06 January 2008

HD Radio, The New Eight Track

HD Radio ads are all over the conventional AM/FM radio spectrum. But the hype overstates the popularity of the new medium which is on track to be yet another failed technology.

Another Christmas comes and goes, and the celebration over a half million radios sold is about as meaningless as a big defensive lineman celebrating after a sack in a game his team is losing by five touchdowns.

In contrast, satellite radio has over 9 million subscribers, despite similarly priced receivers and a subscription cost of something on the order of $150 a year.

There are 1,300 stations serving the 500,000 HD radios. Many podcasts get more traffic. Some internet commentators have complained about HD radio not delivering on its CD quality sound promise, and my test listen at a local radio shack also didn't impress. As one blogger puts it:

HD Radio is here to stay and the worst part is the sound quality isn't even close to be as good as the audio from HDTV. It is better than AM or FM, but does it deserve to be tagged HD?

A Washington Post blogger faults poor content offerings for U.S. HD radio, noting that in Britain, a similar technology has sold 6 million units (despite the fact that the U.K. has 20% of the population of the United States).

Of course, the United States has lots of experience as a late adopter of new technologies. Cell phones, for example, grew in popularity much more slowly in the U.S. than in Europe because the Europeans didn't charge users per minute charges for incoming calls. Americans are just starting to get the high speed rail bug that has given short haul air service a run for its money in Europe, Japan and the Northeast Corridor. Hand held networked computer devices like the iPhone are just catching on in the U.S. after a long run of popularity in Japan. And, Americans are hot on the trail of the Brazilians of the 1980s in converting to biofuels, and the Europeans of the 1990s in converting to diesel.


Doug Hanna said...

You're absolutely right about the U.S. being a late adapter though in all fairness to our country, we are a bit different than Europe. I also agree that U.S. broadcasters have done a lousy job of putting interesting content on HD2 channels. If big radio wants HD to succeed, it needs to give people a reason to want HD - besides "crystal clear digital HD" as one of our local stations is promoting the technology.

Cheers from a fellow Denver (well, Littleton) blogger.

Anonymous said...


You are confused as HD radio is not the next 8-track.

1. Within a few years, every new car radio will be HD. You won't be able to avoid HD radio.

2. In 20 years, every car on the road will have HD radio.

3. Digital radio allows the stations to have more channels. They will support HD radio for that reason alone.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I don't buy it. Car companies won't adopt what buyers don't want, and radio stations are already feeling burned at spending $100,000-ish for the capability and getting no return on their investment.