David Layer, NAB: "We are on the verge of a dramatic increase of Hybrid Radio deployment, primarily in automobiles."
Radio Rally Point was created by DMR/Interactive and All Access to shine a spotlight on the power of AM/FM radio. In this edition, DMR/Interactive Pres Andrew Curran catches up with NAB VP/Advanced Engineering David Layer.
- March 21, 2019
The NAB is associated with lobbying and serving as the collective voice of broadcasters, but there’s also an important component of technical development and innovation, especially with Hybrid Radio. What’s NAB’s role in this space?
David: NAB's Technology department is, not surprisingly, the technical hub of the association. We pursue technology on a number of fronts:
● Technical standards setting - On the radio front, NAB is a co-sponsor of the National Radio Systems Committee (NRSC) along with the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). The NRSC's purpose is to study and make recommendations for technical standards that relate to radio broadcasting and the reception of radio broadcast signals. The NRSC is a vehicle by which broadcasters and receiver manufacturers work together towards solutions to common problems in radio broadcast systems.
One of the most notable documents developed by the NRSC is NRSC-5, IBOC Digital Radio Broadcasting Standard, which describes the HD Radio digital radio system adopted in the U.S.
Two other radio-related standards setting groups that NAB is involved in are the RDS Forum, which maintains the Radio Data System (RDS) digital subcarrier standard; the RDS signal is transmitted as part of analog FM signals, providing metadata (typically song title and artist) for radio receiver displays. NAB is also a member of RadioDNS, an organization which is dedicated to enabling hybrid (over-the-air plus Internet) radio services in radio receivers. At the most recent meeting of the RadioDNS General Assembly, I was elected chair of the RadioDNS Steering Board for the next two years (2019-2020), and I am looking forward to becoming even more involved with the operation and accomplishments of this group.
● PILOT - the Technology department manages PILOT (formerly NAB Labs), a coalition of innovators, educators and advocates dedicated to advancing broadcast technologies and cultivating new media opportunities. PILOT is bringing broadcasters together with new media companies such as Google and Facebook to explore how these companies can build on each other's strengths and enable new and exciting services for viewers and listeners. PILOT funds technology development projects including the development of an FM Radio Software Development Kit (SDK) for Android devices to help advance the use of FM radio in smartphones that have an enabled “FM chip,” as well as laboratory and field testing of all-digital AM and FM radio (using the HD Radio IBOC system).
● NAB Show conferences - it is the role of the Technology department to develop technically-oriented conferences for NAB's many industry shows, for example, the Broadcast Engineering and Information Technology Conference (BEITC), one of the world's leading broadcast-oriented conferences.
● Education and outreach - NAB Technology staff members are regular presenters at broadcast technology conferences worldwide as well as at the many state broadcaster association meetings held throughout the US.
In the 1980s, radios with cassette players were common place. In the 1990s, it was radios with a CD player. However, as music collections have been digitized, radios with Internet devices haven't found the same traction. How does the NAB’s efforts with Hybrid Radio seek to change that reality, especially as Voice Command continues to grow in popularity?
David: As music collections have moved from cassettes to CDs to digital methods including mp3 players (like the iPod) and now streaming, radio receivers have indeed followed along and with Hybrid Radio technology, will continue to do so. Right now, we are on the verge of a dramatic increase of Hybrid Radio deployment, primarily in automobiles, and this is closely following the increase of built-in internet connectivity in vehicles.
NAB is heavily involved in the development and proliferation of Hybrid Radio on many fronts. There's our involvement in RadioDNS which I mentioned previously, one of the main proponents of Hybrid Radio and a foundational technology. NAB is pursuing an auto initiative, reaching out to and working with automakers and so-called “tier 1” manufacturers (who actually make the car infotainment systems) to ensure that Hybrid Radio is deployed in an intelligent way that benefits all parties – automakers, broadcasters, and listeners. We are very excited about the “In-vehicle experience” pavilion which will be debuting at this year's NAB Show, sure to highlight developments in Hybrid Radio and generate interest with our broadcaster attendees, while at the same time providing additional ways for automakers and broadcasters to interact and work together.
One specific example of NAB's involvement in Hybrid Radio is the ongoing PILOT Connected Radio Evaluation Unit (CREU) project. Connected Radio is a Hybrid Radio platform being develop by Xperi Corporation; working with Xperi, we have obtained the same CREU device that automakers use to develop Hybrid Radio platforms using Connected Radio technology. Our goal in doing this is to identify use cases and features that are of particular interest to broadcasters and then bring these back to Xperi and to automakers and work to get these features implemented in vehicles.
Regarding voice command, NAB certainly recognizes the potential, and inevitability, of voice command technology for accessing radio. Of course, it's already arrived in smart speakers, and broadcasters have been working hard to make sure that their stations are easily accessed in these devices. Working with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), PILOT developed a prototype voice-controlled radio which takes a voice-command request for radio and determines whether the requested station is available as an over-the-air broadcast, and if so, plays that over-the-air signal instead of an audio stream. The process that is used to achieve this is illustrated in the figure below. We have made the source code used to achieve this available free-of-charge (https://github.com/NABPILOT/Voice-Controlled-Radio
) to any interested manufacturer, and we hope that this will accelerate the interest in using voice control for radio.
Overview of Voice-Controlled Radio Prototype
Obviously, the brilliance of the broadcast business model, which allows stations to drastically increase their audience without a corresponding increase in costs, has not been replicated with streaming. How does the science of hybrid build on previous innovations such as HD and Next Radio?
David: NextRadio was an amazing implementation of Hybrid Radio for Android smartphones with an enabled FM chip. Xperi, developers of HD Radio, are also at the forefront of Hybrid Radio technology with their Connected Radio platform. These platforms are excellent examples of how over-the-air and Internet with audio streaming can enhance the radio listening experience.
Obviously, automotive is an important category where radio dominates consumption. How are the Hybrid Radio conversations going with car makers?
David: Automakers are very interested in Hybrid Radio. Audi released the first Hybrid Radio in a vehicle last year in Europe and is expected to bring Hybrid Radio technology to their U.S. models soon. Xperi has indicated that they will be making an announcement soon regarding the use of their Connected Radio platform by an automaker, and we are very excited about the prospect of that announcement.
Does the NAB have a timeline for the wider rollout of Hybrid Radio?
David: For automobiles, this ultimately depends on the automakers, and it's common knowledge that autos have a fairly long concept-to-production cycle, measured in years. Recognizing this, NAB has put significant resources and a heavy emphasis on its auto initiative and its outreach to automakers, to make sure they are aware of the benefits of Hybrid Radio and will hopefully implement them sooner rather than later.
For stations and organizations looking to learn more about Hybrid Radio and the open source code you’re making available, what resources would you point them to?
David: The voice-controlled radio source code is available at https://github.com/NABPILOT/Voice-Controlled-Radio
. Other great Hybrid Radio resources include https://radiodns.org
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