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Radio AM to FM: August 6, 2004

Ward Passes

Bill Ward, former president of Golden West Broadcasters and General manager of KMPC (now KSPN, 710 AM), died Friday, July 30 of an apparent heart attack. He was 65.

Ward began his radio career at the age of 15, but his first on-air job came a few years later when he took on the all-night shift at WRR/Dallas while he attended the University of Texas at Arlington in the late 1950s. His first programming job was at WPRO/Providence, Rhode Island in the early 1960s.

March, 1967 brought him to Southern California, when he was hired to program KBLA (1500 AM, now dark). He immediately changed the call letters to KBBQ for a new country music format. In 1970, he was made station manager.

Metromedia hired him in 1971 to program KLAC's (570 AM) new country format; within a year he was General Manager. He moved to New York as Vice President of Metromedia in 1979; by mid 1980 he was President.

Two years later he moved back to Los Angeles to become President of Gene Autry's Golden West Broadcasters, which owned a handful of radio stations in addition to KTLA Television Channel 5. At the same time, he was made General Manager of KMPC. He retired when the last of Golden West's stations were sold off to other companies.

Ward was part of some of Southern California's best ... and worst ... radio formats of recent years. He was part of the decision to launch KPMC-FM, which evolved into a wonderful cutting-edge rock format under the expertise of programmers Sam Bellamy and J. J. Jackson. Yet he jettisoned that one in favor of sappy Air Supply ballads on K-LITE, only to come to his senses a few years later for the great Adult Alternative format of KSCA.

He helped build on KMPC (AM)'s success as a standards station, then dumped it all for a failed attempt at sports. Coming to his senses again, he brought back the standards until the station was sold off. Interestingly, while the sports format was a dismal failure compared with music, Ward always liked to point out that his sports station actually earned higher ratings than all the current sports stations in Los Angeles ... combined.

It was his willingness to take chances, go with his gut feeling, and then admit if/when he made a mistake that earned my respect. His calm demeanor in interviews and correspondence never gave a hint of his storied and successful past; instead he always came off as a local guy who just loved working in radio. Tributes to Ward have filled the pages of Don Barrett's all this week as a testament to his life and career as one of radio's nice guys.

Ward is survived by his son Cameron, daughter Carmen, grandson Cameron, first wife Tippi and second wife Donna.

Trouble in Digital's Future?

Robert Gonsett, publisher of the GCC Communicator, an internet newsletter for broadcast engineers, has recently been covering the conversion of broadcast AM and FM from analog to digital, and he doesn't like what he sees.

"IBOC was certainly never intended to be a radio jamming service, but in part that is exactly what the final AM & FM system configurations do," he wrote in the August 3rd edition. "IBOC raises the wideband noise levels on first adjacent channels."

That increase in noise is what causes the strange hiss on stations such as 1000 and 1040 AM, which are picking up the digital sidebands from KTNQ at 1020 AM. The fear for AM is that it will become one vast band of interference as more and more stations start broadcasting with IBOC digital, known under the trade name of HD Radio.

Gonsett continues: "Further, the noisy sidebands don't contain audio that is decipherable on an ordinary analog receiver, so the source of the interference won't be immediately obvious to the most casual observer. In the FM band, listeners may not even hear IBOC noise -- the noise will simply desensitize the receivers and decrease the ranges of the analog stations the listeners are trying to pick up."

In other words, distant or low-powered stations you once heard will be heard no longer.

"We expect to see a massive deployment of IBOC soon, in part by the large group broadcasters who have invested heavily in developing the technology, and we expect to see a flurry of positive press for IBOC to fuel consumer demand. All that is understandable. The disturbing part is that a number of broadcast engineers have been ordered not to discuss IBOC at all, or not to rock the boat by conveying any negative information on IBOC.

"Of course, the radio industry has already adopted IBOC and is heading down a blind alley without the benefit of large scale field tests. We can only hope that the disruptions to long standing analog services will be minimal."


Copyright © 2004 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

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