This post, “Radio’s digital dilemma: broadcasting in the 21st century,” on the University of Illinois website, pretty much says it all — Big Money (and NPR) muscled compliant FCC into a system designed to make a few people rich and thwart competition, ends up being trash:
The interaction of policy and technological development in the era of “convergence” is messy and fraught with contradictions. The best expression of this condition is found in the story behind the development and proliferation of digital audio broadcasting (DAB). Radio is the last of the traditional mass media to navigate the convergence phenomenon; convergence itself has an inherently disruptive effect on traditional media forms. However, in the case of radio, this disruption is mostly self-induced through the cultivation of communications policies which thwart innovation. A dramaturgical analysis of digital radio’s technological and policy development reveals that the industry’s preferred mode of navigating the convergence phenomenon is not designed to provide the medium with a realistically useful path into a 21st century convergent media environment. Instead, the diffusion of “HD Radio” is a blocking mechanism proffered to impede new competition in the terrestrial radio space. HD Radio has several critical shortfalls: it causes interference and degradation to existing analog radio signals; does not have the capability to actually advance the utility of radio beyond extant quality/performance metrics; and is a wholly proprietary technology from transmission to reception. Despite substantive evidence in the record clearly warning of HD Radio’s fundamental detriments, the dominant actors in the policy dialogue were able to quell these concerns by dint of their economic might and through intensive backstage discourse directly with the Federal Communications Commission. Since its official proliferation in 2002, HD Radio’s growth has stagnated; some early-adopter stations are actually abandoning the protocol and receiver penetration is abysmal. As a result, the future of HD Radio is quite uncertain. Domestically, the entire process of HD Radio’s regulatory approval can be seen as a capstone in the history of communications regulation which favors neoliberal ideology over empirical engineering data and a vocal public interest. However, the apparent failure of digital radio is not confined to the United States: the dilemma of DAB’s adoptive weakness is a global and technologically agnostic phenomenon. Perhaps this says something about the inherent necessity of digitizing radio, and invites significant confusion over the future identity of “radio” as we know it today. If DAB were to fail, the outcome would invite entirely new ways of thinking about the future of broadcasting in a convergent media environment.