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Airwaves: September 11, 2009

Where AM means All Music

The recent change of KGIL (1260 AM, 105.1 HD-3) from talk to MOR music called Retro 1260 brought in a ton of fan mail; it seems people were truly clambering for the variety of sounds played on Retro.

But one writer asked a question that is probably on the minds of many, especially those young enough to not know of the world before computers, iPods, and even color television: who cares? Why would anyone listen to music on AM radio, assuming that they know what the “AM” button on the radio even does.

It’s a valid question, especially coming from that perspective. Indeed, one of the primary inventors of AM radio broadcasting, Edwin Armstrong, so hated the sound of AM radio that he went out and invented an entirely different type of broadcasting called FM. Unlike AM, which is subject to interference both natural and man-made, FM is virtually static-free ... although truth be told, it has its own reception problems as well.

But Armstong’s version of AM was a hardly the AM we enjoy today. Certainly there are still interference concerns, and today’s world is filled with things that can cause problems with AM reception, from computers to cable boxes to fluorescent lights. Yet the technology has come a long way since the early days of broadcasting, and believe it or not, AM has the potential to sound every bit as good as FM, perhaps better.

From a strictly technical standpoint, FM stereo broadcasting is limited to a frequency bandwidth of 20 to 15,000 hertz. AM, on the other hand, has no upper limit, and until about 15 years ago, there were stations that broadcast a signal that extended as far as 20,000 hertz, or more ... better than most humans can hear.

Lately, for various reasons, many AM stations have reduced their high end to as low as 5000 hertz -- about the same as a telephone -- but that doesn’t negate an important fact: AM sounds bad because of the current crop of radios, not due to the limitations of the band itself. Hear KGIL on a Fisher tuner of the 1960s, for example, and you’ll be amazed.

But I digress. I am a believer in AM radio, and I believe that a major reason people left AM for FM was the lack of music and a glut of bad syndicated talk shows, or worse. Need proof? The last really good ratings earned by KEZY (now KXMX 1190 AM), KLAC (570 AM), KHJ (930 AM), the original KRLA (now KDIS 1110 AM), The original KMPC (now KSPN 710 AM) the original KDAY (now KBLA 1580 AM), and the old KIIS (now KTLK 1150 AM) were when these stations played music. And not just any music, music that was well produced, well presented, and generally not found anywhere else on the dial.

That’s where KGIL comes in. There is not one place on the dial, AM or FM, that plays the mix of music found on Retro 1260. Is it good enough to catch the attention of an under served audience? Too early to tell, but judging by the emails and letters I’ve already received in the station’s first week, I’d say “yes.”

KGIL’s signal is its main limitation. It is most certainly a valley-oriented station pretending to cover all of Los Angeles and Orange County. But if you have a problem with the AM sound, owner Saul Levine simulcasts the station on 105.1’s digital HD-3 stream ... as long as you have an HD radio and a clear shot of Mount Wilson, from where 105.1 (Go Country) broadcasts.

I think Retro 1260 has a real chance of success.

This Just In

Former San Diego mayor and former host on KOGO/San Diego (600 AM) Roger Hedgecock is the new afternoon drive host (3-6 PM) on KFWB. His first shift was Wednesday, following an 18-hour marathon shift from station star Dr. Laura Schlessenger, heard noon to 3 PM.


Copyright © 2009 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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