Thursday, December 27, 2007

The HD Radio Blues

In the beginning many of us were excited about the possibilities of IBOC errrrr HD Radio. As BB King sung so many times--the thrill is gone. I turned on my HD Radio this morning for the first time since nighttime AM HD broadcasting was approved a few months ago. Why? I was reminded I had it when I opened my email to read in Inside Radio, as I have also read elsewhere, that Consultant Fred Jacobs and HD Alliance leader Peter Ferrara are sparring over the latest radio ad campaign:
HD Alliance defends new ad campaign. The HD Radio Alliance's new ad campaign is drawing fire. Critics worry about how the campaign portrays existing analog radio - while doing little to sort out consumer confusion about HD Radio. Consultant Fred Jacobs says the new campaign "stunned" him because he thinks it positions analog radio as "repetitive, and lame." But Alliance chief Peter Ferrara says the industry needs to adjust its message to what today's consumers are thinking.
For the most part HD Radio has not broken any new ground. FM's have programmed mostly line extension formats or narrow niche formats and AM's have banked on the improved audio quality to draw listeners. While the audio quality improvement is impressive (yes, there are those who disagree with that), that alone will not bring new listeners to the band. And don't get me started on the channel numbering!

I'm not going to get in the middle of Fred and Peter's debate. Both men are capable of defending their own positions. In my opinion HD Radio has been a terrible distraction at a time when traditional radio is facing challenges as great as its ever faced. Not to mention the fact that thus far it has been a massive failure on multiple fronts--consumer confusion or disinterest leading to only a reported half million radios sold. It is safe to say finding an HD Radio in the hands of a listener would be as difficult as finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. How many of those radios are in the hands of radio people?

We know that "improved" audio quality will not move the needle. If better sounding audio was important, mp3's would not be as big an audio format as it is. We know that deep cuts, or dance, or bluegrass are not likely to get consumers in droves heading to the local Best Buy to pick up an HD Radio.
So, what's it gonna take? Something different, something that is also web based since there are so few HD radios, and something that has a financial commitment that extends for more than a quarter or two for it to work. It's gonna take embracing competitive technologies that can actually help the platform grow. It's gonna take a staff dedicated to making it happen. And finally, it doesn't have to be local to a single market.

It wouldn't take a great debater to argue this is no need for more places to get audio entertainment. However, IF we can create a genuine need people might latch on to the technology. Maybe in '08.


PocketRadio said...

Nothing like throwing the main analog channels "under the bus" for a technology that only radio-geeks want:

ibocsux said...

iBlock is a miserable failure and will completely ruin radio if not taken off the air soon, it interferes with adjacent channels on both AM and FM and does not sound better than analog IMHO, and I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of IBOC receivers are, as you intimate, owned by radio people either pro or con as the average Joe has absolutely no idea what it is if he has ever even heard of it and cares not one whit what it is if he has. There are no radios in any stores, if there are they are covered with dust and don't work because they are not tied to some outside antenna ala 1954 television. Radio needs better programing and more local programming to succeed, not some Rube Goldberg scheme which doesn't work and benefits only one segment of the population: Those who work for ibiquity.