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‘This Concerns Me Very Much’

Ron Rackley and other readers respond to Tom Ray’s article about shopping for a car with HD Radio

Rackley’s Concern With AM HD

I am writing in response to Tom Ray’s excellent article “HD Radio Shouldn’t Be This Hard.”

Everything Tom said was relevant and meaningful, but I want to focus my comments on the account of the news director’s high-end integrated car HD receiver that alternately cuts in and out of AM HD reception mode near where he lives and led him to say “HD Radio sucks.”

I have firsthand experience with this, as I listen every day when I am out and about to an AM station that produces around a 1 to 2 mV/m signal near the office, and I found it very irritating to have the mode switch back and forth from digital to analog on a colleague’s car HD radio as we drove around in the urban environment for a demonstration. I would not listen to that station for long under those circumstances.

The problem was that there was no front-panel switch to disable the HD mode to allow normal analog reception. If suddenly every car radio turned into one of those, I fear that there would be a net loss in listenership to AM stations over this issue.

I want HD Radio to work for AM, but having great-sounding HD AM radios that cannot be controlled so that they are listenable in fringe areas — and a great deal of AM listenership is in fringe areas — would be a very bad thing for AM radio. This concerns me very much.

Ronald D. Rackley, P.E.
du Treil, Lundin & Rackley Inc.
Sarasota, Fla.

Welcome Back, Tom

I read with great interest the article by Tom Ray about trying to find an HD Radio receiver and the comments from his news director. What I would like to say to Tom is, “Welcome back to the real world!”

Tom has been a wonderful promoter of HD, especially on AM radio. I applaud him for that. Unfortunately what he found as an average consumer is reality — a bad reality for radio.

Good luck finding an HD radio. Good luck even finding anyone who knows anything about it. HD seems to be going down the tubes rapidly.

Several years ago when I had the first HD radio installed in one of our vehicles, there was only one AM station in HD in my market area. Years later, there still in only one.

I quickly noticed the AM switching in and out of HD as I drove around. It was utterly annoying, even for an engineer testing the radio out. The average consumer would have thrown in a CD or plugged in their iPod, never to try AM again. And yes, there is no way to force the radios to mono on any of the models I have tried.

After noticing areas where HD always dropped out, I took field measurements. The breaking point was 2–3 millivolts; at 3 mV/m you might get stereo. At 2 mV/m you switched to mono.

In traveling to some of our markets, I drive through the New York metro. Before one trip, I ran a computer program and calculated about where the 1, 2, 3 and 4 mV/m contours were located on Tom Ray’s WOR.

As I traveled through New Jersey I started to hit an area where the HD finally came in but was sketchy. A quick look at the map? I was in the 2–3 mV/m area. As I continued up into Connecticut, the HD started to drop in and out again. Sure enough, the 2–3 mV/m area.

For a 50 kW flamethrower like WOR, that 2 mV/m contour is a large area with a large audience. For a 5 kW AM station — or, even worse, a 1 kW AM station — forget it! HD might just cover your city of license — let alone the suburbs figuring in all of the outside interference today.

My dentist bought an FM HD tuner and installed an outside antenna in order to pick up the HD2 channel of a local religious station. He is in the 70 dBu contour of the FM station.

After two receivers, changing coax and antennas twice, he told me he wanted to sue the FM station for false advertising. Their HD2 channel could not be received with any reliability.

The DOE of another broadcasting company told me off the record that even in their largest markets, when an HD2 channel goes off for some technical reason, not a single phone call is received from the public.

Now of course there will be people who have many good reception examples. Wonderful for them.

All along I have tried to keep my evaluations of HD more on the line of how the average person would experience it, not as an engineer with all things tweaked to the maximum. Bottom line, HD Radio is about to go the way of AM stereo unless something big happens fast.

It is funny how the car manufacturers were able to get iPod jacks and Bluetooth installed in the cars so quickly, but what, 10 years out or more on HD Radio and they still cannot get any amount of HD radios to the public. Tells you something, doesn’t it?

Edd Monskie
Hall Communications
Lancaster, Pa.

Concerned HD User

I’m the general manager of KGY Radio (AM and FM) in Olympia, Wash. We are about to go HD on 96.9. We plan to simulcast our 1,000 watt AM on HD2 and run a separate format on HD3.

Because of this, I have a strong interest in HD Radio. I could have written the article by Thomas R. Ray III you feature on the cover of the Aug. 11 issue of Radio World. I, too, have been looking for a new SUV equipped with HD Radio. I’ve been looking for over a year.

It’s the same story Mr. Ray told. None of the salespeople ever heard of it. They all think I’m referring to satellite radio.

I will probably have an HD radio installed by Car Toys or Best Buy. In fact, I would have done this by now, but I heard from listeners who have done this who claim their new HD radio gets lousy reception on analog AM — so bad, in fact, that it makes “old-fashioned” AM listening virtually impossible unless they are within a mile or so of the tower!

I relayed my concern to Roy Sampson of Ibiquity. He said it was the first complaint like that he’d heard and that he’d pass it along to his engineers.

I’ve given up, for now, my search for a new car. I’ll keep the old one for a while.

Dick Pust
General Manager
KGY Radio Inc.
Olympia, Wash.