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Radio AM to FM: March 5, 2004

Will HD Work?

While Ibiquity, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Federal Communications Commission pushes forward in trying to convince radio stations and eventually consumers to switch to digital HD Radio, a few voices are beginning to speak out. Not on an opposing side, mind you, but simply to ask the questions of what and why.

What is the incentive for consumers to switch? Why should people spend money on new radios if they are currently happy with the ones they have?

Certainly programming has little to do with it: if current analog AM and FM stations go digital, they'd still be playing the same thing they play now. And yet sound quality probably has little to do with anything: FM sounds pretty darned good, and AM, while lousy with most radios, also can sound good on a well-designed receiver. Even if digital offered vastly improved fidelity, somehow I don't see people flocking back to AM to hear the same lousy syndicated talk programs that are run now.

Indeed, the reason that XM and Sirius subscription satellite radio services are evolving into major players in the entertainment world has little if anything to do with sound quality. People don't pay for better sound, they pay for the programming. Programming you can't hear elsewhere.

So in the case of HD Radio, what incentive is there to shell out big bucks for a new radio when most people are happy with the sound quality of the current one and unhappy with the programming? Especially when the hybrid system -- digital on top of and next to analog carriers -- causes numerous problems including analog interference and signal degradation?

The answer may lie among the stations that have nothing to lose. Those that may as well shut down due to lack of listenership, lack of signal, lack of advertising dollars, and lack of anything resembling success. If they did indeed shut down their analog signal completely, go 100 percent digital, and run good programming that is vastly different than the same-old, same-old currently found on today's corporate airwaves, you'd have people clambering to buy the new digital HD radios to tune in.

At least that's the view that has been spreading around radio groupie water coolers. It makes perfect sense to me, and it may indeed be the only way that HD Radio, especially on AM, can succeed. Give people great programming, similar to the popular programming on XM and Sirius, and people would gladly pay for new receivers, especially when there is no monthly subscription fee. I liken it to the launch of FM and to a lesser-extent, internet radio.

Because I still cannot see why anyone would want to spend good money on a new radio just to hear talk shows or Ryan Seacrest digitally.

Where Is: Dave Hull

Known for most of his career as "The Hullabalooer," Dave Hull had some big shoes to fill as he entered Alhambra High School. He explained to Los Angeles Radio people author Don Barrett, "There were three cutups at Alhambra High School that covered a 14-year span. First it was Stan Freberg, then the Credibility Gap's Richard Beebe. When Beebe left, the school administration was relieved ... until I arrived."

He began his radio career in 1955 at a station in Roswell, New Mexico (Art Bell would forever be jealous); it was at Dayton, Ohio's WONE (circa 1957 - 1960) where he found his nickname. "A woman wrote to me from a hotel outside of Dayton to say she couldn't stand all that hullabaloo," Hull told Barrett. "Well, Webster's defined it as a tumultuous out roar, so I used it."

Detroit, Columbus, and Tampa were next, before he finally came home to work at KRLA/Pasadena in 1963, just as that station was about to get serious in its competition against top-40 giant KFWB.

During his tenure at KRLA, he earned himself a Billboard Magazine award for number one top-40 personality, got fired for playing a Beatles (remember them?) song before its release date, got rehired almost immediately due to public protests, and remained one of KRLA's most popular deejays until he left in 1969.

After that it was KFI, KGBS, KIQQ, KRLA again, KFI again, KMPC, KRLA again again, KHJ, KRLA again again again, KRTH, and finally Orange County's KIKF. In 1996 he retired, moved with his wife, Jeanette, to Palm Springs ... and ended up on the air once again.

He is still as funloving as he was in his KRLA Beatlemania days, friendly to everyone he meets, and manages to keep in touch with his friends Bob Eubanks, Casey Kasem, Johnny Hayes and Russ O'Hara. If you travel to Palm Springs, hear him playing Beautiful Music from 6 PM to 12 Midnight on KWXY, 1340 AM and 98.5 FM.


Copyright © 2004 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

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