NPR "Side Channels"

Scott Fybush
Sun Apr 24 21:18:35 EDT 2005

>I'm not exactly sure what this is all about....and how it will manifest
>itself in a local affilliate...and, specifically, WGBH and WBUR in Boston.
>But here's the link where I first read about it
>(About 1/3 of the way down the page.)

Larry guessed right - one of the technologies that's part of the Ibiquity 
"HD Radio" system allows for the use of part of the digital bandwidth to 
deliver one or more subchannels that can be programmed with content 
separate from the main channel audio.

NPR has been a leading proponent of the technology, and the idea behind the 
announcement in Las Vegas is that the network will provide programming that 
member stations can plug right in as soon as they turn on a subchannel.

In some cases, stations already have programming ready to go - for 
instance, if we ever turn on a subchannel at WXXI-FM here in Rochester 
(which is 24/7 classical), it will undoubtedly be a simulcast of the 
news/talk on WXXI 1370, which is hampered by a nighttime DA that misses a 
big chunk of the market's population.

What would WBUR or WGBH do with a subchannel if they had them? That's a 
more challenging question - it's likely that there'd be at least some local 
content there, and perhaps we'd see WGBH move some of its music there in 
favor of more talk on the main channel.

Of course, there are some big obstacles yet to be overcome. Even the few HD 
Radio receivers already on the market can't do a subchannel without a 
software upgrade, and it's not immediately clear to me that the current 
radios can be upgraded in the field. So it'll take not only the arrival of 
receivers, but SECOND GENERATION receivers, to make this happen.

(Which means, once again, it's all about content. Here in Rochester, there 
are a fair number of well-heeled WXXI members who'd think nothing at all 
about shelling out $250 or $350 or more if we could just deliver them a 
radio that would let them hear 1370 after dark. There's a ready market for 
those radios, once they're available.)

There's some talk in commercial circles about using subchannels to provide 
formats that aren't economically viable on the main signal - say, 50s-60s 
oldies on a WODS subchannel while the main channel heads inexorably for the 
70s and 80s - but the commercial stations are far behind the public ones in 
thinking about this technology so far.

(speaking only for me and not for WXXI...) 

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