It's now been more than 11 years since the first DAB radios were sold in the UK and nearly seven since Nathan Franzen purchased a Kenwood KTC-HR100 HD Radio tuner in Cedar Rapids, IA, to become America's first digital radio listener. Yet as the first decade of the 21st century draws to a close, we have yet to witness a defining moment for digital radio.
Sure, HD Radio proponents can point to a vast selection of mobile, tabletop and component radios now widely available. That's real progress. And the FCC's move to allow dramatic increases in digital signal power means consumers should experience more consistent HD Radio reception. 2010 brought other technical refinements as well, such as SFN booster technology and HD Radio receivers that can be personalized.
All good, but...something's still missing. Call it grass roots consumer passion for digital radio, or the buzz that typically marks an inflection point on an adoption curve.
Perhaps that's why HD Radio conversions stalled this year. The big groups bought in early, as did public radio with help from some hefty CPB grants. But the rest of us remained on the sidelines, watching for a sign that the moment to invest had finally arrived. And we're still there today.
Clearly the U.S. experience isn't unique -- far from it. Around the world, digital radio is advancing in, well, dribbles. Yes, DAB+ finally seems to be gaining some traction in Europe and Australia, just as India and Russia seem to find DRM better suited to covering large areas and populations.
If anything became clear this year, it's that the standards battle has come and gone. There are now lots of clever ways to digitally deliver audio content, including wireless broadband and smartphones. They all work pretty well -- simply pick one that suits your nation's business and social model, or mix and match.
Even so, there's no denying that at the end of 2010 people -- ordinary everyday people -- are still waiting to hear why digital radio is must-have technology.
Here's hoping 2011 provides a compelling answer.