Towson University’s 10,000 watt WTMD(FM) is broadcasting an HD Radio signal and plans to launch at least one multicast channel this fall, after first asking listeners and members about their preferences.
The station at 89.7 MHz has wanted to go IBOC a long time but waited until it could afford to pay its part of matching grant money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The total conversion cost was some $175,000, according to General Manager Stephen Yasko.
“Public radio music stations can provide compelling service,” especially through HD Radio and multicasting, said Yasko. “The demographics of this country are changing. People do want a variety of music experiences” and what they want is not necessarily based on their age.
WTMD has been on the campus for more than 26 years, beginning as a facility run by the student government and later providing a training ground for the electronic media and film department.
(click thumbnail)WTMD DJ John Mathews in front of the Harris HD-R gear.In 2002 the university recognized the station’s importance as a way to reach out to the community and changed its format from jazz to contemporary music. When Yasko came to the station in 2002, it had three full-time people; it now has 11 full-time and a number of part-time workers.
Yasko came from NPR where he worked in program distribution, placing the network’s programs on member stations.
While WTMD does have an engineer, Ryan Glaeser, who handles the chief operator role, the station needed someone versed in transmitters to handle the IBOC conversion, Yasko said.
Ed Bukont of Comm-Struction Services in Bel Air, Md., was project manager. His systems integrations firm is a Harris Channel Partner. Bukont served as the point person between the station and subcontractors, such as electrical and HVAC, as well as selecting and installing the equipment.
Yasko credits Bukont with making the install quick and simple, especially for a station with a small staff that uses contract engineering services. “He made understanding what pieces were needed and why easy.” Bukont also recommended areas where the station could economize.
The Channel Partner Program provides the user with one place to buy all the equipment they need, said Bukont, who also arranged for an antenna inspection and removal of the old transmitter.
WTMD purchased a Harris FlexStar package, including a Harris importer, exporter and HD-R exciter.
On the day of the install, WTMD was off the air no more than four hours, estimated Bukont, who made sure the gear was delivered and staged ahead of time. About three site meetings were held ahead of the conversion and Bukont said the university sent a senior project manager to every meeting, “a rare treat.”
Bukont, a veteran of several IBOC installs, said such meetings are vital to a good outcome. “I find consistently where these projects go awry, someone didn’t think about the weight of the new transmitter, or the HVAC, door size or access to the roof.”
On one such earlier project, all the elevators in the building were being replaced — an unexpected twist. The elevator used for the install was replaced last. “They took apart that elevator while we were on the roof,” said Bukont.
Radios for donors
Bukont said the Towson project was unusual in that he was able to configure E1 lines for the Harris Intraplex transport by using the university’s existing fiber links for the STL, saving WTMD some $30,000 rather than using a wireless STL. WTMD transports its analog FM, main HD-R channel from its studio located in the basement of the media center, to the Harris ZCD12+ transmitter on the 13th floor of a nearby dorm using an existing Harris Intraplex STL Plus system.
The wider E1 lines will have the robustness needed for transporting multicast signals, Bukont said. The 2 Mbps STL link travels perhaps a quarter of a mile, according to Yasko.
The station is promoting the fact that it’s digital and conducts product demos in the station. In a recent fund drive, WTMD offered new Polk iSonic HD Radio receivers to high-level donors. Nearly 60 such donors took up the station on its offer to help pitch in to fund the conversion in exchange for a receiver.
Yasko said they key to success with multicasting is to program such channels with relevant content and promote the extra channels on the main channel. “It doesn’t have to be sophisticated. You just tell people what’s on the HD2.”
The station continues to provide content for one of the multicast channels for another non-commercial station, WAMU(FM), Washington. Currently the WTMD content is heard overnights on WAMU’s HD3 channel.
WTMD hired a webmaster to help get the Internet site components on track and is hiring business development personnel to find sponsorship funds.
Towson University also is home to a joint effort by Towson, NPR and Harris to develop accessible radios — the International Center for Accessible Radio Technology (I-CART), launched this January. “When they need us we are ready to help test,” said Yasko, who added the university is helping Dr. Ellyn Sheffield, assistant professor of psychology at Towson and co-director of I-CART, recruit sight- and hearing impaired people to help test radio interfaces.
The station’s HD3 channel could have some involvement with this effort, he said.