Got Holes? This Technology Fills In Signal Gaps


By Adam R Jacobson

For 21 years, an independently owned Class B FM serving southern New Hampshire — and much of the Boston metropolitan area — has been delivering an eclectic mix of Adult Alternative music to listeners across the region.

For the first 20 of those years, the station — WXRV-FM 92.5 “The River” — has dealt with significant signal issues in central Boston. Just after its 20th anniversary, in August 2015, it applied for four on-channel booster signals to better serve clients and its consumers in what Oliver Wendell Holmes coined “The Hub of the Solar System.”

Now, The River has teamed up with an individual known for maximizing suburban signals in big metro areas — Chris Devine — by becoming the first station to use Chicago-based GeoBroadcast Solutions‘ MaxxCasting system.

WXRV is benefiting from the first of “several” new MaxxCasting deployments, which are designed to fill the gaps in areas where a station’s signal dips and wanes. The system, says GeoBroadcast Solutions, is optimized to prevent interference and a weak signal due to rolling hills and other conditions that deteriorate signal performance.

How does the system work?

By benefiting from wireless services.

By using predictive modeling software to maximize network topology, the MaxxCasting system combines radio broadcast and mobile cellular technology to reduce or eliminate interference between main transmitter and the company’s MaxxCasting nodes.

In the case of WXRV, single-frequency network (SFN) architecture includes four low-power transmission sites strategically positioned in areas of the market prone to interference and/or weak signal coverage.

These “nodes,” which are on the same frequency as the main transmitter, are located in Lexington, Waltham, and Natick on the outskirts of Boston, and on top of the John Hancock building in downtown Boston.

A fifth site will soon be added in the Charlestown neighborhood within Boston city limits.

Each node incorporates intelligent IP networking technology from GatesAir to transport and synchronize live program content across all transmitters, which ultimately contributes to a seamless transition from node to node as mobile audiences move through the market.

Donald St. Sauveur, WXRV’s GM, spent much last week riding the station’s signal. He notes that  transitions between nodes were noticeable only when looking at his car radio’s RDS display, which temporarily indicated individual node reception.

“The experience of listening to the main transmitter as it transitions to the various nodes is seamless and undetectable to the general audience,” said St. Sauveur. “The station’s signal has improved substantially in areas that had been previously impaired for a variety of reasons. For example, the station’s signal downtown and south of Boston coming off the Hancock Tower sounds robust, without interference and static. The benefits for greater coverage, larger audience share and future business opportunities with advertisers are obvious.”

Self-interference and signal degradation weren’t solved with a “legacy” booster system with its 2015 installation, he added.

GeoBroadcast Solutions uses modeling software and proprietary formulas to measure a variety of environmental factors that affect coverage, including height above average terrain of each node; the distance between each node, and the time differentials between each transmitter output; power ratio between each node; and antenna patterns and interference areas.

All nodes are synchronized with the main transmitter using GatesAir Intraplex SynchroCast3 technology.

The SynchroCast technology is incorporated within Intraplex  IP Link 200 codecs, which transmit the program content from the studio to each node and the main transmitter site. Unique antenna pattern designs by Shively Labs control the extent of each node’s coverage, and mitigation of self-interference.

“The coverage-to-contour ratio is the key ingredient to our success,” said Hal Kneller, VP/Business Development for GeoBroadcast Solutions. “If a station is only covering 700,000 people inside a contour with 1 million potential listeners, they are not maximizing the legal coverage they are afforded by the FCC.  The ultimate goal is to reach more listeners, help them light up more PPMs to enhance ratings, and attract new advertisers.”

American Tower Corp. is a MaxxCasting vendor.

“It was very reassuring to see the real world node coverage and transition zone performance almost perfectly duplicate the GeoBroadcast Solutions predictions,” said Jim Stenberg, RF engineer at American Tower Corp. “The seamless transitions from one nodes coverage, back to the main signal and then to another node, were proof that they really can expand coverage without degrading the primary signal in any way.”

GeoBroadcast Solutions was founded in 2009 by a team that includes Devine, Peter Handy, John Kean, Rick Bonick and Bill Hieatt. Devine is known in Chicago for buying a radio station in the market for $19 million in 1991 and, two years later, selling it to Evergreen Media Corp. for $32 million.

The station today is iHeartRadio’s WKSC-FM 103.5.