DRM Will Succeed, and Cheap Receivers are
Coming Very Soon
Adil Mina grew up in his native Lebanon listening to radio stations from around the world on a large shortwave radio, with all of the inherent static, fading and interference. Eventually he would find himself working for Dallas-based Continental Electronics - an NASB member and premier manufacturer of shortwave transmitters. For the past 43 years he helped to design, build and commission many high power mediumwave and shortwave transmitters and systems all over the world. Lately he has been traveling around the world selling shortwave transmitters to religious, government and commercial stations.
Mina is a true believer in shortwave. "I can really tell you that shortwave is alive and it is going forward," he told the DRM USA annual meeting in Cary, North Carolina May 8. He admits that sales have been a little slow during the past four or five years. "Except for some huge numbers of transmitters that have been sold to China during the period from 2000 to now, shortwave has been a little bit quiet, especially in the building of new stations." But he says that even with a worldwide recession, many international customers are still making plans to modernize and buy new transmitters.
Why is Adil Mina so bullish on shortwave? "I once asked a friend from Saudi Arabia if he was going to put all of his programming on satellite. He said: \'Mr. Mina, do I look that stupid? Do you think for one moment I would trust my broadcasting to anyone who controls a satellite or a local radio and who could shut me off at any moment they desire?\' There\'s what the beauty of shortwave is. Whatever your faith and your belief in shortwave is, it is justified. Shortwave -- no matter how many other ways of broadcasting are invented in the world - DAB, DMB, DVD, whatever it is - is still the only medium that you can broadcast from your backyard to any country in the world."
"What\'s happening today," explained Mina, "is that we finally realize that we, the technical people, should help you [the broadcasters] make that sound clear and make it practical. And that\'s what DRM is all about. It allows you to broadcast your program with clarity."
But Mina admits that DRM is not quite where it should be today. "I\'ll be very honest about it," he said. "DRM is about two years behind, in our opinion. It\'s not because of transmitters or antennas or exciters. It\'s because of the receivers. I would estimate we are about two years behind." More about those receivers in a minute.
The DRM Consortium began 10 years ago at a meeting in China. For 10 years the Consortium was led by Chairman Peter Senger of Deutsche Welle. Most DRM administrative responsibilities during this time have been centered at Deutsche Welle. But Senger had to retire in March of this year due to German law, and his project director Anne Fechner has also retired. The BBC stepped forward to take over the leadership of DRM. Everything is being moved to Bush House. The BBC\'s Ruxandra Obreja is the new chairperson. Unlike Peter Senger, Obreja is not a technical person. The BBC believes DRM has matured, according to Mina, and thus they nominated a person with business development background instead of technical background to be the chairperson. Mina said "Ruxandra, with her experience in business development, will do a great job in promoting DRM worldwide."
Until three and a half years ago, DRM was a digital system for longwave, mediumwave and shortwave - up to 30 Megahertz. Then DRM Plus was introduced. Now DRM works with frequencies up to 108 MHz - basically FM, so it can compete with IBOC/HD Radio®. Unfortunately, Mina points out, no major transmitter manufacturer has yet made FM transmitters with DRM Plus because they have spent too much developing IBOC/HD Radio® transmitters. "We are still looking for somebody to jump on top of it," says Mina.
Now back to the receivers, and the reasons why they aren\'t readily available yet. "Part of the reason," says Mina, "is maybe we took our time on the standard - deciding what we want the receiver to do. We had a lot of debate and a lot of discussion. What should the receiver have in it? Should it be simply a small receiver that you can buy on the street in Hong Kong or Taiwan hopefully for $10? Well, you can\'t do that. Most of us were hoping for a $50 receiver to replace what I call the regular or standard $10 or $15 shortwave receiver that you can buy in Asia today.
"Some of the receiver manufacturers said: \'I\'ll wait maybe until you finish your DRM Plus. Why do I want to make one receiver and then possibly have to combat some of the others?\'. Some manufacturers said I will combine DRM with DAB and come up with a receiver that some of the early ones - most of them - do.
"But for whatever reason, even though we had Sony as a key member of DRM on the Steering Board - and we had Bosch also and many of the others - none of them really came up [with a receiver], even though they were the key people who helped us, and helped Dr. [Don] Messer - one of his subcommittees - to come up with a specification. None of them - Sony, Panasonic or what I would call the big people - the key people who were driving DRM - and I give them a lot of credit; they really pushed and promoted it - none of them came up with a receiver. It is disappointing, I think, to me and to many of the others.
"So what I would call some of the secondary players introduced receivers. Many of them were waiting, like everybody knows today, for an IC chip - the good chip, the right chip. We do have some receivers now - Roberts, Morphy Richards, Himalaya. These are some of the receivers that you see today. Many of us have got the software receivers. But even some of the early receivers, in six to eight hours the batteries were gone. They were just eating batteries like crazy.
"So the receiver that all of us are looking for is still the small receiver, the inexpensive receiver that will have a good battery life. That\'s what most people are looking for. It\'s the one that should be like your Blackberry, your telephone, that can sit for two days, three days, without you having to go back and charge it."
But Mina is hopeful. New chips were introduced a few months ago by Analog Devices, and a new receiver is expected to be built in India. "We\'ve seen the prototype," said Mina. "They\'re very encouraged. And we hope that we will have the $100 receiver."
That $100 receiver could be a major improvement on the current situation. "When we started talking about the $100 and the $200 receiver - that was six years ago," said Mina. "Well, there are receivers you can buy today for 200 euros. The 200 figure we were hoping for six years ago is here, but it\'s in euros, and that\'s 300 dollars. Many of us are still hoping for the $100 receiver."
Mina is also encouraged about what\'s coming out of China. His friends at Thomson Broadcast found and worked with Dr. Lin Liang who founded a private company, Newstar Electronics, that plans to make DRM receivers. "I have seen three of these small receivers," said Mina. "Today the design is being completed on these receivers - a very, very small receiver. This is the new star that is coming from China, that is going to make DRM a success."
The new Chinese receiver will have a small LCD screen, a built-in photo album, a GPS and a DRM receiver. "What\'s going to make DRM are these devices," Mina believes. "You\'re going to step out of your airplane. You\'re going to travel to any city you want. You\'re going to pull it out, and right there you\'re going to have a DRM receiver. You\'re going to receive your program with good quality anywhere in the world. This is what is going to be the success of DRM in my opinion."
Mina says there are many other DRM receivers that are being developed right now. Students at LeTourneau University are working on a receiver. Three to five different groups in China are working on receivers. There is also a group in South Africa working on a DRM receiver, specifically for use on shortwave.
There had been talk in the business that the Chinese would have a lot of DRM transmissions on air in time for the Olympics. "That\'s not going to happen," said Mina, "But eventually we will see DRM broadcasts in China." Explains Mina: "The reason China will develop DRM receivers is that all of the transmitters they\'re buying are DRM-ready. One transmitter is broadcasting DRM, but all of the others are ready. Why would China use DRM? China uses shortwave to talk to their own people. Because of that, they will go to DRM to cover their own territory. People in rural China need shortwave."
"DRM will succeed," concluded Mina, "and the cheap receivers will be coming very soon."
Mina said that most shortwave transmitters bought during the last 20 years that have solid-state modulators are ready for DRM with a minor modification and new exciter. Older transmitters with high-level plate modulation can be modified for DRM. "We have done many of them. We just finished one in Saipan. We put new solid-state modulators on them, and they\'re ready."
Although DRM isn\'t being used on mediumwave in the United States, there have been very successful mediumwave simulcast tests in Mexico, Brazil and India. There are also regular DRM broadcasts on mediumwave from many broadcast organizations in Europe.
Mina sees great potential for DRM on shortwave. A TCI International study showed that five transmitters could cover all of the United States with a high-quality DRM signal. "We need a UPS, a DHL, a trucking company. Somebody will have the vision to use DRM and send messages or programs over a large area with a single transmitter."
If you order a new shortwave transmitter today from companies like Continental, there\'s no extra cost for DRM capability; it\'s already built in. If you need a DRM exciter for an existing transmitter, it\'s a slightly different story. "Our exciters are still a little bit too expensive," said Mina. "We acknowledge that. But prices have come down, and hopefully can come down more." He mentioned that HCJB is trying to develop a low-cost DRM exciter, which if successful could cause the big companies to drop their prices.
Mina said prices are still a bit prohibitive for most potential 26 MHz DRM operations. A TCI study showed that a 200-watt AM transmitter could cover the San Francisco Bay Area with one antenna - providing the FCC would license it. "But exciters are still 40,000 to 50,000 euros," he lamented. "That is discouraging." He noted that IBOC exciters cost around $20,000.
Finally, Adil Mina thanked former Technical Committee Chairman Dr. Don Messer for all of his contributions to DRM. Messer retired from the DRM Consortium at the end of March, although he is still working hard to promote DRM in the United States. "If you want to get an experimental license for DRM, don\'t try to do it on your own," cautions Mina. "Contact Dr. Messer."
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