I just bought my first HD radio. Circuit City seems to be closing out the HD radios. I got a display Boston Acoustics Receptor HD for $34. Only a couple other models were left on the shelf.
First impressions: It's deaf. I'm 8.9 miles from the Miami tower, 100kW stations. The included wire antenna needs to be in just the right spot to get anything. When I hold it just right, it sounds great. With just one speaker, there's no real difference between analog and digital other than the additional programming. The bass response is very good for such a small unit. According to the radio, my favorite Clear Channel Rock station isn't digital yet. But for $34 its audio beats the hell out of my old clock radio.
If anyone wants to know why HD Radio isn't selling, check out this page you can get to from the Boston Acoustics and Ibiquity sites: www.hdradio.com/find_an_hd_digital_radio_station.php
Click on Florida (or any state). Format: AC? Just how many normal people know what AC is? CHR? AAA? The American Automobile Association has a format now? Is that traffic reports?
But not one abbreviation in the owners column. As if the public is going to be looking for a Clear Channel station before they look for a Classical station. Is there really no one looking at HD Radio from the consumer's position? Or was this whole HD Radio thing just to please station owners? The FCC?
I can't figure out how these are even sorted. Market, then what? Clearly it's not set up for someone looking for a particular type of music in his market. How many people in Cocoa know they need to look under Melbourne to see their stations? How about a clickable map just like the first page?
The promos on the air are about as bad: cute commercials about a car radio not wanting its owner to upgrade to HD Radio. But no mention of what's there to get other than general types of programming followed by ‘blah, blah, blah.’ Yeah, that sells it. By the end of the commercial, I'm siding with the old radio.
By now there should be a whole lot of ‘only on HD Radio’ type teases. “Right now on WXYX-HD2, hear …” Did XM and Sirius get to where they are today with “more of the same, just digital”? Doesn't anyone want to do a cross-promo for his own station?
Is there no one in radio that knows how to sell audio programming to listeners any more? I don't claim to know how either, but I'm smart enough to know that this sure isn't the right way.
The ups and downs
I don't know whether to laugh or cry regarding the headlong rush into technology for technology's sake. The articles in the April issue, Managing Technology and Facility Showcase both tout transitioning to digital studio and delivery. But wait, the article Digital Audio Primer warns of mysterious pops and drops, and the increasing amount and complexity of equipment and thus the increasing cost of the equipment and cost of the test equipment to keep it running right.
The voice is analog and the ear is analog. Properly set up FM sounds excellent. Digital AM just trashes the dial. And the consumers aren't buying the technology anyway. Complicated and expensive or simple and cheap? An easy decision, unless your product — the actual radio content — is plastic, repetitive, boring and so on, so the public isn't listening, and management cuts costs to bankruptcy while debasing the product even more. So consultants have sold the notion that “platforms” — Wi-fi, HD Radio — will fix it.
In all the years we've been on the planet, life hasn't really changed all that much. It's still about your work, wife, kids, health, love, loss, life and death. We just have more stuff now. Radio in the 30s, 40s and 50s was about a connection between the folks in the studio and the listener. Today, it's fake. The conglomerates have assured that by making everything so structured. The DJ isn't riding along with you as a companion. It just isn't there. All the techie stuff can't — here's the key — make it interesting. Computers can't do that. Hiring the best people you can and then letting them use their brains and do their job, can. What part of this can't the industry "leaders" grasp?
WAGS radio is “Live radio, real people in real time” playing music from CD, LP, 45, and yes some 78s, following a guideline that allows the emotion of the music and DJ to keep us a leader in discovery of both old and new music.
Chriss Scherer replies:
I agree with you that there is no substitute for quality programming. I also agree that many stations have lost the community ties that built radio into what it is now. Read the Facility Showcase in this issue on page 36 and you'll meet one owner who understands the need to be a part of the community.
You can argue that all the new technology is tech simply for tech's sake. Times change. Listeners change and grow up. For good or bad, radio broadcasting has to keep up with technology or decide to be left behind.
Traveling road show
I saw your editorial in the April issue of Radio magazine. It is most unfortunate that they can't move the NAB Show around the country. It is prohibitively expensive for us on the East Coast to travel to Las Vegas to go to the show, and these bad economic times cause station managers to regard the NAB Show as a frivolous expense. Add to that the hassle of dealing with the rent-a-cops and TSA goons at the airport and you get the picture. I have been to the NAB Radio Show — but only when it was held in Philadelphia, which is about two hours by car from where I am based. In the 36 years that I have worked in broadcasting, I have never been sent to the main NAB Show in Vegas. The only time I did go there was when I worked for Modulation Sciences for a couple of years. But I could not enjoy the show then, as I was stuck in a booth hawking TV equipment! I will probably go to my grave without ever being able to see the NAB Show in Las Vegas.
Chriss Scherer replies:
I understand the real costs of attending any convention. It's also true that Las Vegas is not the uber-cheap destination that it was 20 years ago. Still, if it's important to you to attend, there are ways to get there. I have a colleague who pays his own way to attend every year. He values the experience enough to make the personal commitment. He also prefers traveling this way because then he only has to answer to his own time.
When I was working at stations (before working for Radio magazine full time), I was able to attend the convention by contributing to the magazine or working with a manufacturer. There are limited possibilities to this approach, but there are ways to make it happen. It might take some creativity.