The Tipping Point

Jack Hannold sent along some links with some linkage to boot — signs that HD radio teeters on extinction, despite fervid attempts through the use of translators to monetize. Somehow.

Based on Google Analytics, the folks at Harker Research, a radio consulting company, think that “HD” radio’s best days – such as they were! — are behind it. Here are two quotes from “Has HD Radio Reached a Tipping Point?” — the March 24 post on Harker’s “Radio InSights” blog:

  1. . . . HD Radio has already reached a tipping point, a tip not toward success, but instead toward oblivion.
  2. As an aside, HD channels are showing some signs of life in Arbitron, apparently fueled by 250-watt FM translator simulcasts. [Emphasis added.]

I think that management at every station needs to read this piece — not only before deciding whether to waste any more money by investing in a new transmitter in order to increase digital power, but even before deciding whether to keep wasting electricity by operating “HD” at all, when multi-casting could be continued with FM Extra. (The finals of an “HD” transmitter can be re-biased to more energy-efficient “Class C” operation so that the investment in the transmitter wouldn’t be a total loss, but the transmitter would then be incapable of “HD” operation.)

Personally, I was gratified to see a consulting firm like Harker picking up on what I’ve been saying for the past 2½  years about the use of analog translators being the only way for an HD-2 or -3 to get over-the-air listeners (as opposed to internet listeners).

There’s a history of this kind of translator abuse going back to at least 2008.  See this, bottom of page 2:

Neat trick: Cumulus is using an HD-2 channel to feed an FM translator.

The FCC rules say you must supply a translator from “a station” — so does an HD-2 signal (say, of Cumulus-owned WNNK, Harrisburg) qualify as a station? The FCC staff batted that one around like a beach ball at Ocean City, MD, but decided to let it pass, informally. Here’s the history: Cumulus previously got permission, via STA, to supply its urban AC “Touch” format based at WTCY (1400) to an in-city translator at 95.3. It’s been marketing the station as “Touch 95.3” and the signal (60 watts at 656 feet) does a decent job of hitting the city itself. Cumulus has also been offering the WTCY service (“Today’s R&B and old school,” with Tom Joyner) on the HD-2 signal of its WNNK (104.1). No problem so far, nothing unusual. The question then becomes — can you pull the 1400 signal out of the three-way mix, so the thing that’s supplying the FM translator is an HD-2 multicast channel? That’s new ground, I think. So far, it appears the FCC’s going to allow it, though there’s no rulemaking and its attitude could change. If Cumulus can push the envelope, bet on others to follow. And now Cumulus is free to flip formats on 1400, where it’s already changed call letters from WTCY to WHGB. One last question: if this thing gets ratings in Arbitron, who would get the credit? Answer: the HD-2 channel. Not the translator.

And Harker may have been reading this item from Tom Taylor’s Taylor on Radio-Info newsletter that same day (see attached PDF — Taylor newsletter):

Comedy’s catching on in Kansas City – on an FM translator fed by an HD-2 channel.

Yesterday’s February-book Arbitron PPMs for Kansas City list two HD-2 signals as “making the book.” One is Cumulus Media’s hard-rockin’ “103.7 The Dam,” which debuted a year ago. It’s showing (as “KCFX-HD2”) with a 1.2 share, age 6+ AQH — not bad at all for a 250-watt translator. But at least this month, it’s topped by “KCMO-FM HD2,” and that, you may remember from the February 15 TRI Newsletter, is “Funny 102.5.” It’s the HD-2 signal of Cumulus oldies KCMO-FM (94.9) feeding translator K273BZ. “Funny” is using Bill Bungeroth’s 24/7 Comedy service and that debut, along with some early numbers for comedy in Joplin, may get comedy radio something Rodney Dangerfield would’ve appreciated — a little more respect. This isn’t the first time all-comedy’s shown up in a PPM market — Ratings scholar Chris Huff observes that Riverside’s KFNY (1440) has been averaging a 0.3 to 0.7 since last Fall. Check the latest PPMs from Kansas City on the Ratings Page of Radio-Info.com, here.

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One Response

  1. I’ve been running these graphs for quite some time on my blog, so this is no surprise. Harker’s graphs are a bit deceiving, as there never was any measurable interest in HD Radio, versus other technologies:

    http://www.google.com/trends?q=hd+radio%2C+sirius%2C+xm%2C+pandora

    HD Radio is flat-lined since existence.

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