Reprinted from the Daily Oakland Press, August 22, 2005
By: Mike Austerman
Tune down your AM dial this morning, and you’ll likely hear metro Detroit’s newest radio station. WFDF-AM (910) used to broadcast from Flint, but now it’s in the final stages of moving its transmitter to northern Monroe County. And that’ll allow it to blast the metro area with the sounds of Radio Disney, the pop format targeted at kids from elementary through high school.
It’s been quite the odyssey for the Mouse House. It purchased WFDF in 2002 for $3 million to create a new Detroit radio station, the area’s first new AM station since 1990, when WMKM-AM (1440) signed on after WCHB dropped down to AM 1200. Since then, there’ve been zoning battles in Monroe over the station’s new broadcast towers, multiple applications with the FCC to get the move approved and lots of money invested.
Last week, I dialed in to WFDF while it was performing tests. At times, the station would broadcast from its old Flint location, making it tough to pick up on the car radio. Then suddenly, the reception would clear up dramatically when the new facilities came on. When all of this testing is complete, the station will have one of the area’s strongest signals, rivaling all news WWJ-AM (950), sports WDFN-AM (1130) and sports WXYT-AM (1270) during the daytime. The station should also come in clearer than WDFN and WXYT at night, but not quite as good as WWJ. Also, the station’s “community of” license will change from Flint (where it has been licensed since signing on in May, 1922) to Farmington Hills. And I wouldn’t be shocked to see the WFDF call letters disappear soon to better reflect the Radio Disney name.
Yet the whole thing is curious to me. Spending millions to get Radio Disney on in Detroit seems like a waste since kids don’t listen much to AM radio these days. And with the musical content of Radio Disney also being carried on both XM and Sirius satellite radio, there’s already a way to listen if you want. Is Radio Disney really that profitable, and are advertisers that supportive of this format? As they say in TV news reports, only time will tell.
Speaking of AM radio, reader Ron wants to know why in Waterford and Clarkston it seems almost impossible to listen to AM in the car. He reports that the static in certain areas is so bad you can’t hear anything — and these areas appear to be getting bigger. What causes this, he asks, and are the stations doing anything about it?
Well, Ron, many things cause interference on AM radio these days — everything from power lines and microwave ovens to garage door openers. Everything that transmits wirelessly can cause some interference. Even all the electronics in your car can be a source of interference. Try listening to the radio with the engine off, and you’ll probably notice a difference.
At this point, there isn’t much that can be done about this interference, though digital radio might help. That said, some of the stations themselves are to blame. Take WXYT, for example. It used to broadcast from Southfield near 10 Mile Road and Northwestern Highway and had a good signal in much of the metro area. Now, it shoots its signal up from Monroe County, and even though it has more power, its signal is much more directional, causing weak spots in coverage that weren’t there before. That includes along the Troy-Sterling Heights border, where I live, in one of those trouble spots. What WXYT has gained in fringe reception areas, I think it has lost in its core listening area.
Thanks, Ron, for an excellent question.
The Detroit Lions obviously realized the limitations of AM radio, following the lead of other NFL teams by moving their broadcasts to FM. Already heard locally on talk WKRK-FM (97.1), the Lions have moved to FM in western Michigan this season, adding WKLQ-FM (107.3) Greenville/Grand Rapids and WKOQ-FM (92.5) Newaygo to their affiliate list. The Lions are also on FM in Lansing (92.1 and 92.7) and in the Tri-Cities area (on 104. 5 and 100.9). Like many fans, I enjoy hearing the games broadcast in FM.
Set Your Dials: The swing band Sounds of Swing Orchestra will be featured on “Somewhere in Time” at 6 p.m. (8-28) on WMUZ-FM (103.5).