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HD Radio set to botch its first impression

From Inside Radio:

Should it be called “109.1”? Or “98.5-1”? Cox Radio’s Bob Neil asks “How are those additional HDchannels going to appear on the radio?” And says “the industry needs to come together” to settle on standards for both multicasting additional audio streams and for datacasting. Otherwise — “it has the potential to confuse customers” sitting in a car and trying to find a second channel. Bob’s in favor of having the radio display a number that looks like the current FM band — maybe “109.1” — instead of piggybacking on a current station. (Like “98.5-1” for Cox’ WSB-FM.)

Can I make a bold suggestion? Forget what the industry wants and focus on what the consumers will accept.

It is patently stupid to tack on HD stations to existing analog frequences (as in 98.5-1, 98.5-2, 98.5-3) and then put three different things on those frequencies. In people, we call this “multiple personality disorder” and we send them to psychiatrists. One address must represent one and only one thing. MTV may have MTV-2, but they exist at two separate addresses.

Furthermore, the names are so incredibly clunky, moving newfangled digital radio strongly in the direction of even clunkier HAM radio. It’s a confusing mass of digits, decimals, and dashes. We would be better off reconceptualizing the entire dial and taking this opportunity to simplify it across the board. For example (and brace yourself), how about numbering our stations 1 to 100? If this sounds like Satellite Radio, just remember HD Radio was your idea, not mine.

I am amazed that we can be this far along the path – with radios actually on the market – and not have thought through this incredibly obvious and troubling issue.

Say what you want about the industry effectively collaborating on HD Radio, Mr. Neil. To my eye, this is one of the most inept technological and product launches I’ve ever seen.

And saying “it’s in its infancy” doesn’t make me feel any better. iPods were in their infancy when they were launched, too. But they were also fully formed, well-executed, finely-marketed, and aimed at filling a verifiable consumer need. Can HD Radio say the same?

First impressions count.

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