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Radio AM to FM: November 1, 2002

HD Arrives

It took more than a decade of designing, testing, and lobbying, but the FCC finally decided that digital was the way to go with AM and FM radio broadcasts.

Using a system that transmits a digital signal on the same channel as a station's analog signal, the approved system is called IBOC for In Band, On Channel, and was designed by Ibiquity Digital. Ibiquity recently started calling the system HD Radio in order to elicit the idea of High Definition Radio in the same vein as High Definition Television, although the HD in HD Radio doesn't actually stand for anything.

The move clears the way for stations to begin broadcasting digitally immediately; radios capable of receiving and decoding the digital signal will hit stores in late 2003. Prices for the new radios have not been released. FM stations have been approved for digital full time, while AM stations are digitally-approved thus far only for daytime hours while the system is refined.

"It is a historic decision" declared FCC Chairman Michael Powell. "I am thrilled to see the radio wagon get to the other side." Whatever that means.

Not so thrilled are the members of the AM Stereo Forum on, who feel that digital will fail, and while it is being employed degrades the analog signal, especially on AM. On higher-quality analog AM radios, according to group members, stations using HD Radio sound like a bad internet stream, including a strange hiss that disappears at night when the digital signal is shut off.

I have heard recordings demonstrating the effect, but I have not heard it myself from local stations. Of course part of that has to do with the fact that -- to the best of my knowledge -- no local stations are currently broadcasting with the HD Radio system.


Al Rantel has the longest lunch break in the world: Seven hours, 15 minutes. Its part of the new KABC weekday lineup, which pushes Los Angeles' shortest local program -- Gloria Allred and Mark Taylor -- off the air.

Allred and Taylor lost most of their program time when KABC brought in the syndicated two-hour O'Reilly Factor a few months ago. Instead of three hours, they had one. And it wasn't even one, since Paul Harvey News and Comment took up 15 minutes.

Maybe they should have just simulcast Limbaugh from KFI.

In any event, Allred and Taylor are out, and Al Rantel is in. From 11 to 11:45 AM, at which time he goes on his giant lunch break until his regular show begins at 7:00 PM. Since he finishes each evening at 10:00 PM, that means he's actually working an 11-hour day.

I wonder if he gets paid for the break ...

Baby Shares

Emmis Communications, owner of 21 stations in the United States including KPWR and KZLA in Los Angeles, has a new benefit: one share of stock for each baby born to or adopted by any employee, including both full and part-time.

Said CEO Jeff Smulyan, "We think it symbolizes our commitment to the idea that each employee should take ownership in the company and benefit from its success," adding that one share of stock -- currently worth about $25 -- is unlikely to make a dent in anyone's financial portfolio. Still, I think it's a neat idea. Emmis has roughly 3000 employees eligible for the award.

Of course they don't get those long lunches ...


Copyright © 2002 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

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