DTV Conversion in the US is Over. Now is it Time for Digital Radio?

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Well, the US did it. Analog TV is no more. Hail to Digital TV. More channels, better reception and all still over a pair of rabbit ears. However, we’re not totally done with the Digital conversion.  As we ramp down on television, we might have a harder time with this one – Radio.

Each country has their own Digital conversion, and as of now, only 7 countries are fully digital on a television signal. The US went digital on June 12th, 2009. We were suppose to go digital on February 17th, but it got pushed back when some stations were not ready to comply. The UK goes 100% digital by 2012 and Japan will go in 2015.

And of course, there are still some stations that are on an Analog signal. Low power, Class A and TV Translator stations – along with emergency band stations – have no requirement to go digital. That is, unless they jump out of their class.

The Advanced Televison Systems Committee – or ATSC signal we receive replaced the National Television System Committee, or NTSC. If you worked with video, you know that certain countries would either be on a NTSC standard, or a PAL standard. Now, it will be ATSC, the MCMC and whatever other standards are created by other countries.

The biggest advantage of going to Digital TV? High definition. Stations will be able to broadcast in 1080p and you will be able to receive it in that. If you have ever watched a Low definition show on a High def TV, you will know that it doesn’t look all that great.

Some channels are opting out of using the HDTV signal so they can produce what are called “Sub-channels”. This will give you more channel choices on over the air TV. For example, our local ABC affiliate has 3 channels. One is the ABC affiliate, another is a channel that plays retro Television shows like Adam 12 and Leave it to Beaver, then the third will show movies all day. Ultimately, we have 12 channels to choose from – as oppose to 4 from only 5 years ago.

Radio is a different issue. It would be harder pressed to switch over a radio than a TV. Sure, you could connect a converter box to a car radio, but it would not look great and it could cost more than getting the HD radio.

There is no conversion date for HD radio. However, if a station was to switch over, they could run 2-3 stations on the same signal. That, in turn, would create more advertising opportunities.

Digital has a contender in Satellite, though. Sirius XM has been running for a few years now. However, their books have not been great as of late, and a bankruptcy filing is telling us that we might want to think before we go Satellite.  Still, many US manufacturers install the full Satellite – HD radios.

The technology for HD radio in the US is called “In Band On Channel” or IBOC. It uses what is called “Orthogonal frequency division multiplexing, or OFDM. Orthogonality is a way where cross talk is eliminated between sub channels. In other words, if your station is at 100.3 and you change the station to 100.5, you won’t get bleed through. You can have more channels closer together without a more powerful signal impeding on the next.

I remember reading at one time they wanted to go all digital on radio by 2012. I went looking for that article, but couldn’t find it. Only a vast sea of sites that say there is no conversion date for radio.

We had an interesting time converting TV to Digital. Think about what it would take to make all radio stations the same. Whereas consumers have found that turning the TV off is easy after the DTV conversion, they might not think the same thing when they are stuck on Interstate 54 in the middle of rush hour.

Reality is, radio will become HD until there is no one listening to analog. Then the FCC will step in and say “OK, it’s time to switch”. Radio may be the last great mainstay of analog. Still, there should be more effort to take it Digitally. We can benefit from a better system running our audio and video.

Add to it the radio owners advantage. They can give you more stations and have more airtime to sell. You like that song? Well, press the radio button and get it from Amazon or iTunes.  Heck, you might even be able to run contests and polls right from the radio, instead of calling in.

But for now, we’ll have the Digital TV, and the Analog Radio as our standards.

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