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Airwaves: December 14, 2007

Engineering HD Radio

Back in late November, I wrote asking how I -- or consumers -- can support digital HD radio broadcasts when it seemed that even the stations themselves don't support it. What sparked the question was a late-night band scan over the Thanksgiving holiday in which over half of the local FM stations broadcasting HD either had the HD off or had problems with the streams.

Deep down, I knew it was a strange situation. HD Radio is still in its infancy, and there are known problems with the system which occasionally necessitates a reset -- just like a computer. I figured that problems happened, and that engineers were given a little time off.

Turns out I was only partly right. KLOS (95.5 FM) assistant Chief Engineer Mike Worrall wrote to tell me it was a power failure on Mount Wilson that caused an awful lot of trouble. "When the power is off at Wilson, we revert to our backup transmitter on Mt. Harvard, which is not currently HD capable."

Of course that only partially explains it. When I tuned in, the HD signals were on over most of the stations, but there were problems with missing secondary channels and bad synchronization with the analog signal. Those problems are explained more technically: when the power came back on, everything related to HD and its processing needed to be rebooted and readjusted.

So instead of having a little time off to spend with families as I had thought, the engineering staffs at FM stations throughout Los Angeles were working their butts off trying to get things back on. That most people didn't notice, and that I only noticed problems on the HD side, is a testament to our local engineers and their dedication and expertise. They are truly the unsung heroes of local broadcasting.

KOST Followup

I truly had trouble tuning into KOST (103.5 FM) the other day when seeking Christmas music while decorating the house for the season. It's just hard for me to support a station that just cut its staff mere weeks before the holidays, and extended the shifts of two personalities to a record-setting six-hours each in order to cut two on-air positions.

And the news of cuts continues. Nationwide, Clear Channel, owner of KOST, has cut positions at numerous stations in the past week as it sucks the blood out of stations before the company goes private. Everything bad ever said about the company is essentially coming true. Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, and Houston are among the cities where Clear Channel made cuts, essentially on the same day.

Locally, KFI (640 AM) is no longer using in-air traffic reporters, one of the elements that helped put KFI on the map, back when owners had to compete for listeners instead of managing them through monopoly powers. The KF-Eye-in-the-sky was grounded when Mike Nolan was fired.

My take on this, besides being utterly repulsed by Clear Channel management, who wouldn't know good radio if they ever heard it: good for you! Keep it up! The more you do this, the more you drive people to other entertainment options, from your competitors to iPods to CDs to satellite radio ... or just plain nothing. You are destroying your own company, and the sooner that happens, the sooner we can get someone to take over your stations and really program them. Only then will radio become good again.

Stern History

Sirius Satellite Radio will present Act One of The History of Howard Stern, a five-part retrospective on the life and career of Stern, on Sirius Channels 100 and 101 December 17th through 21st. One installment debuts at 6 AM each day, and it will repeat all day and all night.


Copyright © 2007 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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