What’s on the HD Radio?
By now — especially if you’ve read this column very long — you’ve probably heard of HD Radio, the broadcasting system authorized by the FCC where digital broadcasts are sent along with regular analog signals, giving supposed better sound quality (promised in last advertising as “like FM on AM, like CDs on FM”) and for now only on FM, extra channels. All of which available over the air only if you have an HD Radio tuner.
But what are those extra channels, and is it worth upgrading to an HD Radio at home or in your car? Those are the big questions, and today I will try to answer them. First the extra channels you can hear broadcast along with your favorite FM station; the following is a list of the available extra HD stations in Los Angeles, and the format they run.
(Key: 88.1-2 refers to the second audio channel for KKJZ, found at 88.1 FM; all -1 channels duplicate the regular analog station and are therefore omitted).
88.1-2 Jazz vocals
88.1-3 Cal State Long Beach student run station; various programs from oldies to hip-hop; the home of Mornings on the Beach, an award-winning morning program covering various lifestyle issues
88.5-2 Contemporary Jazz, local news, and entertainment from Saddleback College
88.5-3 The Latin Alternative: Alternative music, electronic dance music, indie pop, Sal Soul and classic rock … en espanol
89.3-2 The Current: Contemporary alternative music from Minnesota Public Radio
89.9-2 Eclectic 24: a continuous stream of eclectic music curated by KCRW’s own Chris Douridas
92.3-2 News/Information from the Black Information Network
93.1-2 Simulcast of K-Frog’s (KFRG/Riverside) country music programming
93.1-3 The Bet: Sports gambling information and CBS Sportsradio programming
93.9-2 Spanish adult contemporary music
94.7-2 Rhythmic contemporary music
94.7-3 Radio Hamrah: News, information and talk programming for the global Persian community
95.1-2 Owner Audacy lists KFRG-HD2 as Next Country, supposedly playing the next country hits before they are hits. But when I tuned in, the station was playing light rock in Spanish.
95.5-2 Southern California’s FM Talk Station… 24/7 repeats of KLOS (95.5 FM) morning show, Heidi and Frank. Other shows were/are promised, but for now that’s it.
95.5-3 News, information and talk in Armenian from SoCalArmenian.com
97.1-2 Channel Q: Electronic Dance Music and other programming designed to appeal to LA’s LGBTQ residents
97.1-3 Firelane: non-stop dance music
98.7-2 Simulcast of KLAC ’s (570 AM) sports programming
100.3-2 Air 1 Radio: contemporary Christian religious/worship music (essentially a simulcast of KYLA/Fountain Valley 92.7 FM and a handful of other stations in areas surrounding Los Angeles)
100.3-3 Radio Nueva Vida: Christian music and talk in Spanish
101.1-2 Simulcast of KNX (1070 AM) newsradio
101.9-2 Simulcast of KTNQ (1020 AM) Spanish-language news/talk
101.9-3 Armenian Music Radio
103.5-2 Simulcast of KFI (640 AM) talk radio
103.5-3 The Breeze: Soft Rock similar to what KOST (103.5 FM) itself used to play
103.9-2 El Sembrador: Spanish-language Catholic radio programming from El Sembrador Ministries’ ESNE Radio network.
103.9-3 Another simulcast of KTNQ
104.3-2 Pride Radio: “The Pulse of LGBTQ+ America” – iHeart’s version of Audacy’s Channel Q. Electronic Dance Music and a little top-40.
105.1-2 LA Oldies, as formerly heard on the old KSUR (now KMZT, 1260 AM). Oldies from the 1950s through the early 1980s with an emphasis on the late ‘60s and ’70
105.1-3 Unforgettable FM: all Frank Sinatra, all the time
105.1-4 Simulcast of K-Mozart (KMZT): classical music with a few related specialty programs
105.9-2 Simulcast of KDAY (93.5 FM) old school Hip-Hop
106.3-2 AAX Radio: Not really sure here. Supposedly Vietnamese programming, but when I tuned in I heard an english-language discussion on weddings and masks.
106.3-3 Simulcast of KYPA’s (1230 AM) Korean-language programming of music (including english-language oldies) and information. Interestingly, it wasn’t an exact simulcast … background music that played on the online stream and on the AM signal was absent on this version. I assume the processing was different and something got nulled-out as it made its way here.
106.7-2 Roq of the ‘80s: The music that made KROQ (106.7 FM) famous; pop and alternative music from the 1980s
107.5-2 Radio Jan: “the best Armenian radio station in the USA.” Launched first in Armenia in 2012 and in Los Angeles in 2017, the station plays Armenian popular music
107.5-3 Radio ITN: 24-hour news and entertainment serving the Persian-speaking community
Currently, only FM stations can broadcast the extra channels, though the HD system would allow AM stations to do so if they went all-digital. There is not enough space in the AM band to allow extra channels using the current hybrid (analog and digital) system; unfortunately going all-digital means a station would lose traditional radio listeners. A few stations nationwide have done so, but none locally.
So you can see that there are many “secret” stations that can be heard using an HD Radio tuner. Should you go out and buy one? Chances are you already have one in your car if you own one bought in the last ten years … many models come as a stepped-up audio option. And ten years ago, I would have said “yes” to buying one.
But there is a problem with the extra channels on FM: unlike the main station, there is no buffering. This means if you don’t have a clean signal, the extra station just drops out. Maybe for a half second, maybe for a minute. This is not a problem at home, but while driving, the signal can pop in and out constantly. VERY annoying.
Combine this with the improvement in internet accessibility, apps you can use via modern stereos and your smart phone in your car, along with smart speakers and bluetooth connections at home and today, I’d say pass. This doesn’t mean avoid the stations listed above, just listen through your phone app and your smart speakers.
My recommendation: Skip the HD, and use an app. Of course if you do already own HD Radios, by all means use them … I have four. But the apps are actually better now in use, and they also stream AM stations, most of which no longer broadcast in HD anyway.