C89.5-FM goes digital to keep listeners dancing

Students are at the forefront of the technology revolution, so it is no surprise that Nathan Hale High School's radio station C89.5 (KNHC-FM), recognized for its dance music, has just gone digital. "Going to digital radio is unlike HDTV: It doesn't mean high-definition; it means hybrid of FM and digital, out of a hybrid transmitter," explained Gregg Nielson, the general manager at C89.5. "This is the radio of the future," he added. "Now, there are about 1,500 stations that have gone digital." CD-QUALITY SOUNDNielson pointed out that, unlike finding radio programing on the Internet, with HD there is still a gatekeeper who is a professional radio programmer."Digital is brighter and cleaner; it is almost CD quality," Nielson said. "The sound is so much better."For those who don't have a digital radio, here is how it works. When you tune to a station that has an HD channel, you wait for seven seconds while the HD icon blinks and then locks. If you tune up a notch, sometimes there is a second HD channel, known as HD2. So if you had been listening to NPR, now you can hear PRI (Public Radio International), and if you tune to HD3, you can catch the BBC. And this isn't satellite, so all of the programming is free. "We are in the midst of an $80 million rebuild at Nathan Hale," Nielson said. "A year from this summer, we will have a new digital studio and will be able to broadcast in HD2." PREPARING FOR THE BIG SHOWWhen the program began in 1969, it was an AM station, before trading up to FM. After 37 years in broadcasting it was time to change again. "I figure 220 students go through the program each year," Nielson said. "And that has been for the past 37 years." These are not easy classes by any measure. Students don't just putter around the studio; they have work to do. "You have to take an intro class first semester," explained Keano Martinez, a sophomore in the advanced broadcasting class. "To get into advanced radio, you have to take the FCC regulation and rules test and get 100 percent. It takes at least two tries." Martinez directs a program that airs on Saturdays and is made up of student productions that range from one to three minutes. They cover all topics: "skateboarding, Black Friday, even the salmon-dance song," he explained. "As a director, I'll grade productions, sheets and scripts, to make sure it's air-worthy," Martinez said. Things that make a piece not ready for the air include stuttering, long pauses and no bed (the music that is played under everything at all times). AN 'OASIS'Mike West, who was part of The Mountain morning show (KMTT 103.7 FM) for a number of years, attended Nathan Hale High School in the '70s and now volunteers his time. "I was here when it first started out," West said. "I then worked at KISW, KXRX and spent 14 years at The Mountain." Other classmates also have gone on to work in radio and even for MTV. The skills students learn can be applied to a variety of fields. Besides technical skills, students become adept at public speaking and managing. "This place is like an oasis," West said. "The kids are all great in this class, but in some of the others, they can be hellions."They do a really cool thing here. There are different levels [a student can work at], and you have to earn it," he added. The first level includes taking an intensive radio-history class. At level two, students learn to do certain things around the station, but it isn't until level three that they can announce live or do voice tracking, a recording that sounds like the real thing. "It's a skill," West pointed out. "The hardest thing to do is be yourself. Your personality - it's an amazing tool, and it takes years and years of work to sound natural." Listen to the station on-line at www.c895worldwide.com/web, or tune in to KNHC 89.5 FM.[[In-content Ad]]