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AG News: 6/12/2006

A Station Owner's View of HD Radio Industry

It's not that Robert Conrad needs an introduction. Anyone who's been in radio, particularly on the classical music side, will recognize his name and know the integrity he brings to the radio industry.

Dr. Conrad owns WCLV FM, Cleveland's classical music mainstay. (He holds three honorary degrees; Doctor of Music, Doctor of Fine Arts, and Doctor of Humanities.) He has pioneered every move the radio industry's made to improve technology and programming, has built a world-renowned syndication service in WCLV/Seaway Productions, and has been The Cleveland Orchestra's radio commentator since 1964. His track record demands respect.

Robert was first to install CDs in the studio, create an online presence, stream, and get behind HD Radio as the industry began a push to keep pace with a technologically improved world. So, when a letter outlining his views on HD Radio appeared in a Radio Business Report newsletter, I took advantage of a 25-year friendship with this industry front-runner to request a reprint of his words here; they are THAT important, and he is THAT credible.

Here is Robert Conrad's view of HD Radio: It is truth, spoken through wisdom and integrity.

The Real World of HD

WCLV was the second station in northeast Ohio and the third classical music station in the country to transmit in HD.

This was back in August of 2003, but the only people who have listened to it during the interim are our staff and the chief engineers at other stations.

The problem? Obviously, the lack of HD radios.

Now that Boston Accoustics has dropped the price on their HD radio, and Radio Shack is beginning to stock HD radios, that may begin to change.

The initial appeal to the consumer was to be improved quality of sound. But, frankly, the difference between a high quality analog signal, such as WCLV's classical music programming, and the HD signal is minimal. And with highly processed rock programming, you can't tell any difference.

So what will be the appeal of HD? The answer is the additional programming channels on the HD2 and HD3 channels. However, there is a serious flaw. We were told back in the beginning that the HD coverage would be equal to the analog signal. Unfortunately, the industry is now finding out this is not the case, that the HD coverage is considerably less, something like 60% of the analog coverage. We've also found that even in a strong HD signal area, a dipole antenna is required.

We were also told that the HD would lessen interference with adjacent channel signals. That also appears not to be the case.

This is really very discouraging and is leading us to wonder why we should bother to promote HD. To do so will only disappoint, and, perhaps, antagonize a significant segment of the audience who finds that the system doesn't deliver.

Robert Conrad
WCLV (FM) Cleveland
Cleveland Orchestra Broadcast Service

From: Phil L.

I was always under the impression that if it ain't broke don't try to fix it.
I was with a friend who just purchased a new $400. digital car radio so we
monitored several stations in this area that were broadcasting in "HD" I'm
definitely not impressed. People have complained about multipath but when
you are driving into certain questionable areas the digital stream stutters
and stalls then the radio switches back to the analog mode which in many
cases is not in sync with the digital signal. When we got more than twenty
or thirty miles away from the transmitter, the digital signal was gone.
As a former station owner and engineer, I would not waist any money or effort
to go digital. I can see certain advantages with AM but that won't work at night.
With the FM "HD" system it also increases the amount of undesirable "AM"
noise in the main analog FM signal.
When a better system is available, let me know, in the meantime,
I wouldn't waist my money or time doing digital radio.

From: Robert Y.

I went to my local Dallas, TX Radio Shack the other day, asked to see
the new HD radio. "Over there", said the clerk. "But, it doesn't work
in the store". Sure enough, there it was, all 300 dollars of it. The only thing
that works is the on-off sw. In-store HD is blocked out by the building.

Meanwhile just above the non-working HD, sits a standard AM-FM boombox
just booming away. Is this the way an industry sells it's new and improved
product? I smell trouble ahead.

From: Richard U.

The Boston Acoustics radio is notorious for poor sensitivity.
The radio is the problem, this time, not the technology.

From: Sal A.

HD = MD (Mini Disc). Nuff said. Not going to help, a major cost for
little to no reward in a technology market that is moving by leaps
and bounds to render the "tuner" useless in a short time making this
another piece of electronics people just don't need.
It will not reach critical mass because so many other things do what
people want them to do it's just not worth it, not to mention technology
that enables people to listen to internet radio in their car. When cities
are wired and those tuners hit the market, adios terrestrial. Of course
that's just my opinion and I could be wrong but... I doubt it.
Just think at how long it took people to buy CD players. Adults don't
adapt to new media technologies like 18-34's. 18-34's already have
a ton of gadgets they're into and they're already HABITUAL in their
use of those product.
HD radio is like an Edsel.

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