The first FM radio that I remember listening to was a Heathkit my Dad built in the mid 60s.
FM was still a novelty then and factory made stereo receivers were very expensive.
The Heathkit was a way to get a good stereo at reasonable cost.
The New York FM stations at that time were an after though to their big AM sisters.
But the programming was interesting. This was new territory and everyone was experimenting.
The FCC had limits as to how much programming could be simulcast. So FM stations had to offer something different at least part of the day.
While my parents liked the easy listening on WTFM, WRFM and WVNJ, the rock stations caught my ear.
WABC the big top 40 station had a different version of the AM format on FM for a while. There was even “The Other Dan Ingram Show” which I believe featured jazz.
Ingram was the afternoon drive personality on WABC AM.
WABC FM later changed to a progressive rock format called “Love’ with Bob Lewis and Brother John. Lewis doubled as a weekend jock on WABC AM. This was the first real attempt at formatting album rock.
WNEW FM experimented with an ‘all female talent line-up in the mid 60s with comedian Peggy Cass, Allison Steele and Sally Jesse Raphael part of it. WNEW later shifted to a AOR format and certainly was the most popular station in our high school.
Murray the K, Rosko and others did an early progressive rock presentation on WOR-FM until it became the “Big Town Sound” as a Drake formatted Top 40.
WCBS FM tried a few formats including progressive rock with jocks like Bob Lewis, Tom Clay, Bobby “Your Wizard’s Here” Wayne and Gus Gossert until changing to oldies in the early 70s.
Our local FM station WDHA experimented with a mix of jazz, classical and pop. By the mid 70s they were deep into the quad sound playing several hours of Quadraphonic music each night.
The entire dial was open to experimentation.
There was a time in the early 70s that WLIB FM (now WBLS) signed on at noon and played jazz all day.
WBAI owned by Pacifica was as radical as any station you’ve ever heard.
All of this was so different from the AM band then and today’s FM that it’s hard to even describe now.
FM was the exciting frontier. AM was establishment.
Many AM operators simply handed their FMs to the kids to program. The owners didn’t know what to do or didn’t really care.
Looking back, FM had a huge advantage. It was run by outsiders who didn’t know there were any rules.
This weekend I decided to give HD a fair shot and thorough listening.
I mentioned in this blog Radio Shack is clearing out HD radios for $82 that once sold for $299. Worst case I’ll finally have a radio for my office at work. A low risk investment at that price.
There are several $300 radios in my collection, by Sony, Eton and others. The Boston Acoustics Radio HD Radio is simply not in their league. No wonder it’s on clearance.
Every radio I own picks up dozens more stations off their whip antennas than this one does with the supplied dipole. Now I see why they tried to sell me a $30 external antenna.
The AM section is very poor.
WOAI is 50KW and exactly 100 miles from my home. It fades in and out on this radio.
WOAI puts a solid signal on the $30 Sony pocket radio I found at Walmart, but not on this $300 marvel.
Please note, the term ‘marvel’ is used with a little sarcasm at this point in the blog.
The poor dear is what DX’ers call, deaf.
Why would someone from the general public buy one especially at full price?
I don’t know.
To make matters worse, there’s nothing for them to listen to here in Austin.
KUT has two HD channels but either they don’t reach my home, nineteen miles from Austin or the HD is off.
There are a handful of HD-2 music formats on the air. All sound like little effort has gone into them.
I didn’t need a whole weekend of listening to figure that out.
HD seems to be run by people who know too much about radio or worse, the accounting department.
They are applying a business model and ‘metrics’ before the art has taken hold.
Sadly, the HD channels sound more stale than the main channels.
The HD oldies channel uses the liner “Good Times and Great Oldies” .
Talk about fifteen years behind the curve.
HD needs the same kind of free thinking FM had it the early days. Give it over to people who aren’t locked into traditional business models, and outdated research methods.
Here are my suggestions for programming HD.
Ban sweepers, station image voices and all liners that were ever used on FM.
Hand a channel over to a group of teens or twenty somethings. Let them figure it out.
Just tell them to make something happen.
Wait five years and see what develops.
Give HD the chance to be the creative playground that allowed FM to develop.
What happened to those stations?
- WCBS FM became a great oldies station partly because of the success Gus Gossert had with his weekend show.
- WABC FM became a solid progressive rock station, later known as WPLJ.
- WNEW FM became a legend. Then a big company killed the golden goose.
- WOR FM, went from Top 40 format under Drake, to WXLO, 99X, and eventually KISS adult urban contemporary.
- WLIB became WBLS with Frankie Crocker’s “Black Experience In Sound” format and a market leader for years.
- WDHA became more AC then rock in the late 70s and continues today.
- WBAI. Radical as ever.
Not bad for a little experimentation.
Remember FM was the 25 year overnight success.
You’ll never get people to want it by giving them a watered down version of the same old stuff.
And get out of the way.
Oh, and one more thing.
Build some radios that work, at a good price.