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.