More lukewarm media coverage for HD Radio

Here’s a new piece on HD Radio from Wired.

It includes the usual dose of industry and audience skepticism about HD’s prospects and core premise, along with the customary effusive optimism from the HD Alliance.

The angle of the piece seems to be that “tight control by big radio companies at the top is smothering the fledgling industry’s chances” for HD.

I don’t agree.

When it comes to technology in an industry as big and broad as radio, change is unlikely ever to come from anywhere but the top, from the largest and most powerful companies in the industry. That’s assuming such change is expected to be widely adopted by many stations in a reasonable period of time (for all its consolidation, radio is still quite UNconsolidated). This is not a question of new formats bubbling up from the rebellious independent operators who have a better sense of what listeners at ground level want in their markets. It’s a question of technology and a common platform.

Yet this, of course, is one of the central problems of HD Radio: It is a “me”-centric solution of the radio industry to our own problem, not a “you”-centric solution to anything that ails the audience we all depend on. Meanwhile, any solution which is not “you”-centric is really no solution at all.

Says the article:

[S]o far, digital radio has generated nearly no buzz. HD Radio technology company iBiquity Digital estimates about 200,000 HD radios were sold last year, and predicts between 1 million and 1.5 million will be sold this year.

So in other words iBiquity estimates that we’ll sell as many HD radios this year as Apple will sell iPhones. Do you think that’s true?

It’s interesting that when you talk to regular radio people about what HD radio should do, the advise crackles with good sense:

As for commercials and DJs, industry analysts say they should have been on subchannels from the beginning because listeners expect them. “The myth is that (listeners) find the DJs annoying,” says radio consultant Donna Halper. “They find them annoying when they babble endlessly.”

Note to the industry: If you really want to scare away your audience, keep on using the term “subchannel.”

And what about the future?

Despite HD Radio’s slow and possibly flawed start, Ferrara says the technology will take off in time. “FM radio took 10 to 15 years to get its footing,” he says. “I don’t think HD Radio will take nearly that long.”

Personally, I would avoid making an analogy to a time when a “calculator” was an abacus, Herb Alpert was a hit, and cars had 8-track players.

What perhaps is most distressing about the tone of recent media coverage of HD Radio is that the theme seems to be the lack of momentum. Shouldn’t we acknowledge the problem as an industry so we can cope with it in the light of day?

The best way to change the tone of coverage is to change the tone of reality.

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