Why is HD gear so "fragile"?

This topic contains 11 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  johnmackey 3 years ago.

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  • #22196

    lastday
    Participant

    I’m not in the industry so apologies in advance if this is a dumb question (or series of dumb questions).

    At one time Eugene had 5 stations in HD:

    KRVM-FM & AM
    KZEL-FM
    KWAX-FM
    KLCC-FM

    KZEL’s never worked well, lots of rebooting. They finally retired it (or it died) and Cumulus decided it was too expensive to repair.

    KWAX’s gear failed, deemed too expensive to repair.

    KLCC works but their exporter crashes every 10 days or so and has to be rebooted.

    KRVM-FM HD2 has failed several times in the last few months, always an exporter issue. It’s down again and they think it’s the importer this time.

    KRVM-AM has failed a couple times in the last 18 months and the exporter had to be sent out for repair. I think they also replaced a bad power supply locally. (To be fair, their AM problems may be environmentally-caused, no A/C at the transmitter site?)

    KRVM-FM HD1 has been very solid but they’ve had exporter issues recently that required attention.

    KRVM “retired” their HD setup at KSYD Reedsport a couple years ago. It was working then. They tried to use that exporter here in Eugene recently and it’s dead now.

    ===============

    Why is this gear so unreliable? Looking at photos of the inside of the Nautel Exporter Plus that KRVM uses, it looks like a massive heat generator with inadequate fan cooling. Is that part of the problem?

    Or is this gear just not up to 24/7/365 broadcast standards by way of poor engineering.

    ===============

    Is the latest generation of HD broadcast gear more reliable?

    Roughly how much would it cost a public radio station to get the latest generation of hardware with a new factory warranty?

    Thanks for any input.

    #22229

    Screamer
    Participant

    Not an expert here however, I have heard that the licensing is fairly cost prohibitive for smaller markets. It may be a simple matter of too high of cost for the return. I don’t know how many cars (what %) are equipped with HD radio in Eugene, either.

    #22230

    boisebill
    Participant

    Most of it’s run on a computer. Strike 1.
    The early Harris equipment was, as described by a tech there, experimental and NOT repairable! Strike 2.

    There are two HD stations on the air now in Boise. It took them months to get firmware that ran properly.
    Two HD AM stations went away when the exciters failed. Not repairable. The original two FM HD stations, Boise State Radio, had their exciters fail and were also not repairable. They are getting ready to put HD back on hopefully this year.

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 1 month ago by  boisebill.
    #22233

    lastday
    Participant

    I know KZEL had early Harris gear.

    When I was in IT I had many Dell & HP file servers that ran for years with zero problems except for a few hard drive failures. Since the drives were in RAID configs there was never any unplanned downtime. I had one Dell server that ran for 7 years without a single other hardware problem.

    And they were running Windows Server.

    Is this HD computer gear consumer grade junk that’s *expected* to last only a few years?

    I forgot to mention KWSO in Warm Springs. They’ve also had HD exporter failure.

    EDIT: I’m setting aside the issue of how many HD receivers there are in the wild. I’m trying to understand why the pro broadcast gear itself seems very unreliable.

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 1 month ago by  lastday.
    • This reply was modified 3 years, 1 month ago by  lastday.
    #22237

    nosignalallnoise
    Participant

    I wonder if that’s what happened to KBOO. Exciter/exporter/whatever probably kicked the bucket and they figured it was either too cost-prohibitive or just not worth putting digital audio back on the air.

    #22311

    Borderblaster
    Participant

    bottom line:
    throwing good money after bad

    #22312

    chrisweiss
    Participant

    The first generation gear was really not built solid enough for the environment that it was going to live in. Many transmitter sites run way too hot for the computer motherboards that these things were built on. The primary failure that we had, even at sites that run at about 70 degrees year-round, was the motherboards on the Harris and BE Exporter/Exciter combos. These were the standard leaky power supply caps that plagued many consumer machines for years (thinking Dell GX270s). You could shotgun the caps, or replace the motherboard and get back up and running. Hard drive and GPS modules also failed in a couple of the units we had. Second generation gear just migrated to a new data link (Exgine) for UDP data transport between the Exporter and Exciter. Sadly, this still didn’t address the standard motherboard issues on the Exporters, but it did stabilize the Exciter.

    The latest generation of Exporters have greatly improved as they are built on an embedded Linux shell, and do not have any moving parts. We have experienced a little issue with GPS modules on the new Nautel Exporter Plus boxes, but it doesn’t generally take the whole system offline.

    I guess one might argue that boxes designed to go at transmitter sites should be more heat tolerant, but you could also argue the other direction. If you run a stable temperature at the transmitter site you are likely to save yourself a whole lot of other equipment wear and tear.

    #22380

    Andy Brown
    Participant

    Thanks, Chris. I was waiting for some hands on reporting.

    Since I have not been hands on with this niche of gear, here’s my take.

    Any technology in its infancy is driven more by expediency and the competition then superior design or quality control. In other words, if you want to sell a bunch of HD add on gear to existing FM transmission systems, you’ve got to be the one of if not the first manufacturers to get it FCC type accepted. You achieve this by cutting corners in design and manufacturing which creates the reliability issues being discussed.

    It would be both premature and ignorant to lambaste or discard the entire technology when the first few generations of something totally new do not perform as well or for as long without troubles as big corporate mindless buffoons that run the commercial radio industry would like. Radio broadcasting is only at the end of its first century, FM is even younger and HD is just a baby. Big business radio have to be early adopters and in so doing must (they don’t but they should) adopt a more long term mindset. When you invest millions in a young technology you have to stand by it, not dump it because it struck out a lot in its ‘sophomore’ year.

    Note to self: This is just another reason why the elimination of ownership caps has stifled the advancement of the radio broadcast industry. In this case, and like many others, the government has given the broadcasters what they want but the greed of the manufacturers and the greed of the licensees is going to slow down the growth of the technology. There was a time when even big time radio had smarter leadership. Sigh.

    Give it time, people.

    #22400

    lastday
    Participant

    Thanks for your informed comments.

    Corporate boardroom meeting: “What’s the point of us throwing more money at HD when we’re all doomed and going bankrupt?”

    I wonder if the acquisition of iBiquity by DTS will lead to a bigger push for HD. Maybe DTS will re-brand it as “DTS Mobile Audio”. Hey it could happen.

    https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2015/10/05/773568/10151700/en/DTS-Completes-Acquisition-of-iBiquity-Digital-Corporation.html

    CALABASAS, Calif., Oct. 5, 2015 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — DTS, Inc. (Nasdaq:DTSI), a leader in high-definition audio solutions and audio enhancement technologies, today announced it has completed the acquisition of iBiquity Digital Corporation for approximately $172 million. The acquisition, which was financed with a combination of cash on hand and debt, extends DTS’ mission to deliver a personalized, immersive and compelling experience across the network-connected entertainment value chain.

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 1 month ago by  lastday.
    #22733

    johnmackey
    Participant

    In about 2009 I recommended KBOO replace their Dexstar with a Flexstar for about $28,000. This primarily would have been to support HD2 & HD3 but also update the digital part of the system. I had a Russian group willing to pay $10,000 up front and $1000 monthly to lease KBOO’s HD3 at 24K bandwidth for 2 years. This would have provided an HD2 channel for KBOO and $1000 monthly income to pay off the remaining cost of the Flexstar with a little left over.

    (at that time the KBOO Dexstar was about 5 years old – I installed the KBOO HD system in June 2005)

    The KBOO board of directors refused to approve the purchase of the Flexstar and refused to negotiate any agreement of leasing out an HD channel. One specific board member was leading the charge against it stating that KBOO should operate both the HD2 & HD3 channels themselves and raise funds for the Flexstar privately.

    Now, 6 years later, KBOO has never had any digital channels other than the HD1 and currently that is off the air because the Dexstar (which I recommended replacing in 2009) has failed. $1000 monthly income would be welcomed by most Community stations.

    #22741

    Andy Brown
    Participant

    No surprise. KBOO has a long track record of making bad decisions.

    #22744

    johnmackey
    Participant

    When I left KBOO I was in negotiations with KPDX to lease from them for $500/month and they would use the tax credits from KBOO to get a break on their property taxes for renting to KBOO. (at that time KBOO was paying about $2800/monthly to rent at StoneHenge)

    I heard that after I left KBOO halted the negotiations with KPDX because a board member said it was improper to allow a pro profit corperation to not pay taxes simply because they are renting to KBOO. 🙁

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