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September 17, 2007
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HD Radio: Skeptisism is Spreading


Could the cracks in the HD Radio picture be starting to show? Is there a change underway in the mindset of radio industry execs that HD Radio - as it is being positioned - is not the answer to radio's future?

Since its introduction, there have been dozens of radio pros who've called HD Radio a solution to a problem that doesn't exist, that it will not be what springs traditional broadcast into the technological age, and that the radio ads positioning HD Radio in the public's mind don't say anything.

"These are not new negatives, only ones that have been ignored." What was the radio industry's response? Spend $250 million more in radio ads for 2007, accompanied by a push from its HD Radio Alliance to speak of wishes instead of facts, and a continuous promotion for consumers that sends them to retailers - which leads them to bare shelves and to clerks who don't have a clue.

Didn't anyone involved with HD Radio's introduction take Marketing 101?

There are signs that this facade may be coming to a close. One reason is that the most recent disappointing report is printed in the radio industry's trade-of-trades, Radio & Records, not usually known for reading the cards as they are laid out when it comes to bad news for radio. But read this article concerning HD Radio, which is featured at RadioandRecords.com. It speaks of insiders' opinions during R&R's round table discussion "Keeping Radio Relevant for Tomorrow's Listeners." Reality is finally setting in.

Some of the negatives that this R&R article points to are:
HD's added stations will "further fracture" the audience.
Sales trends to date are less than stellar (far less).
Radio bigwigs are finally questioning the concept of promoting "stations between the stations."
Consumers can't find HD Radios, and clerks don't know how to sell them.
Pulling in an HD Radio signal requires an antenna with a shot of Jack Daniels.
There's nothing being programmed on HD that appeals to youth.

Here are a few more negatives not mentioned...
Detroit has locked up the dashboard with satellite radio commitments.
How's a program director going to create quality programming for their added-on HD stations
when they don't have enough time to improve the multiple broadcast stations they currently program?
The price for a receiver is too high.
There are not enough programs in a single market to warrant the cost of purchase.
There's no buzz.

These are not new negatives, only ones that have been ignored. They should have, at the very least, been more deeply investigated as criticism kept piling on over the past few years.

One of the first important people to voice an objection was Robert Conrad, highly respected owner of classical station WCLV and of Seaway Productions. It was in June of 2006 when Mr. Conrad questioned what radio was getting into. Today he writes a letter to WCLV listeners (at WCLV.com) about problems the station, and he, personally, have experienced with HD Radio. Quoting his attempt at having an HD receiver installed in his car: "The technicians, in spite of numerous calls to Crutchfield, were unable to get power to the unit." Not a good sign.

The writing has been on the wall for HD Radio since its inception, reinforced through this Audio Graphics polling of readers. And, you've heard many, many, professionals who have been forced out of the industry declare this another bad judgment call (surpassing the increase of commercials and cutting newsrooms). So, industry leaders can't say they weren't warned.

It's time to stop this white elephant from devouring any more of radio's energy. It's time to take whatever money is being pumped into HD Radio and use it to improve programming, or to get online streams and web sites up to par. Maybe now that Radio & Records is acknowledging there's trouble in River City, we'll start seeing a graceful exit from this quagmire.

Youth would LOVE to have HD, except there's nothing but music on its signal and music they can get anywhere. Those over thirty would invest in HD if, and only if, they were given a fair representation of what they're being asked to hand over $100 to $500 for. But, that's not an easily uncovered item.

Since consolidation, radio industry executives have had a very tough time balancing the cost of programming with revenue. It should have been obvious a few years ago that adding to a need for more programming isn't the answer.

We may see several industry honchos exiting before too long because they misread the HD scene so badly. Then, after they're gone, there's only one more question to be answered: What is going to be done with all the HD Radio side channels once this concept goes belly up?

Radio isn't going to disappear if it stays local and analog, but it may disappear if it continues to try and go digital with HD.
















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