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Radio AM to FM: October 2, 1998

Digital Speed Up?

To most observers, the development of a digital radio broadcasting system seems to be in slow motion. It seems the public has been hearing about proposed standards and competing systems for years, while we really don't seem to be any closer to actually hearing "CD-quality" broadcasts through our radios.

The three companies that are developing what is called "in-band on-channel" (IBOC) systems -- so named because they would send digital signals over traditional AM and FM frequencies -- tend to agree. That's why they all -- individually -- want to speed up the process.

It appears that the companies -- Digital Radio Express, Lucent Digital Radio and USA Digital Radio -- think that the committee set up to help push for digital broadcasts is just moving too slowly, and they are ramping up their own schedules in order to begin digital broadcasts within two years.

At stake is the future of radio as we know it as well as huge profits for the developer of the winning standard. For listeners it means even higher-fidelity broadcasts on the FM band, real high-fidelity on the AM band (coupled with AM's long-range signal this could prove to be the savior of AM music stations), and the loss of the use of old radios once digital takes hold and analog signals are turned off ... similar to what will happen to television broadcasting when digital television becomes widespread far into the future.

The near-term effect of this renewed competition among the proponents means that you might be able to hear a demonstration for yourself, as all three companies want to hook the public as well as stations, equipment suppliers, receiver manufacturers and the Federal Communications Commission. The long-term effect is less clear ... I've heard these promises before, and I'm not sure I believe them any more ...

We Hear Rumors

Straight from the net, the big rumor surrounding KCKC (1350 AM) in San Bernardino is that Jacor bought it not for an additional outlet to simulcast KXTA (1150 AM) here in Los Angeles (which it will indeed do, according to sources close to the deal). Long term, according to rumor, Jacor wants to just shut the thing off so that their own KPOP (1360 AM) in San Diego can increase its power. KCKC is the last locally-programmed station in the San Berdoo; KPOP was once top-40 formatted KGB, a station I used to tune into back in the 1970s.

We Hear Facts

Mr. KABC, heard on KABC (790 AM) has had his shift cut back to one hour each night (9 to 10 pm) so that Art Bell can be heard live for the first time in Los Angeles beginning at 10 pm.

Mr. KABC is not complaining, though. He has been named official fill-in host for the station and has been assured that his future at the station is secure. We'll be hearing more from him just as soon as programmer Drew Hayes figures out what he wants to do with him ...

In other news, the Denver Sluts on KYSR (98.7 FM) -- Jamie, Frosty and Frank -- have also lost an hour, now broadcasting from 5 until 9 am instead of 10:00. KYSR management apparently wants to start the music day a little earlier.


Copyright © 1998 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press