RIP Wireless Microphone Systems?

By Brent Handy
Contributing Writer
November 10, 2009

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It is so nice to know that our wonderful government is always concerned for us. They want us to enjoy better TV picture quality. By the time it's all said and done, we all will have new TVs or adapters out of necessity. (I wonder if there is a tax credit for that?) The last time I read the constitution, I must have overlooked the "Government shall mandate new technology and purchases" clause. Ironically, there isn't much programming formatted for these new TVs.

The government told the TV broadcasters that they must convert from analog to digital, offering both simultaneously short term. We saw how well digital works on the receiving end during a natural disaster. It doesn't! There are no HDTV, digital Sony Watchmans (yet). The government acknowledged the need for analog stations after Katrina. Analog frequencies will be reserved for just such an emergency.

Well, they couldn't let radio go untouched by government hands either. Your radio stinks. Well, not just in the content sense, but it NEEDS MORE channels (Come on fellas! Join me in the Tim Taylor grunt! OH! OH! OH! OH! OH! OH!) So, all struggling radio stations must go digital and provide alternate channels of hyper-niche programming. As if soccer moms needed more choices for background noise.

So, how does this effect the church? The FCC posted on it's site some time ago, that it would begin auctioning off the 700MHz band of frequencies. This actually starts in the high 600's and goes through most of the 700's. About 90MHz at the top end are being auctioned off to telecommunications companies. If you are interested in bidding, 2 Billion is the opening bid. About 30MHz at the bottom end have been set aside for public/civil service communications. What does this mean? If you have a wireless system that is operating in the mid 600's to 700's, by 2008 you will no longer be able to use it. This is a reality now for some major markets like NY, via a transmitter tower on the Empire State Building.

Ok, so what does that have to do with TV? TV took up more frequencies with digital broadcasting. Some analog frequencies were freed up. But all of this is down in the low end, in the 400 to 500MHz bands, where it is already super congested. By 2009, you will be managing your wireless systems minute-by-minute in the 400's and 500's. It will literally be a crap shoot, rendering them obsolete.

Recently, Shure headed up to Washington with some other wireless companies. They met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to explain, "No wireless frequencies, No NFL!" They made their voices heard about the realities of our niche market, and the need for the "white" band (the frequencies we use now). Did it help? We don't know. If Shure was smart, they would have networked with all major sport team owners, who REALLY have some power (useful when getting governments to build stadiums instead of funding schools), to go make the plea for air space.

Can your church use existing wireless systems after 2009? No. Not reliably. Can your church buy a comparable wireless system to the one in use today, that is future proof? No. There are some options, but these systems have 2W output power, require a license to operate, are digital and very expensive compared to what most people have now. Like $3k per channel +/-. I feel your pain right now. I just purchased $10k of Shure UHF-Rs and need to replace 8 Sennheisers still. It's all junk in two years, three years max.

Now, consider this little nugget. It is public knowledge that the government, through the IRS has "leaned" on several pastors, that are outspoken about controversial issues. My pastor was one of them. The IRS basically tried to limit free speech. It took a few calls from some high profile lawyers and the issue went away. But, imagine if your church was on fire for God, and the pastor was really causing a stir, and you were using licensed wireless systems. All that the government would need to do is make a few changes to existing and proposed legislation, that would include these licensed systems with terrestrial radio stations, which soon may be under the Fairness Act! The government is working on a way in the back door to choke the church friends. It is merely distracting us now by threatening Christian radio.

So, what do we do? It's too late to change the world with a phone call now I suspect. So, start saving money! Educate the powers that be, that this will need to be budgeted for, and to expect your next system to be no less than $2k to 3k per channel. They may be less, but I wouldn't count on it. Good sounding wireless will NEVER be as accessible, or affordable as it is today. RIP analog wireless!

Great words to remember from the book, Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth:
"It's a world without end." "The love of money is the root of all evil."

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