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Radio Silence
(Gnokii / openclipart.org)

(Pssst. This way. Over here. That’s it.)

Our daytime classical music hasn’t gone away – it’s just moved to a different neighborhood. We’re now on the digital side of town. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a computer expert to listen. Let’s see how.

First up: HD radio.

For about the last decade, American radio has been cautiously dipping its toes into the digital stream (so to speak). We’re not like television, belly-smacking the icy digital lake and leaving the analog laggards unplugged on the beach. None of that for us; Grandma’s Atwater Kent still picks up stations, thank you very much, and I don’t see that ending any time soon.

The downside of that strategy is that because you don’t have to get a digital radio, chances are pretty good that you haven’t yet. Right now, digital radio is in about the same state that FM was in, say, 1964.

Make no mistake about it, though; digital radio is here. The FCC approved it over a decade ago. In July of 2008, WKSU signed on with a digital transmitter. By the following summer, all of our stations except the Ashland repeater were broadcasting digitally.

Generically, our digital system is called In-Band On-Channel (IBOC) digital radio. HD Radio is a type of IBOC, but the two terms might as well be interchangeable – so far HD is the only IBOC flavor that’s made the scene. (That’s probably a good thing. Remember the Betamax and VHS wars?)

HD Radio is a proprietary system from Ibiquity Digital Corporation. If you’re interested in the details, you can read more about HD radio here in Wikipedia.

This isn’t television, and the letters "HD," Ibiquity reminds us, don’t mean "high definition." What do they mean? Ibiqity isn’t saying. However, I like to think of HD as meaning "hidden digital," because hidden inside WKSU’s radio signal are four extra digital signals. One of those signals plays classical music 24 hours a day. Another is 24-hour folk music, and one is 24-hour news and information. The last one is a digital version of what you hear on an ordinary analog radio.

If you’re just after WKSU’s classical music, an HD radio receiving that 24-hour classical signal is hands down the easiest way to get it, and possibly the most economical. A few HD radios sell for $50, a couple for even less than that. Unlike satellite radio, you don’t need a subscription, and there are no ongoing fees.

If you have a high-end component audio or home theatre system, you may want to consider an HD radio tuner.

I’ve seen one very inexpensive model – well under $100 – but can’t recommend it. The good stuff is assuredly not under $100. HD tuners are aimed at audiophiles, with price tags to match. A Denon TU-604ci with an HD radio card will run you between $800 and $1300, depending on how sharp your bargain-fu is this week. The Macintosh MR88 is, well, the Mac of HD radio component tuners, with a price about what you’d expect for a Mac.

If you don’t mind used gear, you might look for a Sony XDR-F1HD. They’re no longer made and have a strong audiophile following – strong enough that used ones now sell for 2-3 times what they cost new! Another discontinued HD radio tuner to watch for on Craigslist and Ebay is the Sangean HDT-1X.

Given the cost and availability of component HD radio tuners, I recommend that you think about an Internet radio tuner instead. We’ll talk about that a bit more later.

What if you want to listen in your car? In the last few years, the major automakers have been gradually adding HD radios to their lines. They’re starting with the most expensive and sophisticated cars and working down the range, which is the way they handled FM radio vs AM radio about 4 decades ago. But it’s a pretty good bet that the next car you buy will have an HD radio.

If you don’t want to wait, you can get an HD radio installed in place of your factory car radio. See below for some Yelp reviews of Akron-area car audio installers.

Something new has shown up on my radar recently – a HD radio adapter for the factory radios in many cars. I have to admit I don’t know how well these work, so if you try one, please post a comment below.

They remind me a little of the FM adapter I had for my ’65 Dodge Dart (yes, I actually drove one, back in the day). However, these don’t hang under the instrument panel like the FM adapters did. According to the manufacturer, your car looks the same, but the radio gives you HD radio reception. The cost depends on what car you have, but typically it’s around $200 plus installation.

You can also add one of our apps to your smartphone or tablet (see below), and plug it into your car’s auxiliary audio input jack. Our IT folks and engineers can walk you through the process, and help you get the proper cable. Just call us during business hours at 800 672-2132.

Another answer is to plug a portable HD radio into that same auxiliary jack. How well this works will probably depend on how close you are to our transmitters. Make sure you can return the radio if it doesn’t work for you.

How’s digital radio sound? Great! You’ll sometimes see it advertised as "CD quality." I don’t agree with that, but if you’re OK with YouTube sound, you’ll probably be OK with digital radio. Now and then choral voices and applause can sound a bit watery, but – glory be! – the hiss and crackle of analog radio are gone.

However, as with any appliance, you’ll want to make sure you get an HD radio that suits your needs. Although WKSU’s digital signal covers about 90% of the area our analog signal reaches, you may find you’re not too happy with a $50 set if you’re at the outer edges of that region. A digital radio that can’t get a strong enough signal will revert to ordinary analog reception. That means no classical channel, so what’s the point?

Before you lay down your cash, read the online reviews, and make sure you can return the set for a different model if it doesn’t work for you.

You might also want to consider a few other options.

If your home or office has wireless internet (WiFi), check out Internet radios. For about the same price as an HD radio, or maybe a bit more, you get a compact box that sits on your desk or counter, and reaches out to your WiFi access point or router. Unlike an HD radio, it doesn’t matter whether your Internet radio is 5 miles from our transmitter or 5000. Anywhere you have Internet service – even halfway round the world – you can have WKSU’s 24-hour classical music.

If you already have an audio or theatre system, you might want an Internet tuner instead. They don’t have built-in amplifiers or speakers, so you have to plug them into your existing system. They look like an HD radio tuner, but cost way less, and they’re available in a wider variety of models and prices. Most will work with WiFi Internet, or can be plugged into an Ethernet port. Sangean and Grace are two brands, but there are others.

An Internet radio or tuner has one somewhat fiddly requirement, which applies only if you use WiFi for it: you’ll probably have to enter your WiFi password to get it working. That usually means a couple of minutes to find it in your files, and a couple more to press the keypad or turn the knob. You’ll only have to do this once, though. And radios and tuners that connect to the net via Ethernet don’t need passwords at all.

Like most media gadgets these days, Internet radios are really single-purpose computers. (You could argue that, these days, that’s also true of almost everything, from cars to heating systems.) You can listen to WKSU’s 24 hour classical music on the computer you already have. So why would you want to buy an HD radio or Internet radio?

It depends on how and where you listen, and what kind of sound satisfies you. Let’s face it, the teeny-tiny-tinny speakers in the average laptop, netbook, or tablet probably aren’t quite what Franz Welser-Moest has in mind for his orchestra’s sound. That’s no problem if you’re listening on good headphones, but if you don’t want to be tethered to your computer – or if you want to share the music – the bigger speakers in an HD radio or Internet radio are probably going to make you happier.

You could add a better set of speakers to your computer, of course. Good quality speakers can make our mp3 and AAC streams sound remarkably clear. Of course, if you’re using a portable device – laptop, netbook, or tablet – it becomes rather less portable with wires and extra boxes hung on it.

And it’s hard to beat the little hand-held gadgets for convenience. If you want to go that route, with or without added speakers, we have apps for Android and Apple smartphones and tablets. More on these here.

Bottom line: our daytime classical music may be missing from your old analog radio, but it’s not gone. It’s just in those Hidden Digital signals. Check the links below for some ideas on HD and Internet radios that can uncover it.

Explore more:

HD Radio Reviews from CNET
HD Radio Reviews from HD Radio Home
Car HD Radio Reviews from CNET
Internet Radio Reviews from CNET
Internet Radio Reviews from Good Housekeeping
Mobile Device Apps from WKSU
Custom Auto Audio Installers in the Akron area from Yelp.com
HD Radio Adapters for Factory Car Radios from Axxess*

*Please note: I have no direct experience with these adapters and thus can’t endorse them. If you try one, please let us know how well it works for you.

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27 Responses to “Missing Your Music?”

  1. Tom Baumgardner Says:

    No, David, I am not satisfied!
    I miss classical music on my car radio. Your article does not address that issue.
    Several years ago when WCLV moved their tower and frequency we lost them in the Tallmadge area. Now you have opted to take classical music away from us too.
    Is there a broadcast station, either AM or FM that carries it and is available in the Tallmadge area?
    I have been a contributor in the past but not recently. I may never be again.
    Sorry

  2. David Roden Says:

    Thanks for noting that, Tom. You’re right, I neglected music on the road in my article. Sorry! I’ve just added some information about options for car listening. I hope one of them helps you get your chariot filled with good music again.

  3. Joanne Ellison Says:

    Mr. Baumgardner has expressed my feelings perfectly!!!
    The only difference in my situation is that I live in Jackson Township, not Tallmadge. You say that a computer is not necessary. I have one but how does that mean that I can listen in my car?
    I am most unhappy!

  4. marilynn martin Says:

    I’m surprised not more people have posted notes about the changes,I felt like I like I lost a good friend this morning when I did not have the usual classical programing and this last weekend knowing that FolkAlley would be gone to me forever made me sad .I ‘m not of the computor population ,yes I do own one but its use to me is limited, Idont know anything about what to buy to repalce it I know you explained what to buy but once you get it home what to do to it is beyond me I have been a almost 24 hour listener and have given to fund drives I feel like I.m being left out and left behind

  5. David Roden Says:

    Dear Ms Martin,

    An HD radio usually needs no setup – you just bring it home and plug it in.

    If you’re far away from our transmitters, you might need an extra antenna. Audio dealers sell various add-on antennas at equally various prices, but if you can find good old fashioned rabbit ears, they’re about as good as anything else!

    In tough cases, you might have to have an outdoor FM antenna installed. Any dealer or repair shop that installs TV antennas can also install FM Radio antennas.

    I don’t know your exact situation, so I hope you’ll forgive this fairly general advice. For more detailed help getting set up with HD Radio, please ring up our engineers at 800 672-2132 or 330 672-2132.

  6. gene foraker Says:

    I’m extremely sad about the change. No, not all change, just this one. Why copy Cleveland public radio? I had the classical music on in my office for most of the day. I certainly do not want the new shows on while I work. If I wanted talk radio, I would not listen to these anyway.

    Since this makes no obvious sense, I would assume it is either a money decision or a new boss wanting to put his “stamp” on the organization. Change for changes sake.

    Goodbye!

  7. Ann Says:

    Wow! I have never turned off WKSU for so long- I could get an adaptor for the car and the house, but I won’t bother- if classical music is an effort, I’ll play my own recordings. Why should I support KSU for so little of what I enjoy? This is very disappointing.

  8. Tom Says:

    Sorry, but I’m going to have to agree with the opponents of this move. I don’t know exactly how much your signal areas overlap, but for 99% of my driving I can get both you and WCPN — so now we have two stations with largely similar formats. Why not relegate all this stuff to one of the non-primary signals? I’ve now had two days of listening to the new format and there have been a number of items in which I had little or no interest. I was ALWAYS interested in the music.

  9. Bryan Says:

    I want Fresh Air back

  10. Karen Says:

    Sorry, but I also must agree with the opponents of this move. Your classical music hosts are the best I have ever heard, and your classical programming has always been refreshing and innovative, never stuffy or condescending. Just listening to Pandora, my own CD’s, or another classical music station (even your HD classical channel, which I can get on my phone, but which has different hosts) is not the same as having my “friends” talking to me and giving interesting details about the composers, performers and music. I’m not opposed to change, and have come to really enjoy “Here and Now” since you added it to your lineup – but not all of the new talk shows are as interesting to me. To take ALL of the classical music off during the day, when much of your national reputation as an excellent station has been based on your daily classical programming, seems very extreme. I don’t listen that often at night, and don’t plan to install any new equipment in my car, so in essence, WKSU is no longer a classical music station for me. I miss it already!!

  11. Diane M. Larkin Says:

    I must say I was a little disappointed in the format change. Ne reason why I did not listen to WCPN more is their mostly talk format. Yes I can listen to the classical music pre recorded station, I just like the live portions, especially when Mark was on. I guess it is satellite radio for me, except for weekend nights where I love to listen to folk music. Hope that isn’t going away

  12. Ed Scaglione Says:

    What a disappointment I just experienced. I got in my car and turned on the radio and no WKSU. Well, not the WKSU I’ve been listening to and enjoying for the past 34 years since I moved to Northeast Ohio from South Carolina. To be honest with you, I’ve been meaning to write in and mention that fact that I felt there was more and more NPR etc, then music. Now there is nothing but talk. A number of years ago we had easy listening and classical on the air, now nothing. Why did you change your formate?
    My car is a 2008. It has everything new that it can have in the way of radio, CD, Bluetooth, etc. I’m not replacing my radio. What are you thinking?
    In South Carolina we had WMUU that played wonderful classical music. When we came hear we we’re looking forward to listening to Cleveland classical music. Well, we couldn’t get Cleveland, but then we discovered WKSU. That was great. This change is a great disappointment. At least I have my own music on CD.
    Thanks for the past. No thanks for the present.

  13. Dave Says:

    Please bring Mark back in the morning on regular-D radio!

    Echoing the sentiment of other commenters, I miss Mark and I’m not big on the talk programs that have replaced him. 90.3 has talk covered. Guess I’ll be hanging with Barbara Krauss on 88.5 WYSU when I can tune it in.

    We miss you Mark, and you rule! :D

  14. John W Says:

    Good bye. We live in rural Carroll County and are therefore on the fringe reception area. I’m certainly not investing in more equipment to get back what we used to have available. W. Va. public radio is still equally available as is O.U. when the tides are right. In lieu of pledge money, one can buy CD’s.
    In response to what has been airing…”Talk is cheap”.

  15. Dan L Says:

    As a contributor to WKSU I feel so greatly let down by this change in format that you have lost my support going forward. Maybe you will make up the support that you lose in HD radio sales, but I doubt it. The WKSU that I supported does not exist any more, in my car, or in my office where music is calming and talk is a distraction. You can take your Stale Air and Off Point programs and ship them out of town with the people responsible for this unnecessary and unwanted change. I am done! Good Bye!

  16. Daniel Coffey Says:

    I have commuted from Shaker to Akron for the past 8 years. I have the option of both WCPN and WKSU. The classical music on WKSU has been a great alternative to the (admittedly important) discussion of political and social issues on WCPN. What disappoints me is that this option is gone in such a way that it I can’t see why I would listen to WKSU anymore. The programming is nearly identical (even different shows are the same topics, just with different hosts). It seems to me that some attempt to carve out a space for classical music is more than possible given the HOURS of programming overlap with WCPN every day.

  17. Fred Pierre Says:

    I am not very interested in spending hundreds of dollars on hardware for my kitchen radio, stereo tuner, and car radio. Too bad, because on the internet there are a thousand stations available. Pushing away your listeners is not a great idea.

  18. Nancy L. Schneider Says:

    This is pathetic!! I feel like i’ve lost an old good friend. What will happen at Christmas? No sounds of the season until night time? It is going to be quite interesting to hear during your fall fund raiser if your listeners’ contributions fall WAY off.
    If the money doesn’t come in can your go back to your old format?

  19. Johnna Gunn Says:

    I HATE!yes HATE the new format! I so enjoyed turning your station on and getting calming, relaxing music in my car instead of screaming and noise. I DO NOT want talk all the time! You will also be loosing this listener along with my husband. Good luck with your fall drive , I Will NOT be tunning in.

  20. AbsenteeOwnersOfOurCountry Says:

    After reading the prior 19 comments it is clear that people are not aware that the National NPR made the decision to change WKSU’s format. (Source: The Akron Beacon Journal.) What I would like to know is this:

    1. How much money is left from Ray Kroc’s widow’s bequest (when) to the National NPR ( If memory serves me, I remember it being over $200 million).

    2. How old was the person who made this decision to eliminate our classical music during the day and on Sunday?

    And finally, to say that this decision has changed my daily life is an understatement. I know people who are ill who would turn on WKSU to calm down and forget their troubles. It made you thankful you could hear.

    The absolute … junk, that is on now, e.g., today at 11 am was on ‘what is your favorite body part.’ It makes me borderline profane what we have lost in Northeast Ohio due to this decision. Did anyone try to fight this? Is there any way to reverse it?

    I miss hearing the voices of Mark Pennell (sp?), Sylvia Docking (sp?) and David Rodin. They taught me things about the beautiful music and the composers’ who made it. Plus, in between I heard the news.

    You (WKSU) WERE listed as a beneficiary on my life insurance, because that was how important you had been in my life for the last twenty years.

  21. jwol Says:

    Dear Dumbshit,

    I know you are just a flunky trying to get us to buy hd radios.
    By eliminating the Baroque hour on Sunday you have lost my support.
    I will just stream free music from the internet.
    Hope you have another source of income.

    Unhappy.

  22. Jeannine Says:

    No No No!! Please say you didn’t switch my Sunday afternoon baroque listening to the Car Talk guys?? I’m not happy with the other programming changes but now I am done with WKSU. Here I come WYSU and I am bringing my money with me!

  23. Linda Schiller-Hanna Says:

    As everyone else is grieving, I am too. Mark Pennel, where are you? My evening time is spent with my husband watching stupid TV. I loved Mark Pennel in the daytime. I thought Classical music was sacrosanct on day time…I definitely should have supported it when I pledged rather than other things I pledged. I regret those choices. Please bring it back! All of it!
    I did download the Iphone app today. It wasn’t clear on your information
    message above, that it has 4 channels…including full time Classical. This is terrific. Therefore, I will be listening from now on through my Iphone and I think
    I can get that to work in the car too.
    I am relieved I found a solution at last…but I still miss being able to push
    the WKSU button and having wonderful music pour out all the time.
    I have seriously considered stopping my support. We’ll see how this Iphone
    substitute works out. I’ll let you know when I do or don’t renew next time.
    I’ll be Mark Pennel and the others don’t like working the night shift either.
    Agggh!

  24. Thomas W. Bethel Says:

    I too feel betrayed. I was always pleased that Northern Ohio had such a fine classical music station. I now have nothing to listen to in my car or at home and find the all talk programs that WKSU-FM chose to air to be insipid and downright annoying. All the buttons on my car radio use to be tuned to WKSU so in case I bumped it it would still be tuned to 89.7. I am not going to spend mega dollars for an HD radio so I can again listen to my favorite music.

    By the way the program the Regina Brett show is the worst local radio shows I have ever heard. I guess she must be someone’s mother or grandmother who works at the station. There is no other reason that she is on the air.

    BRING BACK CLASSICAL MUSIC!!!

  25. Tom Says:

    So I figure out how to do this with the iPhone, tune in this morning and no Mark Pennel! Look up the guide here and find out he’s been relegated to the night hours. So this new GM is not only ignorant of the local culture and listening patterns, he is unaware of the whole “drive time/radio audience” thing? Did he perhaps work for Clear Channel previously? Not sure how else to explain how he’s nuked this once beautiful station.

  26. JB Says:

    I too am disappointed. I have my radio in my office and enjoyed having WKSU softly playing classical music. Unfortunately in my location of OH…..the majority of the radio stations we can tune to…are country western. Good luck with HD……..the WAVE changed to HD and went off the radio for awhile….now they are back on the air thankfully.

  27. KS Says:

    VERY VERY disappointed in format change.

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