HD Digital Radio Alliance crash-burns, but won’t admit it

I’m reading through the consumer electronics trade journal TWICE and bumped into this fascinating article: HD Radio Ads Combat Perceptions.
The story’s really summed up in this sentence, that the Alliance’s new “radio-ad campaign will combat the mistaken perception by many consumers that they already own an HD Radio.”
hd radio logoThat’s an extraordinary problem to have, isn’t it? Apparently the higher clarity, greater dynamic range digital “HD” radio is a baffling proposition to consumers, who either think that if their radio has a digital tuner they’re set or that it’s somehow related to satellite radio (Sirius/XM).
The metaphor that comes to mind is that it’s like the rats organizing and having a rally as the ship they’re on slowly swirls through the whirlpool and into the briny depths.
For better or worse, AM/FM works pretty well, it’s cheap, pervasive and now that there are so, so many different alternatives for listening to music (for example, I have an 80GB iPod plugged into my car stereo so I have an enormous music library on the road and far more flexibility – and sound quality – than any on-air alternative) it doesn’t need to be supplanted.
That’s the core problem that Sirius/XM have been having for years too. It’s just alien for the vast majority of consumers to think about paying for radio. I mean, it’s just airwaves, right?
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the HD Digital Radio Alliance explains that the ads are intended to make people go to the HD Radio.com Web site so that people will view HD station guides because, as she explains, “we know if listeners find a station they want to hear that is not on the AM or FM dial, they will buy a new radio.”
Uh, no. If they realize that there’s music that they want to hear but don’t have access to on their radio dial, they’ll create a playlist on their music player, plug their smartphone into their stereo and turn on Pandora or Slacker or otherwise sidestep the entire over-the-air infrastructure.
That’s not the only place they’re out of touch with reality, though. Alliance president Diane Warren explains that “In this economic environment, being able to receive all these extra stations around the country for free is immensely appealing.��? Unfortunately Diane forgets that you have to buy new radios to get these additional channels, and the cheapest option is almost $100.
Then again, perhaps I’m wrong and lots of my friends and colleagues have their HD Digital Radio devices and are happily listening to all the additional high quality channels. Are you?

7 comments on “HD Digital Radio Alliance crash-burns, but won’t admit it

  1. I think you are right that the trouble with HD Radio is the insufficient value-add over traditional radio. Satellite radio offers a huge number of channels, and works in the middle of nowhere — making it very attractive to road warriors. HD Radio’s value-add is to offer a crystal clear, digital broadcast instead of a crystal clear, analog broadcast, and I haven’t found much interesting content on the “extra” channels.
    I own an HD Radio receiver, and it does help me receive stations that otherwise would have too much static here in downtown Denver’s multipath interference area. People in most areas can probably receive regular FM radio fine, though.
    What disturbs me most is that my receiver (the Jensen model available at Target) will spontaneously reboot and occasionally freeze up. I guess that can be expected when adding software (complexity) to a formerly simple device. (Normal FM radios don’t reboot and freeze up.) I develop software for consumer electronics, so I’ll do my best to not be part of the problem. 🙂

  2. I almost never listen to my radio anymore. I have an iPhone with a great playlist or audio book which meets all of my needs. That coupled with my car’s premium sound system suits me just fine. I agree that there is not enough (or any) value add here. Now only if they could make a “true” auto tuner for my iPhone…

  3. I’ve noticed there’s important information always missing from the
    Alliance new releases, or puff pieces from radio world. It’s not HD
    models, or the always flexible, floating total number of HD stations.
    Licensed or broadcasting.. Do you care to guess? It’s a killer! It’s
    really important! and as obvious has the nose on your face..
    Ok…IT’S LISTENERS! IS ANYBODY LISTENING? It’s very interesting that
    the Alliance always sidesteps ratings, or if nothing else,
    successful station promotions, where two people showed up… or called
    the bat phone to win a million bucks..Build it and they will come, ya
    I forgot HD stations are merely ghost ships, nobody’s home..And PC
    works hard playing more music..
    I sell spots for a small 10K newsTalk station. It’s six months new and
    I know people are listening and i can document successful station
    promotions where hundreds showed up, or clients got results from their
    ads..Can HD do any of that?
    Number of units sold, total HD’s on air, or the price of receivers is
    getting old and doesn’t really matter..
    it’s time to play radio.. and make something happen. otherwise whats
    the point..
    Alliance, it’s time to put up of shut up.. if not, unplug and go dark
    you’re just wasting resources…
    It’s radio, not news releases filled with hype, crap and lies..

  4. HD Radio is long finished. HD Radio is an example of hamfisted 90’s Command Economy gags, the same ones which brought down the soviet union.
    People like AM & FM. UK aparats, to their chagrin, realized that when UK listeners again rejected digital. As ever, aparats ignore reality and push for ‘all to go digital’, expecting something other than inevitable public rejection.
    During the 90’s BigBiz cheaszes ‘partnered’ with BigGov pals to inflict HD upon us. Don’t they call that socialism, if not cronyism? They set a date for ‘all to go digital’. Then they kept rolling back the date because people like radio as it is and don’t want to go digital.
    Radio is about people, not ‘digital’. We turn on the radio to hear people, not ‘digital’.
    During a recent trip out of the country, stateside AM stations kept us apprised of events stateside. Stations in the regions we visited entertained and informed us.
    They were analog, well heard on portable sets. They didn’t jam one another, the way HD Radio is designed to do.
    As HD continues to unravel, its unusual promoters will press for and likely receive tax dollars to inflict HD yet again until every listener turns off radio altogether.
    The HD gang will at once proclaim victory.
    And so it goes…
    Paul Vincent Zecchino
    Manasota Key, Florida
    30 March, 2009

  5. I foolishly bought one, am I listening to it? hell no, the range is terrible, it runs hotter than an old tube TV and doesn’t sound much different than an analog radio, in fact many people think analog sounds better. It’s a big scam and is a miracle that the alliance isn’t bankrupt already, in fact what’s up with that?

  6. You guys have missed the entire point. It’s not about the technology – it’s about content. Diane Warren is right – if consumers find music, music they want, music they miss, available on the radio – the WILL go out and buy the new technology. Despite the apparent failure of XM and Sirius, the fact remains that MILLIONS bought the new technology in hopes that they could find content that not available on traditional AM and FM radio. You ARE right that if people are going to listen to a Pandora or a Rhapsody, they might as well listen to their iPod. But the fact is, radio has always been about more than just the music. Sure, the music attracts you to the radio station – but it’s what goes between the songs that keeps you there. It’s not a chatty DJ talking just to hear him or herself talk. It IS about compelling content and ENTERTAINMENT. Everything we do in the media is about entertainment. Sure, listening to a good song, even a bunch of good songs in a playlist, is entertaining. But we seek companionship, common listening experiences (Did you hear what so-and-so said on the radio this morning) … what’s happened to radio, and ultimately, to its listeners, is tragic. Big corporations paid too much for AM and FM radio stations, the economy tanked, ad rates fell, and radio stations began running TOO MANY COMMERCIALS, and cut salaries and personnel, leaving too few people with too little time to prepare truly compelling content.
    So now, whether HD is the right answer from a technology standpoint, it is an opportunity for radio to redeem itself – to offer niche formats that have disappeared from the broadcast landscape – but the key is to do it in an entertaining, meaningful way – you’ve missed the boat – it’s about content – and about taking the boredom, the monotony – out of the listening experience. Will radio rise to the occasion? Only time will tell.
    It’s not about how many songs you can play without any interruptions – it’s the content, stupid.

  7. Brad, I agree with some of what you’re saying, but while we’re talking about content, we should point out that it’s not FM radio versus HD versus nothing. Quite the opposite. There are TONS of options for us now, whether they’re streaming content, Slacker Radio, Pandora, or, of course, iPods, the ubiquitous source of gigabytes of music that everyone has in their backpack or car.
    So you’re right, it is about the content. But it’s a massive, complex and rich space…

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