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Radio broadcasting's future is highly defined for stations
[April 20, 2008]

Radio broadcasting's future is highly defined for stations

(Daily Oklahoman, The (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Apr. 20--While high-definition television has broken into mainstream TV in recent years, HD radio is still pretty much a novelty among radio listeners.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, more than 39 percent of U.S. homes have HD television sets. However, sales of HD radios totaled 330,000 last year -- a jump from 40,000 in 2006.

The numbers should make a big jump as prices continue to fall -- HD receivers can be purchased for as little as $100 -- and automakers include them in their vehicles. Mercedes, Ford, Volvo, BMW, Jaguar and Hyundai have unveiled plans to include HD receivers in current and future models.

The three major radio clusters in Oklahoma City -- Clear Channel Communications, Citadel Broadcasting and Renda Broadcasting -- have switched at least some of their stations to HD, which provides higher quality sound through an HD receiver.

"The thing that is cool about an HD radio is it's CD-quality sound," said Don Pollnow, Renda market manager. "If you're listening to an analog FM stereo and you go over to HD, you can really hear the difference. It's just a much cleaner, better signal. It's a much better sound than satellite radio."

That difference is even more noticable on AM stations, which are available in stereo in HD.

Citadel's KYIS-FM 98.9 and the WWLS-FM and AM stations are offered in HD.

Baker said the clusters' remaining stations -- including KATT-FM 100.5, KQOB-FM 96.9 and WKY-AM 930 -- probably would be switched to HD in the next 90 days.

Renda recently switched off its HD signals for three stations -- KOMA-FM 92.5, KMGL-FM 104.1 and KRXO-FM 107.7 -- because of a few coverage holes -- areas that received a poor signal -- at least until the spring ratings period ends.

"It's a temporary problem," Pollnow said. "Our engineer is working on it with the manufacturer."

Renda also has turned off KRXO's HD signal during its University of Oklahoma football broadcasts.

HD requires a delay, generally of at least eight seconds, to allow the signal to be encoded and matched up with the regular analog signal.

OU fans with radios at the stadium had complained that the station's play-by-play was behind the actual game action.

Some HD radios also provide a feature that allows listeners to "tag" a song and later download it to an MP3 device for a minimal charge.

HD stations also can offer text information that is displayed on the receivers.

This data could include artist name and song title, weather and traffic updates, sports scores and closings of area schools.

Promoting change

Clear Channel and Citadel are members of the HD Alliance, which was formed to promote the new technology.

Member stations air promotional announcements for HD, including information about where listeners can purchase receivers.

Eventually, almost all Oklahoma City radio stations will be switched to HD, but it will take a few years.

Skip Stow, market manager for Tyler Broadcasting, which includes KKNG-FM 93.3, said his group is in no rush to make the switch to HD, although he said the new format will take over sometime in a few years.

"It just reminds so me of the 1970s when people were just starting to think about FM receivers in cars. That's what you'd hear in doctors' offices, and look where it is today," he said.

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