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Checking Up on HD Radio


LAS VEGAS--For each of the past three years, the folks at Columbia, MD-based iBiquity Digital have promised that a flood of new HD Radio receivers would be coming soon. But each year, the flood has turned out to more like a trickle, leaving fans of these new digital broadcasts--which both make AM and FM sound better and also allow FM stations to broadcast extra, digital-only channels such as WAMU's "Bluegrass Country"--few ways to tune in.

That may finally be changing. At iBiquity's booth (tucked away at the far end of the convention center's North Hall, next to dozens of car-audio vendors competing to see who can stuff more speakers into the backs of trucks and sports cars), 14 different tabletop radios were on display. And instead of the $200-and-up audiophile models that have dominated the market so far--such as the Boston Acoustics model I reviewed a couple of years ago--this selection starts at $79. That's not quite clock-radio pricing, but it's also not a level where you feel you need to give yourself special permission to buy.

Three of these models also support a fascinating feature that iBiquity added to HD Radio last year--iTunes tagging. If you hear a song you like, press the Tag button on the radio and a tag for the song, based on the artist/album/title data embedded in the digital broadcast, will be copied to the iPod docked in the radio. When you sync the iPod to your computer, you can buy that song off Apple's iTunes Store.

IBiquity is also showing off a wider variety of car HD Radio units. But the selection of living-room receivers remains depressingly thin. Only a handful of home-theater receivers were on display, all $2,000-and-up monstrosities that would have a hard time fitting below the DVD player or the cable or satellite box in a typical TV stand. As I've said before, I'd like to buy an audio/video receiver with HD Radio to replace the antique surround-sound unit under my TV--but I'm not going to pay a four-digit price tag for the privilege.

But enough about me. Is $79 too much to pay for an HD Radio? What price would get your interest? Or are you just thinking "what is HD Radio, anyway?"

By Rob Pegoraro  |  January 9, 2008; 5:21 PM ET
 
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Comments

When are they going to give up the ghost on HD radio?
Why do I keep seeing press release driving stories about HD radio and no one wants to admit it's a flop.

Posted by: FMnewsboy | January 9, 2008 6:58 PM | Report abuse

I agree, with the above poster. This scam has been going on for too long - HD Radio is a house-of-cards waiting to implode. There is zero consumer interest, after two years. Now, iBiquity is trying to weasel its way into satrad receivers, and leaking information that Apple is manufacturing HD Radio/iPod docking boom-boxes:

http://hdradiofarce.blogspot.com/

Posted by: PocketRadio | January 9, 2008 7:18 PM | Report abuse

The only decent Radio I know of is streamed on the web. The rest of it is all Clear Channel garbage. My old Sony receiver plays digital content from my mini just fine.

Posted by: Norm | January 9, 2008 7:35 PM | Report abuse

The more people learn, the more they reject HD, according to Bridge Ratings. Rampant consumer apathy is quickly fermenting to antipathy, as listeners discover to their chagrin, HD jams their favorite stations.

HD jams adjacent channels. If HD radio viruses infected TV, you'd lose most channels. If HD's fulminant dingbat technology hit the net - heaven forfend - you'd be restricted to sites within a few miles of home.

When you objected, as they do with radio fans, HD cheerleaders would boorishly castigate you, saying, "You've no business viewing distant websites."

Who appointed these common scolds as lord and master over electronic communications? Radio and the net are by definition, long distance means of communication.

What's the point, if HD jams most stations? Beyond enriching greedy-gut BigRadio cronies, I mean?

Why do they persist in pushing something no one wants? Where's the pressure coming from? BigRadio's shadowy Wall Street pals? BigKorpseorate radio shonks who stupidly tossed millions into this black hole as they fired talent to pinch pennies?

If BigRadio wants to implode by via the HD 'carny shill', that's their prerogative. But it's no reason to take it out on us, by jamming our airwaves.

According to reports, there's yet again no HD buzz at the Vegas Consumer show. Might that explain the recent bounteous harvest of regurgitated HD agitprop?

Paul Vincent Zecchino
Manasota Key, Florida
09 January, 2008

Posted by: Paul Vincent Zecchino | January 9, 2008 7:55 PM | Report abuse

HD is a lead balloon that isn't selling and won't sell. It's not needed, doesn't sound much different and cuts the receive range of FM severely, down to about 20-25 miles per one of the inventors. It needs an outside antenna to even receive half the distance your normal receiver does with a rat tail antenna. AM IBOC (HD) is even worse, it is completely useless, even most FM IBOC boosters admit that, it covers both adjacent channels with white noise rendering them useless for listening, try scanning up and down the AM band some night, try tuning to 700 or 720, what do you hear? noise from WOR 710. Try listening to 650 or 670 on AM, what is that terrible noise? It is hash sidebands from WFAN NY on 660, a sports channel no less. iBiquity who owns this thing lock, stock, and barrel, is like the mafia leaning on broadcasters to "save" radio and install their jamming technology at a minimum of 250,000 per wack, they also license and sell the chipsets in the radios at 50 buck per set. NPR has bought into this boondoggle unfortunately but of course we foot the bill for them, did you realize that we are footing the bill for a technology that 99.9% of consumers do not want no matter how much the IBOC Alliance tries to shove it down our throats? Do you realize that the IBOC Alliance was the biggest advertiser on radio last year, more ubiquitous on radio than Geico who at least has funny commercials? Do you also realize that HD does not stand for hi def, never did and never will? It stands for Hybrid Digital although iNiquity won't admit that anymore as they know the few consumers who have actually heard of it associate it with high definition TV which it has nothing to do with at all, just trying to ride the coattails, that's all.
It has been said that the only way to receive IBOC FM in a car is to drive in circles around the transmitter towers otherwise you'll get dropouts galore, a roof mounted Yagi antenna that looks like a TV antenna would help also, that bridge? Well... just find an alternate route.

Posted by: bobyoung | January 10, 2008 5:04 AM | Report abuse

Rob,

Forget about this HD radio stuff. See if you can find any Internet Radio with more than a hand full of presets!

Posted by: Tim | January 10, 2008 2:06 PM | Report abuse

The problem with HD radio, and hte reason the radios won't become ubiquitous products is that it operates on a market-by-market basis.

I've had a Boston Acoustics HD Radio for a year now, and I really do like the offerings, now that local broadcasters, most notably WAMU, has figured out what to do with their "new channels."

If one were to take the time to look around at the offerings here in Washington, you'd find some interesting and surprising programming by unlikely sources. You'd also be surprised to see who *isn't* taking advantage of the technology (WETA).

In the end, I prefer my XM over HD, but a hybrid XM and FM clock radio will likely never happen.

Posted by: I Like HD Here in DC | January 10, 2008 5:35 PM | Report abuse

A problem with HD radio is... price. And because of price (even at $79), so what? If you want people to listen to HD radio, fringe stations (fringe in that they're not the primary station or format being broadcast), and listen to the advertising - which is, I suppose, the reason for the extra stations - make the radios as inexpensive as possible. Make them cheap. Not inexpensive, but cheap. And after you have an audience, make more upscale radios, with more and better features. But give people an easy low-cost way to find that they want to listen to HD radio and the formats on HD radio; otherwise you're telling people to spend money for something (a radio) to try out something they may not like at all. Sorry, industry, but most people aren't going to spend good money (and even $79 is good money) to try something to see if they like it.

What's being broadcast is, obviously, niche formats. If it was mainstream format, or what any significant portion of the listening audience wanted to hear, those shows and formats would have made their way to at least some mainstream stations. At least they would in the Washington DC area. So, you're appealing to small groups of people to buy your (currently) expensive product to listen to what's on the air (and what may, in fact, change at the station's whims). You're telling bluegrass enthusiasts, and persons with taste for classical or opera to buy something expensive in order to listen to the station... and then possibly decide that they don't, in fact, like the shows being broadcast.

Sorry, but until the price comes down to being similar to a no frills clock radio, blender, etc., I can't see a customer base.

Posted by: Dungarees | January 10, 2008 7:00 PM | Report abuse

You know what I'd rather have than an HD radio, even if HD radios were in the $15 range? A no frills receiver that picks up internet radio broadcasts. Maybe with a simple keyboard in order to choose the website address and, through technology/magic, goes to the "Live Broadcast" of the station. Something simple, basic speaker(s), volume control, and portable or lightweight to move from room to room. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to listen to WAMU internet broadcasts in Seattle, without being tied down to the computer? Or listen to Andy and Grandy broadcast on WAMU while you're in your backyard in Topeka?

Posted by: XMinusOne | January 10, 2008 7:04 PM | Report abuse

I've had hd radio for 12 weeks now and If you can get past the startup price it's great. Many more stations with choices not found on analog radio. Also in indy no comericals. tha'ts worth the price.

Posted by: Tim | January 11, 2008 2:50 AM | Report abuse

How long is the radio industry going to beat this dead horse? HD Radio is a scam. It benefits nobody except iBiquity.

Posted by: Will Cate | January 11, 2008 7:17 AM | Report abuse

HD has failed for far too many reasons. It doesn't sound better: Due to blending which is essentially when the radio loses the digital signal and must revert to analog. Therefore the processing is set to dumb it down so there is not a disparity in sound. Creative programming: Not happening. Most Program Directors don't want the additional task of programming an additional station. Cost: only the top markets can really afford to install it...streaming is cheaper, reaches more listeners, and can be quantified. Face it: if radio behind the scenes doesn't buy into it...why should the public.

Posted by: In The Biz | January 11, 2008 8:34 AM | Report abuse

Television? Not gonna happen. Who needs it? We have radio.

Color television? Not gonna happen. Who needs it? We have black and white teevee.

FM radio? Not gonna happen. Who needs it? We have AM.

Digital media? Not gonna happen. Who needs it? We have analog.

Posted by: George | January 11, 2008 9:01 AM | Report abuse

$79 is a better price than $250, sure, but it's still just a radio playing the same Clear Channel / CBS / Citadel endorsed stuff, albeit the formats they have discontinued on regular radio over the past 5 years. Technically people are paying 3 times the amount to listen to what they could listen on regular FM in the 90's. At least with XM / Sirius there's a sense of "getting what you pay for" since it's not regulated by the FCC the same way that FM/AM is and it has a semi-underground feel to it. Not to mention that you can find SatRad receivers for 1/3 of the price of the cheapest HD Radios. They better fix the receptions issues too if they want the format to be successful or else HD Radio will go the way of AM Stereo - dead in the water. I'm all for better free radio with more choices, and I have heard and like some of the local Baltimore offerings such as Indie979 and the oldies of 102.7 WQSR. I just think the business model needs to change with the marketing of the product to be TOTALLY overhauled. The youth of today is where the coveted 25-55 demo will be in 10 years, and if they want HD Radio to succeed they better start impressing them soon.

Posted by: KennyGtheSureLock | January 11, 2008 9:03 AM | Report abuse

Let us look at the "digital" radio debate and the current quagmire. HD radio was a compromise from the start. Much like the european countries and Canada, the FCC was willing to open some spectrum to true digital delivered radio. The problem, All stations would have been created equal. Thus the big radio companies that shelled out big bucks for more potent signals (high power, better frequencies, taller towers) did not want to relinquish that advanage. So the answer was to jam some type of digital co-channel into the existing analog.

It just does not work.

Radio would have been better to have a seperate digital band much like TV migrated (in process) from NTSC to ATSC. Some UHF stations will gain comparative coverage. But the over-the-air industry will be healthier.

On the other hand the terrestrial radio industry has managed to shoot themselves in the foot. Remember AM stereo?

Bob

Posted by: Robert E. Dunbar | January 11, 2008 9:06 AM | Report abuse

"Are you waiting in line for your HD radio?"

"If you lower the price enough, folks will buy the radio. That's the belief about HD radio that is being stoked in our industry. And, of course, it's wrong."

http://www.hear2.com/2006/11/are_you_waiting.html

Lowering the price of HD radios will not help to sell these clunkers. But wait - the future of "radio" is already here:

"Radio's next evolution is on a tabletop now...and it's not HD"

"It features regular analog AM/FM, WiFi, and direct access to a custom Web radio aggregation service [i.e., a way to make Internet radio easy] and to Slacker's personalized Internet radio service. And you can buy one for as little as $99. Repeat after me... HD what?"

http://www.hear2.com/2008/01/radios-next-evo.html

Posted by: Greg | January 11, 2008 11:25 AM | Report abuse

I replaced my dying car radio with an HD radio. I really, really like it. I found its sound much superior to analog radio. Particularly on the AM side. WMAL sounds great. Before getting HD, I never listen to jazz. Now, I listen to 105.9, 104.3, and 96.3 HD-2 because of the much improve sound quality.

Last summer, I rented cars with both XM & Sirius. I found the sound quality the same as my HD radio. I did not hear enough on satellite radio to justify the monthly subscription. Plus, I want to hear music not DJs.

Posted by: Scot | January 11, 2008 11:57 AM | Report abuse

If they want people to listen to the HD2 and HD3 channels, they need to do something more interesting than the automated homogenized scripted crap that dominates every available radio format these days. I curse Clear Channel for destroying what used to be a vibrant medium. They're going to pay for their greed (in the form of net capital loss) over the next few years. In the pyramid scheme that was called radio consolidation, Clear Channel has surely proven to be "the bigger fool"...

Posted by: debunker | January 11, 2008 4:36 PM | Report abuse

In markets like Houston, HD radio allows us to get many of the npr talk shows and it works great. However until they can make a portable HD radio it will never fly. That is what radio is all about portability.

In reality they should have done what they did in the UK, move to a different frequency area so that more stations could be available, but they powers to be did not want any more competition. So what is happening and will keep happening is that more people will either go to iPods or satellite radio.

Posted by: Jack Valinski | January 11, 2008 4:44 PM | Report abuse

The thing I like best about my HD radio (aside from the superior sound) is the metadata, streaming the name of the song and the artist. I own a Boston Acoustic but am glad that some $79 models of HD radio are now available so I can get one for my office.

Posted by: Jeff | January 11, 2008 4:53 PM | Report abuse

NPR is the shill for iBiquity, with discounted licensing and other benefits. Forget about opportunities for local content -- NPR has developed syndicated program streams in several formats to sell to local stations for their HD sideband broadcasts. Reception is laughable -- the WAMU-FM map shows that only 20 to 30 percent of their regular FM listeners can pick up the HD broadcasts. The station suggests attaching your new Hybrid Digital Analog (HD) radio to your old TV roof antenna.

HD radio has set back the adoption of true digital radio in this country by decades, but that's what today's broadcasters like about it - it protects the status quo.

Posted by: Mike Licht | January 11, 2008 6:53 PM | Report abuse

I love my HD radio and I hope that the technology takes off soon.

The biggest problem I see is retailers not understanding what it is.

And the offerings are great especially the addition of jazz as stated earlier on 96.3 HD2

Posted by: radio | January 11, 2008 9:10 PM | Report abuse

Let's play a game -- identify the sock puppets posting above!

HD Radio's biggest problem right now is threefold:

* Nobody likes commercial radio much, so more of it isn't better.

* The radios are just too expensive and not mobile (new chips finally coming nearly 2 years after originally promised might fix that)

* AM interference from digital signals to analog broadcasters during nighttime (when AM signals bounce further).

These are legitimate concerns.

Posted by: Glenn Fleishman | January 12, 2008 10:57 AM | Report abuse

I have an HD radio in my basement (my basement!) with the FM antenna bunched up behind the unit. I listen exclusively to four stations, including WETA. I can tell you, that the classical music coming out of the speakers sounds just like it's coming from a CD.

I don't know what motivates the vituperative comments above, but I suspect someone has a vested interest in not seeing HD radio survive. Frankly, I don't understand why someone would take the time to criticize HD. If you don't like it, don't buy one.

Posted by: Oxhead | January 14, 2008 4:54 PM | Report abuse

90% of the comments on this article are by members the anti HD Radio alliance. I think Joe Public will fully embrace HD Radio. This moment happened with Satellite radio about 3 years ago. I remember in 2000 when XM Satellite radio stock dived when all other stocks were still booming. Now people pay monthly for this type of radio which has lower sound quality than HD radio. 90% of Chicago can hear all its HD radio stations clearly. The FM transmitters in Chicago average about 5 to 6kW ERP. I personally hear Chicagos FM HDs 40 miles from the FM transmitters. I always was facinated by radio, and for me HD radio is the most exciting thing in radio since FM. 99% of people will conclude that it is better. The 1% (audiophiles, anti HD alliance) will go the way of the critisers of satellite radio...Irrelavant. At least the HD sound quality (HDC) is way better than the digital radio in the UK which uses MP3 coding at 64kbps (ughhh)

The alternative is to not change and let FM and AM die a slow death. It took about 7 years of HDTV befor Joe Public got on board. (Early comments would say, my current TV picture is fine, why do I need a fancy digital TV or Horses and wagons do the job, why do we need cars).

Posted by: RadioEnthusiast | January 17, 2008 10:58 AM | Report abuse

AM-HD is a horrible feature for people who want to listen to far away AM stations. BobYoung pointed out above that AM HD creates "white noise" for adjacent frequencies. An equally disturbing problem is that converting a station to AM-HD will actually decrease the distance covered by the radio signal.

Following is from Poconos Record article:

"So why did the Poconos (and Connecticut, upstate New York and southern New Jersey) lose 770 WABC at night?

Like other AM stations, to make HD work at night, they need to send out a watereddown signal.

"To send out a quality signal, you have to limit the bandwidth. We knew were going to eliminate some fringe listeners, but we weren't real sure what it would do until we did it," Phil Boyce, WABC program director said.

See link below for entire article:
http://www.poconorecord.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071001/SHARPMAG02/710010324/-1/LOCALENT18

Posted by: AllanWE | January 19, 2008 2:41 PM | Report abuse

I have a Radiosphy dm100 and it works great. I spent 99 bucks on Amazon for it and shipping and it works and sounds fine. It is not a great looker but it sounds awsome on its own rod ant. I pulls stations from all over on my outdoor ant. I hope this technology has a great year. I have it hooked up to my reciver and I get CD quality sound that beats all and is big time free. Remember FM radio was not accepted for 30 years affter it came out. HD ROCKS

Posted by: Radio Fan | January 25, 2008 5:05 PM | Report abuse

The satellite stations and large corporate conglomerates have a vested interest in A)seeing HD radio die, and B) convincing the gullible that sat radio is better.

The simple fact is A) HD radio is superior in fidelity and B) it's free..no subscription costs.

Every single citizen in America should be rejoicing the advent of HD radio and doing everything they can to ensure the corporate ripoff artists get the message that we'll accept nothing less than free delivered digital HD radio.

Those that moan about HD radio need to stop alowing yourself to be brainwashed.

Posted by: TK | February 1, 2008 4:23 PM | Report abuse

It is interesting to see the shift from mostly negative to mostly positive (in the Blog comments) over the the last month. I am a ham radio operator and watched the emergence and domination of SSB (Single Side Band) over AM on the Amateur Bands 50 years ago.

I just bought a HD radio for my car and I am blown away by the performance in Washington, DC. Really fantastic and better than side band at the same time during the transition.

Posted by: JohnDotCom | February 3, 2008 3:36 PM | Report abuse

check this blog entry about how to improve your HD radio reception:
http://radiosherpa.blogspot.com/

Very funny

Posted by: jules | February 7, 2008 1:02 PM | Report abuse

I've read about high licensing fees for manufacturers of HD capable radios, ranging from $25 to $50. I cannot believe it is anywhere that high. Can anyone tell me real number and provide the source?

Most of my radio listening is with cheap portable radios,costing from $8 to $25. I see no use for HD, particlarly AMHD, if it costs anything extra. Since AMHD has reduced range and no discernable utility for listening to news and talk, adding it to a portable radio would, in fact, diminish the value of the radio to me.

Posted by: Theo | March 5, 2008 1:12 PM | Report abuse

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