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HD Radio Backers Claim Progress

This morning, a group of broadcasters called the HD Digital Radio Alliance announced that this promising but perennially underachieving technology has reached two "milestones": 1,000 FM stations now broadcast a digital-only "HD2" channel, and 100 different HD Radio models are now on sale.

The 1,000-stations achievement is worth touting. For stations to continue investing in secondary channels that the vast majority of their readers can't hear is impressive, and for them to do so in this lousy economy is still more so. (But if the HD2 count stands at 900 in a year, forget I wrote the previous sentence!)

Digital AM, the other part of HD Radio, goes unmentioned in that release; spokeswoman Courtney Kaczak e-mailed yesterday that 392 AM stations broadcast in HD. Don't expect that number to change much; HD AM doesn't allow for digital-only HD2 channels, though it does make music programming a more reasonable proposition on AM. (Some longtime radio listeners hate HD AM for a different reason: It interferes with the reception of out-of-town AM stations after dark.)

The 100-receivers mark, however, looks a lot less impressive in context. HD Radio broadcasts began in 2004; for only 100 compatible models -- none with a list price cheaper than $79 -- to be available five years later is not all that great. Considering how long radios tend to stay in service (the clock radio that woke up me up this morning has been doing so since 1992), HD Radio can't hope to become a mainstream technology if the required hardware remains a step-up purchase that requires extra research.

In my case, this limited selection means I have yet to spend a dime on HD Radio hardware, although a few models have looked somewhat intriguing (anybody try the $100 iPod dock/radio Costco is selling?).

Columbia-based iBiquity Digital Corp., the developer of HD Radio, has been saying for years that the selection and price of HD receivers will improve. Then again, customers have to know that HD Radio exists at all -- something that would be hard to learn from the displays at most electronics stores.

If this post follows the pattern of previous HD Radio pieces, we'll see two or three nearly-instant responses in the comments condemning HD Radio as a farce and a scam (note to those folks: reporting on a product is not the same as promoting it). They will be followed by a handful of other people saying something to the effect of "Could be interesting, but it's not just not interesting enough" -- in fewer words, "meh." Am I mistaken to expect that? I suppose I'll find out soon enough.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  March 25, 2009; 11:28 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets , Music  
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Comments

I want to like HD radio since I am a devout radio fan. I also owned a Betamax so.... I wait on the side lines to see if HD radio gains more popularity. My sense is that the "good" HD radios are still more expensive than I am willing to spend to try HD. I could be wrong?

Posted by: tbva | March 25, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Here is my problem with HD radio.
1. When do I listen to the radio? In the car.
2. I just bought a new car (2007 Audi A3) one year ago.
3. Does my car have HD radio? No.
4. How can I get HD radio for my car? Replace the radio.
5. But, if I replace the radio, then I lose the integration with steering wheel controls and the dashboard.
6. So, I can not upgrade the radio and maintain integration and must replace my car.
7. When do I plan to do this? In 2018.

Bottom line is that I am 9 years away from listening to HD radio.

And, in 9 years, my iPod will contain "all the music ever created" (according to a SNL skit) and I won't need a radio.

Posted by: davebarnes | March 25, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

I've been hesitant to invest in a Hybrid Digital (HD) car radio due to fear of rumored weak signal strength in the Damascus MD area. I recently started streaming Baltimore's WIYY 98Rock HD2 Classic Rock channel over my Squeezebox Boom internet radio at home, and found it to be a really great channel. It's so good that I'm more interested than ever in HD radio for my car as a result. Now I'll bet that if I invest in the car radio HD gear, and manage to get a reliable signal, then WIYY will start putting commercials on their HD2 programming and ruin the magic. (Always skeptical about something.)

Posted by: TechFan | March 25, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

I DO use HD radio and listen in my car. I specifically ordered the car with the HD radio, forsaking the other "nifty toys", ie GPS and a cute distracting screen, that would have otherwise come with the car. I use the HD a lot, mostly for NPR, to switch between "channel choices". It gives much more flexibility at much less cost than satellite radio. If I hadn't been getting a new car last year, would I have gotten HD radio? Probably not. Would a stand-alone radio in my house get any usage? Probably not. But, like Virginia, radio is for cars.

Posted by: DrBones721 | March 25, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

I've actually got an HD radio in my car, and I like it. It's nice to have the song titles show up on regular stations, and a couple local stations also have less-mainstream, commercial-free HD2 channels that I enjoy. (FWIW I'm in Atlanta.)

BUT the benefits are not so great that I can recommend to my friends that they spend extra $$$ on HD radio. It's nice but hardly revolutionary.

Plus, I figure that if HD radio catches on, stations will start advertising more on the secondary channels.

Posted by: Ronnie76 | March 25, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

"Radio is for cars" - well said, Dr. Bones. If I had an interest in selling HD Radio, I would do whatever it takes to have the hardware installed in as many car stereos as possible. HD Radio should be as automatic these days as FM radio became in the old days ('60s? '70s?).

Posted by: SSMD1 | March 25, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse

I am surprised. I did not think HD Radio would take, mainly due to interference from the analog FM signal interfering too much with the digital signal, but they figured it out. Good for them.

The skepticism was justified. There have been previous enhancements to analog radio that did NOT take, such as AM Stereo and FMX (check Wikipedia if unfamiliar).

I still think buying a radio just for HD is a hard sell. I was looking for a dock for my iPhone, and happened to see a Sony model that had HD Radio built in, and said "Oh, yeah, HD Radio, why not?" To just buy a portable HD Radio for $100, well . . ..

The HD Radio works well, but I find I do not listen to the secondary channels. Also, I still listen to AM some and, as you say, HD Radio for AM has significantly more technical issues. My Sony model does not have HD for AM. I don't know if any DC am stations are transmitting HD anyway.

I also am annoyed at the increased interference on the AM band due to HD, lessening the ability to hear distant stations. But, I amazed at all the distant AM stations I can get on the Wunderadio application for the iPhone, which play more clearly through my dock than they do over the air.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | March 25, 2009 7:17 PM | Report abuse

I saw Costco's $100 HD radio last night and was tempted to give HD a try. I decided, though, to do a little research. The Teac HD-1 had decent reviews as a radio but not as an alarm clock. Also, you have to rotate through the presets in one direction. If you had many, it would be inconvenient. It apparently got good reception. It still has a few quirks to work out.

Posted by: jgluke | March 25, 2009 11:24 PM | Report abuse

HD radio is a lead balloon that has been around for far too long and has made too little impact. It only works if you are very close to the transmitter, but ruins reception for adjacent channels much farther away than the carrier itself will go in HD. It does not sound much different either. AM HD is a total failure, you need to just about be under the transmitters to get the radios to lock. I live 40 miles from 50KW WBZ and can get them with drop outs galore only during the day with my much ballyhooed Sony Tuner and a 100.00 C Crane twin coil antenna which cost as much as the tuner itself. I cannot get a 5KW station that is less than 10 miles from me which booms in in analog. FM is not much better, I can get 3-4 FM stations to lock in sometimes, only one, a 100 KW NPR station will actually lock in for periods of time again at about 40 miles from the transmitter. When are these desperate broadcasters going to realize it is a bomb and it is ruining radio, not helping it, and that only a few fanatics own the radios and like them. HD is a crock.

Bob Young
Millbury, MA

Posted by: youngbob53 | March 26, 2009 1:19 AM | Report abuse

Nice setup, Rob. Now, you are moderating comments, yet you lash out at those that believe HD Radio is a farce. You are nothing but an IBOC-shill and coward. How much is iBiquity paying the Washington Post?

Posted by: hdradiofarce | March 26, 2009 1:26 AM | Report abuse

HD Radio is nothing but a farce!

http://hdradiofarce.blogspot.com

Posted by: hdradiofarce | March 26, 2009 1:28 AM | Report abuse

If I am not paying for satellite radio that offers way more variety, why would I pay to buy new devices for HD radio? Besides, how can you even apply HD to radio? What's high definition about sounds?

Every time WAMU announces their HD radio line ups, I just wonder why they keep wasting listener money on such an unproven technology.

Posted by: tundey | March 26, 2009 9:22 AM | Report abuse

When my car CD player died last year, I installed one with free HD radio capacity, which I found on sale for roughly the same price as those subscriber-HD models (Sirius/XM) or mid-range CD players. I came to enjoy listening to WAMU-3 and WTOP-3 (though the traffic updates invariably seem to be in VA when I'm stuck in MD and vice versa!). However, when I decided to sell that car and buy a new used car, I thought I could switch it. No go, for the reasons stated by the first respondent--interferes with other features of the integrated panel. FYI, it seems the mid-range car CD players now feature MP3 or iPod inputs and/or only the subscriber HD tuners, which is too bad.

Posted by: jweaver28 | March 26, 2009 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Tundey,

HD doesn't stand for high definition, it stands for nothing per the company, they stole it from TV of course but the sound is nothing but high definition, it is all about drop outs and whooshy sidebands that actually bleed into the carrier itself if you have a good wideband analog system. The company gets the mileage it wants out of the understandable confusion the letters create however. Many of us think it stands for Horrible Distortion however. The real name for the process is IBOC which stands for In Band On Channel, but many of us again think it really stands for In Band Other Channel as IBOC (HD) spills out into both side adjacent channels on both AM and FM, it is a horrible system which is still limping along for some reason, although I guess that's understandable also as radio is so filthy rich right now it has money to burn, er.. well actually it has unsold commercial space to burn so they throw HD ads in the unsold spaces making it look like they're spending a lot of money trying to push this junk when actually they're spending nothing, just using dead air space. Expect to see these receivers selling for 3.00 in the Salvation Army next to 8 track machines and 80's black and white TV's soon.

Posted by: youngbob53 | March 26, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Incidentally there are 260 AM HD stations on the air at this present time, and only 83 running HD at night intermittently, most are daytime only it creates so much noise at night on the AM band, ibiquity has a habit of stretching the truth and this obviously is another instance. Here is a constantly updated list of AM HD stations:

http://topazdesigns.com/iboc/station-list.html

Posted by: youngbob53 | March 26, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

@hdradiofarce: I do not moderate comments. I hadn't even looked at our blogging software's "Manage Comments" screen in weeks until seeing your last comment. (Note that it's in our business interest to get a good conversation going on here--we want you to debate our stories.)

Now that I have, I see one item from you and an apparently identical one from "sidwellfriends" flagged as spam--in both cases, because the submission included more than five links. That's been part of our anti-spam limits for as long as I've been blogging here. May I suggest you set aside the conspiracy theory and resubmit the comment with fewer than five links?

- RP

Posted by: robpegoraro | March 26, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

"Have 200 HD Radio stations gone missing?"

"The HD Radio camp is advertising that there are currently over 1,500 radio stations now broadcasting in HD (from its website, to press releases as well as in various other promotions)... but yet only 1,300 have filed with the FCC."

http://tinyurl.com/3yl8ma

iBiquity's numbers for HD Radio conversions, and numbers for multicast channels, cannot be trusted. iBiquity even put a disclaimer on their website for links to hdradio.com, which they own, denying their consumer-marketing claims. Perhaps, the FTC, and other Government agencies are looking into their false claims. Even better, iBiquity, the NAB, and the HD Alliance need to be investigated for their hijacking and jamming of our airways. I bet that old Accurian HD radio that I tried a while back in Radio Shack, when they were still carrying them, is still sitting there, "linking...linking...linking". What a joke of a technology.

Rob,

You really need to come up with something new besides the old tried-and-true "conspiracy theory" comment. Looks like you got a zillion comments for this article, just about that many interested in HD Radio.

Posted by: hdradiofarce | March 26, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

I enjoy listening to folk music on WAMU-2 and 60's oldies on WBIG-2.
Yes to more free audio choice like more free DTV choice.

I have the less costly Radiosopohy HD100 and output the signal
from the earphone jack into my stereo receiver.
(Concern: The output volume control has to be set fairly high
to get enough signal strength for the stereo input (AUX in)).
The stereo receiver is now old; hopefully the replacement will have
an HD tuner; I'm waiting.

BTW, my clock radio has been waking me since 1967.

Posted by: GDuncan1 | March 26, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

This article made me look more at HD radio. But it's spot on with the 'meh' bit. After I read elsewhere, it looks like the listener pays more for the same. The broadcaster gets to send out more signals, maybe charge a subscription, but the listener end doesn't seem like any improvement. On the technical side, HD broadcasters may have a much higher potential to overlap adjacent radio stations. I'm a new technology fan, but when I compare this to my satellite radio decision; with satellite radio I paid a bit more and got a big boost in what I could listen to. For HD, I pay more for no or a marginal change. On a personal note, the HD moniker seems deliberately misleading. In the back of my head that is shaping my emotional opinion of this and the sponsors.

Posted by: southVAHmptn | March 27, 2009 7:28 AM | Report abuse

WTMD's HD 2 channel is amazing. They're broadcasting what the call The Baltimore Channel. 24/7 music only by people who live in the Baltimore Washington region. It's also streamed at http://wtmd.org I love that WTMD supports local music and plays the best music since HFS in the 80s-90s.

Posted by: Red3 | March 27, 2009 8:31 AM | Report abuse

The main problem with HD Radio is that it was engineered to produce more broadcasts, not more broadcasters.

Digital technology could have opened opportunities for many new station owners, but this was suppressed. Instead, the new digital channels go only to those who already have channels.

So you are more likely to hear "Country" on one HD channel and "Western" on another, than you are to hear anything innovative. The Baltimore Channel may be an exception.

The lukewarm support for HD in retail stores also contributes to the slow takeup. When stores start to retire the analog receiver business we may see some greater HD sales (and the HD Radio Farce movement will go into Code Red).

Fortunately another digital radio technology, Digital Radio Mondiale, is coming to fruition with the first genuine portable and graphic UI receivers (see http://www.26mhz.us ). Yes, it's shortwave, but all digital. This DRM is a grand, global experiment with unfulfilled promise -- but worth supporting by radio aficionados.

Posted by: pinfinity | March 31, 2009 2:40 PM | Report abuse

tundey wrote:
"If I am not paying for satellite radio that offers way more variety, why would I pay to buy new devices for HD radio?"

Perhaps because satellite radio involves a monthly subscription charge, while with HD radio there's the up-front cost for the radio, but broadcasts are free.

Of course someone may feel that there's a substantial difference between the programming on satellite radio versus HD radio that warrants the monthly charge in the former case, but I'd rather not pay a monthly charge that, over time, dwarfs the price of the radio receiver itself.

Posted by: yrral | March 31, 2009 5:42 PM | Report abuse

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