The Nail in HD Radio’s Coffin – And What It Means For You


From Tom Taylor Now:

A site named GMAuthority says among the changes for the [Chevrolet] Traverse, “HD Radio [is] removed.” There’s more. For the 2015 Silverado truck, GMAuthority says “HD radio feature removed from all radios.” Same for the 2015 GMC Sierra truck, here. For the high-end Buick Enclave, the previous “Color Touch AM/FM/SiriusXM/HD Radio with CD player” is replaced by “AM/FM/SiriusXM radio with CD player.” No mention of HD. As for the Chevy Impala, no HD, and SiriusXM also appears to be missing. So is GM’s in-house OnStar – but there’s a visible reason for that. The GMAuthority Impala page says “On the new features front, Impala adds OnStar Generation 10 Hardware with 4G LTE and Wi-Fi hot-spot capability.”

Ah, Wi-Fi and 4G LTE. This is something I have written about before. And as Tom reports…

…that’s where GM’s really headed [and] GM’s not the only carmaker who’s thinking that way. But to have HD Radio out of the dashboard for at least some 2015 models is a step backward for over-the-air radio. Pandora’s been aggressively courting the automakers and getting its icon on dashboard screens. It’s also frequently mentioned in some new advertising. HD Radio hasn’t had the same prominence in car ads, despite its head-start.

First, understand that HD radio always has been a crappy experience for consumers: A digital solution grafted onto an analog expectation with a jumble of unpredictably random Frankenstein products indifferent to consumer tastes built by and for the broadcasters which finance it.

What could possibly go wrong?

It’s not about being first out of the gate, it’s about solving problems for consumers in ways that resonate. It’s not about prominence in car ads, it’s about being worthy of that prominence.

But beyond all that, what is “a step backward for over-the-air radio?”

From the consumer’s perspective, there is no such thing as “over-the-air radio” per se. Ask a listener tuning in your station via iHeartRadio whether they listen online or to the radio and they will wrinkle their brow: “What do you mean?” they’ll ask. “I’m listening to radio – online!”

“Over-the-air radio” is a slice of a channel of distribution in a sea of distribution channels battling for the nexus of content and attention. It’s a new and smaller definition of radio than the ones consumers prefer to use. We diminish the radio experience by reducing it to “over-the-air.

The primary benefit in a crowded techno-space of this still large distribution channel is that we can use it to shine the light on our content offerings which live on the air, off the air, online, in person – wherever consumers want to collide with that content and enjoy it.

At least, that is certainly the way other media brands see this puzzle. It’s why so many big media brands invest in multiple distribution platforms and develop or acquire name brand content to sprinkle across those platforms.

So, in fact, a step backward for a distribution channel (or a portion of one in this case) stubbornly clinging to its oxygen supply has no bearing whatsoever on steps forward for technology, for platforms, for media companies with a vision and a strategy, and for the consumers who get to enjoy it all on their own terms.

Repeat after me: All technology is transitional.

ALL technology. Including the kind that delivers your dial position on an FM or AM radio.

Distribution, of course is critical. And so is content. But don’t confuse either of these with “over-the-air radio.”

* = required field
  • dwboston4

    Several other nails in the coffin:

    1. The FCC’s decision years ago not to mandate the inclusion of HD in most radios was probably the first nail in HD Radio’s eventual lethal decline. The commission in earlier years eventually did require FM to be included in all radios. One wonders if FM would have ever succeeded without the FCC’s action. I’m old enough to remember all the commercial broadcasters in Boston who had been assigned an FM frequency but didn’t have a clue what to program on them. CBS’s WEEI actually programmed a 24-hour music channel with no commercials since none of the advertisers thought FM would ever really find an audience.
    2. HD radio emerged during the early success of the iPod and a nascent streaming audio scene. Young listeners by the millions were abandoning all radio for Apple’s iPod.
    3. Digital fatigue: consumers had just completed the transition from analog to digital TV reception and the last thing they wanted to hear is they now needed to go out and replace their analog radio with one that could pick up digital signals.
    4. The chicken and egg waiting game. Radio stations said they would add HD signals when they felt confident the audience was there; consumers didn’t want to make the investment until the programming was there.
    Greg Fitzgerald

  • theradiomall

    And yet another nail: For years Radio fought hard to get HD included in car radios, and finally, they did. And, at the same time as their victory, at least in Houston, TX, radio seemed to say, “ah, the hell with it” and stopped trying to put good “product” on the sideband stations, and Clear Channel went so far as to stop broadcasting their HD signals independently and paired them up with AM stations.

  • Robert Chickering

    what a mess. I was involved in multiple mandated installs of HD transmitter early in the 2000’s and 14 years later I buy a car and it doesnt have HD. Geez . A terrible mess and the worst roll out of a technology. HD is great and sounds nice with no multipath but nobody needs it. Nobody ever needed it. It was never going to save radio it just made it better and that story was lost.

  • jterhar

    How did Sirius/XM get in the car? They paid to get there. If the broadcasters had made that initial investment, it might have been a different story. With 3 broadcasters holding a huge number of stations, a little collusion and some strategically placed money would have raised the visibility of the medium. The programming, which is mostly just a hard drive feeding a sound card, would actually be an advantage, mirroring the early days of FM. Yes, it is a very flawed system with power that is too low and a digital payload that isn’t big enough to provide real “High Definition” radio. But at least it would have had a chance instead of being doomed from the very beginning.

  • John

    First, radio lied about HD Radio, claiming better than CD [audio] quality. You find out HD Radio still uses audio processor to enhance sound and its digital is compressed data. Furthermore, maybe 15% of people demand high quality sound. Some songs that gets play on HD Radio should be trashed. Radio managers aren’t record collectors, that’s a given, so who knows what ill you’ll hear. As the seasoned DJs move on, it gets worse and worse for even having an “orginal” version played by younger radio hosts. Believe iBiquity is bugging the FCC to gain more broadcasting power, since digital, as car manufacture service bulletins claim, have its share of problems. While satellite radio offered interesting content, it seems the less thrilling people are behind HD Radio.

  • James Cracker

    Listen and you will clearly see that HD FM radio has vastly better sound quality than SiriusXm. The only issues with HD FM are commercials and the loss of signal when in outlying areas.

  • mike

    Hdradio is best .xm is just something else for consumers to continue to buy into . hd radio use to be good uNtill corporate greed took over.

  • The post does have a date.

  • rfortson

    I agree with you about HD radio in Houston. It’s certainly better than the crappy regular stations. Public Media has some great HD programming, including Xponential Radio. The other crappy stations broadcast some great old stuff, and it’s not the usual recycled stuff.

    HD radio may be dying (AFAIK, GM is the only one not offering it) but it will be a shame if it does. It’s great.

  • Thomas Daly

    No Hughes owns Sirus XM.Which Hughes is owned by GM. It’s a matter of selling you Internet and XM subscriptions. Can’t sell you what is brodcasted for free.

  • Tigerlily

    HD radio has pretty much stopped growing since 2007. There is this new thing called the Internet where you can do on demand stuff. Very space-age.

  • StandingO

    You expect me to spend $40K + for a new car just for the radio? And then pay a monthly fee for a radio signal? When I have a perfectly good car that I just needed to pop in an HD receiver to keep me enjoying classical music from my local APM station? Not a chance.

  • Judging from subscriber growth to SiriusXM most folks do not agree with you
    Mark Ramsey

  • StandingO

    That is non-responsive and nonsensical, but fortunately, I do not have to suffer the fate of having you be my judge.

  • I’m always disappointed that people sometimes write things they would never say to a professional peer whom they do not know.

  • James Gicking

    you’re absolutely right. I paid $500 to upgrade software in my ’11 BMW to get XM, and the music sounds like it’s coming over shortwave (I’m dating myself, few know how bad that sounds). I test drove a Tesla with its optional high-end audio, and the streaming music and satellite music is no better. Really surprised this would be the standard. Who would have predicted audio quality would deteriorated to this point?

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