"When you are working on a record, you always have how it will sound on radio in the back of your mind," said music producer Jimmy Jam, who has worked with Gwen Stefani, Usher, Elton John and Mary J. Blige. With the expanded digital bandwidth, he said, "You don't have to be so aware of the limitations you face with radio."
The major benefits of digital FM probably will go to the broadcasters. It lets them split the spectrum in such a way that it can allow as many as four channels. These additional channels can be added without going through the arduous and expensive process of purchasing more frequencies.
But as the spectrum is sliced up because of multicasting, music quality can suffer. For example, the commercial classical station KMZT-FM is one of two local stations already experimenting with digital multicasting. On its regular channel is the classical service and on KMZT-2, as it shows up on the screen, is KKGO-AM, an easy-listening station that has the same owner.
This made for the odd juxtaposition of Amilcare Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours" on the classical side and Gene Autry singing "Here Comes Santa Claus" on the other during a recent listening test.
The Ponchielli -- best known as the music for the hippo dance in the original "Fantasia" -- sounded only slightly better in digital. After all, it had only half the digital spectrum with which to work. Ibiquity executives said that stations were still making adjustments to their digital transmission equipment and that they expected quality to increase, even in multicasting channels.
Whatever the technical challenges, the radio industry clearly is serious about digital. So far, 598 stations nationwide are broadcasting in digital, according to Ibiquity, and each paid $80,000 to $100,000 -- plus an approximately $7,000 licensing fee -- to make the upgrade. In addition, 420 more stations have licensed the technology and probably will activate their digital signals soon.
It's such a heavy investment -- and multicasting is so potentially lucrative -- that you figure broadcasters are going to work hard to make it a success. With improved sound and the promise of additional channels (and please, take a tip from satellite radio and reduce the commercials), it might very well pay off.
The question is, will the listening experience be good enough to get people to buy new receivers, or will digital radio just be the next laser disc?
David Colker can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com. Previous columns can be found at latimes.com/technopolis.
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A new wave
These local stations are broadcasting in digital as well as traditional analog:
*--* Frequency Format KDIS 1110 Pop music for children KMXE 830 Talk (Spanish) KNX 1070 News KTNQ 1020 News/talk (Spanish)
*--* Frequency Format KCRW 89.9 News/music (public radio) KCSN 88.5 Classical (public) KHHT 92.3 Urban KIIS 102.7 Top 40 KKBT 100.3 Urban KKJZ 88.1 Jazz (public) KLVE 107.5 Adult contemp. (Spanish) KLYY 97.5 Cumbia music (Spanish) s KMZT1* 105.1 Classical KMZT2* 105.1 KKGO-AM simulcast KOST1* 103.5 Adult contemp. KOST2* 103.5 Adult contemp. oldies KPCC 89.3 News/public affairs (public) KPWR 105.9 Hip-hop KROQ 106.7 Rock/alternative KSCA 101.9 Pop (Spanish) KUSC 91.5 Classical (public) KWVE 107.9 Christian KYSR 98.7 Adult contemp.
Source: Ibiquity Digital. Graphics reporting by David Colker