JPR HD Radio Conversion Project
In 2002 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the next generation of radio broadcast technology called HD Radio. HD Radio is the most significant change in the way radio signals are broadcast and received since the advent of radio in the 1920s. HD radio converts the current AM and FM radio signals being broadcast, called analog signals, to digital signals achieving a number of dramatic benefits for listeners:
• Multicasting – each FM station will be capable of broadcasting two additional channels, increasing listener programming choice
• AM radio that sounds as good as traditional FM
• No more static, pops, crackles or fades
• FM radio with near CD-quality sound
• Transmission and display of additional information, such as song titles and artists
In order for the benefits of HD Radio to be experienced by radio listeners, two things must occur:
• Radio stations must upgrade their transmitters to be capable of broadcasting HD Radio signals
• Radio listeners must purchase new radios capable of receiving HD Radio signals
Rollout of the new technology began in 2003 when select AM and FM radio stations began installing digital, HD-capable transmitters and broadcasting HD Radio signals and continued with the launch of the first HD Radio receivers in January, 2004. The transition from analog radio to HD Radio is expected to take place over a number of years, much the same way that television transitioned from black-and-white to color. During this transition, radio stations will simultaneously broadcast both analog and HD Radio signals.
Public Radio’s Place in the Digital World
Recognizing the importance of public broadcasting’s unique educational and cultural mission to Americans, in 2002 Congress allocated $220 million to assist both public radio and television stations with their transition from analog to digital broadcast technology. These funds have been administered by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which established The Digital Radio Conversion Fund to accomplish HD Radio conversion for the nation’s public radio stations. Since the program’s inception, CPB has distributed digital transition grants to 540 public radio stations. The program requires a financial partnership between CPB and each public radio organization receiving a digital conversion grant – with CPB providing up to 85% of the necessary funding. It is intended that public radio licensees will generate the remainder of the funds required from philanthropic foundations, businesses and listeners.
The Jefferson Public Radio Digital Conversion Project
In September, 2006 JPR was awarded $1,598,974 from the CPB Digital Radio Conversion Fund in order to upgrade 18 of the 20 radio stations JPR operates to HD Radio standards. Because of the size and complexity of JPR’s transmission network, necessitated by the vast mountainous terrain of its rural broadcast area, JPR’s digital conversion is the third most costly public radio conversion project in North America. For this reason, CPB awarded JPR the maximum funding level allowed by the Digital Radio Conversion Fund program. Even with this increased federal funding commitment, JPR and the non-profit organization established to support its public service mission, the JPR Foundation, will be required to raise $328,068 in matching funds in order to complete the project. The project is expected to be completed by December 31, 2007.
Benefits of HD Radio
Multicasting / Additional program choice
In addition to duplicating their analog programming with an HD Radio broadcast, stations can subdivide the digital portion of their signal. This allows a station to "multicast" — that is, broadcast two or more programs simultaneously. Listeners might have a choice of, say, a public affairs program or classical music program with a push of a button.
Being digital only, these additional channels could only be received on an HD Radio tuner. But, just as cable TV allowed specialized networks to flourish, multicasting provides the potential for radio stations to offer more niche programming — ultimately giving the listener a greater variety of formats to choose from.
Multicasting provides a powerful opportunity for public radio stations to enhance their public service mission and better serve their listeners. For instance, a station can broadcast morning jazz music on one "channel" and morning public affairs programming on another "channel." Same radio station, same frequency on the dial, but multiple options for the listener.
AM radio that sounds as good as FM stereo
AM radio uses smaller sections of bandwidth than FM. There is not enough bandwidth for HD Radio to give AM stations the same CD-quality signal as FM stations. But there is enough room to give AM stations clarity equivalent to current analog FM stereo radio. This boost in sound quality is expected to make AM radio a viable alternative to FM, which means more options for listeners.
No more static, pops, crackles or fades
The digital signal is less vulnerable to reception problems. The radio tuner's digital processors eliminate the static, pops, hisses, and fades caused by interference. Distortion caused by the radio signal being reflected off of buildings and other surrounding obstructions, called multipath, is completely eliminated. Listeners will hear only clear, clean, rich sound.
If the digital signal is lost for some reason (obstructing terrain, nearing the edge of the broadcast area, etc.), HD Radio technology defaults back to analog mode, similar to the way current radios switch from stereo to mono mode when receiving a weak signal. The radio automatically sacrifices detail in an effort to maintain reception.
FM radio with near CD-quality sound
Digital technology allows a radio station to transmit a wider frequency range. Primarily, this means higher quality sound. So much higher that FM transmissions sound nearly as good as CDs.
Transmission and display of additional information
Another benefit of digital radio is that radio stations will be able to transmit additional information along with the primary programming material. Typically, this takes the form of scrolling text on a receiver's display, such as a song's artist and title or station call letters. But, other information can also be conveyed, such as weather updates, school closures, Amber alerts, or other information of local and/or regional importance.
JPR’s HD Radio Vision
JPR has embraced HD Radio for both its exciting technological and programmatic advantages. When implemented in JPR’s service area, HD Radio will provide a number of important benefits for JPR listeners.
As one of the first public radio organizations in the country to create and broadcast three separate and distinct program streams (Classics & News, Rhythm & News and News & Information) in the early 1990s, JPR has been a national leader in adopting a multi-channel approach to public radio service. With the new channel capacity created by HD Radio, JPR will continue to develop new program streams designed to attract new listeners to public radio, particularly a younger generation of potential listeners. JPR will actively engage the creative energy of both its staff and community members to collaboratively develop new services that encourage listeners to become better informed, involved citizens and have an appreciation of the arts as a vital element of our culture.
HD Radio will significantly solve multipath interference that currently plagues many of JPR’s stations due to radio signals reflecting off the numerous mountains that are located within JPR’s service area. HD Radio is ideally suited to enable JPR to provide a clear signal to more people who live in rural Southern Oregon and Northern California communities.
JPR is one of the few public radio organizations in the nation to make extensive use of AM radio stations to enhance its program offerings to its listeners. JPR currently operates seven AM radio stations -- three of which have been donated to JPR and one which is operated in partnership with Eugene School District 4J. These AM stations currently broadcast JPR’s News & Information Service, a service dedicated to in-depth news and public affairs programs that stimulate civic dialogue in the region. HD Radio will dramatically improve the quality of this service to listeners.
Modernization of an Aging Transmission Plant
JPR’s existing transmission facilities have been built over the last 37 years from funds invested by Southern Oregon University, The Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP) and private contributions. During this build out numerous brands of equipment have been deployed responding to both technical and economic factors as well as technology available at the time. By replacing 18 of JPR’s 20 transmitters (the remaining two are not capable of being converted at this time due to technical anomalies) with state-of-the-art solid state equipment from a single manufacturer, The JPR HD Radio Conversion Project will dramatically improve the reliability of JPR’s service to the region and reduce its ongoing operational costs. In addition, the extensive network of microwave equipment JPR uses to deliver its signals to its transmitters and translators will be completely rebuilt.