During one of the many technologically driven events that significantly slashed terrestrial radio's one-time listening monopoly—in this case most notably the advent of satellite radio and its mass collection of format choices—over-the-air signals attempted to counter with HD.
Similar to television's transition to all digital, where stations can include other signals broadcasting on the same frequency, radio borrowed that model for its digital transformation by providing content that piggybacked its location on the dial. Theoretically, this would give stations three times the content it had before, and as a result give listeners more options for their ears.
There were a couple major reasons the effort struggled to take hold. On the technological side, listening to HD and its additional content required a special HD radio. Most cars, where the majority of radio listening occurs, did not come equipped with HD, and not enough people bothered to upgrade for the specific purpose of adding a few possible terrestrial options.
Programming was also to blame. Radio stations invested very little time and effort to add content. In Tucson, two noteworthy clusters, Clear Channel (now iHeartMedia) and Citadel (now Cumulus), mostly programmed material already available, by broadcasting an AM station with a struggling signal on an FM HD feed with larger reach or lazily flipping a switch that allowed for the broadcast of a milquetoast format mass produced from some generic corporate locale.
Citadel/Cumulus got so little feedback they shuttered the effort months into its initial attempt, figuring it wasn't worth the relative minimal upkeep. IHeartMedia still has an HD presence, but no original programming.
However, Lotus, the radio outlet that operates classic rocker KLPX 96.1 FM and KFMA 102.1 FM has seized on what it views as an opportunity to change the mindset.
"All new model cars have HD radios in them," said Larry Mac, KLPX and KFMA operations manager. "HD is seeing something of a resurgence. I hate the word HD, because it gives the impression of blu-ray video, but is better quality, it is digital, but it's a great way to get more radio stations out of the same frequency."
HD radio picks up the same stations as regular radio, but it also recognizes any signals piggybacking off the main frequency. In the case of KLPX, which comes in at 96.1 FM, HD radio equipment can also access 96.1.2, or the so-called KLPX 2, a format the station launched online a little more than a year ago basically programmed in a way that resembles classic FM AOR stylings.
"KLPX 2 Deep Cuts is late 60s to early 80s classic rock you don't hear that much anymore," said Mac, who personally programs the content along with Razor, the station's program director. "It did get some airplay at one point, but for some reason or another it lost flavor over time. That, and the deep cuts that just never get played. That classic rock from The Doors deep cuts to Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull songs you barely hear, Beatles songs you don't hear that much, the solo stuff like Robin Trower and Tommy Bolin, A lot of Yes, Genesis from the Peter Gabriel era, King Crimson. We're constantly adding more selections to it."
And constantly garnering feedback for the station, which also has an available phone app, ever-improving online listening option by accessing the "music" bar link at klpx.com and email for those who want to make suggestions to the ever-increasing library.
The results continue to be positive.
"We had a day where it went off the air and people were calling the front desk and we weren't even promoting it yet," Mac said. "I like the fact there are three different ways to listen to it."
But as they say in the infomercials, "wait, there's more."
Lotus is offering another station, KFMA 2, on KLPX 96.1.3. KFMA 2 piggybacks off the KLPX dial location because that's the only HD signal Lotus possesses. The format is what Mac refers to as pure alt. He hopes it acts as a compliment to KFMA's more up-tempo, guitar-driven so-called New Rock musical approach.
"KFMA leans harder than most pure alt stations. KFMA has always had more of a rock edge to it. (KFMA 2 is) a lot lighter than the regular KFMA," said Mac, who notes KFMA 2 plays the likes of Mumford & Sons, Vance Joy, Young the Giant and Interpol along with more classic bands like Catherine Wheel, Pixies and Flaming Lips mold. "Alternative is that one format that tends to switch its gears every three or four years. We were trying to figure out where to go with it. We wanted to get a little younger audience. KFMA is 18-34, but tends to land closer to 25-34 (in demographics). This tends to trend for a little younger crowd (that) also tends to be more savvy to getting the apps, listening online or maybe even getting an HD radio."
KFMA PD Creepy Pete (Lotus wins going away for the collection of most creative radio names in the market) handles programming duties.
"As a programmer, this is a blast," Mac said. "You don't have things you have to worry about with ratings with a big format. With an HD channel like this, I'm not worried about ratings. We're still thinking of stuff for KFMA 2, and we're already starting to do specialty things on KLPX 2. There is so much potential to do very creative, fun stuff. We're promoting both stations pretty heavily. We're actively trying to get people to check it out, and we want the stations to be different."