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Airwaves: March 14, 2008

Getting Amped

It took over a year from the time KCBS-FM (also known as Jack-FM, 93.1) launched their digital HD Radio stream for its long-expected HD-2 top-40 format to arrive, but as of February 22, it's here.

Known as Amp Radio, the new format -- available only on a new HD Radio receiver -- is playing a teen-oriented top-40 format, kind of an older version of Radio Disney. Artists played on the station include Jack Johnson, Linken Park, Panic at the Disco and Avril Lavigne among others, making it a more mass appeal mainstream version of top-40 than has been heard on the Los Angeles airwaves in years.

No personalities, unfortunately. Nor do I expect any soon, as the number of potential listeners is still too few. But a good set of jocks could make this station really cook in a way no station in Los Angeles has since KIIS-FM left mainstream top-40 for dance and urban contemporary music in the early 1990s.

Maybe I should volunteer my time. Rockin' Ricky may be comin' back!

Want To Get It?

HD Radio is an exciting new technology that adds extra stations to FM and makes AM stations sound better. Or it's a useless technology that will fail due to the interference it causes ... depending on who you talk to.

The reality is currently somewhere in between. I happen to like HD Radio, and I am having fun playing with the radios I have in much the same way I had fun when I first started listening to a little transistor AM radio when I was eight.

I find the sound generally very good to excellent on FM, whether listening to the main channel or the lower-quality sub (HD-2) channels. I also find that AM sounds pretty decent, especially on KNX (1070 AM) and occasionally on KDIS (1110 AM). However, others have complained about digital artifacts in the sound due to the compression that is used to squeeze all that digital information into the radio band's small space allocation.

Maybe my hearing isn't what I think it is, but the artifacts don't bother me. I know of one regular reader of this column who can't stand the sound, though, especially on AM.

Outside of that, HD is fun. No commercials yet on most of the secondary HD-2 channels -- where all the fun is. Hear '50s and '60s oldies on KRTH (101.1 FM) HD-2, a fabulous adult alternative format on KMVN (93.9 FM) HD-2, or Roq of the Eighties on KROQ (106.7 FM) HD-2. Want classical music? Find that on KKGO (105.1 FM) HD-2, which also has standards available on its HD-3 stream.

However, be prepared for some fiddling to get it right. HD signal power is just 1/100 of the analog signal, meaning that HD stations just don't travel as far as the regular signal you hear on your radio right now. For some areas that means you can't get it at all; for others it means a trip to the electronics store to connect your house antenna you thought you'd never use once you got cable television.

Is it worth it? I may change my answer in a few years but right now I'd say yes. HD radios and tuners are coming down in price as the selection and quality continues to increase. Buy one now and you'd still be an early adopter, but at least we'd be in the same club. Look at retailers or

Now ... think my wife like an HD radio as we celebrate our 16th anniversary today? (How's that for a segue to say "Happy anniversary, Honey"?)


Copyright © 2008 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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