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Airwaves: February 16, 2007

Nowhere Man

First he was Mr. KFI (640 AM). Then he was Mr. KABC (790 AM). Now he's Mr. unknown.

Mr. KABC -- aka Marc Germain -- and KABC could not come to terms on a contract extension, so he as left the station, at least for now.

Known for his nightly show that used no screeners and had no or few taboo topics, Germain arrived at KABC roughly ten years ago after a successful run on KFI.

HD Update

While Texas Instruments works on developing a new decoder chip that uses far less power than current designs and will allow for the design of portable HD radios, I'm finding that I am spending more of my spare time listening to the radio. And it is (primarily) the HD technology that is bringing me back.

HD Radio is Ibiquity's brand name for digital broadcasts on the AM and FM bands. The digital signals are sent on the same frequencies of regular AM and FM stations and under certain conditions allow cleaner reception on AM and multiple channels on FM.

In the works for years, the idea was to increase the sound quality on both AM and FM stations, essentially bringing parity between the bands. It didn't quite work out that way, as the designers quickly found that AM was tougher than originally thought. So HD AM stations are now being touted as "like FM," while FM stations are called "CD quality."

Further, pushed by public radio stations nationwide, Ibiquity, decided to allow multiple digital stations on the same frequency, known as "HD-2" (and -3, and -4, ...) stations.

For example, there is a second channel on KMVN's frequency (93.9 FM) that plays adult alternative music. My wife says the programmer is a genius; I think the music is quite good as well, and it is one of my favorite stations. But you can only hear it with a new HD radio.

Is it worth buying a new radio just to hear cleaner AM and more selection on FM? I used to think no, but I am a convert. I won't address well-known analog interference concerns here -- and they might be a real problem -- especially if AM stations get approval to use HD at night (currently AM HD is restricted to daylight hours). But I will state for the record: I like the sound of HD, both on AM and FM, and I like the selection of extra channels on FM, most of which are commercial free due to current FCC rules.

In Los Angeles, with an HD radio, you can get special formats unavailable on regular FM radios, such as the previously mentioned adult alternative music, country, '80s rock and more. AM sports broadcasts sound much better, as do news reports on KNX (1070 AM) and the music on Disney Radio (KDIS, 1110 AM).

Star Power

Star 98.7 FM (KYSR) is my other reason for more traditional radio listening as of late. The station definitely has a music mix I like -- a rarity -- and the personalities are some of the best-sounding in town.

I don't know why it took Star's format to come together like this. They've had the music for a while, but the station wasn't quite "right." Ratings stagnated, and the excitement level for the station made for strong rumors of a switch to country.

Alas, the format seems to be in the groove, especially since Valentine and Lisa Foxx took over the morning shift. Finally the entire air staff matches the music, and I have a station I really like again.


Copyright © 2007 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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