Friday, September 26, 2008

HD Radio in Bozeman

Since I've written a fair amount about HDTV in Bozeman, I figured I should put down my thoughts on HD Radio in the local area.

Prior to a trip home to Seattle earlier this year, I upgraded my vehicle's stereo to a JVC KD-HDR30 HD Radio equipped deck. I've been very happy with it, having used it extensively for CD-MP3 playback, connection to a portable MP3 player and of course HD Radio.

Out in Seattle the number of HD choices is almost overwhelming. I particularly found KNDD-HD2 (1077 the end) rather enjoyable, seeing as it played just 'local' music (which apparently includes Portland) without commercials.

In Bozeman, as you would expect, choices are not so numerous. In fact they number just two.

The first, and the one that I almost always have my radio tuned to is our local NPR affiliate, part of Yellowstone Public Radio (YPR), KBMC-HD (though it shows as KBMC-FM on my stereo). Interestingly, it is the only HD station listed by iBiquity (HD radio's creator) for Bozeman.

In terms of HD quality/features, the HD feed is noticeably clearer than their analog feed. They seem to have periodic bouts of downtime with the HD transmitter, where my deck is able to pick up that there is a digital signal (along with the call-letters), but is never able to lock onto the feed. In those cases I am forced to listen to their analog feed. Sigh.

They also have struggled with synchronizing the HD and analog transmitters, and as of late they are almost but not quite there. They have no program information transmitted with their HD feed, simply a static "YPR | Yellowstone Public Radio | Bozeman, MT" scroll. They also have no HD2 stations, which I certainly hope they will rectify soon (BBC News or NPR Talk please!).

In Googling around I also found a link talking a bit about how the system KBMC transmitter was set up.

The second HD station in town is our local Christian music station, 99.1 KCMM. Their HD feed is even less featured than KBMC's. It has no text sent with the station except for it's call-letters. Interestingly, the HD feed sounds drastically different than the analog feed. While the analog feed is very compressed (low dynamic range) and has some of the most over-emphasized bass I've heard on radio, the HD feed sounds as if it is coming straight out of the sound engineer's mixing board and skipping the compressor and EQ for the analog feed. One side effect of that, is that it appears to be almost half the volume of the standard station. So when it goes from analog to HD, you have to turn it up 10db to get the same volume, and when you lose the analog signal (or switch stations) you rush to turn it down before your eardrums implode.

Well, that's an overview of the HD Radio options in Bozeman, which are even sparser than the HDTV options. Until next time!

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