The Bizarre Alternate Reality of Houston's HD Radio Stations
Photo illustration by Chris Gray
A lot like music itself, some types of technology are more interesting because they never quite caught on with the masses. Consider HD radio: Unlike its television counterpart, adopted almost straightaway by both manufacturers and viewers, HD radio is still struggling to find its footing. In theory, it's brilliant: HD technology allows each station to carry a handful of subchannels alongside the flagship station that goes out over the FM airwaves – most often (but not always) canned, commercial-free stations tightly organized around a theme, similar to a lot of satellite-radio programming.
Since I've already been thinking about Houston radio a lot this week, I couldn't help but wonder what might be streaming on the local HD stations. This was complicated somewhat because I do not own an HD radio, so instead I started digging on the Internet. Not long afterward, I started to understand why HD radio has been so problematic. The list of Houston/Galveston stations at hdradio.com was some help, but a lot of the links were broken or outdated. Somewhat better was the “local” link at tunein.com, which lists all the area's available HD stations and provides links to stream them; some of them actually worked. However, many Houston stations don't even offer additional HD channels, and the websites of the ones that do barely acknowledge their extra HD outlets even exist. Which is a shame. Then again, two separate stations each offer a smooth-jazz HD alternative. And if gospel music is your thing, Majic 102’s HD-2, Praise Houston, will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
So until I actually break down and buy one of these players (portable models start around $50), this is what I found out. Overall, it wasn't quite what I was hoping for, but more because of the difficulty I had getting some of the stations to stream rather than any great dislike of the music. When everything was working properly, I found plenty of stuff I enjoyed, even music I don't usually listen to all that often. It was definitely a worthwhile way to spend an afternoon — in large part because what I found is so different from the fare on Houston’s non-HD stations.
Associated FM Station: News 88.7 (Houston Public Media)
Call Letters: KUHF HD-3
Link: Stream here (under "listen live")
Radiospeak Format: Public Radio With a Kick
Examples: Alabama Shakes, “I Don’t Want to Fight”; Bob Dylan, “Slow Train Coming”; XTC, “Dear God”; Midlake, “Antiphon”; Patty Griffin, “Rain”; Billy F. Gibbons & the BFG’s, “Treat Her Right”(!); David & David, “Welcome to the Boomtown”
Notes: Had trouble getting this to stream on my work PC, but it popped right up on my Mac at home. Content comes from XPoNential Radio, produced by Philadelphia’s WXPN.
Should You Tune In? Yeah.
Associated FM Station: KSBJ (the “God Listens” people)
Call Letters: KSBJ HD-2
Link: Stream here
Radiospeak Format: Christian Hits
Examples: Veridia feat. Matty Mullins, “Pretty Lies”; David Dunn, “It Is Well”; Hillsong Young & Free, “Wake”; Mat Kearney, “Ships In the Night”; For King & Country, “It’s Not Over Yet”; KB, “Be Alright,” which samples Muddy Waters’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”
Notes: Lots of remixes here. It’s been awhile since I really listened with any regularity, but I don’t remember secular Top 40 being this interesting.
Should You Tune In? If God heads your squad, probably.
IHEART ECLECTIC RADIO
Associated FM Station: 93.7 The Beat
Call Letters: KKBT HD-2
Link: Stream here
Radiospeak Format: (Mostly) Contemporary Adult Alternative
Examples: Phoenix, “1901”; City and Colour, “Lover Come Back”; Rolling Stones, “Shattered”; Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody”; Ryan Adams, “Bad Blood”
Notes: Not too heavy, not too soft and not too familiar. Makes an excellent at-work station.
Should You Tune In? I would.
Associated FM Station: Hot 95.7
Call Letters: KKHH HD-2
Link: Stream here
Radiospeak Format: EDM, as the kids say.
Examples: David Guetta, “Hey Mama”; M/A/A/R/S, “Pump Up the Volume”; Gabrielle, “Dreams”; Audien feat. Lady Antebellum, “Something Better”; Disclosure feat. Sam Smith, “Omen”
Notes: CBS Radio's streaming player gets the job done, but has some issues keeping listeners abreast of what songs it's playing. You may be too busy dancing to care.
Should You Tune In? If that's what you're into, absolutely.
Associated FM Station: 100.3 The Bull
Call Letters: KILT HD-2
Link: Stream here
Radiospeak Format: Country Like It Oughta Be
Examples: Merle Haggard, “Big City”; Sunny Sweeney, “My Bed”; Statesboro Revue, “Undone”; Cody Johnson Band, “Diamond In My Pocket”; Randy Rogers Band, “Before Somebody Gets Hurt”; Miranda Lambert, “Mama's Broken Heart”
Notes: Once the shock of seeing those familiar call letters wore off, I was even more delighted to find old classics sprinkled among current Texas country hits.
Should You Tune In? Hell, yeah. I would listen to KIKK all the time.
TRUE OLDIES CHANNEL
Associated FM Station: Unclear
Call Letters: NA
Examples: Bee Gees, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”; Cat Stevens, “Wild World”; Love Unlimited Orchestra, “Love's Theme”; Bobby Darin, “Beyond the Sea”; the Five Americans, “Western Union”; Coven, “One Tin Soldier”; Bill Haley & His Comets, “Rock Around the Clock”
Notes: Whether it's still yoked to KRBE or not — I found it linked to KRBE's HD-2 at hdradio.com, but not at tunein.com — this station is awesome.
Should You Tune In? If you love oldies, I should think so.
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