Turn Out the Lights

There’s a boffo article, called “HD Radio Shouldn’t Be This Hard,” in the latest Radio World online, from a heretofore diehard proponent of HD — in fact, a vice president/corporate director of engineering for Buckley Broadcasting/WOR Radio in New York City. Read it here. There’s been all sorts of iBiquity swag in the press about how Ford is jumping on the HD bandwagon, but Tom Ray’s experiences tell a completely different story. If you’ve actually given thought to buying one, you should read this article. And then ask yourself, why are we, the American taxpayers, letting the Corporation for Public Broadcasting bankroll this lemon? Because NPR wants to sell its canned content to the suckers who buy in? Tom leads off with this:

Unless we give Joe Consumer a reason to go out and purchase an HD Radio for his car — until he can obtain it easily and at a reasonable cost, and a device that works — I fear that HD Radio is going to go the way of FM quad and AM stereo, relegated to the scrap pile of history.

Later on, he gets down to the nitty gritty:

I would like to think that I am somewhat “in the know” about HD Radio. I would like to think that in this respect, I am more than the “average” consumer. But this consumer has had extreme difficulty getting HD Radio for his new vehicle. Is this typical of what Joe Consumer encounters? And what about the statement from everyone I spoke with at Ford who told me that I was their first HD Radio call? Add to the mix the fact that it appears adding HD Radio to a vehicle is going to be fairly costly and I wonder, why would Joe Consumer even bother? Let’s go one step further. WOR’s news director recently purchased a new, high-end, foreign-built vehicle that does come with a factory-installed HD radio. He came up to me the other day and said, “HD Radio sucks!” He lives in an area of New Jersey where the WOR Radio signal is starting to diminish. But I have driven there many times, and have not had one issue with WOR’s HD Radio signal. His integrated HD Radio, which cost several thousand dollars, drops out of HD — continually — driving him out of his mind. I told him to read the manual and see if there is any way simply to force the radio to tune to the analog signal.

And this, of course, set off a vibrant discussion on the radio-info.com discussion board for HD among the engineers, here:

Carmine5: [W]hat I found most interesting was this comment from him: “My HD Radio gear at WOR is going on five years old. Seeing as this is all computer equipment it won’t be long until I need to replace the HD Radio gear. Thus far there has been no return on investment meaning that if an exciter cooks tomorrow it simply may not be replaced.”

He then wonders why HD Radio is taking so long to gain consumer acceptance when it took the iPad only a few months to sell several million (BTW, the figure is 3 million iPads sold in 80 days. Eat your heart out, Bob Struble). Interesting reading — not the usual cheerleading from Mr. Ray.

Savage: Yes . . . not to mention the fact that an iPad actually works. As opposed to HD Radio. I have to give Tom Ray kudos for (belated) candor, given his stubbornly insistent support for HD-AM several years back. The story in the article about the WOR news director coming in to announce “HD Radio sucks!” is most compelling. He bought an expensive import with a factory HD radio, and found the annoying mode-hopping between digital and analog unacceptable — on a local 50kw AM signal!! Also telling, was Tom’s apparent efforts to help the ND find a way to force the receiver to an analog-only mode. (What?? Are you kidding? Then what’s the point of having an HD Radio? It’s the parallel to what I’ve been saying for years about the encoding delay and live ballgames, where stations simply turn off the digital for play-by-play. Why bother having the system at all?)

When one of HD’s biggest historical proponents, Tom Ray, writes a piece like this — and frankly relates how he tried to help a fellow WOR exec defeat the digital mode of his expensive HD factory car radio so he could default back to good old analog — it’s all but, “nighty-night for HD.”

Mmnassour: This is only a symptom of the disease that permeates much of radio today, the disease that killed off local programming. Give people something worth listening to on HD Radio and it will have a chance. Nobody gives a damn about two or three extra channels of the same old stuff. To Tom’s credit, he appears to have figured that out in the first sentence. Say, do you think the sorry SOBs who run the mega-radio chains that destroyed local radio will ever get it?

Nick: I like that he alluded to management seeing zero return on investment on HD radio. They sunk thousands of dollars on HD radio, and didn’t see a penny of advertising revenue directly attributable to it. Those HD Alliance spots are aired for free. If something breaks, bye bye HD on WOR! The average consumer wouldn’t jump through all those hoops and spend hundreds more just to get HD radio in their car. Tom only did that because he needs to hear his station in HD.

Local oscillator: Let’s not lose sight of the fact that FM HD is almost as big a disaster as AM HD. They function equally poorly; the basic difference is that an AM HD signal interferes with four adjacent channels, while FM HD only interferes with two.


3 Responses

  1. […] Only problem is, the only people who own HD radios work for radio stations, and it’s really tough to buy one. Last week’s Radio World had a spectacular rant from WOR’s Tom Ray (who engineered if not the first, an early HD radio station) detailing his frustration in trying to buy a factory HD Radio in his new Ford Escape [reported on here]. […]

  2. […] Struble Follies made a quick curtain call after the article in Radio World posted on here, repeating the same lines about how wonderful HD radio is and how it’s set to take over the […]

  3. Here’s Struble’s response, spun of course:


    Tommy Ray would be the last person one would expect to admit that IBOC has been a flop. Also, Ford has been promising HD Radio since 2007, but it never materialized. Ford is also a partner/Investor in iBiquity. Ford must realize that dealerships would be swamped with complaints about HD Radio — what is Ford supposed to do?

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