Why I Don’t Listen to HD Radio

This post on a blog called BSW Control Room features Gary Beebe, a “BSW Special Projects Engineer,” taking HD radio to task, from the perspective of someone who originally had high hopes for its prospects:

Why I don’t listen to HD Radio

This is not about HD radio. Huh? But you just said . . . I know; hear me out.

When HD radio was first launched, I anticipated great things. HD’s higher-quality audio capability would certainly encourage stations to make their sound the best it could be. That’s the main attraction, right? Better sound? Listeners would flock to the new, improved sound of radio, instead of listening to mp3′s and streaming internet stations.

And the improved sound would trickle down to the conventional FM audio, too. Because, when reception of the HD signal is poor, the radio switches back to “regular” FM. The standard FM audio needs to be cleaned up and polished to be worthy of being the back-up for the HD sound. Everybody wins.

So, the regular FM audio got some attention, and became downright pleasant to listen to. Nice.

It lasted about a week. Then the familiar “over-compressed, over-limited, chainsaw-and-shattered-glass” sound made its way back.

Apparently, the folks who believe that maximum loudness is the key to listener retention had their way. Now the HD and the regular FM audio match perfectly . . . they are both equally harsh. So much for improved audio quality.

I’m sorry, but being the loudest signal on the radio dial isn’t the answer. Listeners don’t suddenly lock in to your station because it’s loud.

Manually scanning the dial, searching for a signal, hasn’t been a popular activity for a looong time. And how would you know if your station is louder than my mp3 player? Loudness wars don’t work. They only serve to annoy the listeners, and drive them to alternate entertainment sources (internet, mp3, satellite).

Listeners will stay with you if the program content is appealing, if the personalities are sharp, and the sound is good. Why should they listen to distortion at your place, when the same songs are being played over there with much better sound?


3 Responses

  1. I agree that the loudness wars are very annoying and kind of amusing.

    I actually own my own record company, and I’m a professional audio engineer, and musician.

    I have to correct you on one thing.

    That overcompressed over limited harsh distorted sound that real music lovers hate doesn’t really have that much to do with radio at all. HD radio allows for more dynamic range (the difference between soft and loud parts of a song). THe problem is when the music is being produced in the studio. Alot of pop music is overcompressed in the studio, then when it hits radio it just pushes it over the edge and sounds like absolute shit.

    A band that produces their music in the studio the correct way and doesn’t over-compress ends up sounding amazing on the radio, and even just like the cd on HD digital radio. So, the route of the problem is the way mainstream music is being produced in the studio, not aired on the radio. (Atleast when it comes to over compression. )

    For example, take a band like the black keys, and a band like shinedown. Play them back to back on the radio, and they will sound level from one to the next. The shinedown is over compressed and lacks definition and clarity (you struggle to hear each instrument) And the black keys song is very clear (you can hear all the cymbals, bass, drums, vocals) and it sounds just as loud, but even more dynamic and punchy.

    By the way, if you want something to be louder, then anyone with common sense would by a new stereo and speakers, and turn the volume up. We haven’t had hiss in music since analog reel to reel recorders were around.

    They do sale amps, speakers, and custom car audio.

    So, there is no need to really compress anything with digital recording and airplay at all. There is no background noise in the recordings anymore. So, stop over compression, and if you want something to be loud, then turn the damn volume knob up. It’s pretty simple.

  2. I disagree. Dynamic range compression is necessary to overcome ambient noise such as car horns, engines and tires noise on the road.If everyone only listened to music in a quiet living room at home then dynamic range compression would not be needed.

  3. “Listeners will stay with you if the program content is appealing, if the personalities are sharp”…. To me this is the very essence of radio. Station managers and program directors should have it writ large on their walls, if not tattooed on their butts.

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