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Digital Radio Broadcasting Gets FCC Nod

iBiquity Digital scored a hat trick.

At the company’s request, the Federal Communications Commission unanimously endorsed the use of in-band on-channel (IBOC) technology for terrestrial broadcasters, approved the use of iBiquity’s IBOC technology, and gave radio broadcasters interim authorization to begin digital broadcasting under the conservative operating parameters that iBiquity used to test the technology.

Radio stations will be able to broadcast digital signals in tandem with their analog signals even while the FCC works to formally adopt iBiquity’s HD Radio standard and formalize allowable operating parameters, including power levels.

“This is the most significant advance [in radio] since FM stereo 50 years ago,” said iBiquity president Robert Struble.

He also said IBOC could expand format diversity by making it possible for niche music formats to pop up on higher-audio-quality AM stations, where the cost of acquiring licenses is less expensive than FM licenses.

iBiquity has submitted the first draft of a formal standard to the National Radio Systems Committee (NRSC), which Struble expects to review and send to the FCC late this year or early next, followed by FCC approval in mid- or late 2003.

Though the FCC has yet to formalize the standard, Struble called the FCC’s next steps “largely pro forma” and that he would be “surprised to see any changes” in current HD Radio technology. “HD Radio is the most thoroughly tested technology in [radio] broadcast history,” he claimed.

Struble also said he expects anywhere from 30 to 50 stations in six target markets to begin IBOC broadcasting by the end of the year, with a total of about 70 stations broadcasting early next year to reach 50 percent of radio listeners in those markets. Those markets are Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. For its initial rollout, iBiquity is also targeting a limited number of stations in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Detroit and Washington.

The station rollout will seed the market for the launch of home radios and aftermarket car products in the spring. In 2003, tens or hundreds of thousands of radios will be sold, he predicted.

The interim authorization lets FM stations broadcast in iBiquity’s HD Radio format around the clock and AM stations broadcast during the daytime, pending final iBiquity tests on nighttime interference levels between local stations and distant clear-channel stations.