An HD Radio Listening Test in Denver

When We Drive Around the City, What Digital Stations Do We Hear?
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Radio World asked me to drive around the Denver area with a published list from the HD Radio Web site (www.hdradio.com/find_an_hd_digital_radio_station.php) in hand, to compare the list of stations believed to be airing an HD Radio signal with what's actually happening in the market.

On Feb. 10 I drove around between 3 and 4 p.m.; I re-checked around noon two days later for discrepancies to see if they were resolved yet — so for instance, if the chart shown states I could not receive either the analog or digital of one station, that was true both times.

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The author tunes to a station found on the accompanying chart. I drove a 2006 Ford Escape with an in-dash HD Radio, the JVC AHD39 a CD receiver with built-in HD Radio tuner.

The Denver-Boulder HD Radio station list names 46 total stations. Of those, 17 are multicast channels with 13 HD2s and four HD3s. The published list appears for the most part to be up to date. I did not discover any HD Radio stations not already on the list.

I did not find any issues involving the time-alignment of the analog and digital signals. I've done HD Radio surveys in the past and I usually find problems with time alignment. This time everything sounded great.

I also found no unusual processing audio issues to report. HD Radio processing tracked that of the analog in terms of flavor and compression for all stations. Audio levels stayed balanced when switching from analog through to digital.

Formats

Four stations had changed formats: 92.5 HD3, a side channel of KWLI and owned by CBS Radio, is actually no longer CNN but instead a format the station calls "I Hear Dead People." It's an interesting format. As a former co-worker put it, it's all dead people singing. The PAD for the HD3 station reads, "I Hear Dead People."

One of the stations owned by Crawford, my employer, KLZ(AM) on 560 kHz, "The Light," is now Christian contemporary conservative talk.

Another AM, 950 kHz "The Fan," moved to FM and now 950 is "Cruisin' Oldies." The HD2 channel for KYGO(FM) on 98.5 MHz is now oldies instead of smooth jazz as shown on the original list.

Signal

My radio had trouble acquiring and keeping a digital signal for three stations in the market.

KJMN(FM) on 92.1 MHz did not get a lock in Denver or Aurora, a suburb 20 miles away that is considered part of the Denver market. The unit would try but could not keep digital more than a second or two. The unit could lock on and retain the analog signal with no problem.

I could not receive an HD-R lock on KMXA(AM) at 1090 kHz.

In downtown Denver and southeast Aurora, my radio could not receive a signal at all, either analog or digital, on 1490 kHz, which is KCFC(AM) in Boulder.

Radio World also asked me to note whether the multicast channels seemed live and whether they were transmitting data for receiver displays.

None of the multicasts were live; all seemed to be automated. The music multicasts were all music, with liners here and there. I never heard a person other than voice doing the liner for the station. The HD3 channel for KYGO(FM) on 98.5 MHz might have been live but it's a satellite feed, ESPN Radio.

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For my drive-around, I used a list downloaded from HD Radio.com, which shows HD Radio stations believed to be on the air in the Denver market. My own observations are at right. Formats are as published; I mention discrepancies in the story. IBiquity Digital maintains this list, based on information gathered from stations; the company also has listening stations in several markets to check broadcast quality and says information is checked regularly. IBiquity invites updates to its channel lists via e-mail to
stationoperations@iBiquity.com. The accompanying chart provides a rundown of the program-associated data that I saw displayed for each station and other observations about each station.

For the most part, besides the few for which I could not get an HD Radio lock or receive a signal, the signals were great. Going under bridges and near power lines that had leaks caused the HD Radio signal to go away for a little bit until I was clear of the area. When this occurs, it's typically with AM. Every once in a while it may affect FM, but rarely —usually only when the signal already is getting weak.

There definitely is a variety of radio to listen to in the Denver/Metro area. I wish I would actually listen to the radio; I get so tired of commercials and love listening to my MP3 player. Now that I have seen this list and what is out there, I may start listening to some of the HD2 and HD3 channels on the FM side as well as a few different AM stations. Typically, I stick with our stations and a couple others for talk radio.

Some areas unfortunately are holes for HD Radio. Many stations have nulls, and in these the radio cannot lock in HD Radio. For example, 92.5 KWLI has a transmitter up north near Erie, Colo., several miles from Denver. Erie is about 25 minutes drive north of Denver.

Here in Denver we have Lookout Mountain, home to several stations. On FM, if you are in certain parts of Boulder, you cannot get the HD Radio signal from Lookout Mountain. These FMs have boosters in Boulder, but analog only.

My parents and I have noticed while driving in our part of town, southeast Aurora, that the HD2 and HD3 sides of the station don't stay locked because of the weak signal. Also, west towards the foothills becomes difficult to get an HD lock. At times the analog even gets static.

HD Radio still hasn't caught on like I wish it would. I know of at least one person who lives in Boulder that got rid of his HD Radio because he couldn't get a signal. He's a fan of XM. But I have converted some people to HD Radio around Aurora. I'll get them to go somewhere with me in my car and I deliver a whole speech on HD Radio; I let them hear it for themselves and they fall in love with it.

Some of my friends just can't afford the radio, which is sad, but when you're a part-time worker going to school full-time, money is tight.

Amanda Alexander, CBT, is chief engineer for Crawford Broadcasting's four-station Denver cluster.

Wish to do a drive-around in your market? Write to
Lstimson@nbmedia.com.

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