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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

HD Radio: Traditional Radio's Last Gasp?

7

December

You know when something pulls together the biggest names in the traditionally cutthroat radio industry, they must be awfully scared.

And judging by the names attached to Big Radio's effort to expand the nascent HD Digital Radio industry, traditional radio broadcasters are simply petrified.

On Tuesday, eight of the industry's top companies announced an alliance to develop and expand digital radio: Bonneville International, Citadel Broadcasting, Clear
Channel Radio, Cumulus, Emmis Communications, Entercom, Greater Media, and Infinity Broadcasting.

Like HD TV, HD Radio allows broadcasters to send signals that are sharper and cleaner than traditional broadcasts. They also can segment the broadcast stream into several channels, allowing a single radio station to split itself into multiple formats.

For evidence of what it might sound like locally, check out Tampa public radio station WUSF-89.7 FM's HD channel, where they are broadcasting many National Public Radio shows they can't afford to air on traditional (or terrestrial) radio, including the Tavis Smiley Show, Talk of the Nation and the Motley Fool Radio Show.

Users needs special radios to pick up HD signals, and so far, there are only a few models available for cars and one available for homes. This most recent alliance of commercial radio broadcasters, based in Orlando, will spend $200 million promoting HD Radio on their own airwaves, working to unify standards for receivers and speed their installation in new cars.

This is, of course, a reaction to the tremendous competition expected by satellite radio when popular shock jock Howard Stern heads to Sirius in January.

What a change from the days when broadcasters resisted allowing people to hear their station's broadcasts via streaming on the Internet. Now, radio stations are rushing to get into every new content platform available -- WUSF is also podcasting, for example -- well aware that one of these new technologies is the wave of the future.

The only question -- and a significant one, given that billons in profits and investments are stake -- is which one?

HD certainly seems like a silver bullet to many of public and commercial radio's woes. WUSF, long held hostage to its small niche of classical radio supporters, really needs to get more NPR programming on its air, and an HD channel (which is also available on their web site) is better than nothing. Commercial radio, overly focused on slicing and dicing a few profitable format choices, needs to take more chances with programming, cut the commercials and present more variety.


(HD alliance members Tuesday/Getty Images)

But a bunch of corporate suits who have managed to turn a near-monopoly of the radio industry into a sea of country, classic rock and conservative talk stations must do much more to convince the marketplace they will be the new home of diversified radio entertainment.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:35pm]

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