Tuesday, January 04, 2005

AM 620 KPOJ & AM 1190 KEX lead the way toward

the worst quality AM radio signals, on the dial, in Portland Oregon.

Clear Channel communications has decided to limit the audio bandwidth of their AM stations to about half of what it normally is to make more room for expensive and flawed digital IBOC AM signals. Though KEX was first on the block with the new low quality signal, KPOJ joined the race to trash the dial. Clearly, Clear Channel has made the decision to obsolete all the quality radio gear their listeners have invested in, despite little evidence there is public demand to do so.

KOPJ and KEX now feature poor quality audio no matter what radio you use. Other stations in the area, such as KKAD 1520, KDZR Radio Disney (1640 AM Stereo no less!!), and KBPS (1450 AM Stereo also!) all broadcast great quality AM signals that every listener can continue to enjoy to the fullest their gear will allow. AM Stereo radios are being sold today, for a fraction of the cost of the newer digital AM radio units. In addition, about 10 percent of all car radios are AM Stereo capable today.

KOPJ, despite a recent power boost and great ratings, reduced its sound quality today. A year of hard work, building great progressive talk programming, transitioning to a more powerful 25,000 watt signal, and great imaging all combined to make KOPJ the best AM signals on the dial here in Portland Oregon. Now it's one of the loudest stations, but the hosts all sound as if they have a cold.

I don't get it. Why build a great station only to degrade it and annoy the listeners who invest in quality gear to listen? For that matter, why degrade any radio station? Is there any particular rush to lower quality? Does radio really need this additional problem?

Here is the story:

In a word, IBOC. This is In Band On Channel Digital radio. The radio people think this will be the next big thing. Nervous radio executives, worried about the ongoing erosion of their marketshare and relevance, due to stiff competition from satellite radio, are pushing digital with both hands hoping to breathe new life into the increasingly stale radio scene. Marketing people say Digital is better (and it likely is done right). Of course, everyone knows the XM and Sirius satellite systems are digital and they are getting new listeners. --Radio listeners.

So the radio industry wants digital and they want it yesterday. Along comes a company called Ibiquity with their IBOC technology. Radio bites hook, line and sinker. The NAB lobbies the FCC to get IBOC accepted as an official standard for broadcasting, despite Ibiquity owning the technology lock stock and barrel. Of course, Ibiquity licenses to everyone, broadcasters, and listeners alike, eager to own radio on the industries own dime.

From the looks of things they are beginning to have some success. When we see broadcasters willing to work against their own loyal listeners interests to advance a technology, it's either the next best thing since sliced bread, or we've all been had.


Many FM stations around the country are beginning to transmit FM IBOC HD digital signals. For the most part, these are unobtrusive enough to be tolerated by existing radio gear. It's a lot like FM stereo was. New radios will be able to reproduce the digital signal while existing radios work the same. If it weren't for the licensing issues allowing Ibiquity to own public radio, this could work out ok. I am not convinced the quality of the digital signal will be better than an existing analog FM signal however, the technology does allow for more programming choices.

AM however is a different story. AM stations that broadcast AM IBOC signals, cannot be AM Stereo stations, so we lose the use of those radios. In addition, the IBOC signals take a lot of room, so the AM stations wanting to get ready for AM digital IBOC HD must cut their bandwidth back to make room. There goes all the good radios.

AM IBOC will leave all existing AM radios
sounding like the very worst quality radios!

Anyone that enjoys AM today will lose with this proposal and they can thank Clear Channel, along with others for it. AM IBOC is going to fill the AM band with digital noise that will be heard on any AM radio, but for the new expensive digital ones. This noise will be heard loudly on any better radio. This makes no sense particularly when the AM IBOC technology has not left testing stages yet and is not approved for nighttime operation!

Nobody is going to spend $500.00 for a new digital AM radio only to be limited in so many ways! Yet, plenty of people will spend $30.00 to $50.00 for a great AM radio that, until today, delivered a quality experience.

Thanks Clear Channel for trashing the AM band. I suppose if you make a majority of AM stations sound bad more people might look for other options.

Millions of radios are going to become increasingly useless over the next couple years so a few worried radio execs can feel they are just as digital as the next guy. Nevermind the millions of people wanting to just listen to their radio they have today.

Edit: Minor changes to the above content addressed minor issues with form and style. In addition to those, you might find the information below interesting:

- 10 percent of all car radios are AM Stereo capable. This means any AM talk station today can broadcast in Stereo and dramatically improve the experience for a significant share of their listeners today.

- AM Stereo continues to see wide use around the world. Poor leadership, here in the USA is the only reason AM Stereo failed. The technology itself is more than viable with listeners around the globe enjoying quality AM programming every day.

- Successful broadcast technology innovations have traditionally enhanced the experience without significantly degrading the utility of existing consumer gear. Color Television and FM Stereo are two excellent examples of this. AM Stereo was to be another, but for corporate infighting and poor FCC leadership.

- On a recent trip, I had the chance to compare KOPJ to another station in Eugene, that has not reduced its audio quality. Despite the radio being an ordinary radio, the difference in clarity, particularly siblants, was notable. The harsh filter required for IBOC digital to be used, significantly degrades the analog audio.

Translation: This narrowband approach sounds bad on most any radio.

- AM Stereo radios can be had for as little as $100 today. Brand new portable units are being manufactured and sold in the US.


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