HD3 Channel Spawns AM Format for WTOP

Dave Kolesar in his music library
Dave Kolesar is shown in his basement home studio, where he does the voice work for The Gamut; he tells RW the format was put together “after hours, as a labor of love.” He spends a lot of time ripping vinyl into The Gamut. By day, he is the transmitter engineer. Photo by Sam Brown.

Paul McLane is U.S. editor in chief of Radio World.

U.S. radio stations with HD Radio signals have not, broadly speaking, taken full advantage of the content development possibilities inherent in their FM HD multicast channels. That is too bad. What better way to experiment with unusual format ideas?

Here’s an example of how it can work — and it involves an engineer playing an unusual role, too.

WTOP, the very successful multi-station operation in the nation’s capital owned by Hubbard Broadcasting, has begun airing a format called “The Gamut” on its nearby AM 820 kHz signal, WWFD in Frederick, Md., supplanting a simulcast of Federal News Radio. The Gamut format had launched earlier on the HD3 multicast channel of WTOP’s FM signal at 103.5 MHz.

“The station’s original 4,500 song playlist has been expanded to 10,000 songs and features an array of recorded music types that span from pre-WWII to present day,” according to an announcement.

“A sampling of artists includes Scissor Sisters, Doris Day, Mumford and Sons, Devo, Elvis Presley, Boney M and Johnny Cash.The Gamut will also serve as a platform for up and coming local artists looking to bring exposure to their music.”

Conventionally minded program directors everywhere will blanch at this musical mess; yet this is exactly the kind of music mashup that I loved in college. And perhaps unsurprisingly, the idea has its roots in college radio. According to the announcement, “The station was born from the extensive and unique music collection of WTOP Engineer Dave Kolesar, whose long-time experience with college radio and deep ties to local music gives The Gamut a mix of old and new, mainstream and homegrown.” When was the last time you heard a station give a shout out to an engineer for its musical programming? (Broadcast consultant Sam Brown helped too.)

WTOP’s Senior VP/GM Joel Oxley guesses that with more than 10,000 songs in its library and intended to be played, “We are pretty sure The Gamut has the largest playlist in the country for a local radio station.” The format will continue to be heard as well on multicast channels of two other FM signals in the area. The station also plans to accept artist submissions, serve as a backup station for sports aired on WTOP’s 1500 kHz signal and carry local sports coverage.

WTOP has always been active in exploring the possibilities of multiple signals in one market; consider its Federal News Radio format, which is a highly targeted local radio station if there ever was one, targeting government employees and their professional circle. So this development is not a big surprise. But it serves as a reminder to some stations that have invested in digital transmission gear and then wondered when the payoff might come: Digital FM signal multicast channels beg to be used for creative programming like this. Some may fail. But why not try?

Kudos to WTOP and the few other stations that have been truly willing to take such risks, for being willing to play around beyond conventional programming thinking. Consider this my nomination of The Gamut, the next time NAB is looking for a candidate for its HD Radio Multicast Award.

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Comment List:

Hooray for the recognition and success. Much behind the scenes courage and risk taking to make all this happen. May it continue and grow.
By Jim Peck on 3/21/2013
BINGO! Somebody finally gets it! A huge music library with local talent too. This beats SatRad. Content is king, and people WILL look for it on AM or on an HD feed. What a great way to revitalize AM - play the music that FM won't - the opposite of 1973! Bravo WTOP & Engineer Kolesar. Wish it was coming to a town near you!
By John Pavlica on 3/21/2013
It's great to hear creative radio again!
By Ken K Sleeman on 3/21/2013

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