Radio, Radio, Everywhere

Radio has been getting a new lease on life, with Sirius and XM satellite services, DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting), and Internet "stations" popping up in the tens of thousands. With the Clear Channelfication of North America's FM and AM airwaves, many would argue that the timing couldn't be better for launching new broadcast technologies.

Microsoft has jumped into the DAB market and says it will collaborate with industry players to boost worldwide usage of the technology. The software giant announced last week its membership in the World DAB Forum, an international group of 80 organizations focused on developing DAB technology.

Microsoft says it will work with other World DAB Forum members to "accelerate the deployment of devices and services based on the DAB standard." In addition to a digital audio signal, the company posits that "DAB also creates opportunities for broadcasters to offer new services by delivering text, data, pictures, and video using radio signals." The DAB Forum's Annika Nyberg adds, "We expect that our efforts to expand the usage of DAB technology will be helped significantly as a result of Microsoft's involvement."

Trials are currently being conducted in London to test delivery of 5.1-channel surround sound by combining DAB with the Windows Media 9 Series audio platform (see previous story). Capital Radio, NTL Broadcast, RadioScape, PURE Digital, and Imagination Technologies are participating in the tests.

In addition to these trials, Microsoft has announced that its UK Microsoft Research Cambridge division has been exploring a "range of services and technologies" that make use of DAB. The company says that this research is being carried out in close cooperation with a number of global partners and has entered initial trials across home and mobile networks in Cambridge.

In Internet radio news, the UK's Virgin Radio says it has worked out an agreement with RealNetworks to broadcast a live AAC signal across the Internet using the recently released RealAudio 10 player. Virgin reports that it will be broadcasting online at bit rates of 128kbps and greater using the AAC codec.

Virgin Radio claims to be the UK's only commercial rock music station and has now spread its signal across the AM, FM, and DAB bands (via Sky Digital), and the cable TV networks (via WorldSpace), and online.

Finally, Panasonic announced last week the availability of its first mobile CD receiver to include iBiquity Digital's HD Radio technology. In addition to HD signals, Panasonic's new CQ-CB9900U will play CDs, MP3s, WMA files, and conventional AM and FM broadcasts and will retail for $999.95 in the US. While there is no provision for either DVD-Audio or SACD compatibility, the company notes that HD Radio will have multichannel capabilities in the future.