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Chriss Scherer Scherer has been the editor of Radio magazine since 1997. His experience in radio includes work as chief engineer at stations in Cleveland (WMMS-FM, WHK-AM, WZJM-FM, WJMO-AM...more

Archive of the HD Radio Category

HD Radio comes to Zune — soon

Microsoft has announced that the next version of the Zune media player — the Zune HD — will include an HD Radio receiver. In one way I want to say, “It’s about time.”

On the other hand I ask, “Why bother?”

For some time I have said that the real mark of HD Radio success is to have the technology in every radio receiver. If it’s an option it will always be just that. If it’s in every receiver, there’s no doubt. Adding the technology to devices such as the Zune is a good step in this direction.

I don’t know how many people use the radio receiver on the Zune. I don’t own one, nor do any of my friends. (If you have a Zune, tell us what you use it for.) Regardless, once it has an HD Radio receiver, that’s one more not-an-option choice.

But why the “why bother?” comment? While I admit to not knowing the stats on radio usage for Zune owners, I would think people are buying a Zune because it’s a media player, not a portable radio. Sure, radio is one form of media, and if it’s already in there, perhaps it will get used. Having the radio receiver is one advantage the Zune has over the Ipod. I’ll have to reserve judgment until some stats are available.

The Zune HD is slated for release in the fall 2009. I look forward to seeing one in action. I also wonder what the battery life will be like.

In the end, call the Zune HD a win for HD Radio.

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HD Radio: Still low in priority at stores

I visited a Best Buy the other day, and while I was there I stopped in the auto sound department. The sales person immediately greeted me and asked if I needed help. I said, “HD Radio. Tell me about it.”

He said, “Well, it’s HD. It sounds better.”

I said, “What else can you tell me?”

He replied, “What else do you want to know?”

I decided to end the game and play my hand, telling him that I worked in broadcasting and that I know a great deal about HD Radio, but I wanted to see what he knew and what he had available.

He took me to the display wall and showed me the one unit that had HD Radio built in. It was a model from JVC. He said that others were HD Radio ready, but they all required an “expensive interface” to add HD Radio.

Gee, where’s my incentive to buy one of those?

The JVC was priced around $130, which is reasonable for a decent car radio.

As usual, satellite radio had plenty of presence. An aisle-end display was loaded with info, flashy signs and four receiver styles. Several radios on the wall display had obvious Sirius or XM signs.

I saw nothing about HD Radio.

As I talked to the sales person, I mentioned that HD Radio lacked any presence. He agreed. I said that there appeared to be no incentive for anyone to buy an HD Radio receiver, let alone ask for it. He also agreed. When I said that HD Radio should be in every model and not a conscious decision on the part of the consumer, he also agreed.

It’s nice that he agreed with me, but that doesn’t really help move HD Radio forward.

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The radio ads for HD Radio (or “What the ??”)

I’m sure you’ve heard the latest round of radio spots for HD Radio. The school teacher-sounding woman who compares HD Radio to the mating cycle of an insect, or the feeding habits of a bat, or some other bizarre idea.

The body of these spots focuses on the odd comparison, which I suppose is intended to pique interest while entertaining. That’s a valid method of advertising. We want listeners to remember the product being advertised, and if they are engaged in the ad, they probably will.

But these ads are just strange. I mean really strange.

When I am in the car with someone not in broadcasting and one of these spots is played, I ask the person with me what he or she thinks. Most of the time the reply is, “I don’t get it,” or “What was that all about?”

Perhaps they appeal to a younger demo, although I doubt it.

I have yet to really see a compelling campaign to spark interest in HD Radio. There are some unique multicast formats available, but I’m not hearing any promotion on the primary channels.

I’m not seeing promotional efforts for listeners to win an HD Radio receiver.

I’m not seeing signage at events promoting multicast streams.

What’s your plan to promote HD Radio? What would your HD Radio promo spot sound like? Go ahead and make one and we’ll post them online. What are you doing to promote HD Radio? Tell me about it and I’ll share it here.

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HD Radio comes to Costco

There’s a new name on the HD Radio receiver manufacturer list: Teac. The new device is also being offered through a popular consumer outlet: Costco.

The Teac HD-1 is an Ipod dock and HD Radio receiver that has an introductory price of $99. Give one point to Ibiquity, the HD Radio Alliance or someone for getting this unit into the megaretailer.

The discount retail path has been used before. Recall that Walmart also offered an HD Radio receiver when it was unveiled. Now Walmart lists eight models on its website.

I usually visit Costco one a week, so I’ll look for the Teac display to see what the HD Radio marketing looks like there. Will I see groups of people standing at a display learning about the technology? Will I see an empty display with no interest? I’ll let you know.

Either way, this is yet another positive step in promoting the technology.

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The sound of sat radio

I was in Atlanta recently to attend the Executive Committee meeting of the Society of Broadcast Engineers. The car I rented had a Sirius radio installed. It’s been some time since I listened to satellite radio, so this was a good chance to catch up, although when I travel I like to sample the local radio offerings.

When I left the rental lot, the radio was already playing a Sirius station. I scanned up and down a few channels and heard some 80s new wave, the heavy metal offering and few others. I liked the song on the 80s station (ahh, the sounds of being in college and college radio), so I left it there to listen. When the song ended, I switched to terrestrial radio and scanned a while.

I found a station I thought I would like, but the next song didn’t hold my attention. I scanned again to find another station. As I scanned, I wondered what was playing on the 80s station I left earlier.

I abandoned my search on FM and went back to satellite. The 80s station (called First Wave) was playing another familiar song. Familiar that I knew it, but not so familiar that I had just heard it 20 times. It was like comfort food. I stayed and listened.

Yes, I succumbed to satellite radio during the trip. It was a good chance to sample the stations that were available in the car. I heard songs that I had not heard on the radio for time. I heard a few new things that caught my interest for a while. I liked having the instant display on every channel to tell me what being played.

What I did not like was the audio coding of Sirius. The average listener probably doesn’t notice the swishy highs and splattered cymbals, but I did on every song. I could overlook it some of the time, but it wouldn’t take long for me to hear it again and again.

While I don’t like the audio quality, I liked the variety. I liked the choices. Would I pay a monthly fee for it? I don’t know for sure, I like the price of terrestrial radio. Would I tire of the service once the newness wore off? Possibly, but I had it for three days and always found something to listen to.

All that said, I can tie this back to terrestrial radio. Sirius promotes its service by having it available in rental cars. Why aren’t we doing the same with HD Radio? Get HD Radio in rental cars and tout the multicast channels. Tout the data. All the listening and data options are not available in every market, but pick and choose a few to start.

Riding the HD Radio coat tails

On Nov. 28, 2008, NPR held a National Day of Listening that was highlighted by a special series that ran Nov. 22 to Nov. 28. The series, which NPR created in partnership with Story Corps, featured interviews of 10 popular NPR hosts, correspondents and commentators with their own friends and family.

Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? The series was carried on NPR affiliates across the country, and the segments were also posted online. I know some listeners found it to be compelling, interesting content.

What I found strange is that I received a press release about the series under a thin HD Radio veil. The release said, “Experience the first ever National Day of Listening on National Public Radio member stations [on] November 28, broadcasting in crystal-clear sound — only with HD Radio.”

It appeared that the series was only available to listeners with HD Radio receivers. As an effort to promote HD Radio, this is an ideal way to encourage listeners to obtain receivers with the technology. But as I read more I realized that HD Radio had nothing to do with the series. I asked a PR rep from the source of the press release, and I was told:

“With NPR’s National Day of Listening, we’re highlighting some of the most compelling programming on the radio today and we’re saying that there is no better way to listen to these multigenerational stories from across the country than in crystal-clear HD Radio quality. It’s a reminder to folks of the improved sound quality of HD Radio broadcasts and the many great receivers available on the market.”

So the series has nothing to do with HD Radio. Just to be sure, I asked if the series was being offered exclusively on multicast channels, which would be another way to promote HD Radio for what HD Radio has to offer. But alas, the reply proved that wrong: “This series will be broadcast on NPR’s primary stations, not multicast stations.”

I appreciate the intent of the release. HD Radio provides a clearer sound. We know that. I think most of the respectable trade press will see through this as well. Unfortunately, some consumer media may pick this up and only confuse the issue.

There’s no need to tack HD Radio to unique content when that content is available elsewhere. Make the content exclusive to HD Radio and not a tag-along to other forms of media.

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HD Radio in all vehicles – getting closer

I have said before that for HD Radio to succeed it must be in every radio. It shouldn’t be a choice for consumers to make, especially one that carries an extra cost.

We’re getting closer. Volvo will include HD Radio as standard in all but one of its models in 2009. See:

Good step in the right direction.

So who’s next to offer HD Radio as standard on all its models? I’m sure it’s the last thing on the minds of the financially troubled US auto makers. Lincoln, Ford, Audi and Mercury offer it as standard on some models.

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Sony is Zappin, but not for HD Radio

The newest in-dash receivers from Sony include connectivity for Ipods and other media players. Other radios can do this, but the Sony models (CDX-GT630UI, CDX-GT430IP, CDX-GT330, CDX-GT130) have a feature called Zappin, which allows the radio head unit to scan the media player like a radio’s station scan button. Users can scan their own media players to find music they like.

Oh, the radios are HD Radio ready, too. That seemed like an afterthought in the press release.

It’s getting easier and easier to use a radio to listen to everything except radio.

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Sat Radio – Still Waiting

The FCC is taking its time in completing the satellite radio merger deal. While it’s anyone’s guess as to which way the decision will go, the feud continues about the pros and cons of the deal. Once the deal passed the DOJ, Radio magazine posted a survey question asking you to vote on your thought about the possiblie conditions the FCC might include with the deal. I think it’s likely that the deal will be approved by the FCC, and it will include a conditions. A few days ago, two congressmen sent a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin echoing the idea. The congressmen said that they do not support or oppose the merger, but urge the FCC to include some requirements if the deal is approved. I wonder which lobbying group got them to do that.

Of course this is how politics work. There’s always a deal and a compromise. The Congressional letter doesn’t get any closer to completing the deal, but keeping it at the top of the discussion list will prevent it from being ignored.

Sat Radio Commitment

The Jacobs Media survey on satellite radio that was released this month included the observation that satellite radio’s “dirty little secret” is that subscription rates have been supported through free subscriptions and packaged offerings, so that subscribers who received the service as a gift or as part of a larger purchase seem less inclined to renew the service when it is due.

Is this really that surprising? Naturally, the NAB and several radio trades jumped on this item like it was a revolutionary concept. Think about it: what makes something have a value to us? If we pay our own money for something, we will likely take better care of it or be more inclined to use it than if we get something as a gift. Why is this any different? I am not surprised to hear this dirty little secret.

What if the tables were turned? What if a survey asked people who were given an HD Radio receiver if they use the HR Radio receiver more than another media device? I know it’s not exactly the same argument, but I think you see my point. I’m sure the results of my survey would show that HD Radio has a dirty little secret too. I also doubt that those touting the sat radio secret would tout the HD Radio secret in the same way.

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