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Airwaves: October 21, 2011

Reception Problems

My mother-in-law loves the music played on Retro 105, a secondary channel (in this case 105.1 HD-3) to Go Country 105 that can only be received over the air using a digital HD Radio tuner.

So when Radio Shack cleared out their stock of Auvio tuners during Summer, I figured it was a no-brainer. I picked one up with the idea of installing it at their house.

I installed it. It looks nice. I connect the supplied antenna and get ... nothing. Well not exactly nothing; I do receive most of the local FM stations and a few AM stations --this tuner has to have the absolute worst AM section I have ever encountered. Like a crystal radio of old, it only picks up about four AM stations. But I digress.

When I tried to tune in Retro 105, nothing. Go Country sounds nice, but the HD signal just won’t kick in. I try others with known HD streams ... KBIG (104.3 FM), no. KOST (103.5 FM), no. KRTH (101.1 FM), almost ... the HD light flashes, but it never locks. Every other station yields the same results.

Truthfully, I did expect this. My in-laws live in an area of Los Angeles shielded fairly well by a mountain, and since FM is a line-of-sight broadcasting technology, it can be hard to receive. But I was hoping enough signal would get through to do something. And the flashing light for KRTH, while not much, gave me hope.

So I’m off to Radio Shack again, where I find an amplified antenna on clearance. Normally something like $70, it’s selling for $10. Bring it up to the house and it works wonders. Analog FM comes in shockingly clear, from Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara. But HD? Still zilch.

My first FM tuner was Harman Kardon Citation III. I took it out of my brother’s closet and connected it to a guitar amplifier and heard KKDJ (now KIIS-FM, 102.7) for the first time.

That old tube tuner was clearly 1950s technology, but it could pick up FM stations like crazy, from Mexico to Santa Barbara, using a simple wire antenna. One would think that 60 years after the production of this tuner -- built from a kit, no less -- that tuner designs would advance to the point where reception was even easier, even better. And in some ways, that is true.

But it shows the limitation of the HD Radio system in it’s current hybrid form. The digital signal is so low-powered, a fraction of the analog signal, that it just can’t reach everywhere regular FM -- or AM -- can reach. And while I have been supportive of HD Radio, I have to admit that this makes me question it’s viability.

I mean, if you can’t get one of the strongest signals in town in a part of the city not far from UCLA, there are serious issues. Can they be fixed? I’ll leave that to the engineers.

In the meantime, our solution was rather simple: return the fancy antenna, take down the HD tuner, and use an iPod Touch with a radio app (my preference is Streams Hi Fi Audio or Tune-In). Not only do you get the same stations as heard on HD, you get much more, including the wonderful MartiniInTheMorning.Com.


Randy Michaels, half of the creative genius behind Merlin Media (along with Walter Sabo) and as the former head of Clear Channel Communications, one of the reasons radio is so very bad (interestingly, Sabo is another), was arrested early morning October 14th in Ohio for OVI, or Operating a Vehicle under the Influence. He was released by bond the same day.

Few details were released about his arrest or release, but the main thing I want to know is ... did his new FM news stations in New York and Chicago cover the arrest? And considering the ratings (0.5 in New York, 0.2 in Chicago), even if they did, did anyone hear it?

Letter Bag

Two especially thoughtful letters regarding last week’s mention of Rush Limbaugh, presented without comment:

“One doesn't have to have esp to guess from which ear you're listening to Rush. It's your right to hear what you want, but when you presume to decry Ms. Boyd's account of what she might have heard and question the credibility of this ‘African American,’ you do your print audience a disservice, and lower YOUR credibility just so you can give Mr. Limbaugh a positive plug. Bad form, Mr. Wagoner!” -- Steve Shumaker, Anaheim

“Concerning ‘Forced to listen to Rush Limbaugh,’ I am an American who happens to be of African descent. In my opinion that lady more than likely would have benefited had she listened with an open mind rather than the biased opinions she’s accepted over the years as facts. She should take the time to listen herself and to form an opinion based upon what Mr. Limbaugh says or does!” -- Robert, San Bernardino


Copyright © 2011 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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