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Unspinning some of HD Radio’s Dubious PR

All this talk about the radio industry’s “united front” on HD is glossing over something important.

Namely: Most radio stations will not be part of that front.

The HD consortium is equivalent to being the biggest fraternity on a campus – with dozens of fraternities.

While this gives you the most headline value, it does not give you absolute power over developments of the technology in the marketplace.

Now obviously, this sort of mass will increase the likelihood that equipment and auto manufacturers will take notice. But all other elements – including the commitment of promotional time on air – do not require cross-owner agreement in order to realize. And promotion alone will not guarantee that listeners will care – unless those listeners have an actual need which HD radio solves (and I’m waiting for someone to explain to me what that is).

Further, the idea that the industry will efficiently mete out formats in an equitable fashion to all or even most eventual HD stations is a myth. When competing interests collide with cooperative agreements, cooperation almost always gets trumped. Even now some radio companies think nothing of creating “spoiler” stations whose job isn’t to rank as much as it is to remove rank from a competitior. It is inevitable that this practice will explode in an HD world, and thinking anything different is naive.

While the “free” nature of the new channels will be an incentive for sure (even though it’s only temporary – folks understand the notion of a “free trial”), our obsession with the value of increased choice is horribly misplaced and absolutely not supported by research.

In fact, I have seen research which has shown – in no uncertain terms – that a shockingly small number of radio station formats satisfy most of the people most of the time. That doesn’t mean you can’t whip up scores of new flavors to entice listeners at the margin, but “at the margin” is not a great place to entice when you need to move a lot of radios.

More choice – and free choice – will not necessarily stem the tide of listeners away from radio.

Better choice, of course, will. And that can start with the stations you already have.

And taking our content to other channels (cell phones, Internet, etc.) will, too.

But only if you have content worth taking.

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