More Choices or Just More Channels?

It's interesting to see the developing nature of multicast programming, like the announcement yesterday that a radio upstart -- whippersnapper KDKA -- is airing the content of its AM outlet on the HD3 channels of three CBS Radio FMs in town. (KDKA itself went digital on its 50 kW signal at 1020 in May.)

One of the "subchannels" on each CBS FM in Pittsburgh (WBZW, WDSY and WZPT) now simulcasts KDKA. That's a lot of duplication, if you ask me; if multicast is about offering listeners "more choices," I'm not sure rebroadcasting the same content on four different radio channels in the market fulfills that goal. This is about choice of frequency, not choice of content. But give cluster managers credit for trying various ways of using their new infrastructure and for promoting their multicast offerings.

We're seeing more of this kind of thing as big broadcasters look at their existing pools of branded content, their new outlet channels and their desire to populate those channels affordably while making money off them or at least holding the space while the receiver market catches up.

But I still feel that multicasting is like the FM of the 1960s and that too many radio managers are overlooking the spectrum gold they're sitting on. How badly do you wish you could travel back in time and bamboozle an FM frequency from one of those broadcasters who owned them but didn't realize the value of the beachfront property they had? Soon someone's going to create a multicast smash hit with a highly targeted niche audience, creating edgy buzz about a station few people are cool enough to find. Boy, I wish I were a radio programmer who had a multicast channel or three to play on, along with the relative freedom that this early phase of multicasting would offer me.

(It's also amusing to me that, even though iBiquity insists that the letters in HD Radio do not stand for "high definition," many stations that adopt it insist on using the term in their marketing … including stations owned by CBS, which has deeper involvement in IBOC than any radio organization.)

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