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Airwaves: May 11, 2007

From the Mail Bag

Q: I have 2 Bose radios in my house. The old one is without any embellishments, but is able to receive FM 87.5. There is a lot of static, but if you listen carefully, you can hear what is said.  In the evening when I tune in, there are always old detective classics which I enjoy. However, on the other Bose radio which has a CD player, the tuning skips over 87.5.  Can you tell me where does FM 87.5 come from and what are the call letters? Thanks for a response -- Del McCulloch via the internet

A: Interesting question. In the United States, the FM radio band begins at 87.9 to 107.9 MHz, so anything you are receiving below 87.9 is technically something else. The FM band itself is sandwiched between analog television's Channel 6 and 7, so what you might be hearing is the audio from Channel 6 at 87.75 MHz. That audio is usually at a lower sound level than regular FM radio stations.

You might also be hearing a pirate station, someone's low-power "Part 15" broadcast, a low-powered transmitter as used in Sirius or XM radios, or perhaps even a "reflection" of another station on the FM band that your tuner mistakenly sticks on the low end of the band, though that is more common with AM broadcasts.

Or maybe it's just aliens from outer space trying to communicate good will ... To Serve Man.

Q: Thank you for your wonderful column on radio in Los Angeles. It is a very important medium. In your recent column on winter ratings I saw no mention of any NPR stations, in particular KCRW and KPCC. Being a contributor and listener I am curious as to their standing with Los Angeles listeners. Thank You, Greg Mangan Redondo Beach

A: Another interesting question. The reason you don't see ratings for public radio stations listed in the reports -- such as those printed here in the Breeze -- is not due to a lack of listeners. It has to do with the fact that Arbitron just doesn't print them. Yes, they are included in the data, but when the reports are compiled, they are pulled out.

Why? Probably due to how radio stations work. Commercial stations sell advertising, and stations can attract more advertisers or higher rates if they can show that they attract a demographic that appeals to the advertisers. Commercial stations also pay for the data collection as subscribers to Arbitron, allowing them to use the ratings in sales pitches to prospective clients. If you don't subscribe, you can't use the data.

Public stations, on the other hand, appeal primarily to listeners for funds, or have programs underwritten by companies who aren't necessarily looking for large numbers. The stations don't technically sell advertisements, and thus don't subscribe to Arbitron -- they don't need to do so. And it would probably be a waste of funds for most public stations to subscribe.

The reporting may change in the future, and in fact was supposed to have changed already. Arbitron had planned to release ratings of public stations right along with commercial stations but the plan was delayed due to broadcaster requests that such reports not be released until satellite and internet stations are included ... and that is still a ways off. While the public station ratings are not available to the general public, they are available to subscriber stations ... but those stations rarely leak such information to newspapers.


Copyright © 2007 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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