Monday, July 7, 2014

Radio Waves Podcast #41

I have heard the future of AM radio. In a 2006 Lincoln Navigator. Well, not exactly. But what could have been the future of AM radio, anyway.
The story starts with a bad fuel pump in my ’99 Silverado. I knew it would take a while for me to have time to get the part and install it, so I borrowed a Lincoln Navigator from my brother. As I always do, I started playing with the radio ... or in this case the AM/FM/6 CD changer that must have been the top-line stereo of the day.
Tuning through FM was impressive enough. The car has a nice subwoofer hidden somewhere in the cabin that brings nice depth to the sound (my own personal opinion is that all car systems should have subwoofers, by the way. And most home systems as well). But when I tuned to AM I did a doubletake ... KNX (1070 AM) sounded fabulous ... very clean and clear. 
I have an HD radio in my Silverado, so I am used to KNX sounding great. But I knew this wasn’t an HD radio. Something was up. It turns out that, while this is not (that I can tell) an analog AM stereo receiver, it IS a variable bandwidth tuner. In other words, with good reception, the radio opens up and brings in the high end of the sound spectrum. If reception is spotty, or if there is interference, the radio automatically decreases the bandwidth, lowering fidelity but reducing noise.
With KNX being an HD station and limiting their analog bandwidth (digital HD streams don’t work well if a station has really good analog fidelity) I did quickly realize that not only was this not quite “high” fidelity, but that I was also picking up some of the sideband interference that comes from the HD radio stream. But the fidelity was still impressive; I have not confirmed but I believe that KNX uses a version of HD radio that allows better than typical analog sound.
Tuning to KMZT (1260 AM) brought out the real potential of this system. Even with spotty reception, the classical music that came out of my speakers was truly breathtaking. Station owner Saul Levine told me a while back that K-Mozart broadcasts a high fidelity signal, and I believe him. There were clean highs and nice lows ... the way I know AM radio can sound on a good receiver.
So I got to thinking (and agreeing with others who have proposed this solution): While I am not anti-HD, the problems with digital HD radio in the current analog-digital hybrid system doesn’t always work, especially with lower powered or very directional AM signals. And it wreaks havoc with many stations at night. These problems may be mitigated if AM transitioned into an all-digital system, but that is unlikely to happen soon, if ever.
Why can’t manufacturers make an AM radio that receives high-fidelity analog broadcasts, as can this Lincoln radio, along with HD signals where they are available? It would give the best of both worlds, and is probably the easiest way to “save” the AM band, at least technically. All that would be left to do is find decent programmers to actually program compelling content. I personally have that covered already, though the band may need some other great programmers besides me ...
Short Takes
Reader Joe Paire wanted me to mention that Bryan Suits’ “Dark Secret Place” is back on the air on KABC (790 AM) at 9 p.m. Saturday nights ...
An audio memorial and celebration of Liz Fulton’s life and career will be taped July 12 for future airing on K-Beach (88.1 HD3) and on the internet at Best known as Rick Dees’ newscaster and station news director during Dees’ early days on KIIS-FM (102.7), Fulton passed away June 7 at the age of 61. The date and time of the memorial broadcast is to be determined ...
To those who miss Kristen Cruz since she left (read: was forced out of so that owner Clear Channel could save a few bucks on) the KOST (103.5 FM) “Mark and Kristen” morning show, head over to her blog at

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