Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #94

K-Jazz (88.1 FM) has added iconic jazz vocalist Steve Tyrell to its roster; Tyrell will host “The Steve Tyrell Show” weekdays from 6 to 9 p.m. beginning Monday August 31st.

Tyrell is an accomplished vocalist and entertainer with a talent to attract listeners cutting across generations and a very distinctive voice. Under then-programmer Brad Chambers, he was the image voice for adult standards station The Fabulous 570 (later The Fabulous 690) back in the days when KLAC (570 AM) wanted ratings.

Following Tyrell at 9:00 is a new program focussing on bebop hosted by Bubba Jackson and dedicated to the memory of Chuck Niles, one of the foremost advocates of bebop on jazz radio for decades. 

Blame Arbitron

Nielsen owns the company now, but it was Arbitron that developed the PPM system for ratings collection. PPM is a system that “hears” what station someone tunes in and uses the data to calculate ratings.

The problem is that the system relies heavily on audio ... the PPM signal “hides” in the station’s audio, and experts tell me that many voices don’t work well with the system. In other words, talking and silent passages won’t work, so talk and classical music stations -- which feature voices or silent passages -- are at a distinct disadvantage.

That’s why stations put those awful music beds under much of the programming, including KFI, which will now play an upbeat diddy as they tell you of some tragic news event.

And there’s the rub: the move may allow for better ratings collection, but it makes the station unlistenable. Ratings may be “higher,” but the count in my estimation includes fewer actual listeners. I know I for one cannot stand the music beds, and I tune out.

I cannot be the only one. This is a problem that must be addressed before the system implodes. PPM seems to be unfixable.

OTR Convention

SPERDVAC - the Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety And Comedy - is in the late planning stages for their annual convention. This year it will be held in Burbank at the Holiday Inn Media Center, 150 E. Angeleno Avenue on November 6th, 7th and 8th.

I’ve been to a few of the conventions and they are a blast. There are Meet and Greets with stars old and new, panel discussions, and old time radio program re-creations that are amazing to watch. It truly takes you back to another time.

Information will be updated as it is confirmed on the SPERDVAC web site, www.sperdvac.com.

Mighty Five

My wife says I live too much in the past. But it’s not just me. 

Chris Torrick was a huge fan of one of my favorite stations of the past, XETRA/Tijuana, Mexico, which during the early 1980s was using their huge transmitter just South of the US border to send top-40 hits our way as “The Mighty 690.”

The Mighty 690 was one of the last high-powered top-40 AM stations in the country (U.S. or Mexico, in case you are asking which country). Torrick liked it so much he set up an online streaming station playing much of the same music.

“That crazy idea I had about bringing ‘The Mighty 690’ back as an online station is creeping up on its 5th anniversary,” Torrick told me. “Since we started we have exceeded 2000 Facebook friends and have exceeded an average of 10,000 listening sessions per month.”
And now it’s not just on your computer. Apps are available for iPhones, Androids and Blackberries so you can now tune directly via your smart phone.
“I never thought that it would grow like it has, but I am so stoked about this and the future,” Torrick concluded.
        Monday, August 10th at 9 a.m., KFI (640 AM) made the switch to the FM band. At least through the magic of digital HD radio. KLAC (570 AM) did the same.

It’s not really anything new, as KABC (790 AM) has been simulcast on KLOS’s (95.5 FM) extra HD stream for years, as has KMZT (1260 AM) which is one of the extra channels on Go Country’s (105.1 FM) HD signal. To hear any of these HD signals over the broadcast airwaves you must use an HD-capable tuner, found in many new cars and trucks. They are available online as well.
What makes KFI’s move significant is that the station has essentially given up on the AM HD signal. The significance? KFI was among the first to broadcast using HD, and it is -- or was -- considered one of the best success stories for HD digital broadcasts on the AM band. More on that later.

Here’s how it works: using an HD radio, tune to KOST (103.5 FM) and wait for the radio to lock onto the digital signal. Once that is done, simply tune up one channel to hear the KFI simulcast. To hear KLAC on FM, do the same thing but on KYSR (Alt 98.7 FM). You can save them as presets for direct tuning in the future, though you won’t hear anything until the tuner buffers enough data ... similar to listening online.

Audio quality is good, though it could be better. Surprisingly, the KFI feed sounded a bit less “full” to me than I remember from when they used HD on their AM signal until earlier this Summer, though that could be a false memory. Currently KNX (1070 AM) and KMZT (if you are close enough to receive it) have the best sounding AM HD signals in town.

The problem comes when you reach a bad signal area. Unlike AM HD or the main signals on FM, which drop to analog in weak signal areas, the signals on the extra FM channels just drop out completely. I found KFI dropping out as I drove to the beach Monday on the South side of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. KLAC dropped out even more, which is not that unexpected: the signal for Alt 98.7 itself is among the worst in town, so the HD has trouble staying locked.

But when it works, it does sound nice. If you happen to own an HD radio, give it a listen and let me know your thoughts.


That KFI would drop their HD signal on AM may be a signal of sorts ... that owner IHeartMedia believes HD on AM is dead. Ultimately, that would mean AM itself is dead, since HD was originally conceived to help bring AM on par with FM in sound quality. If HD doesn’t work on KFI -- among the most powerful stations in the United States and one in which it should work flawlessly -- small stations are doomed. Or so some say.

The loss of HD wouldn’t be a bad thing if AM stations would open up their audio as they did during the AM stereo days; audio bandwidth was cut drastically on the analog signal to make room for the HD stream. Without HD, perhaps wideband AM can return. Wideband analog AM sounds wonderful on a good radio, though still noisier than HD.

And of course there is that pesky need for programming that people actually want to hear.

Wheel ... Of ... Hits

You know his as Pat Sajak, longtime host of the immensely popular television game show, Wheel of Fortune. But Sajak has an earlier life, a more important life ... as a top-40 radio DJ.

Airchexx.Com found a tape of Sajak as heard on WSM/Nashville, recorded June 23, 1975. It’s a different style, though still laid back and in control as he is with Wheel.

Hear Sajak play the hits at http://tinyurl.com/SajakWSM

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