HD radio is now broadcasting across the Tri-Cities.
WETS-FM, East Tennessee State University’s public radio station broadcasting at 89.5, began the new HD signals a few weeks ago. WETS is the only station broadcasting HD, or high definition, signals in this area said Wayne Winkler, station director.
The school officially announced the new channels were broadcasting Tuesday.
“We were kind of like a restaurant opening quietly for a little bit and making sure everything works before having our grand opening,” Winkler said.
A radio must be HD compatible to receive the new WETS HD signals. There are three new signals broadcast locally from 89.5. A digital receiver will recognize these new signals and offer listeners the option of WETS-HD 1, which is a digital version of the analog signal that broadcasts news and information; WETS-HD 2, which has folk, old-time, bluegrass, blues vintage country and rock and other genres; and WETS-HD 3, which is mainly classical music with some jazz.
Analog FM broadcasts have not stopped.
WETS dropped music from its programming in early 2010. Winkler said the additional channels allowed by HD technology will essentially allow a return to the old format.
“We’re going to have all the music we had before, plus some,” Winkler said.
For example, years ago jazz music was common on WETS and now will be again on WETS-HD 3.
Winkler also has plans for future programming. A possible opera program and classic country music could be heard on a WETS HD channel in the near future.
“I’m talking with people now about getting some programs on,” Winkler said. “It’s pretty exciting right now.”
The music programming will evolve over months, Winkler said. He said the station’s crew is learning how to manage the extra channels with no additional staff. He said the equipment used to coordinate the programming is different than analog, so there is a learning curve. He hoped to have programming, scheduling and tweaking done in a few weeks. Programming could take longer.
Winkler said the station should be streaming all three HD channels online by the end of this year.
He said the sound of the HD signals was superior to FM, which sometimes includes static.
“The quality is noticeably better than FM,” Winkler said.
WETS received about a $70,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to install equipment needed for digital broadcasts earlier this year. That grant required a 30 percent match. Incidentally, Kathleen Grover, an ETSU English professor, had organized a drive to raise money for HD broadcasting shortly after the station cancelled music programming. She raised about $27,000 when the grant was announced, so her effort nearly made up the required matching funds.
The new equipment was installed during the summer and early fall.
Listeners must now get the equipment needed to hear the HD channels.
“Actually, there’s probably more people who have (HD radios) than realize they have them,” Winkler said.
Newer model vehicles tend to have HD radios, and Winkler said all 2012 Toyota models will have HD radios.
Winkler said the transition to HD, which he thinks will be made by most commercial radio stations, will be smoother than the transition to FM transmissions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“It (FM) wasn’t in most cars in those days and market penetration was pretty light,” Winkler said. “I think HD radios will be much quicker to be accepted.”
One reason for that is that most radios produced now also can pick up HD signals, so it would be difficult to buy a new radio that only receives analog transmissions.
“It’s not often you get the opportunity to be a pioneer,” Winkler said of offering the first HD radio broadcasts in the region. “We’re putting on something new and that’s always exciting for a broadcaster, to use a new form of media.
“I think we’re at the beginning of something that’s pretty exciting for radio in this market,” Winkler said.
The fall fundraiser for WETS begins today. For pledges of $300 or more, WETS is offering personal HD radio receivers.
For information about the new HD stations, call WETS at 439-6440 or 1-888-898-9387. To make a pledge to support WETS-FM, use the toll-free number or visit the station website at www.wets.org.