Sunday, May 18, 2014

NASB 2014 recap for the digital enthusiast

Here is a brief recap of the NASB 2014 conference from the point of a DRM enthusiast.

On the first morning, standing in front of me in line for the van was a founding DRMNA member - Zyg from Georgia. It was so great to meet him in-person for the first time, having corresponded for nearly 10 years over DRMRX and DRMNA!  We had a fine time chatting throughout the conference.
After a 15 minute ride, we began to see what we came for -  the VOA antenna field...a sight/site to behold! It reminded me of seeing VOA Delano and KGEI in Redwood City, in my youth.
Turning from the highway onto the site, the situation became plain - this is an amazing antenna field. We continued past curtain after curtain of TCI antennas.

We then arrived at the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station. The building alone has that great cold-war look and with old glory flying high in the brisk North Carolina breeze.

We were dropped off at the steps and made our way into the facility. The building maintenance was impeccable and the staff were welcoming and charming. They offered us coffee and ushered us up to the conference room. After a brief introduction by VOA host Rick Williford and NASB president Brady Murray, came some words from Secretary Jeff White. We then headed back down and split into groups to tour the transitter plant and an antenna field that was not “hot” with an active broadcast. 
Macon Dail, Chief Engineer at the facility was our guide, and an excellent one at that. He is very knowledgeable and his willingness to take questions of all kinds, made everyone feel comfortable.
Standing under the immense antennas was a dream come true for me, and something I never thought would happen. 

As you might imagine, the "radio geek" in us all was obvious. Mark Allen of Rohn Towers and I couldn't get enough of the TCI curtains!

After several stops and standing under a variety of the antenna types in the field, we returned to the building to switch  to our tour of the transmitter facility. Macon walked us down the hall with the “authorized personnel only” sign and into the inner-sanctum of the station past walls of GE, Continental and various other transmitters. Macon noted several that were currently on-air. Unfortunately with the current governmental budget constraints, broadcast hours at the station have been significantly reduced. At the time, several programs for Cuba were on-air.  

We went into the central room were the master controls for the transmitters and antennas are monitored. It is a really neat place, reminiscent of the bridge of the Starship Enterprise!

Afterwards, we settled back into the conference room for our sessions. There was a great variety of topics, but I will only highlight the DRM and digital related sessions (of course this means I'm leaving out many excellent talks that didn't relate strictly to digital or DRM).

First up was Dr. Kim Andrew Elliott with an update on his work with VOA Radiogram. You might recall that yours truly is a proponent of this novel technique and has written several articles and opinions to that regard. He demonstrated the format live, including text and images. 


VOA has now transmitted the program for over a year with 100 or more listener responses weekly, from all corners of the globe. What remains remarkable is the quality of reception (chiefly using the MFSK32 mode) both inside and outside the intended target areas. Clearly, this service extends the reach of the existing transmitters, and does so without modifications or specialized receivers.

We also heard from a newer (lets call it "resurrected") station on shortwave - KVOH in California. In attendance were Rev. John Tayloe and Ray Robinson. They are interested in expanding their broadcasts with DRM in the future. Once again, their concern is the availability of receivers.

KTWR in Guam sent the very capable George Ross to talk about their exciting experiments with DRM. George had comments about what great success they are seeing in broadcasting DRM to Japan. Their listener response from there has been amazing. I really like what they are doing - transmitting quality music in stereo, to show off what DRM can do! 

Calvin Carter of Continental Electronics delivered the latest word from the DRM Consortium. DRM is beginning to make great strides in areas of Asia. Calvin had a slideshow, pointing out recent highlights - particularly regarding plans for India and information about new Indian made receivers, that should be available soon. These are in response to the AIR DRM receiver tender.

I presented the history of this blog, the DRMNA Yahoo Group and my experiences with DRM over the last ten years. I have you all to thank for our success. I was flattered and proud to be able to present about such an excellent group of enthusiasts.

[Christopher, George and Calvin - the "Three Musketeers of DRM" at NASB 2014]

There were a few things that would have made the conference perfect - well a few people perhaps... Particularly conspicuous by their absence were Brendan and Benn, to name a few. We missed you guys!

Overall, there were only a handful of us “strictly enthusiasts” in attendance. NASB would really like to have more of us in the future, and I can tell you that what we think and say does make a difference to them.

I believe that the listeners/hobbyists in attendance had as good of a time as the broadcasters themselves. Most of us ended the conference by going up to the transmitter site lookout tower, perched on top of the building. It gave us a 360 degree “birdseye view" of the entire property. What an amazing way to end our day! We all popped out the jalousie style windows and hung out the cameras, snapping pictures like madmen!

Above all, we got to see what great people are involved in the domestic shortwave industry. The VOA/IBB/BBG crew that hosted us were top-notch and I now understand the term “Southern Hospitality”. I was struck by their love and enthusiasm for the work they do. I offer my thanks to the NASB for this excellent conference!

and special thanks to Zyg for some of the photos above. I couldn't have told the story without you, buddy! 73