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Airwaves: December 29th

HD Review

I have written about digital radio broadcasts, first known as "in-band, on-channel (IBOC) and now called HD Radio, since the technology was first announced. I've followed the promise and the problems, from multiple channels on the same FM frequency to poor sound quality and interference on AM.

But I've never heard it for myself. In all this time, there have been few HD radios available to hear, and the company that invented it, Ibiquity, was not very cooperative in getting me a radio to review. Sample recordings of HD Radio on the net were not very impressive and, to be honest, I felt it was more of a solution looking for a problem than the other way around.

My wife Jean gave me a reality check for Christmas, though, in the form of an Accurian HD Radio from Radio Shack. It is one of the first HD radios to break the $200 price barrier, and with sales and rebates, the price dropped as low as $99. Still expensive for a table radio, but proof that HD prices are -- finally -- declining.

Being the radio dork that I am, I immediately took the radio out of its box, connected the antennas, and plugged it in. My first experience was a bit disappointing: when I tuned in KDIS (1110 AM), the radio immediately noticed there was an HD signal to decode ... then it immediately locked up. Radios such as this rely on mini programs to decode, digitize and process the signals, and I experienced the radio equivalent of a computer crash. After a few more attempts, it finally started working ...

... and I could hear what all the excitement was about. It sounded pretty darn good. I switched over to KABC (790 AM), which was playing Christmas music on Christmas day, and it too sounded good. I tried out the FM band and tuned in to KMZT (105.1 FM). Signal locked, I tried out the KMZT HD-2 channel, a rebroadcast of Country 540/1260. It sounded great.

So I connected it through the headphone jack to a good home receiver to compare the sound with it. And I have to say, it compared well. Interestingly, the main FM signals were not as impressive -- the Marantz FM tuner sounded more "full" -- but those secondary channels were fun. Like finding hidden treasure. But AM, which sounded merely "ok" on internet samples, sounded really nice. Far better than I expected, probably better than the short-lived analog AM stereo system. The real treat was KNX (1070 AM) which sounded phenomenal on HD.

So my opinion may be changing. HD Radio does show promise, and if interference concerns can be addressed, especially on AM, may indeed lead to a radio renaissance.

As long as the programming is there.

Morning Changes

Brian McKnight, best known popularly for his 2000 song Back to One, has been selected co-host mornings on The Wave (94.7 FM) beginning January 15th. He replaces Dave Koz and will team with Pat Prescott.

Danny Bonaduce will be part of the Adam Carolla Show, heard locally on KLSX (97.1 FM). How much a part I do not know, as it doesn't appear to be a decision made by Carolla. Bonaduce begins next Tuesday, January 2nd.


Copyright © 2006 Richard Wagoner and MediaNews Group Newspapers.

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