Radio World interview with Arno Meyer
NAB Honors Arno Meyer
Arno Meyer, president and founder of Belar Electronics Laboratory Inc. in West Chester, Pa., was honored with NAB’s Radio Engineering Achievement Award during the Technology Luncheon on Wednesday, April 25, 2001 at the NAB Convention.
The awards, established in 1959, are given to industry leaders for significant contributions that have advanced broadcast engineering.
Meyer spoke via e-mail with Radio World Technical Consultant Tom McGinley of Infinity Broadcasting Seattle about the early days of the company, early DSP-based products, his role in the AM stereo debate and current Belar products.
RW: Belar Electronics is a name synonymous with high-quality precision modulation monitors and has been around a long time.
Meyer: I founded Belar Electronics in 1964 in the early days of FM stereo. I had been working for ITA Electronics in Lansdowne, Pa., on FM exciters and stereo generators.
ITA was owned at the time by Triangle Publications, Walter Annenberg. I had proposed to Triangle that the FM stereo monitoring market was wide open and ITA should pursue it. I found out that ITA was not interested in continuing in the broadcast business and was going to sell the company.
I gave my notice and my intention of going into the business of developing and marketing FM stereo monitoring monitors.
Wideband FM monitors good enough to look at FM stereo composite waveforms were not available at that time. I used a delay line FM discriminator to monitor my signals.
After a while I found this detector too cumbersome, so I developed a tunable FM detector that demodulated an FM signal to baseband and in addition could act as an AM detector to indicate AM noise and synchronous AM noise. This was my first product – the Belar FMD-1.
RW: We have heard that the name Belar was born as a combination of your name and your wife’s. Who gets the credit for thinking of it?
Meyer: Yes, Belar is a combination of bel – my wife’s name was Isobel – and my name, Arno. I think it was a joint decision – a "ma-and-pa" business.
RW: I remember in the 1960s that the name General Radio was prominent on modulation monitors at most stations. It seems that company went away about the time Belar emerged. Might there be a connection?
Meyer: I think FM stereo was the connection. FM stereo transmissions made monitoring a whole new ball game. I think it required too much development for GR for a small market. The other players at the time were Collins Radio and McMartin Industries.
RW: How big is Belar in terms of annual sales and how many employees do you have?
Meyer: Belar is a privately held company of 25 employees.
RW: Belar was a pioneer in using digital and DSP-based technology in your equipment. Tell us how that occurred and evolved. What other technical breakthroughs helped improve your products and what other design engineers besides yourself have been involved in the creation of Belar products?
Meyer: The advent of the sigma delta A/D converters, with their high resolution combined with high sampling rates, made it possible for us to digitize the FM composite signal accurately.
This, along with the introduction of the Motorola 56000 series of DSP chips, allowed Belar to replace many of our critical analog functions with DSP processing.
These advances gave our products greatly improved performance as well as increased stability and allowed changes to be made with software updates
Mark Grant is the chief architect of the system; his name is also on the patent. Dwight Macomber, Jim Malone, Steve Hemphill, Walt Hartman and Mohammad Olama also contributed to our product designs.
RW: In the late 1970s, you collaborated with RCA in the development of an AM stereo transmission standard. Tell us about that experience and why do you think AM stereo never really succeeded?
Meyer: Byron Fincher of RCA came to us several weeks before an NAB convention in Chicago saying that RCA needed something to spark their exhibit at the NAB. He thought that if they could revive AM stereo, it would create that necessary spark. Could we help them?
Since RCA was a valuable client – we brand-named all our monitors for them, BW-50s, etc. – we could not refuse.
RCA provided us with two Ampliphase exciters, copies of their patents and their good will. We designed the stereo generator and stereo decoder in record time. We built two systems, and both RCA and Belar showed and demonstrated that AM stereo did work and sounded good.
Soon after, the AM stereo committee was formed by the EIA to propose standards – RCA, Motorola and Magnavox were the proponents, with the FCC participating. Belar assisted RCA in the meetings.
After a while RCA decided that they did not want to continue to propose this system and were going to drop out. Belar got a call from Harold Kassens, who represented the FCC in the committee meetings, advising us of this development and would we pick up the RCA system and continue with the committee.
The committee could not continue with only two proponents. We agreed to continue the proposed RCA system and the system became known as the Belar AM-FM Stereo system.
After the standards were proposed and the three systems were tested by the committee, the results were submitted to the FCC with the expectation that a system would be selected. The FCC decided not to make the selection, but let the marketplace decide. The rest is history.
RW: What role did you play in the development of TV multichannel sound?
Meyer: Belar was a member and participated in the BTSC committee meetings. We made recommendations on the testing procedures and specifications for monitoring.
RW: What item in your product line are you the most proud of? Which one was the most difficult to perfect and bring to market?
Meyer: Our Wizard System is what we are most proud of.
It includes the digital stereo decoder in the FMSA-1 stereo monitor, the digital subcarrier demodulator in the SCMA-1 SCA monitor, the digital RBDS decoder in the RDS-1, the frequency-agile RFA-4 FM RF amplifier, the frequency-agile DC-4 down-converter for multiple transmitter operation.
All can be interconnected to be accessed remotely by a PC.
RW: FM stations still seem to be getting louder and insist on running right up to the legal FCC modulation limit. Peak weighting emerged in the early 1990s as a new way of pushing the limit even higher. What is your opinion of peak weighting and how should it be applied to measuring over-modulation?
Meyer: When the FCC wrote the rules for measuring peak modulations, they recognized that the monaural monitors at the time were not adequate to include the L-R double sideband stereo components and the SCA subcarriers in the measurement of modulation peaks.
The new rules specified tone bursts to be applied to the left-only and right-only channels respectively so that all components of the stereo composite would be measured.
Applying the tone to just the L+R (left and right simultaneously) is a monaural signal with the 19 kHz pilot and does not include the L-R components. The result is, with 9 cycles of peak weighting, actual unprocessed modulation peaks of greater than 140 percent can indicate as low as 100 percent. Heavy processing will bring the actual peaks closer to the indicated peaks.
Peak weighting only should be used if there is a noise problem. Our peak weighting is adjustable from off to 15 cycles. We will recommend 3 cycles for off-air monitoring with a noise problem due to a bad path.
RW: The FCC rules used to require specifically that stations install and maintain a modulation monitor. Then deregulation changed that. Do you think stations nowadays pay as much attention to modulation levels as they used to? And is the FCC still citing over-modulation as a rules violation and enforcing it?
Meyer: The larger stations and multiple ownerships do comply with correct modulation levels as far as we can tell because they purchase and install our Wizard systems. We have no information that the FCC is citing over-modulation as a rules violation. They may be, for all we know.
RW: What about DAB and the rollout of in-band, on-channel digital broadcasting by iBiquity Digital? Are you working with them in developing a mod monitor for this new medium? And how long do you think it will be before we see a standard adopted and stations begin transmitting DAB full-time?
Meyer: We did sign an agreement with USA Digital Radio Inc. last April. (Ed. note: USADR is now part of iBiquity.) Nothing has happened yet. I guess we will contact them soon to see how we can be of help and to advise them of what can be done with our new CSA-1 spectrum analyzer.
We have been looking at how our spectrum analyzer can be used to display and measure compliance of the IBOC signal.
RW: Broadcasting on the Internet appears to be evolving into a very important part of radio’s future. Does Belar have a modulation monitor under development for Webcasting?
Meyer: Webcasting is on the books. Belar has a modulation monitor under development for Webcasting.
RW: What single, most important factor do you think enabled Belar to become the industry leader in precision modulation monitoring equipment?
Meyer: Care. Care in design. Care in manufacturing. Care in testing. Care in recalibration and repairs.
RW: Tell us a little about some of your new products, including the new CSA-1 FFT spectrum analyzer.
Meyer: We are developing a new DSP-based AM Wizard specifically for controlled carriers. The rising energy costs around the world are forcing the high-power shortwave transmitting stations to control their carrier power according to their modulation levels.
The CSA-1 is a unique product for Belar. It gives the broadcaster another measurement tool to analyze their signal visually, in the frequency domain. Using the 150 kHz analog input, the complete FM or TV composite baseband spectrum can be viewed at once. The 24 kHz left and right inputs, both analog and AES/EBU, allow dynamic stereo separation measurements.
With the appropriate down-conversion to IF, the 2 MHz analog input can be used to display the FM spectrum up to 2 MHz wide.
The AM broadcaster can use this input to check his NRSC-2 compliance directly, using the on-screen mask. All these measurements are made easy with the CSA-1’s 120 dB dynamic range and 0.1 dB resolution.
Belar Electronics Laboratory, Inc.
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