Many radio organizations are embracing HD Radio. But very few have done so more enthusiastically than Mississippi Public Broadcasting. The reason: The multiple broadcast channels supported by HD Radio have resolved something of a programming split personality for the network and its eight Class C FM stations.
"Prior to getting HD Radio, we were doing block programming that alternated between news/talk and classical music," explains Bob Buie, MPB's deputy executive director for technical services.
Bob Buie, left, and Andy Caston are shown at the installation of a new transmitter for WMPN(FM) in Jackson. Caston is site engineer for the station. Adds Jason Klein, director of radio, "The problem is that the audiences for each format really didn't mix well. In fact, you might say that whenever we made one audience happy, the other one became unhappy — and vice versa."
HD Radio changed this. By upgrading all eight stations to broadcast in HD Radio, MPB now has the extra channels it needed to split the warring formats. Today MPB's analog FM/HD1 radio service carries news/talk, with the exception of a classical music show at noon. As for the classical music format? It's been moved to the network's HD2 channels.
Of course, this move required new technology to be installed to replace the 25-year-old transmission systems. "Low-level combining was chosen as the preferred method and MPB staff collaborated with their consultant engineering firm of Kessler and Gehman Associates throughout the project," says Buie.
The major components were new Jampro antennas with pattern optimization and Continental Electronics' digital/analog FM transmission systems, Nautel exciters, Orban processors and PSI IBOC importers; the work was funded in part by grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Digital Distribution Fund and PTFP, Public Telecommunications Facilities Program.
MPB has fielded a lot of irate calls from classical music lovers since moving classical onto HD on Jan. 8, 2008, but considers the results well worth it.
"Once we got past their ire, our classical listeners were happy to hear about MPB Music Radio, our HD Radio 2 station created just for them," says Klein.
"Meanwhile our news/talk audience, which is the majority of our listeners, was pleased to have the FM/HD Radio 1 channel reserved for 'MPB Think Radio' as we have branded our news/talk format."
Of course, MPB's classical listeners need HD Radios to hear the music they love. No problem: MPB has gone out of its way to find out which retailers are selling HD Radios.
Although the station can't advertise this information on-air, it is able to share it over the phone and online.
"We've been helped by the fact that Sony has come out with an HD Radio and that major retailers such as Best Buy are moving into the HD Radio category," Buie says. "HD Radio is becoming known to consumers in general, and that is helping us a lot."
To drive the conversion further, MPB is offering Radiosophy HD Radios as premiums to listeners who donate money to the station during pledge drives.
"We had an 'Ah ha!' moment there when we realized that we could use our pledge drive to get HD Radios out to our listeners, and thus increase our listenership in HD," says Klein. "We are breaking even on this deal, but it is worth it to get HD radios into our broadcast area."
Without ratings data, MPB does not know how many of its listeners have made the move to HD Radio. "However, the feedback we are getting is very good, and the demand for our pledge drive HD Radios is very strong," says Buie. "So I think you can say that HD Radio has been nothing but good for MPB, solving our format challenges while making our listeners very happy."
— James Careless