WASHINGTON Hundreds of radio stations have launched supplemental digital channels. Here’s how two FMs in Washington — WHUR and WAMU — are approaching the project. Both say they are working to keep costs low while providing innovative programming.
WHUR-World offers a mix of music and information intended to expand the way people look at the world, according to its programmers. The HD2 channel is programmed in conjunction with the School of Communications for Howard University, the station licensee. WHUR was the first commercial station in Washington to go IBOC in 2004.
The new channel allows WHUR and Howard to collaborate on programming. Students gain real-world radio experience by working on the channel and the HD2 station serves as a farm team for WHUR.
WHUR GM Jim Watkins said, “We’ve been planning this since we went HD. One of the things we always wanted to do was own another radio station, but that wasn’t in the cards for us. Now, we have another station and it gives us the opportunity to do things with the university, which most stations owned by colleges do.”
Though WHUR is licensed to Howard, it is a professional commercial station. The HD2 channel has a staff of seven, some of whom share duties with WHUR; others are students with experience from Howard University’s student station, WHBC(AM).
Sean Plater, general manager of WHBC, said the HD2 channel “will touch the world. Current students and those to come will benefit,” from the experience.
The cost of the new channel project was roughly $43,000. The largest expense was a digital encoder; the Harris model chosen for the job cost about $19,000. WHUR’s Broadcast Electronics AudioVault system was expanded to one terabyte of storage to allow enough storage space for the music libraries of WHUR, the HD2 channel and enough to grow, according to Watkins. The cost of that was rolled into a digital facilities upgrade last year.
The programming for both digital channels is uncompressed and the bit rates for both the main and supplemental digital channels are 48 kilobits per second.
Wheatstone provided a routing system and console furniture for two edit rooms containing ProTools; the gear in the rooms cost about $12,000 each. Neumann dynamic mics were used.
The content will be delivered by CD and ripped into AudioVault. The routing system allows an HD2 programmer to pick up any input in either the WHUR or the campus station. Using dedicated ISDN lines for master control, the HD2 programmer can receive an audio source.
The HD2 studio is also set up to record interviews.
“We tried to make it (the studio) as self sufficient as we possibly could,” said Watkins, so the HD2 channel doesn’t affect the work on WHUR and vice-versa.
Some programming will be voice-tracked; the station can be automated or run in a manual mode.
“We are not trying to run a live show in each daypart, because in WHUR-World, there is no daypart. We make the rules,” said Watkins, who added the HD2 channel is not trying to compete with the main channel, but offer an alternative.
The HD2 format is a jazz-intensive blend of classic jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel, blues, hip hop, African-American folk and world music.
WHUR has been giving away Boston Acoustics Recepter HD Radios to promote the launch of the HD2 channel.
WAMU is a professional noncom licensed to American University. It launched its second supplemental channel in collaboration with Towson University station WTMD.
WAMU is broadcasting the adult album alternative on WAMU 88.5 Channel 2, its second digital channel. WAMU now airs “Bluegrass Country” on its HD3 channel.
WAMU and WTMD are co-promoting the Baltimore-Washington connection during their legal IDs and other on-air identifiers. WAMU calls the collaboration with publicly funded WTMD “unprecedented.”
WAMU Spokeswoman Kay Summers said the station wanted to use the AAA format for the additional supplemental to fulfill an unserved audience. The collaboration with Towson is important, she said, because Baltimore and Washington are increasingly becoming one large market rather than two separate smaller entities as the population of the area grows.
Participants say the partnership also represents one of the first examples of sharing resources for digital radio within the public radio system.
WTMD is sending its signal to WAMU as an MP3 stream. WAMU decodes the stream and sends the decoded stereo audio to its transmitter for broadcast, according to Director of Engineering John Holt.
WAMU was using an Internet DSL connection for the WTMD signal at press time, but was looking at getting a connection with more bandwidth.
When asked about the cost of the project, WAMU officials said they used existing hardware and infrastructure for the new supplemental channel and did not incur additional costs. The data throughput rate for the main digital channel is 48 kilobits per second, with 32 kbps for the WTDM channel and 24 kbps for the bluegrass HD3 channel.