In last Thursday’s issue, we raised the question “HD Radio: What Went Wrong?” after radio panelists at a recent convention debated that very topic and concluded that HD Radio is in intensive care at best, or on life support at worst. The story generated a lot of reader mail. Surprisingly, not one person defended HD Radio or argued for its survival. Here’s a sampling of the responses.
• “As one who watched the introduction of HD Radio here in the U.S.A. and back home in Australia, I remember all the hype, the ads, and the shock and disappointment of the cost of HD Radios. When we leave our offices each day we return to being a consumer in a time of world financial turmoil. I found myself asking the same question I imagine many consumers asked themselves when buying that new clock radio for the bedroom: ‘The brand new, wiz bang HD unit at $100, or the $15 Wally World, no name, generic one?’ I’m betting you all did exactly the same thing.
“This is not like the introduction of digital TV that had hard changeover dates looming over our heads. If we the industry don’t embrace the technology in our own homes, given the added cost, why would we expect the listeners to do so?
“Streaming, to me, has always been the better option. It’s cheaper to implement, cheaper to access for the listener, and I think has better monetizing opportunities. We just changed our stream host provider, and now our streaming has begun to make money.” —Jack Alexander, owner, Lone Dawg Radio and host, “The Jack Alexander Experiment”
• “Other than PPM that affects the top markets, HD Radio has a couple thorns that really need to be addressed [including] floor space and general Internet streaming, along with smart phones (iPhone, Droid, etc). As Randy Michaels pointed out at the R&R Talk Radio Seminar in 2005, the problem with satellite and HD Radio is it’s one-way transmission. With streaming, computers or smart devices, there’s a two-way aspect where the listeners vote on the songs, purchase the songs and have ways to interact with the advertisers along with the radio station bringing all of this to them.
“I’m in market 211ish and, trust me, I cannot find an HD Radio in any retail store locally. In walking through my local Best Buy, I see XM/Sirius and Pandora devices, but no HD Radio. Even worse, try to find one as an option from a car manufacturer’s Web site.
“When I worked for Clear Channel about six years ago, I had an e-mail discussion with a corporate technical type telling him that this is a problem and I cannot find one to put into my existing vehicle unless it was from a catalog/online store out of New York that I had to do deep Internet searching for. The floor space problem still persists.” — Jeff Williams, director of operations, Knight Broadcasting Inc. (KSMA/KUHL/KRAZ/KSYV) Santa Maria, Calif.
• “In my opinion, HD Radio was DOA. Much of the initial lack of excitement can be attributed to the name. I’ve never understood why it was thought a good idea to use a term we associate with TV—‘HD’—to radio. That alone seems like a monumentally bad idea.
“Secondly, it’s been poorly and sporadically marketed. I think it should have been rolled out with major companies already onboard. The initial impact of HD Radio was, to be kind, a bit tepid. It’s not improved. A big debut could have gone a long way.
“Thirdly, radio broadcasters have rarely acted together in their own self-interest. Cable and satellite TV providers support an R&D facility where the idea is to constantly come up with new ways to attract and hold viewers. Can you imagine major broadcasters financially supporting the same kind of support system?
“Radio has been and remains a nation of tribes—each thinking they know more than the other and each suspicious and mistrusting. If the radio industry ever got together at a level more than conferences and statements, amazing things might happen.
“Finally, for decades I’ve thought the real challenge of traditional radio broadcasters will be the Internet. It’s a force that can’t be ignored and only gets more powerful, while traditional radio keeps hollering that they’re not dead, they can compete, etc.
“HD Radio was never well-thought out and there was no real goal. Is it a surprise that it’s now irrelevant?” —Radio veteran Danny Wright
• “The biggest factor to me of NOT getting HD Radio was the much reduced power that broadcasters use to transmit their HD signals. I work at KIIM-FM Tucson, Ariz., part time. KIIM-FM transmitters are on Tucson’s far NW side. I live on Tucson’s far East side. I couldn’t receive the HD signals at all. It appeared to me the only solution would be an outdoor antenna, which just wasn’t practical. I don’t know all of the technological reasons for such a low signal, but after I found this out by testing a receiver at a Radio Shack store near my house, I made the decision NOT to purchase HD.” —Bob Jones, Tucson, Ariz.
• “The dirty little secret about HD is that the signal coverage is significantly less than the analog signal. So unless you are within 20-25 miles of a 50K FM, you’ll have trouble picking it up.” —Name withheld by request
• “A giant white elephant. Retailers never had the receivers, and the ones that did had no idea what they were. Big confusion with the listener came in February 2009 with the TV analog-to-digital conversion and listeners thought we were talking about TV. I programmed one of these stations for a year and never knew if one person listened to it. As one of the Clear Channel PDs said in our cluster, HD is for the audio quality and not the side channels. Hell, no one knows about the HDTV side channels, let alone radio.” —Chuck Geiger, managing editor, Full Throttle Country
• “Terrible advertising (and tons and tons of it!). Minimal resources. NOT high definition, thus a stupid name [and a] confused selling proposition. Very poor retailer support.” —Bob Wood