March 22, 2007
Emily Lenzner, NPR


230 Member Stations Currently On-Air in HD Radio;
60 Have Been Multicasting on Experimental Basis, Beginning in 2004

March 22, 2007; Washington, D.C. – Today’s historic decision by the FCC to approve digital HD Radio multicasting is strongly endorsed by NPR and the NPR Member stations across the country. Credited with leading the broadcasting industry in research and development of the new technology, NPR and Member stations have been on the forefront of local digital radio development since 2001, while public radio stations have already been multicasting on an experimental basis since 2004.

“Today’s action by the FCC has reinvigorated public radio’s public service mission,” said Arthur Timko, Station General Manager of 89.1 WEMU, Michigan’s first public station to make the digital transition and soon to be the first to officially multicast under the FCC’s approval. “WEMU is proud to be a proponent of this cutting-edge technology and public service. We appreciate both the funding support provided by Congress through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the imagination and hard work of NPR, which enabled public radio to not only participate in this next generation of broadcasting but to also lead it.”

With the FCC.'s approval, public radio stations such as WEMU will be able to move from experimental facilities to full service multicast channels providing programming of high performance and technical qualities.

Added Mike Starling, Chief Technology Officer and Executive Director, NPR Labs, NPR’s technology research and development unit, “The public demand for public radio is at its highest point ever in our history, and today’s approval of full multicasting authority opens doors we only dreamed of six years ago. NPR stations pioneered multicasting and are now poised to lead in the creation of new public services, including the exciting potential of radio accessibility for the hearing-impaired and other underserved audiences.”

NPR and member station WGBH’s National Center for Accessible Media have already taken the lead in developing accessible radio technology for the hearing and visually impaired through a grant from the Department of Education awarded in October 2006. The Accessible Digital Radio Broadcast Services grant will allow those with sensory disabilities equal access to news, entertainment and emergency services.

The public radio timeline for digital radio and multicasting is:

May 2001 – At its annual meeting, public radio stations commit to the concept of digital radio and multicast channels

January 2003 – Accepting the challenge from the FCC, NPR launches the Tomorrow Radio initiative with partners Kenwood and Harris Corp. and support from the CPB; it is designed to test and demonstrate the technical viability of supplemental audio channels, or “multicasting,” promote its viability to regulatory agencies and manufacturers, and provide technical support to digital conversions at public radio stations. Ongoing NPR research and development is focusing on the introduction of store and replay features, electronic program guides, and a variety of customized content services including current traffic for commuters.

2004 – Public radio stations accelerate digital conversion and begin multicasting on an experimental basis.

Fall 2005 – NPR launches five 24/7 music channels for Member stations to multicast: formats are AAA, folk, classical, electronica and jazz.

Fall 2005 – NPR creates new division, NPR Labs, to continue its leadership in research and development of digital radio technologies. NPR Vice President for Engineering Mike Starling, named “Engineer of the Year” by Radio World Magazine for his multicasting work among other industry honors, is named Executive Director.

Spring 2006 – NPR Labs, in partnership with iBiquity Digital, Harris, Broadcast Electronics and the National Center for Accessible Media, demonstrates its experimental development of digital radio and multicasting for the hearing impaired and vision impaired at National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention.

Fall 2006 – NPR and WGBH’s National Center for Accessible Media are awarded grant from the Department of Education’s National Institute of Disability Rehabilitation and Research to develop accessible digital radio technology for the sensory impaired.

Spring 2007 – The 230 NPR Member stations already on air in HD are authorized by FCC to move to full service multicast channels. 60 stations are already on the air with second and third channel content.