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Radio Reception Tips and HD Radio Info

Radio Reception Tips and HD Radio Info

My FM radio has an antenna — what’s the best way to use it? 

• Portable radios: It’s best to fully extend the whip antenna. Then rotate it around for best reception (try it both horizontally and vertically), or try moving the radio to a different location in the room. You may want to try collapsing the antenna if you have a strong signal but lots of local noise. Sometimes a short antenna is best. Experiment with length- it could make a difference.

• Clock or tabletop radios: If the radio does not appear to have an external antenna, it’s actually using the power cord for one. (That’s not an efficient antenna, but it looks neater.) It’s best to fully extend the power cord. If possible, try moving it around in different directions.

• Dipole antenna: This is the “t-type” antenna often packed with a radio. It works best when fully extended into a “t” shape and hung flat on a wall. Try rotating it around horizontally to find the best spot, then mount it as close to that as you can. Experimentation matters, for these are “directional” antennas that work best in one orientation and will “null out” in another.

• Amplified antennas: These are small indoor antennas that have built-in amplifiers. They can be better than a power cord antenna, but can also amplify the background noise along with the desired signal. Outdoor antennas and indoor dipole antennas are usually more effective, but small amplified antennas can be more discrete in appearance.

Are there outdoor FM antennas? There are. We recommend that a professional installer be hired for putting them up, because they will be familiar with proper construction techniques, safety considerations (such as power lines near the house, grounding, etc.) and electrical codes. Experience also helps in finding the best way to mount the antenna and run its cable to your receiver. Any outdoor antenna should be mounted high and as far away from power lines, trees or other obstacles as possible. Outdoor antennas are less commonly found than in years past, but there are still several good manufacturers and dealers.

• Stark Electronics, Worcester, (508) 756-7136
• Charlemont TV, Shelburne Falls, (413) 625-6040
• Schilling Television Service, Pittsfield, (413) 443-9235
• Menard’s TV Antenna Services, Sturbridge, (508) 347-3100
• New England Antenna Service, CT, NH, ME & MA, (800) 339-5507
• Don’s TV & Satellite, Worcester, (508) 755-5583
• A-1 Antenna TV Service, Worcester, (508) 756-5758
• Miskinis Television, Turners Falls, (413) 863-2166

Also, some home stereo dealers may stock indoor and outdoor antennas from Magnum Dynalab, a company that specializes in FM tuners: http://www.magnumdynalab.com/fmantennas-overview.htm

What makes it so hard to get a good FM signal? FM radio signals are line-of-sight transmissions, and one common problem is that a hill or building can block them, creating an electronic shadow. Another problem is “multipath,” which can occur when a radio picks up more than one signal from a station, one coming directly from the transmitter and at least one other having bounced off a hill or building. These secondary signals come in slightly later than the direct one and can interact with it in ways that degrade reception.

Can 88.5 NEPM increase its power? Unfortunately, it can’t. The power levels for all stations are set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and fixed in place so that stations do not interfere with each other. WFCR transmits with 13,000 watts from Pelham, Massachusetts (about 5.5 miles east of Amherst).

Our five stations in the Berkshires (which are in a special category called “translator stations”) are limited by regulation to low power, and use from 10 to 250 watts depending on their location.

Our station in Deerfield, WNNZ-FM, has 100 watts.

Can AM 640 WNNZ increase its power – especially at night? The power level of WNNZ, and the shape or “directionality” of its signal, are also fixed by the FCC. WNNZ runs with 50,000 watts in the daytime, pointing northwest from Westfield, Massachusetts – that’s a very powerful AM signal. But when the sun is down, it transmits with only 1000 watts. Most AM stations reduce power or go off the air at sunset — this was set by the FCC early in the history of AM radio because signals in that band travel through the atmosphere differently when the sun is down than when it’s up.

How can I improve reception of AM 640? As with FM, a good antenna helps. The online catalog company C. Crane has some AM antennas on its list.

What about using an Internet radio? This is growing in importance all the time, and you can link to the streams of NEPR through a computer or Internet radio here. Once connected, you can use WiFi links in your home to distribute the signal. The NPR Shop has some Internet radios at http://shop.npr.org/radios/ as does C. Crane.

How can I tell if my radio gets HD Radio™ ?
Radios that can use the new transmission display a special HD Radio™ logo. If the receiver has the HD Radio™ logo, either printed on the front panel or in the display, it’s capable of HD Radio™ programming.

What’s on WFCR’s HD Radio™ signal?
WFCR 88.5 transmits two HD Radio™ program streams. One is a digital version of what you hear on 88.5 NEPM — the radio will show this as WFCR-1 or HD-1. The other offers Classical NEPM, and is labeled WFCR-2 or HD-2. There’s no fee charged for HD Radio™, unlike for XM/Sirius. Once you have the right radio, it’s free.

How do I tune in an HD Radio™ signal?
Just tune to 88.5 FM— the HD Radio™ will play the standard 88.5 signal for several seconds, then automatically switch to WFCR-1. The delay allows the radio to acquire the digital data it needs. To tune in WFCR-2, Classical NEPM’s programming, you also start by tuning to 88.5, but you’ll have to consult your radio’s instruction manual to see how to get from WFCR-1 to WFCR-2, for not all radios do that the same way. It may simply be a search button.

When I tune it in, it doesn’t always stay tuned in. Why not?
Sometimes an HD Radio™ can’t get a good enough signal for all of the data it needs. For WFCR-1, the standard analog FM broadcast is always present and is used as a back-up. Your radio will switch seamlessly between HD-1 and FM if it needs to. WFCR-2 is different in that there is no analog equivalent of its programming to fall back to. If the radio loses the WFCR-2 signal, it will mute until enough data is acquired to restore programming.

Do 640 AM WNNZ and 88.5 NEPM’s low-power (translator) stations in the Berkshires also have HD Radio™ signals?
Unfortunately, no. The cost to convert WNNZ to AM HD Radio™ would be too great. As for the Berkshire stations, the power level that the FCC would permit for HD Radio™ with them is so low that it would not be effective. We suggest listeners use the app to stream the programming instead.

Will I get a better signal for HD Radio™ or standard FM radio?
HD Radio™ was designed to overcome one of FM radio’s weaknesses, something called “multipath.” FM signals bounce off buildings, poles and hills on the way to your radio, and these reflected signals arrives lightly later than the direct signal does, and can create cancellation of the signal. HD Radio™ was designed with built-in redundancy to overcome this, and while it doesn’t solve the problem all the time in all terrains, it will overcome a lot of multipath problems. However, the HD Radio™ signal does not reach out as far as the standard FM transmission does, so listeners far away from 88.5 NEPM’s transmitter in Pelham, Massachusetts, or some listeners using indoor radios may not be able to receive it reliably.

Does HD Radio™ sound better than analog radio?
HD Radio™ has some of the beneficial characteristics of digital audio, and the sound tends to have less background noise, greater clarity, a wider dynamic range, and greater separation of the left and right stereo signals than standard FM does. The data has to be compressed for transmission, and a sophisticated algorithm is used to make it sound as good as possible. As is true with standard radio, stations can tailor their equipment to create the sound they want, so HD Radio™ will not sound the same on every station.

Is HD Radio™ the same as Sirius/XM?
HD Radio™ is not associated with satellite radio, except that some radios may be capable of both HD Radio™ as well as satellite radio, but only with a Sirius/XM subscription. As previously mentioned, HD Radio™ requires no subscription, just a receiver with HD Radio™ capability.

Where can I buy an HD Radio, and in general find out more about it?
Many if not most newer automobiles offer HD Radio™ capable receivers as stock radios or as optional factory equipment. Information about available radios can be found by searching the Crutchfield website (https://www.crutchfield.com/.) Online vendors such as Amazon.com Amazon.com: SANGEAN: HD, Bestbuy.com, and Walmart.com offer HD Radio™ car or tabletop receivers by Sangean, Pioneer, Insignia, & Kenwood.