View Full Version : FM Done Well - our kind of station


Whitehall
12-05-2006, 10:59 AM
The best sound quality of any of the 40 or 50 FM stations I can pickup here in the SF Bay Area comes from a little 200 watt station, KKUP. Their sources are only vinyl, CD, and live.

I wrote the station engineer about the rest of their signal path and here's the response I got:

"You are correct in that we play vinyl, and in fact the entire audio chain is analog from the mixing console to the transmitter. The output of the mixing board feeds an Optimod 8100 audio processor, which feeds a wideband STL transmitter (bandwidth > 100 KHz), which sends the composite signal from our studio in Santa Clara. The RF signal is split, feeding two parabolic antennas. One is aimed at Loma Prieta, where it is received by
another parabolic antenna. The second antenna is aimed at Blackberry Peak above Los Gatos. It feeds a low-power exciter on 91.5 with a highly directional antenna aimed toward downtown Los Gatos. This low-power booster fills in a shadow area in Los Gatos and Monte Sereno that cannot be served from Loma Prieta due to an obstruction by
Montebello Ridge.

"We have purposely chosen a lossless form of transmission, unlike some other stations that play MP3 audio files and/or use HE-AAC codecs for digital links between studio and transmitter. The engineering staff (mostly me, I admit) believes in trying for the most noise-free, transparent transmission possible. Our signal-to-noise ratio approaches 70 db most of the time, which is typically better than what most people can achieve with a regular tuner - although it sounds as though you might be in a position to hear our STL noise, judging from your email.

"We have also chosen (so far) to stay away from the "HD Radio" compressed digital transmission scheme that is being pushed by Ibiquity. This has become a hot topic among broadcasters as of late, but it is our opinion that the degradation in analog signal quality is not worth the potential upside from having an HD signal available to the few radios that are out there. You're probably aware of this already - it's ruined my reception of several local FM stations. But here's a pretty good synopsis of what it does:

http://users.tns.net/~bb/iboccer.htm

"Hopefully this gives you some insight to our philosophy - we don't necessarily disagree with some of the progress that has been made, and we certainly embrace some of the more transparent audio processing schemes. But to jump fully into the lossy digital realm is probably not something that KKUP will do in the near future."

approse
12-05-2006, 11:25 AM
I think I'd help them any way I could..... nice to see the guys attitude but the cynic in me has to wonder how long the owner will hold out.

Whitehall
12-05-2006, 12:12 PM
The nice thing is that KKUP is owned and operated by the Radio Club of Cupertino. It is completely volunteer, including engineering and on-air talent.

It's not affliated with a college, university, NPR or CPB. The DJs play what they know - many are local musicians so they spotlight local talent, including bringing them in for on-air, live concerts.

Some of it is unlistenable, and there can be off-putting political noise - this being Bay Area musicians, I don't mean Rush Limburger - but on the whole, a interesting, fresh, and diverse mix of content.

Too bad I can't think of what I'd play if they allowed me a time slot for "The Republican Hour."

approse
12-05-2006, 09:55 PM
It sounds wonderful to me....... that kind of format used to be prety much standard fare in these parts though it was AM in those days. It may or may not help keep the community together but it certainly helps.

jpdylon
12-05-2006, 11:39 PM
I wish we had more stations like that here --pure analog and good material. There are far too few stations that broadcast a good clean signal.

Whitehall
12-06-2006, 01:03 AM
Their website has the history of the station and how they got it going in the first place. Bet they would share everything they know about a community radio station.

Just need some people with a bit of time on their hands and some brains.... and the will.

dshoaf
12-08-2006, 01:49 AM
Yep, I can get it here in Santa Cruz, too. The only other local station that rivals their transmission quality is the University station here at UC Santa Cruz. We've also got KUSP, our local NPR station, and they're right in there, too, sonically.

We're blessed here to have so many great stations to drive our cool old vintage tuners.

Cheers,

David

Celt
12-08-2006, 06:49 AM
It's nice to see that. When my family had K-105 in the seventies, we strived for the best fidelity on the dial and would like to think we succeeded in doing so. Nowadays, all I hear is overly-compressed, overly-processed, low-bitrate-sourced-from-a-hard-drive dreck on the local stations. That is, with the exception of our local NPR affiliate, KASU in Jonesboro. They generally have excellent audio and for the most part, excellent programming.

Whitehall
12-08-2006, 10:45 AM
Stopped by late last night (9ish) to drop off a donation.

The board chairman was there hanging out with the DJ. We had a long talk about the station. He says they have an operating budget of about $100K a year and don't want more cash flow because that kicks them into a new IRS category but they welcome more volunteers. They've used a lot of surplus equipment donated by local commercial stations as they digitized but to start fresh would need about $75K in capital equipment and furnishings.

The FCC limits their power because of an adjacent station, KALW, in San Francisco and they are of equal power up the peninsula in Redwood City. Plenty of open channels outside the major metropolitan areas but the Bay Area is full.

They are considering streaming but that requires more FCC licensing.

Fran604g
12-09-2006, 08:19 AM
Do you guys think that when the FM world goes completely HD, there will be enough bandwith left for others to do this sort of thing on a small (geographically) basis?

Vinyl Rules!
12-09-2006, 09:51 AM
Do you guys think that when the FM world goes completely HD, there will be enough bandwith left for others to do this sort of thing on a small (geographically) basis?
If we're lucky, HD Radio will go the way of Dolby FM, the Dodo bird, and DVD-Audio. And instead of the FM world going completely HD Radio, perhaps we'll see HD Radio going completely away! :)

The FM listening audience continues to decline and the commercial FM stations are taking in less advertising revenues than in the past because of this decline in their "customer" base. That's why Clear Channel is selling off many of their stations and CBS' radio station network recently took a big write-down a value on the CBS books - These stations are now worth much less than they were in the past.

Ibiquity sold IBOC (HD Radio) to radio stations as a way to be competitive with the two satellite radio companies and as a way for stations to increase their listenership. But this was a hollow promise. There was a long article in the 12/06 issue of Advertising Age that Sirius is floating proposals that they wouldn't mind being acquired by XM Radio and many stations have slowed down their implementation of HD Radio. And Sirius' most recent corporate report stated they acquired fewer consumers than forecast during their their last quarter, so maybe the satellite radio audience is reaching saturation. The Ad Age article specifically notes that FM listenership continues to decline.

And how many people do you know yet who've even bothered to buy an HD Radio? Probably zero. So the stations that have converted to HD Radio are broadcasting to almost zero listeners.

This Christmas selling season could well be the make-or-break period for HD Radio. Whenever I'm in a big box store or any audio store, I always ask one or two of the sales people if they're selling much HD Radio. In a surprising number of cases, even the salespeople don't know what I'm talking about - They think I'm asking about satellite radio. And when I do find a salesperson who knows about HD Radio, they tell me there is zero demand from customers and they cannot recall when they sold an HD Radio to a customer.

For those of us opposed to HD Radio because it sounds like shite, lowers the audio quality of the analog FM signal broadcast on the same frequency, and often interferes with the adjacent channels, this consumer indifference is great news: If no one knows about it or cares about it, no one will buy it and it will go away! :banana: :banana: :banana: :banana: :banana:

Whitehall
12-09-2006, 11:40 AM
I had the same experience with HDRadio as VR: last week at Magnolia I asked the sales guys and they said they sold very few set.

I've suspected all along that the HD stations may have a fallback position with their new equipment - subscriber services. That's like SCA only with many more slices so they can distribute backgound music and advertising to local retail chains.

Note that with "music" bandwidth allotment, the range is about half of the analog signal's. It might be that thinner slices have longer range but I doubt it.

What the FCC has done is sell off some of our patrimony (broadcast bandwidth) for some station marginal revenue.

Vinyl Rules!
12-09-2006, 11:57 AM
I had the same experience with HDRadio as VR: last week at Magnolia I asked the sales guys and they said they sold very few set.

I've suspected all along that the HD stations may have a fallback position with their new equipment - subscriber services. That's like SCA only with many more slices so they can distribute backgound music and advertising to local retail chains.

Note that with "music" bandwidth allotment, the range is about half of the analog signal's. It might be that thinner slices have longer range but I doubt it.

What the FCC has done is sell off some of our patrimony (broadcast bandwidth) for some station marginal revenue.
There's been significant discussion of HD Radio/IBOC's technical problems in the FM Tuner Group at Yahoo (www.fmtunerinfo.com).

You are correct that the HD Radio coverage area is significantly smaller than the analog FM coverage area of the same station. So even if an HD Radio station tries to convert their HD Radio broadcast to a subscription service, they are still reaching a much smaller geographic area.

Oh. And there's one more small problem: There are NO current HD Radios in the market configured for receiving a subscription-only service.

So if no one is even purchasing HD Radios, there is a less than zero market for subscription add-on units for a subscription HD Radio service. People that want subscription services already get "store cast" services sent to their stores via broadband or via a satellite downlink - They don't need no stinkin' HD Radio subscription service.

It's begininning to look like the whole HD Radio experience has been one huge clusterfu#k, as they say in the military. So what will probably happen is that Ibiquity's senior execs will declare HD Radio a success, pay themselves huge performance bonuses, then bail and leave the poor stockholders holding the bag. It's the American way: Just ask anyone who owned Enron or HealthSouth stock. :cool:

Whitehall
12-09-2006, 12:28 PM
I've always imagined that "subscriber services" are commercial and industrial accounts, not for consumers.