Another Adventure in Technology

I have a long-standing habit of sleeping with the radio on. I think it started when my late husband, who snored like an air hammer, traveled for research and I discovered that I needed background noise to sleep. (Or do much of anything—I have friends who love total silence, but I have the TV or radio playing all the time, whether or not I’m paying attention.)

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I used to leave the clock radio on my nightstand set on the NPR news/talk station, but a few months ago I realized that the political news was giving me nightmares (that happens even in the daytime these days) or making me wake up angry. I switched the radio to the classical music side of Houston Public Media and slept much better.

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I knew HPM planned to sell the classical broadcast channel and take the classical music feed to a digital stream, but it took them months to find a buyer. Finally the announcement came: 91.7 would become an inspirational station in June. KUHA Classical Music would only be available through digital streaming, via computer or assorted other Internet-capable devices (none of which live in my bedroom) or by HD radio.

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Trying to find a replacement choice on my faithful clock radio, I soon realized that there are no “easy listening” (whatever that means) stations in Houston. Amazing. Of course as of this month there will be no over-the-air classical music station, either, a sad fact for the fourth largest city in the country.

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I tried classic rock (The Eagle), I tried contemporary adult (Sunny 99.1, Mix 96), I even tried Music Choice on the TV (classical or jazz available, but the TV lit up the bedroom like an air field). The obvious solution, which I’d been avoiding, was to buy a new radio.

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I’d been casually researching HD radios for months. First problem: about 85 percent of them are car radios. Apparently that’s where the market is strong, and new cars come with these new radios. (I drive a 2004 Corolla, and the old radio works just fine.) HD clock radios are expensive and, from the reviews I read, hard to program and not entirely reliable. Another slice of the market contains very expensive units meant for home entertainment systems.

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Then last weekend I took another shot and stumbled over a table top FM HD radio from Insignia on sale at BestBuy.com for $29.99. Amazon had the same radio for its regular price of about $50 (still pretty reasonable for HD). Both sites showed good reviews. I still didn’t know whether I’d get decent reception (I live about thirty miles from downtown Houston), but for thirty bucks it was worth a try. When I went on line to order, Best Buy told me I could pick up my radio at the local store that afternoon. Wow, no shipping charge, instant gratification.

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Gratification, indeed. Great reception, terrific sound. The radio takes fifteen or twenty seconds to find the station when I turn it on, and shows reception bars like a cell phone on the little panel that also shows the artist and title of the music that’s playing. I have no idea how the technology actually works, but then turning on a radio and having music come out is pretty amazing, isn’t it? (As Arthur C. Clarke said, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.)

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I found a web site with a list of 52 HD radio channels available in the Houston area. There I rediscovered The Wave, a smooth jazz station that I loved until it went off the over-the-air band a few years ago, now digital on 96.5-2.

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So thanks to Houston Pubic Media and the disappearing classical music channel, I now have an HD radio, on which I’m playing smooth jazz all night.

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You might be surprised to learn what’s playing on all those extra channels in your area. Check out hdradio.com to find out if HD radio is something you want.