As I speak with listeners and read posts at online forums, one recurring theme I see is "it's the content, stupid" or something similar. People say that radio is stale, not innovative or the formats are too narrow or limited. Satellite radio, which unlike free radio is controlled 100 percent by only two companies is, on the other hand, lauded as a remedy for these maladies.
So why can't the hundreds of free, over-the-air broadcasters provide a challenge to the two national satellite companies? One of the primary reasons has always been the competitive nature of our business and pursuit of maximum audience and profits. Because each terrestrial radio broadcaster only has a few "channels" (independent radio stations) available in any given market (the FCC maximum is eight in even the largest markets), no single broadcaster can provide a variety of programming similar to what the two satellite providers, with their 100+ channels each, can provide. And because there are so many competing terrestrial broadcasters in each market, out of financial necessity we tend to compete over the most popular or lucrative formats. The result of this is that we don't have a variety of programming choices in each market equal to the number of stations in that market. Listeners may have a number of country stations, a number of top-40, hip-hop and rock stations, etc., but more eclectic, adventurous, innovative or niche formats are few and far between.
The objective of the HD Digital Radio Alliance is to learn from history and work cooperatively to address programming diversity and meet the listeners' needs before everyone is on the air with the new digital signals and this becomes a big business, as traditional analog radio has become over time. The alliance isn't just for or about the large broadcast groups: a number of smaller broadcasters have joined up, and the alliance encourages all radio broadcasters, large and small, to come together and be a part of this effort to establish a new radio service for the listening public. This plan really can't provide maximum variety to the consumers unless all the broadcasters in a market, large and small, participate.
Our studies of the number of radio signals providing reliable coverage of each market have demonstrated that it will take all of the broadcasters in each market cooperating to provide the variety of program content that satellite can provide. The innovative concept of the alliance is simply about deciding on programming in a market first, and working together, to guarantee that no two secondary digital channels in a market duplicate the same programming, and that maximum programming innovation, diversity and choice is available to the listeners. So we'll have a free radio service that is equivalent or superior in depth, variety and diversity to satellite. If stations each go their own way, do research, and then select the most popular formats to compete over for these new secondary channels as we've traditionally done with the analog stations, we simply won't achieve the worthy and important goal of programming diversity.
As many have already correctly pointed out, if there isn't something unique, better and different provided by digital radio it's going to be difficult to persuade any significant number of consumers to invest in the hardware. The HD Alliance is all about creating something unique, better, different — and free!
What this is all about is saving free radio. Listeners will be able to get digital clarity, with variety on a par with what the satellite services can provide, for free. We can do this with the new digital channels since they don't already have an entrenched listener base and established revenue stream that we're depending on to keep the lights burning. As with FM radio back when AM was king and FM was a novelty, we can afford to do something new and different on these new channels. So why even consider programming each of those channels via the same competitive paradigm as we've done with our existing analog stations?
To me that doesn't make a lot of sense. It's a little like the classic definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result.
Is this concept guaranteed to work? No. But I believe it's the right thing to do at this critical time.
It's been said of the alliance that large broadcasters such as Clear Channel aren't, or can't be, in touch with their listeners, and thus can't know what to program to meet the needs of the local markets they serve. This simply represents a misunderstanding about how Clear Channel programs our radio stations. Clear Channel as a company doesn't program the local stations: our local program directors do. Clear Channel Radio owns or programs roughly 1,200 radio stations in the United States. This amounts to about nine percent of all U.S. radio stations (which contrary to what some of our detractors may say, is far from any sort of monopoly by any definition). Those 1,200 stations are programmed by 900 local program directors. Those local program directors live and work in their local markets and know their listeners personally. Just because their paychecks say Clear Channel and they happen to work for a company that owns a large number of stations doesn't make them any less locally connected or committed.
I love the radio business and am passionate about it, and I am optimistic that these second audio channels will give us all a chance to provide a new, relevant, meaningful service to the listening public, for free, without disrupting a service and business model that still attracts millions of listeners (and dollars) daily and provides many of us with our income. Until we had the second digital channels we were trapped in a Catch-22: we couldn't afford to change (too much revenue riding on the status-quo) but we couldn't afford not to (lest we get left behind as people adopt satellite radio, cell-phone entertainment, Internet radio and Ipods).
We stand today at a pivotal crossroads in the evolution of our industry. My hope is that you and the leaders at your stations and companies will join us in reinventing our business to maintain our vibrancy and relevance into the 21st century.
senior vice president, engineering
Clear Channel Radio
You were right on target once again in the January edition of Radio magazine. Someone has really dropped the ball in the HD Radio receiver manufacturing segment. No one I know in the specialty radio vendor business can recall the last ad or informational article pertaining to HD Radio receivers, let alone as to why their customers ought to begin to think about buying one (a digital HD receiver). I see very few ads for HD Radio and even less explanations as to what it is and why I should look into one.
I read a lot of articles as to broadcasters change over to HD Radio, but little as to how it will affect me, the listener! The consumer market has a long way to go to even begin to understand this new technology, and how it will benefit them. The average person on the street has no idea about HD Radio and that is going to really hurt initial sales. The new HD Radio receivers are just going to appear to be just a plain old expensive radio to the consumer and the consequences of that are really going to be felt. Start-up sales will be so slow and hard that some manufactures are going to take fatal hits.
Keep up the drum roll. Someone may wake up. I hope it's not to late.
But it is the content
You, as an editor, should be more knowledgeable of radio than you appear to be….i.e., your editorial on HD Radio at the CES in the February issue. It is content, not fidelity, that makes a station successful. Please, learn that mantra and say it 10 times a day…please.
These fools in the driver seats of radio have all missed the point. See the mantra above. Technology is not going to make a station succeed — content does. That's why creeky, ancient modulation, known as AM, is still a top vote-getter in our cities. It's the "content of modulation" or quality of program presented that gets the listeners, not the latest transmission gimmick.
OK, hoping I've made my point, extend that to "HD Radio will be a wasteful experiment of desperation." Satellite is growing by leaps and bounds and the only salvation for terrestrial is to "identify with your local population." That's it.
As a broadcaster I appreciate great audio but just as important, I appreciate great audio at home as well. In this case it's from the position of a consumer that I'm writing to you because you seem to share my zeal for the rollout of HD Radio.
For a few years now my wife and I have wanted to redecorate our living room but haven't been able to afford this project until now. Included in that plan has been the addition of a new audio system. The one that has caught our ears and eyes is the Bose 3-2-1 virtual surround system.
Even though I tend to be a traditionalist as it relates to audiophile equipment, Bose impresses me on numerous fronts. In short, I love the 3-2-1 system and would buy one ASAP except for one thing. It doesn't have AM/FM HD Radio compatibility. I e-mailed Bose and asked them about this, noting a segment from the Sound & Vision Magazine 2006 buyers guide, where on page 72 it says: "As of April 2005, 2,000 stations, reaching 60 percent of the U.S. population, had signed on for it."
Here's the reply I received from Bose:
With more than 40 years invested in research, Bose Corporation is a proponent of technological advancement in the consumer electronics industry.
We will only ask our customers to invest in new audio and video formats when those formats have been established as industry standards and are widely supported by the electronics industry. Our engineers are continually researching and evaluating new audio/video technologies and, when they are proven to provide good value and continued benefits, we incorporate them into our products.
For example, we may choose to adopt a new disc format only if discs are widely available; we may adopt a new radio reception technology only when broadcasts are not limited to a small area or small audience.
Thank you for contacting Bose Corporation.
Aric MacDonald Ext. 61068
Customer Support Team<
Chriss, this is a disappointing reply considering the fact that the Bose slogan says, "Better sound through research." With 2,000 stations committed to it and allegedly over 600 actually broadcasting in HD, how could any company's marketing department not see the advantages of jumping on this now?
The bottom line for me is this. I don't even want to spend $50 much less $1,500 or more for a piece of entertainment equipment that will eventually have an outdated tuner. With the news I just recently heard that HD TV sales are just beginning to outpace analog TV sales, it's high time for radio receiver manufacturers to get on the HD Radio bandwagon, and not just on top-of-the-line units either.
name withheld by request
I read the comments presented by Scott Boehme of The Society for Accurate Information and Distribution Foundation in the December 2005 issue. The following comment caught my eye: "A station has to rent IBOC for a lot of money." Wrong! A station makes an outright licensing purchase and does not have to "rent" IBOC for a lot of money. Mr. Boehme should look again at the name of his organization and consider the information presented in his statements.
Thomas R. Ray, III, CPBE
vice president, corporate director of engineering
Buckley Broadcasting/WOR Radio
New York City
Differences of opinion
We all know that the PD and GM judge sound quality from a different reality. This is not a slam, rather a simple observation. The reality is that we engineers as screwdriver heads are not always in possession of a right-brained perspective when it comes to sound quality and proper implementation. That said, it has been mused about my office that HD Radio should be markedly different in its audio quality than its analog counterpart. I view that to be totally off the mark because the transition blend from analog to digital would be so obvious (to my left brain) — they view it as showing off the increase in sound quality and thus a motive for buying such technology.
All this is to say that the purveyors of HD Radio technology should keep this in mind: A complete phase-aligned signal pathway with a full complement of processing DSP would be just what the right-brainers ordered.
Greater Media Detroit,
Good observation, Michael. The Trends in Technology feature in the April issue will look at some of the aspects of processing bit-reduced audio such as HD Radio.
Also, because of the traditional heavy-handed approach to audio processing analog signals, there is a growing interest in a more subtle approach on digital signals.
— Chriss Scherer
Reception with the Recepter
I have been listening to stations with the Boston Acoustics Recepter HD radio, and I have to tell you that I am impressed with this receiver's selectivity.
I use rabbit ears for FM reception and receive every New York-area HD Radio station. Currently, WPLJ is running HD 1, 2 and 3 streams. What I have noticed with the BA's HD Radio reception is that stereo separation in digital is much more pronounced, and the HD 2 channels run what appears to be about 80 percent as loud as the HD 1 channel.
As with any new technology, there is a learning curve, although with this radio there's more learning what the radio is capable of as opposed to how to use it.
The weakness is in the antenna provided with the radio. Is it a lack of sensitivity or the fact that an external antenna is needed to make the radio shine? Again, who purchases a component-quality receiver and doesn't connect an external antenna to it? I have never operated a receiver with such spectacular skirt selectivity characteristics. The absolutely clean second-adjacent audio demos I've provided speak volumes to that selectivity and I am in a region served by many city-grade signals on both bands.
The fact that an HD Radio-encoded FM station can provide three separate channels of high quality digital stereo audio on one frequency should more than satisfy the few who claim that they cannot listen to an out-of-market station because of HD Radio's effect on analog receivers. With the additional channels come additional formats to choose from. Most people tune to the strongest signal and do not DX the commercial broadcast bands anyway.
As for IBOC on the AM broadcast bend, it's a work in progress. Some very well-engineered stations such as WOR sound terrific, as if one were listening from an off-air monitor at the station. But because the bit-rate is near minimum for quality reception (remember we're dealing with a much noisier segment of spectrum) sometimes due to error correction techniques in the radio some small artifacts can be heard. The codec currently used is, in my opinion, far superior to that used by Ibiquity a few years ago. One other issue will have to be addressed: the use of multiple compression schemes from origination to end user.
Still, HD Radio is a major improvement in how we receiver our broadcast signals and for a first generation receiver the Boston Acoustics Recepter is quite impressive and takes advantage of everything HD Radio has to offer.
I made an audio demo of some of the signals that I have received with the radio. [Go to beradio.com to hear the file. Click on Reader Feedback in the March 2006 issue and follow the link to the audio file.]
The demo features different stations that I received on a single afternoon. I was able to receive several different adjacent-channel stations running IBOC.
The first station on the demo (WOR, New York) demonstrates the kind of signal I received. It acts as the control in this experiment. The next signal on the demo was recorded during the start of afternoon critical hours. The station is WLW, Cincinnati on 700kHz. WOR was still running its IBOC encoder on 710kHz.
Likewise, the recordings of WPIT (730kHz 5kW, non-D) were made while WOR was running IBOC. The lack of any digital QRM is immediately noticeable.
So much for the complaints of IBOC causing interference to second- and third-adjacent stations.
New York City