There Is No Cat

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Monday, September 30, 2002

Is it live or is it Motorolodex?

The New York Times has an interesting article about pseudo-digital radio. Motorola has come up with a chipset that converts analog radio waves into digital form, then cleans them up in the digital realm, making for radios that (allegedly) sound better, particularly for distant stations. This is intriguing, although such capabilities have existed in very high-end tabletop shortwave receivers such as the Watkins-Johnson HF-1000 and the Ten-Tec RX-340 for a number of years. The existing implementations have been a little dodgy; I've always thought that DSP processing of analog signals seemed to require more powerful chips than have been used in some of the early groundbreaking receivers taking this approach. Maybe the Motorola chips are those more powerful chips. It'll be interesting to see if this technology starts to filter down on the shortwave side to portable radios with more consumer-friendly prices.

The Motorola chipset also appears to take advantage of diversity reception, where the signals from two different antennas are combined in a way that reduces fading and distortion. It'll be interesting to see if they do this on AM, where antenna sizes for diversity reception would have to be pretty large, or only on FM, where the antenna sizes would be a lot more manageable. I would expect the latter.

I've always been skeptical of the prospects of the US' preferred approach to digital radio, IBOC (in-band, on-channel), which combines the digital signal with the existing analog signal. If it worked well, I think we would have started to see it being deployed. Instead, the main players in the field merged in order to survive long enough to see their scheme implemented while they continue to work out the bugs. Other countries have been moving ahead with separate broadcast bands. Interestingly, Canada is one of them, and I think this is the first time Canada has ever chosen a broadcasting standard that wasn't already in use in the United States, a pattern that has long caused Canadians to gnash their teeth about American influence on their culture. While other countries move ahead, the U.S. has no local digital radio and no prospects for any showing up any time soon outside the confines of a National Association of Broadcasters convention. It could be that local station owners, who insisted on the IBOC approach rather than moving to a new band as a way of protecting their existing investments, may have ceded the market for digital radio to national providers like Sirius and XM Radio, thereby blowing an opportunity. The Times quotes an analyst who says that Motorola's approach may further dim any nascent demand for digital radio that might (or might not) exist. Then again, that may play right into the hands of the NAB members who were never terribly excited about digital radio to start with.

Posted at 6:13 AM

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What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

- Albert Einstein, explaining radio


There used to be a cat

[ photo of Mischief, a black and white cat ]

Mischief, 1988 - December 20, 2003

[ photo of Sylvester, a black and white cat ]

Sylvester (the Dorito Fiend), who died at Thanksgiving, 2000.


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