DCRTV and Radio-Online report that an AM station in the Washington, DC region has ceased analog broadcasting, becoming the first radio station in the United States to solely broadcast in digital HD Radio.
WWFD 820 Frederick, MD, which airs an AAA format as “The Gamut,” flipped the all-IBOC switch on July 16. Since I am too far away from WWFD to receive it, I cannot verify if the station simply removed its analog frequency from its broadcast, leaving its existing digital sidebands, or if the station is broadcasting a full power digital signal on its center frequency.
The station’s move to all-digital poses an interesting situation for DXers, as it appears now that at least AM stations can apply to go all-digital. Does this mean FM stations are next? I wrote about the possibility of an all-digital FM band in 2013. In that article, I predicted that such a move would both benefit and hurt the DXing hobby. For those who aren’t familiar with the mechanics of HD Radio, a station on 95.5 FM running IBOC broadcasts its analog signal on 95.5, and its digital signal (at a lower power) on 95.3 and 95.7. These adjacent digital “sidebands” ruin DX, as it blocks out all but the strongest distant stations on the frequencies immediately next to a local signal running HD Radio.
If the HD Radio standard supports one sole full power digital signal on the center frequency (i.e. a full power digital 95.5 FM and nothing on 95.3 and 95.7 FM), then this could positively revolutionize FM DXing, as these adjacent-to-local frequencies would, once again, be open to any DX, much like it was prior to the debut of IBOC. On the other hand, if the FM band became digital-only, a very strong signal would be required to receive any radio station (rendering weak signals invisible to an HD Radio), much like what one experiences with digital TV DXing.
It remains to be seen if WWFD’s digital transition is the first of many to come, or if it is a one-off occurrence.