Commentary by Art Vuolo, Jr.
As mentioned in my last column about the signing of WWJ as the flagship for Michigan Football and Basketball, I felt there should be a place where the games should be on FM. Sadly, there were simply no available stations on the FM dial. So, I mentioned "how about an HD outlet?" Well, prayers were answered and it's now official that the Michigan Wolverines will be, starting this weekend, on WXYT-FM (97.1) HD-3.
HD Radio has had a slow growth mostly because nobody was putting anything on HD sub-carriers that anyone wanted to hear. When HD Radio was first launched I wrote a piece suggesting that these "hidden stations" should feature music categories NOT available on "regular" FM frequencies because they are TOO niche. Formats like: pre-Beatles oldies from 1955-1964, easy listening and beautiful music, classic country, smooth and traditional jazz and classical music. My pleas fell on deaf ears and, other than WOMC 104.3 HD-2 which does feature the older oldies, not much has gone onto HD to make it interesting...until now!
The good word has come down that WXYT-FM, which already has WWJ-AM (950) on their HD-2 channel, has now fired up a HD-3 channel with a simulcast of WXYT-AM (1270) which recently flipped to all-talk...but when the University of Michigan is playing football the pre-game, the game itself, and the post-game show will all be on WXYT-FM HD-3! There are limited numbers of people with HD-capable radios, but for those of you with this new technology, the games will finally be on crystal-clear FM-HD.
This news has come at a good time because this weekend (October 8th) has the U of M battling Northwestern in Evanston, IL in a night game that starts at 7 pm. WWJ will be on their night pattern for much of the game, which means that the bulk of their coverage is straight north from their multi-tower transmitter site in Berlin Township just north of Monroe. Fans to the east, south and west will be on the fringe of that signal. Out in Ann Arbor it's even worse as WTKA-AM (1050) drops from their impressive daytime signal of 10,000 watts to an anemic 500 watts...yikes! My hair dryer has more power. It drops off by the time you get to the west side of town, and at the moment, sister station W4 Country (102.9 FM) has no plans of simulcasting the game like they did for the Michigan-Notre Dame matchup in September.
So, it's great news for the handful of us with an HD Radio and want to hear the game clean and static-free. WWJ is an historic and heritage radio station, but there are inherit short-comings with nearly all AM stations which is why so many cities are seeing a ground-swell of sports shifting over to FM.
WXYT-FM (The Ticket 97.1) is the top station in metro Detroit right now and it has been the phenomenal success of this station that sparked the nationwide push of sports stations away from AM and over to FM. It all started right here in the Motor City. Rock on sports fans and Go Blue at Ryan Field under the lights and beat the Wildcats of Northwestern in Evanston!