What to do with HD Radio (Besides the Jukebox)

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HD Radio multicast doesn't need to be a jukebox.Click to enlarge.

If eight years ago (when HD Radio transmission facilities really started springing up around the country) you had asked "How will HD Radio fare in 2013?" the answer would likely have seemed more positive than what has, in fact, been achieved. We all know that. The multicast capability seemed like it was going to be the killer app, at least for a while. From the perspective of eight years away from the original installations, what can we say has been become the most important use of HD Radio capability? Even up to 10 or 12 years ago, the capacity to add another program channel -- essentially a whole other radio station -- would seem fantastic to many radio station programmers; however, we all know because of various circumstances (which I won't address) that capability (which I will refer to as jukebox) is not a selling point for HD Radio. What, then, are other things you can do with an HD Radio facility?

Leasing the facility

Superficially at least, the HD Radio multicast capability would seem to be a natural extension of the kinds of services previously served with SCA; I'm unaware of any organization making that change successfully though. However, there are broadcast organizations that use HD Radio multicast capacity to extend their network footprints. More than two years after I first wrote about them. Hum Desi radio is still on the air in New York (though it has moved to 97.1 HD2 from 98.7 HD2). Hum Desi bills itself as "The largest south Asian radio network in North America" and is broadcast in at least four other large markets: Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington.

There has been a trend over the last five or so years for non-commercial FM stations to double-up in their communities, buying another station, with the intention of placing a music format on one station, and a news format on the other: WNYC and WQXR in New York come to mind as one example. Alternatively though, some stations have placed one format on their analog transmission, while putting the other on a digital multicast. WWFM (Mercer County Community College) in Trenton, NJ, is a perfect example of a broadcast organization making use of HD Radio multicast capability to extend its reach in this fashion. WWFM is the flagship station of "The Classical Network" that can be heard in the western part of New Jersey and the eastern part Pennsylvania. However, it has extended its coverage area beyond the range of its own facilities by leasing multicast space on other stations. "The Classical Network" can be heard on the HD2 channel of WKCR in New York, and WKVP in Philadelphia. WWFM also has a jazz format known as JazzOn2 heard on the HD2 channel of three of Mercer's other stations: WWNJ, WWPJ and WWCJ (as well as the HD2 of WWFM). I have previously written about the methodology used by Mercer for distribution of their programs.

Northwest Public Radio (based at Washington State University in Pullman, WA) provides yet another example of this type of network distribution. Its network extends as far east as Lewiston, ID, and as far northwest as Forks, WA. Some of its main (analog) channels carry the news service, while the same station's HD2 carries the classical service; some are the other way around, with classical on the main, and news on the HD2. Program distribution is via satellite; uplinking is in conjunction with Colorado Public Radio. The two program services are hauled between Pullman and Denver with T1 connectivity. Both are uplinked, and each NWPR site has a digital satellite receiver (from ICP) with local storage on-board, giving each site the ability to insert localized information, such as the station ID, and even local weather.

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