HD radio: Hidden & Secret programming?

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Hidden & Secret radio? No, I’m not talking about pirate broadcasters skulking in their basements with home-built or cheap imported transmitters blasting the airwaves with gangsta rap. And…no, I’m not talking about the Ohmstead’s sending secret messages to their rum-runner boats off the Wash. coast. via KFQW. As noted in my primer introducing HD radio, broadcasters have second & third alternate channels available to program, in addition to the main transmission. These are called ‘HD-2’ & ‘HD-3’ and listeners will hear these signals identified in addition to the main station during top-of-the-hour legal IDs. In this blog, I’ll examine some of these services of note.

Some broadcast groups with AM station ownership have placed their AM’s onto one of these channels to greatly improve reception & audio of the sometimes inferior AM signal. Listeners who have heard these remark on how good the AM signals sound on an HD channel. Examples of these include 92.9 KISM HD relaying 790 KGMI on HD-2, 950 KJR on KJR-FM‘s HD, 1150 KKNW on 98.9 KNUC‘s HD-2, 630 KCIS on KCMS-HD & 880 KIXI on
106.9 KRWM-HD2, 710 KIRO on 97.3 KIRO-FM HD-2 & 770 KTTH on HD-3 However, a number of HD stations have totally separate alternate programming. One or two of these are actually available via webstreams on the websites of the main stations. However, many of these 2nd & 3rd channel services aren’t even mentioned on stations’ websites, let alone a stream to hear these. The latter may be due to the outrageously exorbant fees demanded of stream services by the royalty societies & SoundExchange, who is responsible for collecting these fees from streamers. Since many
of these alternate channels have low listenership due to the apathy towards HD, they get little or no promotion. As I noted in my introduction to HD, this is primarily a mobile phenomenom due to the increasing prevalence of automotive AM/FM/HD radios.

One local broadcaster not only promotes their HD-2 & HD-3 services but offers streams for both. Classical KING-FM has the “Evergreen Channel” on HD-2 & the “Seattle Symphony” channel on HD-3. Both offer alternate classical music, the latter being performances by our own excellent cultural treasure. 88.5 KNKX offers their all-jazz “Jazz24.org” service on their HD-2 channel & this can be accessed via webstream. “Jazz24” even managed to garner a small ratings measure in some of the recent Nielsen’s! 93.3 KUBE offers “Hip-Hop Throwbacks” on HD-2, 94.1 KSWD has blues channel “The Delta”, 1007. KKWF has “Seattle’s Classic Country”, KISW & KZOK have alternate rock programming, 103.7 KHTP claims to have ‘The Original Mountain’ & even Crista’s 105.3 KCMS has an alternate Christian AAA service. It’s mentioned, but not streamed. 107.7 KNDD has “The Sound” which features all-northwest bands. Given the region’s reputation for cutting-edge rock, this would seem a popular choice.However, not one single station mentioned previously even acknowledges these services exist via their websites & apps. leaving listeners on their own to discover these alternatives. It seems ludicrous for these broadcasters to go to the trouble of setting up & transmitting these alternate sources and not even tell – let alone promote to listeners that such programming exists. I searched all of their websites and found nothing. How on earth does the radio industry expect to convince consumers to shell out money for new radio receivers when they make no effort to brag about their abilities to offer several sources of programming instead of just the one transmission available on standard analog radio? For those with recently acquired vehicles, many stumble on these accidentally or by experimenting with their new car radios. For the most part, car sales personnel & dealers know little about the capabilities of these in-dash receivers other than perhaps a casual mention to the car buyer “that the radio has AM/FM & HD”. That’s hardly a means to get mobile users on board with the superior advantages of HD radio. AM broadcasters looking at “Revitalization’ via HD transmissions will be disappointed to discover no mention of their programming services noted on FM-HD ‘sister stations’ which adds to their current woes struggling to survive & be profitable. HD has the potential to expand our programming choices – or head for extinction with other failed technologies, such as AM stereo or quadraphonic 4-channel FM. It’s now up to broadcasters to make the bold move – educate the listening public & promoting these services actively will be the key to making HD radio a success.

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Mike Cherry

Author: Mike Cherry

retired broadcaster: on-air, MD, PD, asst PD, Prod Mgr, IT, station technician/engineer, pioneer Internet webcaster, station installation/maintenance; 12 years in commercial radio, 17 years volunteer in campus/community radio in B.C., Alberta & Wash. Amateur radio operator & "DXer" specializing in AM night-time DX, short-wave DX/listening & remote SDR DXing/listening

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