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Secret stations lurk beside your favorites – on HD radio

Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

Think of them as secret stations, hiding in the digital universe.

Barely known and little promoted, HD radio is the new thing in broadcasting. Stations can send digital signals alongside their traditional analog bands and offer additional channels.

But you can only listen to them if you get an HD radio, which can be bought for as little as $60 at some electronic outlets.

HD is enjoying a small burst of interest in Charlotte among fans of jazz – a passionate group of listeners who lost their fix when Rock Hill public station WNSC FM (88.9) switched this summer from that format to NPR news and information.

A few weeks later, WFAE FM (90.7) added a jazz format to one of its HD channels. And it offered discount coupons to people who wanted to buy HD radios. More than 200 responded.

Those with the units can tune to WFAE's main channel, then one click later move to the digital jazz service.

In addition to offering side channels, HD radio delivers a crisper, non-static signal.

Broadcasters don't expect the digital radio business to catch on until auto manufacturers begin offering them in new cars.

“When the units get in the field, programming will get more visible,” says Morgan Bohannon, regional vice president for Clear Channel Radio's cluster of stations in Charlotte.

“Until then, it's just me and a few engineers listening to it.”

Some major stations in Charlotte are broadcasting alternate programming on their additional digital channels, too.

Among them:


WFNZ AM (610), plagued with a weak signal for its sports shows in much of the region, is now simulcast on a digital channel for WPEG FM (“Power 98” 97.9). Another WPEG HD channel does oldies hip-hop.


WIBT FM (“The Beat” 96.1) offers Spanish variety.


WKKT FM (“Kat” 96.9) does classic country hits.


WRFX FM (“Fox” 99.7) expands on its rock classic brand with “Vinyl Vinyard.”


WBAV FM (“V” 101.9) offers contemporary jazz.


WLYT FM (“Lite” 102.9) offers a more energetic brand of adult contemporary.


WKQC FM (“K” 104.7) does hits of the '60s and '70s.


WEND FM (“The End” 106.5) ran a comedy channel for a while, and has now switched to an underground independent rock format called “Undies.”

WSOC FM (103.7) and WNKS FM (“Kiss” 95.1) will be adding additional digital channels by 2010, says Bill Schoening, senior vice president of CBS Radio's Charlotte stations.

Media Movers

It's back to the morning beat for Al Conklin at WBTV (Channel 3). Conklin has been named morning and midday meteorologist, replacing Chris Suchan, who left for a station in Tampa. Conklin, who joins John Carter and Barbara Pinson on the growing morning show, is no stranger to the hours – when he arrived at Channel 3 in 1993 from Miami, he did the morning duty for about five years …

WFAE FM (90.7) names Greg Collard as news director. He replaces Mark Rumsey, who becomes the station's community engagement coordinator and will continue as local host of NPR's afternoon show, “All Things Considered.” Collard, 37, a Marshall University graduate, was news director of West Virginia Public Broadcasting ...

WGIV AM (1370) is juggling its afternoon lineup. Former afternoon host B.J. Murphy is now on Wednesday afternoons only. Other hosts to be announced … Former Panthers broadcaster Bill Rosinski will be entering his third season with Westwood One, working with Dan Reeves doing NFL games weekly. Among his assignments this year: Chargers-Saints in London on Oct. 26 ...

Saturday night rotations have ended at WBT AM (1110). Jon Wilson, who sometimes fills in for weeknight host John Hancock, will become permanent host for the 9 p.m. to midnight shift on Saturdays starting Sept. 6. Wilson won't be quitting his day job as roving reporter for “Fox News Rising” on WCCB (Fox Charlotte, Channel 18) ...

This week, Charlotte moved up one notch to No. 24 among major television markets in the nation, sweeping past Baltimore. What's next? From Will Keible, research director of WCNC (Channel 36), who did an analysis of the Nielsen growth data: “Charlotte is 33,600 households behind No. 23 Pittsburgh. If both Charlotte and Pittsburgh continue along their recent growth trajectories, Charlotte will surpass Pittsburgh when the new estimates are released next year” …

WAXN (Channel 64) began broadcasting its 10 p.m. “Action News” show in high definition on Wednesday, but it's only available to people who take the HD signal over the air, says general manager Joseph Pomilla. Cable and satellite providers are still working on moving the station's signal to the HD tier. This fall, both “Oprah” and “Dr. Phil” will be in HD on Channel 64 ... Ramona Holloway and Matt Harris add WRMF in West Palm Beach, Fla., to their “Matt & Ramona” network, bringing the number of stations carrying the show to eight …

Classical voice WDAV FM (89.9) expands its local presence by adding an hour to key shows starting Monday. Mike McKay's morning show will now start at 5 a.m.; Jennifer Foster's midday shift will be extended to 3 p.m.; and Frank Dominguez's “Night Music” will be extended an hour to midnight and adds a Sunday broadcast. “Choral Showcase,” an hour-long sampler of sacred and secular music hosted by Rachel Jeffreys, joins the schedule at 6 p.m. Sundays ...

At the Southern Women's Show at the Charlotte Merchandise Mart 1 p.m. Sept. 20: Cristian de la Fuente, from “Dancing With the Stars.”

Mark Washburn: 704-358-5007; mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com

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