Beethoven Radio staff Scott Birmingham, Justin Norse, Nicole Marie Godburn and 'Sir Stewart' Crossen.
There are broadcasters who are ambivalent about the benefits of HD Radio. Then there's Nicole Marie Godburn, program director of classical music Beethoven Radio at WCCC(AM) 1290 in Hartford, Conn.
"HD Radio is fantastic," she tells Radio World. "It makes our AM signal sound like FM."
Owned by Marlin Broadcasting, WCCC and its sister station WCCC(FM) "The Rock 106.9" began broadcasting in HD Radio in 2004. "We were the first stations on the state to do so," says Godburn, "It opened up real possibilities for Beethoven Radio when we threw the switch for HD Radio."
In addition to making the AM sound better, she says, HD Radio also has given the operation a new FM footprint. Before, Beethoven Radio could only be heard in the area on WCCC's analog Class D AM 1290 signal. Now, besides being heard locally on that frequency in AM HD, Beethoven Radio is also broadcast as the HD-2 channel of WCCC(FM). The result is a vast improved reach for the content of the only remaining classical radio station in the state.
The station is also heard on the Web at Beethoven.com. In a twist on the usual air-to-Web progression, the format started on the Web, then replaced a WCCC(FM) simulcast on the AM.
As well, thanks to Beethoven.com's strong listener base, WCCC(AM) has been able to build its workplace, in-office listenership in New York City via the Web.
"Our format for the dot-com and our delivery was originally very global. On air we focused on our global audience and happenings around the world," she said.
"When we launched the AM, we decided to change our on-air delivery and started to focus more on our own backyard. We started local news, local contests, local weather etc. But the irony is, we never lost our international and national audience.
"They stayed with us for two reasons: They enjoyed the music programming, and they enjoyed our hosts and light delivery.
"So now we view ourselves as a very local AM station in Connecticut with a great dot-com audience. This is in fact the complete opposite from how we started. We learned you have to be flexible to stay marketable and we hope we have shown that through our growth."
One in eight
The question, of course, is the impact of HD Radio on Beethoven Radio's audience base: Are more people tuning in?
Lacking Arbitron data that distinguishes between analog and digital listeners, Godburn cannot say for sure. But she does feel that people are tuning in via HD Radio, based on listener feedback.
"More and more people are telling us, 'I have an HD Radio and I listen to you on it," she says. "I'd say one out of every eight listeners we talk to says this. Not so long ago, it was one in 12."
To push growth of this new medium, Beethoven Radio and WCCC(FM) take pains to promote HD Radio wherever they can, on banners, signage and corporate vehicles.
"We constantly have people seeing our materials and asking us, 'What is HD Radio?'" Godburn says. "We direct them to our Web site and other sources where they can learn about HD Radio. We also tell them where they can buy HD Radios, and why they would want to do so."
When it comes to HD Radio, Godburn sees the investment as money well spent.
"It cost our company about $40,000 to put Beethoven Radio on HD Radio," she says. "For that money, we took an AM-quality audio signal confined to Hartford and extended it statewide in FM quality; without losing the stake we had in the AM band.
"The result is a much larger classical music audience at a time when our competitors in this niche have disappeared. What could be better than that?"