A! Magazine for the Arts

WETS-FM introduces HD Radio to Tri-Cities

October 18, 2011

JOHNSON CITY, TN – If the radio in your home, car or office is new enough to have high definition (HD) radio capability, you may have noticed something in the last week: you're actually picking up HD signals. WETS-FM, East Tennessee State University's public radio station, now offers three HD signals in addition to its regular analog signal at 89.5 MHz. And for those who were disappointed last year when WETS dropped most of its music programming, two of those signals are devoted exclusively to music.

"We're very excited to be the first HD station in this region," says station director Wayne Winkler. "Public radio stations across the country have been pioneers in HD radio. There are HD signals in Knoxville, Roanoke and Asheville, and now in the Tri-Cities as well. It's also wonderful to bring back the music that was associated with WETS-FM for so many years – classical and Americana – and to devote a full-time station to each.

With the station's fall on-air fundraiser set to begin on Wednesday (October 19, 2011), Winkler and the WETS staff hope listeners will respond to the opportunity to choose from three separate programming streams with pledges of financial support. For pledges of $300 or more, WETS is offering personal HD radio receivers.

"HD radio" is the trademark for a digital radio process developed by iBiquity Corp. that allows FM stations to broadcast up to three digital signals on the same frequency as the analog station. The digital signals are clearer than standard FM, with CD-quality sound. To receive these digital signals, a radio must be HD compatible. Winkler says many newer radios can receive HD signals, and don't cost any more than radios that don't get HD. "Over the summer I bought a new receiver, just a typical moderately-priced stereo/home theatre unit, and it had HD. Many of the higher-end automobiles have HD radio, and Toyota announced that all their new cars will have HD radio as standard equipment."

An HD radio works like any other FM tuner, picking up all the stations in the vicinity. But when an HD radio in the Tri-Cities is tuned to 89.5, the radio will default to WETS-HD 1, a digital version of the analog signal received by non-HD radios. Listeners can then choose either WETS-HD 2, which programs Americana ( a mix of folk, old-time, bluegrass, blues, vintage country and rock, "alt.country," and other eclectic styles), or WETS-HD 3, offering classical music, with some jazz at night and on weekends. The analog signal, as well as WETS-HD 1, features news and information programming from NPR, the BBC, and other sources.

WETS-FM received a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting earlier this year that provided 70 percent of the equipment cost. The remaining 30 percent was contributed by listeners in an effort spearheaded by Kathleen Grover, an ETSU English professor and classical music aficionado. Since then, the WETS staff has been very busy. "We are essentially tripling our output with no increase in staff, facilities or budget," says Winkler.

To make this possible, the staff has installed and learned new programming systems for each of the new HD stations. "The engineers are still tweaking things technically, but these are relatively minor adjustments. The computer systems that coordinate everything are a bit trickier; there's a pretty steep learning curve on those and we'll be smoothing out the on-air sound for the next few weeks. " Winkler says it will take a while longer to get the program schedules worked out to the satisfaction of the staff. "We're working with several people outside the station who have ideas and resources for some great programming, so the sound and schedules of the HD channels will be evolving over the next several months." The station hopes to be streaming the audio from all three stations online before the end of the year.

For information about the new HD stations, call WETS at (423) 439-6440 or 1-888-898-9387. To make a pledge to support WETS-FM, use the toll-free number or visit the station Web site at www.wets.org.