Valley radio is boldly going where no radio has gone before. Many radio stations now are broadcasting in high-definition digital, and a growing number are adding secondary HD stations with more specialized formats.
Unlike satellite, HD is free radio, but you can’t pick it up with a traditional receiver. This new world of digital radio is available only to those who purchase HD radio receivers or tuners, which average over $150 for both auto and shelf units.
“It’s still fairly new and our basic attitude toward HD radio is we’re always excited to roll out new technology for our customers,” said Jim Babb, Circuit City’s corporate spokesman.
Many of the eight radio stations that Clear Channel Communications owns in the Valley now broadcast additional HD channels, and more are on the way.
“HD radio brings two important added dimensions to local radio,” said Smokey Rivers, director of operations and programming for Clear Channel in Phoenix. “The program material (music and speech), the transmitter and receiver (are) completely digital. That means that some of the interference issues and low-level background noise inherent in conventional analog transmission and reception are absent. In HD, quiet is very quiet!”
The biggest difference, he said, can be heard on HD AM radio.
“The quality rivals FM,” Rivers said. “And on FM HD broadcasts, the quality rivals CDs.”
Thirteen Valley radio stations broadcast in HD, and nine other stations are available only to HD listeners, according to www.morefreeradio.com.
“For instance, our Smooth Jazz station (95.5 FM KYOT) has an HD channel called the Music Summit,” Rivers said. “It’s what we call adult alterative ... folk, rock, reggae and blues, all mixed together. Very cool.”
Also, 104.7 FM KISS plays English-language hits on the main channel and Spanish-language oldies on its new HD channel, Rivers said.
“Most of the FMs will eventually carry an additional HD channel,” he said. “Some will have two, maybe three. It’s revolutionary.”
High-definition radio represents a “chance for local broadcasters to double or triple the choices available on the air,” Rivers said.
Auto and shelf HD radio receivers at Circuit City are drawing a lot of attention, said Cevin Brown, operations manager at the store near Fiesta Mall in Mesa. “It’s a brand-new technology,” he said. “It gives a great alternative to get greatquality sounding radio without having to pay anything.”
Last week, Wal-Mart began rolling out HD radio receivers in nearly 2,000 stores in 85 markets. The receivers are gradually showing on up Wal-Mart shelves across the Valley.
“We know our customers want mobile HD digital radio products,” Tim Clark, automobile buyer for Wal-Mart, said in a statement.
HD-ready receivers are available at a lower cost and can be upgraded with a tuner to receive HD radio, Brown said. However, it’s more cost effective to purchase an HD radio receiver because tuners can cost at least $400, he said. Converting your car’s audio system to HD requires only purchasing an HD radio receiver, he said.