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Alliance Says FM Multicasts Are Underway

The HD Digital Radio Alliance, representing eight major radio groups, announced the first 28 markets in which members will begin multicasting.

The number of digital FM radio stations that will broadcast multiple programs simultaneously on their assigned frequency will grow to 264 in the coming weeks, from a year-end 70, as major radio station groups turn up the competitive heat on satellite and Internet radio.

One member, Clear Channel, launched simulcasting on Jan. 19 in two markets, expanded the number of simulcasting stations over the following five days to 25 stations in five markets, and expected by the first week of February to offer simulcasts in 25 markets over 107 stations. Nine more Clear Channel HD2 stations in three other markets will go online on March 31.

Clear Channel is promoting the launch of its HD2 channels with on-air giveaways of the Boston Acoustics tabletop Recepter Radio HD, which retails for a suggested $499, and is also streaming the new channels over the Web.

Radio group Entercom plans to deliver two simulcast channels, HD2 and HD3, for delivering two spoken-word channels simultaneously, such as comedy and news, the alliance said.

The alliance, formed late last year, is coordinating the rollout of FM multicasting in 28 radio markets. The intent is to diversify terrestrial-radio formats to compete more aggressively with the diversity of satellite and Internet radio, and the alliance promises that each multicast market will air “new and unique content.” The new channels will initially be commercial-free.

Digital radio makes it possible for an FM radio station to deliver two or more programs simultaneously on its assigned frequency.

The 28 markets announced by the alliance include the top 10 radio markets: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas-Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Houston, Washington, Boston and Detroit. Other markets going online are all in the top 100. They are Atlanta; Miami; Seattle; Baltimore; San Jose, Calif.; Indianapolis, Memphis, Tenn.; Hartford, Conn.; Birmingham, Ala.; Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio; Tulsa, Okla., Albuquerque, N.M.; El Paso and McAllen, Texas; Wichita, Kan.; Springfield, Mass; and Portland, Ore.

New formats being introduced in the first wave include opera, classical alternative, traditional jazz and blues, coffee house, female talk, future country, extreme hip-hop and in-depth news. New rock formats are also being developed.

By the end of 2005, 624 radio stations were broadcasting digital signals alongside their analog signal, and 70 offered multicast channels by the end of 2005, said HD Radio inventor iBiquity.