Radio City

So does HD work better in a big city, where there are already too many stations fighting for analog dominance? Not according to this discussion group, whose LinoNewYork took some samples:

Mike Walker: Thanks for the clips. Those WPLJ cuts suffer from so much processing that they make probably the worst case ever for HD’s sound quality. On top of that, there’s virtually no stereo separation (are you sure you captured a stereo signal??? I hear NOTHING resembling stereo). Just proves HD can sound every bit as awful as truly horrid analog!

Carnivore: Maybe I’ll take a drive around NYC and record HD Radio flipping back and forth from HD to analog in my car, complete with not-quite-synced up audio that causes echos and stutters, and poorly matched volume levels that will want to make you tear your hair out. That would be fun.

LinoNewYork: Mike, you have to listen closely for sep on the main, it is there. PLJ, and most other NY CHRs, are into “dense” processing and it seems that only ambiance and reverb cut through with any degree of separation. I have CDs of alot of these songs and many might as well be mono.

WPLJ/Citadel has a policy of mono feeds for the -2 and-3 streams also AM, its probably just as well at those low bitrates.

Mike Walker: Lino, I tried with headphones. You’re right . . . stereo is there. In the way that honesty “is there” in politics. It’s just damn hard to find!

Carnivore: Here’s the reality though. On AM, the slightest bit of electrical interference is enough to knock out the HD reception and cause the radio to fall back to analog. This happens all the time when driving around in a car, unless you happen to be so close to the tower you can practically see it through your windshield. The effect of flipping in and out of HD is incredibly annoying on AM, as it results in the sound quality changing drastically every few seconds, not just the high frequencies but the compression level, overall volume level, and even the timing of the two audio streams sometimes being not quite synced up. In my opinion this totally negates any benefit of the HD since it does nothing to extend the range of clear AM reception and it’s more annoying to endure than the lower-fidelity, yet consistent analog signal. With conventional AM you may not have those high frequencies but at least the sound quality isn’t bopping back and forth like a ping pong ball. To top it off, there’s nothing on the AM band that I care about hearing more high frequencies on. It’s all news and talk, and analog AM gets the job done just fine.

High-power FM stations fare a little better in the car. As long as you’re driving around the immediate local coverage area you should usually be able to keep a constant lock and enjoy the improved HD sound quality. But lower-powered FM stations can be almost as annoying as AM in the car. I live about 8 miles from the WFUV transmitter in NYC and that station flips in and out of HD constantly in my neighborhood. And that station is no slouch — according to radio-locator.com it’s cranking out 46,000 watts ERP. As for the big commercial stations on the Empire State Building, I start losing the lock on them between exits 8 & 9 on the NJ Turnpike, to give you an idea of the limitation.

If you’re expecting “hi-fidelity,” it depends. Some stations sound good when they’re not dropping in and out, others like WWFS-HD2 here in NY are pretty grainy sounding. And AM sounds highly digitized, not good enough to revive any music formats on the band IMHO.

At first I was excited about the potential of HD radio and I now own three receivers, two in the home and one in the car. But my enthusiasm has really turned around. I now think AM HD is completely pointless, and FM HD is a fun thing to be able to pick up for a radio geek but I can’t see it ever hitting critical mass. Ultimately I believe once the big HD Radio promotional push is exhausted, the subchannels will end up becoming the domain of paid religion, brokered and ethnic programming. Broadcasters are going to want to start making money from their investment and I think those are the only places they’re going to find it.

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