Reprinted from the Daily Oakland Press, August 15, 2005
By: Art Vuolo
Last week, my colleague Mike Austerman reported on the debut of HD (high-definition) radio in Detroit. Besides offering a high quality digital version of a station’s signal, HD allows for “secondary” channels that can offer more specialized programming than their primary stations — all in the battle with satellite radio for listeners. Two years ago, the mammoth Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas offered a taste of HD, but I just experienced it locally and want to share what I saw and heard because it is impressive.
Today, for invited guests, the family-owned Greater Media of Detroit is showcasing its new multichannel broadcasting, which is created by the HD technology. Locally, Greater Media owns rock WRIF-FM (101.1), classic rock WCSX-FM (94.7) and soft rock WMGC-FM (105.1). If you have access to the Internet, you can hear what I heard last week during the demonstration of these new channels. Go to either www.riff2.com, www.wcsxdeeptrax.com or www.moremagicradio.com to hear the formats that counterbalance the FM parent stations you may already be familiar with. (RIFF2 offers alternative and indie rock, plus hiphop, with an emphasis on local artists. The Deep Trax channel has album cuts not normally heard on ’CSX, plus the station’s familiar personalities. More Magic features a softer contemporary format during the day with some Broadway and jazz hits.)
Listening to these on your computer is one thing, but hearing them on a new HD radio right off the air is far more dramatic. To put this new technology into perspective, here’s an analogy from history: In the mid-1960s, FM radio was starting to get noticed and the FCC made it mandatory that AM/FM stations offer separate programming on their FM outlets so they’d be more than just repeats of the AM broadcasts. Since most cars then had AM-only radios, those wanting to sample the new sound had to buy an after-market FM converter to mount under the dash. Though these were in mono sound, people were thrilled to have the new FM band with more music and far fewer commercials. Responding to consumer demand, automakers soon added the FM band to car radios.
Like early FM, HD radio will be basically commercial-free for the first year or two, and there is no monthly subscription fee as there is for satellite radio. Supporters believe this will make free, over-the-air broadcasting far more competitive with satellite and Internet radio since HD is as superior to regular radio as HD TV is to regular television. Like FM, this will work if consumers accept and demand this new technology, just as they convinced the auto companies to start offering XM and Sirius satellite radio in most new cars in the last few years.
During last week’s demonstration, I heard the table-top Boston Acoustics radio and a full-size Yamaha receiver, and the sound was amazing. Prices vary from $249 up to $1,400 to hear this superior sound, but, as with every other electronics gadget, prices are expected to fall as demand increases. What this all means is that your choices on the FM dial could double with the addition of the new HD-1 and HD-2 stations. In Chicago, where the oldies station WJMK-FM changed to the “Jack-FM” format imitating an iPod on shuffle mode like our WDRQ-FM (93.1), station brass brought the oldies back with live DJs on WJMK’s HD-2, figuring that would increase awareness of HD and the sales of new HD radios.
The same can happen here. Clear Channel owns six local stations and is expected to roll out its HD channels in the next few weeks and the same will happen at Infinity and Disney/ABC radio. In theory, you could easily have more than 100 local stations to choose from in the not too distant future. For radio fans, that’s great news.
This is the week when things are really revving up on Woodward Avenue for the Dream Cruise. Tonight, Rick Hunter on oldies WOMC-FM (104.3) gets it started with a live broadcast from Duggan’s Irish Pub in Royal Oak, leading up to the station’s Saturday live remotes from Birmingham, Ferndale and Royal Oak. Many of your other favorite radio personalities will be broadcasting along the Dream Cruise route this week. Even satellite radio is getting into the act as XM’s Phlash Phelps from the 1960s channel and West Bloomfield native Sari from the 1970s channel will be live at the GM display in Birmingham on Saturday.
Soft rock WMGC-FM (105.1) is running two broadcasts to salute women in the automotive industry. The first is 6-10 a.m. Thursday at General Motors headquarters at the Ren Cen; the second is 6-10 a.m. Friday at the Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills. For more, visit www.magic1051.com.
Quick Hits: Infinity local sales boss and WYCD-FM (99.5) veep Steve Schram has resigned ... Urban WHTD-FM (102.7) has moved night slammers Dre and Suga Rae to mornings, where they replace Russ Parr’s syndicated morning show. Getting the nighttime nod are Sean Anthony and Keith “Baby” Jones from Cincinnati’s WIZF-FM ... local DJ The Bushman of urban WJLB-FM (97.9) is being honored tonight at Flood’s Bar & Grill in Detroit for getting national exposure for the Detroit hip-hop sound that’s produced Eminem and Slum Village.
Set Your Dials: Hear the Greencards live 1-4 p.m. Tuesday on WDET-FM (101.9) ... and pull out the stops with pipe organist Father Jim Miller at 6 p.m. Sunday on WMUZ-FM (103.5).