardship of the airwaves. I would not expect the FCC to latch on to this truly great idea unless someone from one of the "Daddy War Bucks" radio corporations said it was a good idea but I hope I am wrong. And probably iBiquity, the fine people who call their stuff HD Radio, will be lobbying against the idea. iBiquity get's a cut of of every digital "HD Radio" manufactured where as DRM doesn't. Follow the money.

I hate to say it but the leadership and push on DRM is going to come from Europe and not from US consumers. It will be the Europeans who are going to jump start the drive for market demand on DRM radios. At least for now it seems that Sangean as done something. Let's see how well it does once the radio becomes widely available

The day ended with a most enjoyable dinner thanks to the folks at TCI International, Continental Electronics, Thomson Broadcast & Multimedia and the Assemblies of Yahweh/WMLK Radio. I got the lucky seat and sat next to AWR's Adrian Peterson. Mr. Peterson is a walking encyclopedia of radio history and a real friend to radio listeners worldwide.

 

 

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