- The Washington Times - Friday, October 11, 2002


Federal regulators gave the go-ahead yesterday for digital radio, approving a plan to modernize the medium with better sound and new features for personalized programming.

The Federal Communications Commission voted 4-0 to adopt digital radio technology created by iBiquity Digital Corp., a Columbia, Md., company backed by large broadcasters including ABC and Viacom.

The commissioners enthusiastically endorsed the technology, saying it will benefit the industry and consumers.

"We don't get many items where it's a win-win for everyone. There's no downside," Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy said.

Radio has changed little for decades. FCC Chairman Michael Powell said he's heartened that such a dramatic leap in technology is in store.

"I'm thrilled and excited to see the radio wagon train finally get to the other side," he said.

The approval allows radio stations to begin broadcasting digital signals immediately, though it probably will take a few months for the first stations to start.

Manufacturers plan to sell digital receivers for car stereos and high-end audio systems starting next year, adding about $100 to the price of a traditional unit. It is not clear how soon digital technology will be included in portable radios.

The iBiquity technology allows broadcasters to use their existing airwaves to simultaneously send digital and analog signals. Listeners won't have to buy a new radio to continue listening to their favorite stations, but can if they want better sound and other options.

Supporters say the new technology will bring CD-quality sound to FM broadcasts, an end to static for AM and new data features.

Radio One Inc., which owns and operates 65 stations and primarily targets black listeners, already has ordered digital transmitters, said John Mathews, the company's director of engineering.

He said the Lanham-based company plans to start digital broadcasts within three months in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Detroit and Los Angeles.

"We wanted to be in the front on this," he said. "The quality improvement is just phenomenal. It's analogous to the transition between cassettes and CDs."

Some digital car stereos will have small screens, displaying news or advertising or pictures of the artist whose song is playing. Others will allow listeners to choose when to hear reports on stocks, sports, weather and traffic.

The digital broadcasts will be free, unlike the subscriber services offered by Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio Holdings, of Washington, which beam music and talk to radios from satellites.

Digital broadcasts use the same language as computers a series of on and off electronic pulses. Broadcasts with the proposed technology won't increase a radio station's range, but digital signals can be cleaned up, removing garble and uneven reception.

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