Friday, June 15, 2007

HD-railed

Last Sunday I read through the department store circulars. All were pushing Father’s Day gifts. I gave Wal-Mart special attention. After all, they’re supposed to be promoting HD Radio, right?

Hmmmm. Didn’t see HD Radio in Wal-Mart or any other circular.

I started reading the Sunday New York Times. First section. Half-way through. Full page ad. “This Father’s Day get Dad what he really wants.” Sirius satellite radio.

For some mysterious reason, every Wal-Mart store I’ve stopped in over the past week didn’t have any HD Radio units displayed – and had none for sale.

And I got the same response I did three and six months ago when I asked about HD Radio.

“You mean HD TV?”

“No, HD Radio.”

“Do you mean HD DVD or Blue-Ray? We have those…”

“No, HD Radio. It’s a new product.”

“We have satellite radio.”

“No, HD Radio.”

I have yet to find one clerk in any Wal-Mart that even knows of HD Radio.

Let’s try Best Buy.

Identical dialogue.

Maybe I’m wrong about marketing. I’d swear that HD Radio manufacturers would team up with department and media-appliance stores to push their product for Father’s Day. After all, Dad’s so hard to buy for. Mel Karmazin knows that. That’s why he bought that full-page ad in the Times.

The only place we’re going to see HD Radio on display is at the Failure Hall of Fame. Even there it won’t get the prime placement given to Iridium, New Coke, Blue Pepsi, eight-tracks, and AM stereo. At least a few consumers bought into those products.

I have no desire, like others who advise radio stations, to promote HD radio. Maybe it’s because I’m not, never was, and never plan to be on Ibiquity’s payroll. I wonder if that's the reason why my invitation to Ibiquity's latest promo party got lost in the mail.

Some industry trades aren’t always known for their accuracy. They have to drink the Kool Aid since some of their revenues come from those full-page HD Radio ads.

Ibiquity must have the rubber stamp franchise at the FCC. They've closed more deals with the Commission in the last five years than Cal Worthington sold cars in the past thirty.

Just wait until you hear the digital hash on AM radio once HD Radio shatters that frequency. HD on AM conversion will be more expensive than FM’s conversion costs. In addition to upgrading equipment, they’ll be major elephant bucks spent to insure proper bandwidth, which will require a retuning of AM antenna systems.

Face facts. HD Radio doesn’t work. Period. End of story. Fini. Commit to memory the swindler…er…advisor that convinced you HD radio was worth the investment. Remember, Caesar considered Brutus a loyal advisor, too.

Bob Struble? Rhymes with Bernie Cornfeld.

It makes you wonder if Ibiquity’s side business is sending out e-mails guaranteeing you $30 million from a deposed Nigerian diplomat.

Let’s put it another way. Hypothetically visualize a world where every home in the U.S. has at least one HD radio. Every automobile in America has an HD Radio. Let’s even say that you can actually pick up the side channels with the flick of a button – and don’t have to jiggle that pig tail antenna to find a signal.

And since we’re taking our hypothetical HD Radio journey into the land of improbability, let’s say that every format on HD Radio complemented its host station.

Given that, no one radio station would have enough audience to buy time on.

Were you actually surprised with those PPM’s showing virtually no audience loyalty to any one station? Do you really want to spread your shares that thin with HD Radio? You'd be talking about a whole of stations sharing a zero-point-one or two.

Do the math. There aren't enough listeners for too many stations.

The first time I tried HD Radio it was in New York. Couldn’t pick up a thing – even with line-of-sight to Empire.

The second time I tried HD Radio it was in Cleveland. I was only able to pick up one station that stayed on longer than thirty seconds. (I had better luck with Internet radio back it the 28.8 dial-up days). One of the Clear Channel stations has a side-channel dedicated to forties and fifties hits – a cheap imitation of Music of Your Life.

Stop right there.

You’re pitching HD Radio. Who’s your demo? If in the real world you could actually buy an HD Radio at Wal-Mart or K-Mart or Best Buy, who’s most likely to buy one and why? Do you think someone 65 or older would buy it to hear a third-rate Music of Your Life format on a fourth-rate product? Come on, get serious.

I'll give you this. It's probably a thrill for those who'd like that format to hear Andy Williams’ “Canadian Sunset” for the first time in fifty years. It’s less of a thrill when you’re hearing it day after day.

Some canned HD formats rotate the same identical programming every four, six, eight, twelve hours every day. Free advice: At least do odd hours so you’re not repeating the same music at the same time day after day.

Or maybe they know the odds of getting in that HD Radio side channel for more than a few minutes at a time justifies the format's rotation.

You’ve heard of DUI’s. HD radio has created another acronym: DUE. Diminished user experience.

There is no compelling reason to buy an HD Radio. It’s too bad the companies that were snookered into going HD can’t sue. If Ibiquity was a country it would’ve claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

How about the classic rock station with a side channel for Hispanic hits? How does that relate, complement or expand the host station’s appeal?

I’m all for companion stations. In fact, it’s going to be essential.

But they’ll be on the Internet – where they belong.

Of those, the only successful ones will be those with formats that in some way complement its host station. Deep oldies, deep album tracks, deep hits – whatever.

As far as HD Radio goes. It’s in its own deep…well, you know.

16 comments:

PocketRadio said...

Great article - very amusing. I have said all along that HD Radio is a farce and consumers are not interested:

“HD Radio on the Offense”

“But after an investigation of HD Radio units, the stations playing HD, and the company that owns the technology; and some interviews with the wonks in DC, it looks like HD Radio is a high-level corporate scam, a huge carny shill.”

http://www.eastbayexpress.com/2007-03-07/music/hd-radio-on-the-offense

“4/4/07 - FCC: Market to Decide Fate of HD Radio”

http://www.diymedia.net/archive/0407.htm

“Sirius, XM, and HD: Consumer interest reality check”

“While interest in satellite radio is diminishing, interest in HD shows no signs of a pulse.”

http://www.hear2.com/2007/02/sirius_xm_and_h.html

“U.S. automakers not jumping into HD Radio”

http://www.reuters.com/article/ousiv/idUSN2632750220070427?pageNumber=1

“Bridge Ratings: Sweat the cell phone and don’t count on HD”

“In other words, Bridge says interest in HD radio is decreasing even as your station works hard to increase awareness. What can I possibly add to this honest and bleak picture that I haven’t said before? My well-intended warnings about HD’s “premature death” seem to be rearing their ugly heads almost two years later.”

http://www.hear2.com/2007/04/bridge_ratings_.html

“But is ‘availability’ of HD radios the problem?”

“And one broadcaster reported to me that he asked an iBiquity rep how many HD radios had actually been sold as of the most recent accounting. And this was his answer: 150,000.”

http://www.hear2.com/2007/04/but_is_availabi.html

Anonymous said...

We cannot hear our own HD stations in our building. Our GM has one in his car and has signal problems too. We are only a few miles from our stick. It is a scam that "corporate" made us buy into.

Anonymous said...

john.....

you forgot to add "quad" to your list of failures

Anonymous said...

You left out Radio Shack which has been selling HD radios for a while. At least that is what the HD Alliance claims.

I have not seen a single operational HD radio in ANY Radio Shack. The salespeople admit that they cannot get them to work in the stores. Some Radio Shacks have them in stock. None have sold.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the business and while I agree HD Radio, thus far, is a bust, it is not because it doesn't work, but because there is little to no worthy content. I live about 25 air miles from the two main antenna farms in my market and I can receive all of the FM HD's as well as the AM's. And I do it with the little piece of wire that came with the Accurian (Radio Shack)radio.

Anonymous said...

I have an Accurian too although my experience with it was not as good. I was able to pick up some HD stations but nothing consistenly. Stations that would come in one day wouldnt come in the next. I was not impressed with the programming I heard and I felt the FM station sound was improved but the HD side channels did not sound as good. AN engineer at one of the stations confirmed that the side channels are of lesser quality than the main FM. Here is the kicker. As soon as My warranty was up the radio died. Try getting a refund from Radio Shack or even a new model.

Anonymous said...

Both satellite radio and internet radio are far superior in their programming and unique fomrats than HD radio. What will happen to HD radio and terrestrial radio when cities get Wifi and listeners will have the internet radio option. The NAB is alreadyfighting satellite radio. If its not a threat why are they protesting anythng satellite radio does?

Anonymous said...

Radio should have taken the money spent on developing HD radio to improve their programming. We do not need more radio stations. We need better radio stations. I would still listen to terrestrial radio if it offered me something to listen to.

Anonymous said...

iPhone or HD radio? You are right. Fini.

Pieman S. said...

"The only place we’re going to see HD Radio on display is at the Failure Hall of Fame. Even there it won’t get the prime placement given to Iridium, New Coke, Blue Pepsi, eight-tracks, and AM stereo."

Thank you, John, for another hearty chuckle!
I signed up for Sirius and XM over the last year and cancelled both within days. They were sooooo beyond boring. I'd rather make my own playlists and burn cds from my iTunes library. I can't imagine that HD radio (if I were to find one anywhere)could offer me anything new -- or better.
I'm just a slave to my iTunes... and I'm quite satisfied

Chris Carmichael said...

More consumers know about, and understand, the upcoming release of the Apple iPhone than what HDRadio is.

From my location in San Diego, HDRadio is talked about on the airwaves, but never fully explained for the consumer. See http://SDRadio.net ....

Fantastic article. Best wishes.

Chris Carmichael
SDRadio.net

Anonymous said...

The spots (promo time) I have heard on the CBS stations here for HD radio are poorly written, executed and in no way sells the HD radio experience. Maybe it's because there is no such thing.

Anonymous said...

Why would anyone buy an HD radio when the content is so bad? Some stations also stream their HD radio stations on the internet in an attempt to "Sell" the product. Have they bothered to listen to the poor quality programming they are offering. Who is going to buy HD radio for even more bad radio. Satellite radio has gone downhill and internet radio stills suffers from being chained to a computer. Will Apple find a way to work internet radio into future ipods and iphones when wifi is available in more areas?

Anonymous said...

John Gorman, Thank you for your take on HD radio which is right on! I hope the megaopolis radio chains read your comments. Make what you have better. Don't make more stations worse.

Anonymous said...

will hd radio have to pay the riaa royalties like the internet radio stations are being forced to? both deliver digital signals so the same rules would apply i would think.

Anonymous said...

I bought 3 different HD Tabletop radios...the Boston Recepter, Directed Electronics model, and, the Cambridge. All are fabulous. HD Radio DOES enhance FM, it DOES make AM clear and FM-like, and, the title/artist listing on the screens are very handy. I LOVE HD radio. I give it 5 stars. Given time, it will take hold. The HD-2 channels I've listened to are also very music intensive and a great addition. People need to give it a chance.