Monday, September 24, 2012

Why can't radio manufacturers make a good AM radio?

A “Sound” Idea….

Believe it or not, local radio, even on the AM band can sound GREAT! At WION in Ionia, MI 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 programming on 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!

Enjoy the link below.