Nats Radio: Loud and Clear (channels)?

Note: this started off as a response to a comment on my earlier post about the Flagship’s lousy job at promoting the Nats. The proposition debated: Shouldn’t the Nationals be carried on a clear-channel AM station?

The short answer: It would be nice, but it’s not possible. There are no clear-channel transmitters in the DC metro area whose antennas radiate over what you’d expect the Nationals’ “home” broadcast territory to be.

Here’s the problem: There are only so many clear-channel night-time AM transmitters out there. Here’s the FCC’s list (naturally, Wikipedia’s version is more user-friendly.

In the D.C. Metro area, there is one AM clear-channel station: WFED 1500, which uses the old WTOP 50 kW blowtorch transmitter. But WFED’s antenna is highly directional: it radiates mostly to the east, presumably so as not to interfere with KSTP 1500-AM in St. Paul.

Notice how the communities that can receive WFED 1500-AM over the air are all in Orioles Country (that is, WBAL’s broadcast area).

The bulk of the Nats radio hinterland is to the south and west, and the FCC’s clear channel broadcaster list doesn’t show those cities much love. WWVA 1170-AM out of Wheeling, WV radiates east, but won’t reach over the mountains to get the western suburbs. The Nats’ current West Virginia affiliate, WRNR-AM 740’s paltry 21 night-time watts wont’ reach beyond Shepherdstown.

The ideal pattern of Nationals Radio affiliates (not counting WJFK-FM and WFED-AM) would need to include WINC-FM, whose mountaintop antenna yields a ground wave that propagates far and wide across most counties where we might expect Nats fans to live.

Instead, we’ve got to make do with trying to find WFJK-FM over the air. The HD Radio options are nonsense. Nobody actually has an HD radio tuner, anyway–it’s almost as much to buy MLB.TV or Gameday Audio and listen in that way.

1 thought on “Nats Radio: Loud and Clear (channels)?

  1. I appreciate that information. The maps were especially useful.

    I think part of the problem has to do with the market and the Baltimore and DC types have not had to deal with this issue in baseball, although the Redskins had a pretty good radio network that went all the way into South Carolina prior to the establishment of the Panthers’ franchise. There are two important aspects. The team should establish a clear channel outlet, while at the same time, establishing a network of smaller local affiliates.

    Baltimore doesn’t do a great job of this second aspect either, but they are ahead of the Nats, and moved into West Virginia and North Carolina after the Senators moved to Texas. They have been passive once the focus of the franchise became the stadium., instead of the team:

    Pittsburgh does a better job in setting up local affiliates and making it easy to hear the team. An Orioles or Nats fan vacationing in Deep Creek, Maryland is going to have a difficult time following his team in his own state, while the Pirates are easily tuned in on both cable and radio. Yes, Pittsburgh is slightly closer to Garrett County, but certainly not to the extent that the Nats and Orioles are invisible essentially. MASN does appear to be available as an option but wasn’t part of the standard cable set-up, while the Pirates were.

    Another example is North Carolina, which is part of MASN’s territory, with the exception of the western mountains. Winston-Salem is about 6 hours from DC and 6 hours from Atlanta, but only the Braves and Reds!, were available on the local cable system. There is not much excuse for that. The Reds do a great job covering multiple states, both states with high populations and incomes and states that are sparsely populated and that have lesser income. It might have to do with expertise in that part of the country, with states like West Virginia and Kentucky have dual or even tri-loyalties.. The Kentucky Wildcats basketball can be found on two different clear channel radio stations. Duke is not. UNC used to be on WBT and could be heard from New Brunswick to Cuba, but now UNC switched to satellite and small local stations. It can be hard to find UNC on the radio even in North Carolina.

    Even if the clear channel option is difficult, the Nats need to be more pro-active on the radio front, which is challenging because Chicago and N.Y. each have several clear channel choices to choose from, while DC (and Baltimore) have one each. But there are puzzling channel omissions. WTEM would be a coup since they are still broadcasting the O’s. Why aren’t there any Nats stations right in Baltimore’s backyard? There are a lot of Nats fans, or at least potential Nats fans there.

    Why don’t the Nats have any affiliates in the Carlisle region? The Redskins have always been popular there and it is part of the MASN territory. The Nats have one lousy station in all of North Carolina, and that is in New Bern, well away from all the population centers. Except for what appears to be a repeater, the Nats have nothing in West Virginia, a place barely part of their metropolitan area and which includes Charles Towne, of the races, one of their big add buyers.

    I agree that the Satellite option is not much of one. Last I checked, you had to have two different radios and plans to get the NFL and MLB. You also have no right to only listen to your favorite team without paying to hear all the rest.

    The Nats have a few HD options in the DC, which are basically garbage. They are never offered as a primary option; you need a special radio; and you can’t take those radios to the ballpark because they use too much juice. HD, by the way, doesn’t stand for High Definition. It stands for hybrid digital, but the FCC allowed a deliberately misleading name, after the debacle of the last AM fiasco, AM stereo. Basically, instead of broadcasting at the highest level of quality, hybrid digital output slices the station’s available spectrum into discrete usable pieces, often with the result of interfering with neighboring frequencies.. It might be efficient in some ways, but it certainly does not provide what most people think the “HD” moniker means.

    While the digital format holds the possibility of equaling or perhaps surpassing traditional analog quality, this is rarely played out. The radio companies, like the phone companies in the cellular business, keep throttling back on what passes through, which results in the now-infamous warbly cellphone radio interviews that we all know from ESPN radio. Cell phones actually used to sound just as good as landlines back in the mid-90’s. Even the AM non-hybrid broadcasts of the games often have a “clipped and slightly distorted” quality, that to me, at least, is instantly recognized.

    I suppose the media companies think that eventually we will all get used to warbly phones and distorted broadcasts and forget what humans actually used to sound like.

    So as not to rant too much, I will say that I am very impressed with the content, in terms of what is covered, by both the radio and television teams for both the Nats and Orioles. With the exception of the Presidents’ race, which I think everyone likes, they basically have miked their broadcasts so that you do not hear all the extraneous noise like rock music, cams, intro-music, and the like. It is someone jarring and surprising when attending to see just how different the actual in person experience is. The radio broadcast is what it used to be like and apparently, is what they have found that radio listeners prefer, baseball without all the other extraneous activities and noise.

    AM radio (and FM radio, to a lesser extent) is still a marvel. A good analog AM radio can basically tie a person into the world, if it has shortwave, and without digital processing, the batteries last a very long time–remember Gilligan’s Island? It is free and no one can monitor what you are listening to, unlike Satellite radio, or television, or IP addresses. It takes up little spectrum. It has these inherent advantages that are not receding. Hopefully, the Nats have someone to get on this. It is in their own interest obviously and benefits the fans.

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