Reprinted from the Sunday Oakland Press, January 29, 2006
By: Art Vuolo
HD (high-definition) radio is really in the news right now as the big players roll out their new HD formats on what is known as the “sidechannel.” With an HD radio, AM sounds like FM and FM sounds like a CD. You can tune to an FM station and select HD-1 or HD-2. Available only on HD sets, the second channel, in theory, doubles your choices of programs or formats. Except that it won’t. That’s because the two biggest radio companies locally, Clear Channel and CBS (formerly Infinity), have unveiled their new HD-2 offerings — and it’s not pretty. Or very innovative.
Urban WJLB-FM (97.9) will offer classic hip-hop; urban pop WMXD-FM (92.3) will do gospel; Top 40 WKQI-FM (95.5) will play “new” Top 40; classic hits WDTW-FM (106.7) will deliver “live rock”; and pop WNIC-FM (100.3) will play pop ballads and love songs. The four CBS FMs aren’t much better. Country WYCD-FM (99.5) will play something called “Future Country”; smooth jazz WVMV-FM (98.7) will have traditional jazz; hot talk WKRK-FM (97.1) will do (hot?) news; and oldies WOMC-FM (104.3) will present — ta-dah! — the “History of Rock & Roll.”
Will these “exciting” and “new” formats entice you into spending $350-plus for a new HD Radio? Where are the under-represented formats? Why not channels that offer full-time classical, pre-Beatles oldies, beautiful music, traditional country and adult standards? While the radio industry preaches that “content is king,” this type of content is not king. It’s also why people pay $13 per month for satellite radio, which does cater to just about every musical taste. It’s the same reason so many people pay up to $100 per month for premium cable and satellite TV — because they became disenchanted with the offerings of network television.
A good part of the audience is now feeling the same about radio. But the audience — that’s you — no longer has to tolerate mediocrity. You have the power to influence broadcasters. This was evidenced by the cancellation of “The Book of Daniel” by NBC after religious and family watchdog organizations deemed the show offensive and led a campaign to kill it. While HD radio does sound incredible, the initial offerings seem lame.
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Speaking of offensive, Howard Stern has brought so much attention to his “free speech” program on Sirius Satellite Radio that the FCC is now looking into censorship of both Sirius and XM. Can HBO and Showtime be far behind? This could really get ugly.
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It’s been more than 90 days since WJR-AM (760) dumped U-M sports for MSU and still no replacement stations have been named for this fall’s 12-game football season. I say let’s get the Wolverines on FM. The Lions are on WKRK-FM (97.1), and nearly a dozen NFL teams have FMs as their flagship stations. A powerful FM would be ideal with equal coverage both day and night. Expect a decision soon — along with the final word on which company might buy ABC Radio (which owns WJR and three other local stations) from Disney, in a deal worth billions.
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We’re one week away from Super Bowl XL Sunday, and all this week, the world will focus on Detroit, as will the jokes from Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel. Many of your favorite radio stations will be all over the big event. For instance, Mojo in the Morning on WKQI is pulling out all of the stops — even giving away free tickets to the game. Super Bowl XL will be Xtra Large for local radio.
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Recent times have been bittersweet for WKQI programmer Dom Theodore, who lost his dad to cancer and a few days later was promoted to VP of regional programming for Clear Channel Radio in Michigan. Theodore is both loved and respected by local staffers, and did not select the new HD formats. They were chosen by corporate brass and the HD Radio Alliance, a broadcasting group put together to popularize the new technology.
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Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: Martin Bandyke, the popular 22-year radio personality formerly of public WDET-FM (101.9), will be the new morning host at Ann Arbor’s alternative WQKL-FM (107.1), which can be heard by much of western Oakland County ... urban talk/gospel WCHB-AM (1200) has greatly juggled its schedule. Mildred Gaddis will continue to host mornings, but the rest of the day’s programs will come from the African-American Talk Network of Radio One, which owns the 50,000-watt station.
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Set Your Dials: Home improvement whiz Murray Gula broadcasts live with John McCullough from the Home Show at the Rock Financial Showplace in Novi, from noon to 3 p.m. today on WJR ... host Tom Wilson features “Chick” Webb’s big band at 6 p.m. tonight on WMUZ-FM (103.5) ... stay up late to catch indie pop star Ashton Allen performing in-studio with host Liz Copeland, after 12:30 a.m. Thursday on WDET.
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Art Vuolo has published the Radio Guide for more than 30 years and runs Vuolovideo.com.