HD3 Channel Spawns AM Format for WTOP
Dave Kolesar is shown in his basement home studio, where he does the voice work for The
Gamut; he tells RW the format was put together “after hours, as a labor of
love.” He spends a lot of time ripping vinyl into The Gamut. By day, he is the
transmitter engineer. Photo by Sam Brown.
Paul McLane is U.S. editor in chief of Radio World.
radio stations with HD Radio signals have not, broadly speaking, taken full
advantage of the content development possibilities inherent in their FM HD
multicast channels. That is too bad. What better way to experiment with unusual format ideas?
Here’s an example of how it can work — and it involves an
engineer playing an unusual role, too.
WTOP, the very successful multi-station operation in the nation’s capital owned by Hubbard Broadcasting, has begun airing a format
called “The Gamut” on its nearby AM 820 kHz signal, WWFD in Frederick, Md., supplanting a simulcast of Federal News Radio. The Gamut format had launched earlier on the
HD3 multicast channel of WTOP’s FM signal at 103.5 MHz.
station’s original 4,500 song playlist has been expanded to 10,000 songs and
features an array of recorded music types that span from pre-WWII to present day,”
according to an announcement.
“A sampling of artists
includes Scissor Sisters, Doris Day, Mumford and Sons, Devo, Elvis Presley,
Boney M and Johnny Cash.The Gamut will
also serve as a platform for up and coming local artists looking to bring
exposure to their music.”
Conventionally minded program directors everywhere will blanch at this musical mess; yet this is exactly the kind of music mashup that I loved in college. And perhaps unsurprisingly, the idea has its roots in college radio. According to the
announcement, “The station was born from the extensive and unique music
collection of WTOP Engineer Dave Kolesar, whose long-time experience with
college radio and deep ties to local music gives The Gamut a mix of old and
new, mainstream and homegrown.” When was the last time you heard a station give a shout out to an engineer for its musical programming? (Broadcast consultant Sam Brown helped too.)
WTOP’s Senior VP/GM Joel Oxley guesses that
with more than 10,000 songs in its library and intended to be played, “We are pretty sure The Gamut has
the largest playlist in the country for a local radio station.” The format will continue to be heard as well on multicast
channels of two other FM signals in the area. The station also plans to accept artist submissions, serve as a backup station for sports aired on WTOP’s
1500 kHz signal and carry local sports coverage.
WTOP has always been active in exploring the possibilities of multiple signals in one market; consider its Federal News Radio format, which is a highly targeted local radio station if there ever was one, targeting government employees and their professional circle. So this development is not a big surprise. But it serves as a reminder to some stations that have invested in digital transmission gear and then wondered when the payoff might come: Digital
FM signal multicast channels beg to be used for creative programming like this. Some may fail. But why not try?
Kudos to WTOP and the few other stations that have been truly willing to take such risks, for being willing to play around beyond conventional programming thinking. Consider this my nomination of The Gamut, the next time NAB is looking for a candidate for its HD Radio Multicast Award.