Where Radio Went Wrong With HD

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Our good friend and programming consultant Gary Berkowitz recently purchased a new car. In the dashboard of Gary’s shiny new GM vehicle was an HD Radio. Here’s what happened when the salesperson got around to explaining what HD radio was to her new customer. And you can bet this doesn’t happen when the salesperson gets around to discussing — or turning on — SiriusXM.

(By Gary Berkowitz)

What I learned from buying a new car…

My lease was up and after 10 or so years of driving a Honda (loved it)…I decided it was time for a change. Cut to the chase, I wind up with a GM vehicle. Best part: it has an HD radio, which my Honda did not. I am now excited. When the salesperson was explaining all of the bells and whistles of the new car, we finally got to the radio. Here’s how the conversation went:

Gary: Wow, it has HD radio.
Salesperson: Really?
Gary: Yes
Salesperson: I’m really not sure what that is.
Gary: Let me explain (and I do).

She looks at me and says: “I just thought it meant the radio sounded better.”

Needless to say, I love all the HD channels. New formats. New music choices. Audio is great and the signals are pretty solid. I just wonder how many people are out there and have HD in the car but are unaware of it. Guess you could say we have not done a stellar job promoting HD radio. There’s still time.

Gary Berkowitz can be reached at [email protected] or perhaps at a car dealership near you explaining the benefits of HD radio.
Berkowitz is president of Detroit-based Berkowitz Broadcast Consulting, specializing in ratings improvement for AC radio stations (248.737.3727).

17 COMMENTS

  1. We LOVE our HD service on our LPFM in Vacaville! The blending function on our HD1 means solid coverage with fewer multi-path issues — very important for LPFM. We’re a high school radio station so HD means the students program 96 hours a day across 4 channels. The kids can broadcast dramas, sports, news, student-produced music; anything they want! We even have our own “Radio Symphony Orchestra that performs live in conjunction with the station’s broadcasts!” HD Radio gave the station higher status and hightened listener curiosity and discovery within our community.

    Most listeners discover their HD capabilities by tuning is in and then seeing the yellow HD logo light up. Some call in and say, “Wow! I didn’t know my radio can do that!” This is very COOL!!

    Ralph — KVCB-LP 100.9 Vacaville, CA.

  2. WHho said anything “went wrong” with HD?

    It’s there…and adds some functionality to radio. If you want to take advcantage of it, it’s there. If not, ignore it and use the analog signal.

  3. The radio industry shouldn’t take the blame here. All blame goes to iBiquity, the company that managed the copyright, and was responsible for marketing the system. The big mistake they made was insisting everyone pay them a royalty for their technology on the front end. That royalty had to be paid by both the radio stations running the system, and the radio manufacturers building the devices. There was expense involved at every step, at a time when no one wanted to buy new radios. Consumers don’t want to pay for radio. They want and expect to get it for free when they buy something else. Such is the case now with new cars. Had that been the case 15 years ago, HD radio would have been a success. But instead iBiquity wanted to get its money up front. That’s why HD failed.

  4. To the writer who says why isn’t there a CBS-FM sub-channel in NYC. There is, it’s the Main channel in HD, along with WCBS-AM and the Tony HD channel. WINS may also be one of the subs. NY has taken AM and put
    it on FM. I wish Wash. DC would be as daring. We do have a Classics Oldies HD and another 90s HD. The All
    News FM station has an Eclectic Music HD. There are one or two Am’ers on HD (FM), but no AM HD like NY has.

  5. Another amazing story from the real life world we live in, not the one created for us by the folks who sold the technology when it launched. HD was an answer to a problem no one had with FM.

    Two thoughts:
    1) we should have extended the FM band and given all those extra channels a virtual channel /frequency like TV did.
    2) the best use of HD channels is to feed “metro” FM translators on real(ie: discoverable) frequencies.

    Dealers are telling us they have people returning to their showrooms for training on “how to use my new car’s radio.” If they can’t find their way around the connected dash, what are the chances they’ll bother to discover HD2 and HD3? And from what Gary said, the sales rep had no idea how to demo it anyway.

  6. We made it too hard with the HD2/3 thing. It was (is) possible to map HD radios, similar to HD TVs, that can make (for example) 92.1 HD2 to look like 108.1, 92.1 HD3 to 108.3, etc. People understand that. They don’t understand HD2/3, and it’s not an easy explanation. In fact, I seem to recall Cox doing a study during the very early days of HD that showed it was going to be a problem, and iBiquity and the industry chose to ignore it. Bad choice.

    • I heard the same thing and could not believe it. Adding 108.1 would have made the consumer feel like they were indeed gettin more and might even be missing something if they did not get all those NEW channels.

  7. Agree with most of the guys here. It warms my heart to know that they all seem to know the reasons HD didn’t take hold. It’s been jumped over now so let’s just “Kiss and Say Goodbye”.

  8. I have two Sangean HD radios the 16 and the new pocket 14. Best thing about HD radio are formats that used to be on the main band like oldies,smooth jazz and standards. Also news and talk stations sound better in HD. LA,Boston,Philly and DC have some nice HD channels. On the other hand New York does not. Why there isnt an oldies HD channel to complement CBS FM is beyond me.

  9. Here in LA, many of the AM stations are on their sister FM station’s HD 2/3 channels, which I have on my presets in my car and my portable radio. Along with stations like KROQ’s Roq of the 80’s format, Pulse 87 on AMP Radio’s HD 2, Radio Disney on K.Earth’s secondary channel (just to name a few), I don’t really need a reason to go to Sirius XM.
    The problem has been/is promoting them. How do you tell listeners to turn off their station to flip to their HD stations?
    When I moved back to LA, my friends and family (all have HD) had no idea what the 2 (and sometimes 3) meant on their radios. When I showed them, they were pretty excited. In fact, The Roq of the 80’s format is the favorite, with even two friends saying that’s all they listen to now.

  10. Radio has never promoted a product as much as it did HD radio. Promotion was not the problem. The problem was that the consumer did not give a rats ass. Why would a consumer want to listen to something on HD that they can barely stand now? I am not sure where or how the Neilson ratings and other market research can say that 93% of the market listens to radio. I think the industry has got to stop putting it’s head in the sand, and realize that it is getting hit hard by other platforms. How do you bring back radio? Create great content, and stop cutting and cheapening the product. I do my own surveys of people UNDER 35 years old, and none of them say they like radio. They are almost embarrassed when I mention radio. There a few exceptions to this… talk /news/sports radio, and radio that formats music for of 50 yrs old, like classic hits…otherwise people do not care, unless they are forced to listen to radio like in a store or a car without options. Radio did this to itself. The industry is reactive, not proactive. NOBODY cares about HD radio, infact nobody even knows what it is…..even after years of promotion for it. Get the product correct, and then lets make a case for HD.

  11. Perfect timing for this and the Article suggesting that we kill the a.m. band. The radio industry collectively gets an F on its report card For bungling HD radio some 15 to 20 years ago. It failed to work with Detroit Aggressively while satellite radio became a thing. That should’ve never happened. Meanwhile, DAB has ensured the survival of broadcast radio in Europe. What’s HD? A colossal waste of time and energy usurped by SiriusXM and streaming, with little content of interest aside for iHeart HD2 channels that give them a cheap way to bring specialty streaming to users of its App (KEZ 99.9 HD2 is the 70s Channel, an HD2 in Austin is all classic Casey Casem AT40s).

  12. HD radio was always a solution in search of a problem. In most markets, there are too many radio stations. And the formats are merging–one of my AC stations gained share when am officially-designated CHR was purchased and taken gospel.

    Yes, you could take a HD-2 channel to some narrow format. But that audience is limited to begin with–and where those formats have been successful they’ve been relayed on an analog translator.

  13. Thanks, Gary. Recall, HD radio came about with many promo spots announcing this new service. Sadly, like AM stereo and Betamax it wasn’t plug and play, like FM tuners and UHF. Worst of all was the lack of new or remotely competitive programming. I remember being in a demo vehicle at NAB and the rep said…”Sure sounds good…too bad there’s nothing to listen to!” Today, many don’t even know how to push the button for HD2 & 3. Without content, connection and delivery, the 40 million car receivers remain a non-event as do the plastic receivers with small speakers playing “the deep cut channel.”

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