Radio Waves: 9/14/18

Roq of the ’80s on KROQ-HD2

As the suits at CBS Radio were falling over themselves three years ago trying to cut costs (i.e. talent) from their radio stations in an ill-fated attempt to make the financials look better to a potential buyer, one of the victims was Freddy Snakeskin, who had been (among other things) programming and doing on-air work for KROQ (106.7 FM) HD2, the digital “Roq of the ‘80s” that you could hear on line and with a special radio. More on that later.

The format technically continued, but it wasn’t the same without the personalities. Snakeskin had put together a small staff of DJs who helped make the station as close as possible to the original KROQ (106.7 FM); when the cutbacks came everyone was forced off, and the station ran jockless.

Now things have come full-circle. As of last week, “Roq of the ‘80s” has relaunched on KROQ HD2 and Snakeskin is back on the air from 6 a.m. to 12 noon weekdays, followed by Tami Heide from noon to 6 p.m. Heide was with KROQ from 1991 to 2004.

The station is being programmed by Gene Sandbloom, former Operations Director for KROQ who left on 2017 to move to, as I recall, France. I’m not sure what convinced him to come back or if he ever actually moved to France, but the move is part of a refresh of station owner Entercom’s HD2 streams planned nationwide.

Snakeskin broke the news on Facebook, writing “Yes it’s official, after a 3 year vacation (at their request), I’m thrilled to be invited back to relaunch Entercom’s KROQ-HD2 The Roq of the 80s, doing some kinda daily morning show, woo hoo!

“Tell everybody … join yours truly, Freddy Snakeskin, at 6 a.m., followed by my longtime un-indicted co-conspirator Tami Heide daily at 12 noon. Listen everyday for all the great Klassick KROQ music you grew up with, via and/or free HD radio @ 106.7-HD2. Thanks for your unwavering support all these years; apparently someone was listening!!”

HD What?

Digital HD Radio was officially approved as a broadcasting standard by the FCC in 2002, but many people still do not understand it. What sets it apart from AM, FM or even satellite radio is that —  while like the others you need the right tuner to hear the broadcasts — these are special digital streams sent alongside the regular analog channel. Think of it as an internet computer stream sent along with the same carrier that your old radio uses to tune in a station. Your old radio hears it as noise; an HD tuner decodes it and plays music. Or talk. Whatever.

In fact that internet stream idea is not far off. If you have an older AM radio that doesn’t use a digital tuner, you can actually hear the digital stream if you tune just above or just below the regular station. Locally, KNX (1070 AM), KBRT (740 AM) and KSUR (1260 AM) broadcast HD. That sound is the same sound you sued to hear when your modem connected to online services like AOL or GEnie in the days of dial up internet.

Sangean makes three home and portable HD radios, and you can also find many OEM or aftermarket radio brands for your car that receive HD. Good online sources include Amazon and Crutchfield.

The way it works on a typical radio is that you tune in your favorite regular station and wait for it to capture and buffer the HD stream. On AM you’re done – the sound will change and background noise you don’t even know you’re hearing suddenly disappears, while the high end missing from most AM radios suddenly appears. On FM, the sound may or may not change much but extra channels suddenly become available. Tuning up one or more times, depending on how many extra HD channels are carried, tunes in new stations.

It’s actually a very impressive system, notwithstanding the problems that can occur with interference to other stations, especially on the AM band — I’ll discuss that another day. Purists will also note that the sound can sound a bit off due to digital “artifacts” that you may know from bad internet listening.

But it is impressive in the sense that it works, and works fairly well. Even on AM; I still believe KFI made a mistake  (640 AM) and KABC (790 AM) made a mistake removing their AM HD signals, as the simulcasts they run on KLOS (95.5 FM) HD3 and KOST (103.5) HD2 don’t sound as good as did the AM HD signal, in my opinion. Currently, if you can pick it up (in the Valley), K-SURF sounds much better in AM HD than it does on it’s simulcast on KKGO (105.1 FM) HD2.

In any event, there are so many extra signals that you might just consider trying out an HD radio the next time you need a new radio or car stereo. It certainly is not a perfect system, but then neither is AM, FM or satellite.

Songbook Returns

KKGO owner Saul Levine has been a proponent and supporter if HD radio since it was approved, and he runs extra formats not to make extra money … he does it because he still believes radio is a public service.

Not long ago he tried playing light rock as an HD channel on KKGO; now he’s reverted and returned the American Songbook to the airwaves. Heard on KKGO HD3 and online, the format of one of three extra channels there. The K-Surf oldies format os on KKGO HD2, while classical music can be heard on KKGO-HD4.