Broadcasting a la NAB

There is a lot you can deduce from NAB2005, and there is a lot more that is not nearly so obvious unless you are in a position where you can sit back and look at it all objectively. That's me, not tied to any vendor on the floor, not tied to any trade associations or, any longer, any standards bodies — nor am I a customer whom the vendors need to treat nicely.

The first message is that HDTV is definitely becoming real, at least from the production end of things, but only time will tell whether all those viewers who think they are watching HD finally realize they are not. The booths this year were offering HD production products with little-to-no price premium compared with SD equipment. And there were buyers.

I was surprised that even an ex-dealer of mine said he is set to take his California LPTV station to HD whenever the FCC allows it. His station, with a Hispanic format, is designed around digital signals, and he gets HD at minimal costs.

Transmitters are also selling, with the domestic industry at full stretch, allowing some international vendors — principally Italian — a better chance at orders than before.

The official attendee count for the show was 104,000, with 25 percent coming from outside North America. That would explain all the British voices around and, no doubt, with the depressed U.S. dollar, it was a low-cost trip for both Europeans and Asians.

This was an important show for U.S. vendors to catch that international audience, because the number of U.S. vendor employees manning the stands of IBC in Amsterdam later this year will be limited because of the same dollar problems. As a percentage, the international attendance was probably even higher because of how NAB counts every badge, including all the exhibitors.

If I had been an exhibitor, I would have been disappointed by the obviously slower traffic in the Central Hall compared with the two South Halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center. As a long-term attendee, with too many years on the vendor side of the aisle carpet, I always start my visits at the back of the halls on the first days, getting away from the morass of people who initially hover near the front.

In the always-serene North Hall, where the radio and audio manufacturers generally keep the levels down, the concerns were about satellite radio and what might happen with terrestrial operations. The beef continues that the FCC, in allowing the satellite operators to put rebroadcast stations in locations where their birds could not be seen, was tantamount to issuing a national broadcasting license. There was also disgruntlement about the size of the consolidated radio networks, the make-or-break nature of the size of the orders you might win or lose, and the pressures that can be put on price and features.

The self-titled HD Radio was also a big deal this year, but it seemed that most of the enthusiasm was coming from vendors and not station engineers. Companies have cunningly sorted out what needs to happen in the STL, but there are still questions about maintaining transmitter linearity and antenna bandwidth, both with directional and night operations in AM. And why would you want to add digital to an FM operation? Just for the free channel? A sort of super SCA?

The most enjoyable paper in the technical sessions of the conference was not one of the seemingly endless standards updates or the descriptions of the headers in the latest digital signal. It was the story of Buckley Broadcasting in New York and its enforced physical relocation just 2500ft in the Meadowlands area of New Jersey. Thomas R. Ray III described the tribulations that the station went through to move the Class A WOR.

The problems came not from the FCC or local planning authorities, but from the FAA. It was an 18-month nightmare to get the agency to standardize the climb-out rate from a missed approach at Teterboro Airport to that used nationally — or lose 40ft from its towers, a large electrical length to correct for.

You have to love conference presentations with no math or pictures of pulse trains; like broadcasting itself, it's about content.

Paul McGoldrick is an industry consultant based on the West Coast.

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