Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


The high definition revolution...

Posted 12/29/20 (Tue)

I’m sure by now, most of us in North Dakota are aware of high definition radio. After all, Prairie Public Radio has been HD for several years and if you ever listen to Prairie Public, you’ll agree that the sound quality is incredible.

Up until recently, no commercial radio stations had been broadcasting in high definition. But that is beginning to change.

Perhaps the most interesting surprise is that of KRVX-FM, which is licensed to Wimbledon and serves the Jamestown and Valley City areas.

Branded “The Raven,” KRVX broadcasts a classic rock format and its HD-2 station branded “Ted FM,” broadcasts a classic hits format.

Any other commercial high definition FM stations in North Dakota are located in Fargo, which has a total of 11 high definition stations including seven commercial stations.

What’s interesting about Fargo’s seven commercial HD radio stations is that two of them were previously on the dial as independent radio stations.

As an example, KLTA-FM broadcasts on 98.7, which used to be KQWB or Q-98. Originally, KLTA was assigned by the FCC to broadcast on 105.1.

With HD, the former 105.1 is now the HD-2 station for KPFX at 107.9 FM. KPFX also has an HD-3 station which is North Dakota State University sports talk.

Keep in mind that when a radio station is in HD, its distance is limited, just like HD-TV.

However, the original station, such as KPFX, will fall back to analog when you are too far away to get the digital signal. HD-2 and HD-3 become unavailable at that point.

There is an interesting phenomenon that occurs in analog FM that also takes place in HD, although not as often.

KRVX HD-1, which is “The Raven,” can sometimes be heard well north and west of its transmitter located approximately 4 miles west of Sanborn, in Barnes County. If the conditions are right, both HD-1 and HD-2 channels can be heard as far north and west as Kenmare, Minot and Bottineau.

This is the direction that radio stations are going. Taking a look at Hartford, Conn., which has the same population as Fargo, there are 22 HD radio stations there.

The switch to HD appears to be driven by consumer demand and not an FCC mandate. The FCC is not requiring FM to switch to digital like it did with TV in 2009. It’s unclear what kind of a budget it would take to put an HD station on the air.

There doesn’t appear to be any demand in western North Dakota for HD radio. But there certainly could be, if listeners knew about the quality of the sound. Listening to an HD broadcast has CD quality sound.

More recently, a number of AM radio stations have been making the switch to HD. There are now six AM stations in Chicago that are broadcasting in HD, including WBBM on 780-AM.

That station is sometimes available in North Dakota at night. Another is KSL, 1160-AM in Salt Lake City. A third station is KMOX, 1120-AM in St. Louis.

If you have an HD receiver in your car, and nearly all new cars do now, tune into WBBM, KSL or KMOX and see if you can pick them up in HD.

KSL-HD is available almost every morning and late at night.

We all know what AM sounds like, right? It’s scratchy, it has static and sounds tinny, right?

If the station is in HD, I guarantee you’re going to listen to it because the quality of the sound is almost mind boggling considering it’s coming from your AM dial.

When you listen to KSL normally, it’s a little scratchy and you might hear some distant popping sounds or other stations off in the background. After all, it’s coming from 1,000 miles away.

But when the HD kicks in, it’s as if you are sitting in the KSL studio in downtown Salt Lake City. It sounds that good.

Right now, there are approximately 3,500 HD stations in the United States and about 400 in Canada. Unfortunately, none of the stations above the North Dakota border are HD. The closest are in Calgary and Toronto.

These numbers will surely rise when more people become familiar with HD and when more HD receivers become available.

This is almost the same as when FM first went on the air. It was so different, people were just amazed at the quality of the sound.

Now, there’s an opportunity to have that same feeling with HD, especially AM HD.

It’s hard to believe over-the-air broadcasts could sound so good.