Monday, September 24, 2012

AM Radio CAN sound Excellent! (copy of Carlyle Comment Blog)

A “Sound” Idea….

Believe it or not, local radio, even on the AM band can sound GREAT! At WION in IoniaMI we’re mighty proud of our quality of sound. It comes from owners who care, and equipment properly chosen and maintained.

At  WION we do that very well. So much so that we get compliments fairly regularly that we “stand out” against even the bigger-city stations. People even hear details in their favorite songs that they haven’t heard before!  That’s how well we pay attention to our sound!

Over a weekend in September, however, I was made painfully aware of how many people, as they drive, may NOT know what our (AM) signal really sounds like! 

I love my Jeep. It drives well, it’s fun, gets great mileage with its stickshift transmission, and it came with a GREAT original sound system. Except… the original system has a weak link. The speakers in the front doors. They are unique to the system, make replacing expensive and difficult. So, when the second of two speakers died, it was time to upgrade. Or so I thought: to a new stereo receiver, and new speakers.

So, I chose a Jensen in-dash, “heavy duty” receiver. Chosen for its larger knobs and buttons, very VISIBLE display, and conveniences of dual inputs, I had faith that the sound would be at least as good as the price-tag which was not inexpensive.

Only two people are ever allowed to tear apart my car, and one of them got the short straw, so Bill tore into it. He had to custom-design new tweeter brackets, run some new wires, bypass the Jeep’s amplifier circuits built into the doors, and install extra boxes for “high frequency adjustment.” All of it went well, and when turned on, the FM sounded FANTASTIC. The Inputs from the mp3 player were sounding great, and the long drive home was exciting with tunes I choose for my personal player.

Then came the problem.  In the very town….and the very DRIVEWAY where WION radio originates, the AM sound was not the familiar “Jeep” full, wide sound, but rather, the sound of a phone call if patched through a small CB radio speaker. Yes, it was that bad.  FM remained beautiful, inputs from the player were beautiful, but AM literally “HOOVERED.” The AM couldn’t be made to sound good, let alone….GREAT. AM was at best, unlistenable.

Obviously Jensen put out a product that would turn you, my listeners and friends completely OFF to the potential great sound  that AM radio stations have to present. And, its just not fair. I wouldn’t have even listened to TALK programmingon this AM receiver, let alone our music and “full-service” content.   I believe that this is not an isolated incident. 

On WION we often invite you to switch to our AM for  “longer distance listening” and our “quality of sound” and, we mean it!  We DON’T sound like a phone call through a CB radio, and our AM is the BEST sound AM can offer! Unfortunately, (some) manufacturers are leading you, the consumer to believe that AM radio sound literally sucks!  (If you’re offended by that term, so be it. I mean what I say.)  

Radio manufacturers have, by cutting corners and costs,  tossed aside a medium that can sound as good as FM, reach farther, and in many towns like Ionia, an (AM) station is the only LOCAL live media! It deeply angers me that public perception of what AM “sounds” like should be “crap” when in actuality, its potential goes far beyond what most people have ever heard!  I hope when you hear WION  proudly talking about our "sound" that you realize it's your RADIO that limits the quality of what you hear, not the AM band itself!

Who enjoys good AM?  People with Chrysler/Jeeps from the mid 90’s to mid 2000’s, with the familiar rounded corners and the 3-letter receiver codes on the front in white. (some are even AM Stereo!!)   Most NON-HD original equipment also sounds good. But, if the “HD” logo has been hung on it, the AM has likely been compromised. I have yet to OWN an HD capable radio that did justice to AM broadcasters. I hope that there actually are a “few” good HD radios in dashboards which give good (normal) AM sound.

I know that AM is not the first thing on your mind. I know we have a local  FM signal that sounds great. But, how would YOU feel if you put your heart and soul into a product, then found it was being diminished by forces beyond your control?  Our American economy is driven by purchases, and purchased by price, that’s a given. But, that DOESN’T mean that a few pennies here, or a dollar per unit to improve the quality of AM sound in radios would break the manufacturer, or the consumer.

Once you’re done reading this, please give a listen to this clip, posted on my website.  It’s taken from a REAL tuner “off air”. It’s REAL AM broadcasting, not audio piped into the recorder from our control room. It actually is a recording of a BROADCAST, edited for length. THIS is what AM radio is capable-of and this is what our local audience SHOULD be hearing, if the radio manufacturers would allow it!  And yes, in Ionia County, it’s what we offer on the air 24/7!

Edit June 2013: After going "live" with AM stereo feeding our stream in February, 2013 we've added the web address to grab our players and listen on HQ or on your phone

Sunday, July 1, 2012


What's your favorite "old technology?"

We're all in love with our smartphones, tablets, and netbooks, almost to the point where the "tower" computer is as foreign to our younger generation as a dial-style wired telephone! Technology is moving so fast that it's almost impossible to fall in "tech love" with anything anymore. 

But, that's not how it used to be!  We all had our favorite brand of TV set for a certain feature. We loved our cordless phone because it went farther than the neighbors' did. We got the first STEREO TV on the block and had people over to enjoy NBC broadcasting in full stereo on an oak-look console.

Rewinding even farther, in the deepest, darkest corners of our mind were our favorite video consoles long before there was a XBOX, Wii, or anything we use today. I'm talking about consoles with wired controllers, some with beautiful MONOCHROME displays on our TV sets, and with video that today would be considered the electronic equivalent of stone tablets and chisels!

What technology do you remember, or (going out on a limb here) even MISS?

I can't say for me I miss the party-line, dial-phone, or even the mimeograph machine from my elementary school with that blue ink. But, I DO miss some lesser-known or remembered ones!  How about the full size laser-disc machine?  Its composite picture was incredible!  (For its day.) God forbid today we should get up to switch sides of a disc!  Or, there's the competitor who had an early demise due to quality:  the CED disc promoted heavily by RCA!  Some of these still show up in the garage sales of today. There's the "metal detector" craze of the 1970's, (my parents HAD to have one, and we never used it, even on vacations).....and I'm sure you can add to the list!

Being in broadcasting, I've had the fun in the past couple of weeks bringing back an old 1980's technology known as "AM Stereo" to our station.  Yes, there's a limited audience for it, but...those who drive 1990's cars often have the famous "AMS" button, and SOME new HD radios (a technology I can't buy-into or like) render AM stereo.  I swore I wouldn't add CQUAM stereo to our station until we could do it without endangering the distance covered by good-ol AM mono. Well, it seems we've done well with it.  Even doubters of AM sound put on the headphones in our engineer's office and say, "wow!"  Our reasoning? Because we CAN. The same reason we've used to make many decisions at the station.

There are other things we grew up with that were an integral part of our lives, and our culture of the day. What was it you grew up with and maybe you'll admit you miss just a bit?

Maybe it’s not the technology we miss so much, but what seems like a simpler, easier time and lifestyle that went along WITH those great technologies.  What do you think?

Falling in love with certain technologies, and the days we did that.....both....
are long gone as we move fast through today's "introduce it and dump it for better" world. 

What's your favorite "old" technology?"