HD Radio: A technology only an engineer could love

Okay, catchy headline, but I’m not actually that “down” on HD Radio per se. But I am against getting excited about it, for all kinds of strategic reasons. A new post by Mark Ramsey has a great kicker paragraph that sums up the state of affairs:

Finally, HD is certainly an “upgrade” from the perspective of the broadcaster and the engineer. But is it an “upgrade” from the perspective of the consumer, who already has more choices than they know what to do with — even if they’re not choices which are not under the control of the radio industry? After all, when the Internet is in my car, isn’t HD Radio actually a downgrade?

This reminded me of a recent instance in which I was on the receiving end of a talk from a broadcast engineer about HD Radio. Not an informative one, but, well… a lecturing one.

The lecture? Basically: “Hey, we’ve got this HD Radio stuff installed. When are we going to start broadcasting additional channels? Because, you know, the FCC grants us a license for community service, so we have an obligation to start using HD Radio to serve the community.”

I was floored.

First, the logic was so brazenly absent from this argument. Second, why is engineering directing public service strategy? Third, we are using the HD Radio gear, even if we aren’t multicasting. And finally, well… let’s list all the obvious market reasons that make multicasting a less-than-critical strategic focus:

  • virtually no one has HD devices and sales are not increasingly rapidly
  • most consumers don’t know about it
  • those that do know about it are not really interested
  • HD devices are too expensive for most listeners for casual situations
  • additional HD channel development requires additional effort (money), even in a heavily automated approach

…and so on, which makes developing additional HD Radio channels at this time an exercise in wasted money and effort for a regularly-strapped public radio provider. We’d be better off focusing on improving our existing services or forging ahead in new media / social media.

Let’s be clear: the HD Radio technology platform is not the mission of public service media (nor is FM radio or AM radio or analog TV or digital TV or web sites or DVDs or CDs or…). HD Radio is a tool.  It’s up to us to figure out when and how it makes sense to employ this tool in fulfilling our public service mission.

And if, down the road, we find that HD Radio was a waste of money, we should have the courage to scrap it and move on.

6 thoughts on “HD Radio: A technology only an engineer could love

  1. “Arbitron/Edison study chills the already thin air of HD Radio”

    “All you need to know about this research is this: It says relatively few know about HD. It says that number hasn’t gone up. And it implies that folks are aware of what they care about, not vice versa. It also strongly suggests this isn’t going to change any time soon – as in, forever.”


    Ramsey’s latest post, confirming that HD Radio is dead. Actually, engineers hate HD/IBOC because it jams on AM and FM:


  2. Actually, that’s a point I neglected to mention. Traditional RF engineers like the IDEA of HD Radio, but the interference it can create is something they don’t like, especially in any metro area where the radio dial is fairly packed or for any station where there’s another station very close on the frequency spectrum.

    Simply described, HD Radio’s digital signals are embedded on the edges of the core FM or AM carrier wave, so it’s comparatively easy for the signal to bleed over into adjacent frequencies, which then interferes with traditional radio signals in some cases.

    Separately, the FCC’s proposal to turn over TV Channel 6 to FM radio usage could help alleviate overall spectrum crunches but it won’t help with the design of HD Radio’s signal patterns.

    The severity of the problem is debatable because it’s highly situational. It’s really bad in some situations and not a problem in others. That makes fighting about it really complex, and most consumers can’t follow it.

    Of course, most consumers don’t really care about HD Radio to start with, which makes it all the harder to generate political support for either camp.

  3. You said:

    “And if, down the road, we find that HD Radio was a waste of money, we should have the courage to scrap it and move on.”

    I happen to think we are down the road now, when oh when is it going to be scrapped? It reduces receive range severely and interferes with adjacent channels and is making a mess of the airwaves, especially on AM, and FM will follow if they bump up the digital part of the signal as the IBOC mob is trying to push the roll over FCC to grant to them. I would be willing to bet that the majority of radio broadcast engineers hate it, in fact I do belong to several broadcaster lists and the majority DO hate it, WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR? Oh yeah the IBOC Alliance just pumped more money into it, whipping a dead horse they call that I believe.

  4. Doesn’t the above article so well describe HD promoters’ preachy, moralistic, imperious approach? Why won’t they use logic and facts to support their fake phony case for HD? Because HD is a lie.

    HD promoters can’t defend HD jamming with logic and truth. In manner of a lawyer with a three time loser client, they pound the table – and listeners’ ears with high-minded bullying in person and jamming on the radio.

    Engineers who sold out to the HD claque don’t speak. They moralize and dictate, “We’re going digital – Get over it!” Did it ever occur to them, citizens might not accompany them on their road to perdition?

    Other engineers who traded credibility for fleeting HD publicity peanuts bark, “I’ve got balls!”, to justify noisy buzzsaw jamming of AM and FM.

    ‘Stations between stations’ defines the complete lie that is HD Radio. Prior to HD listeners heard many stations between stations. Now that iBLOC/HD jams public airwaves, they can’t.

    BigRadio wanted it this way. BigRadio demanded an ‘in band on channel solution’ for digital radio. In short, shove incompatible digital jamming into AM and FM. Isn’t this llike sticking vital air traffic control communications on TV channels in the name of aviation safety?

    HD does two things well. It jams. And it proves greed makes people behave stupidly. Oh, and it’s made a lot of money for those who know nothing about radio and could care less about what listeners want, their sham pious claims notwithstanding.

    HD, as a learned expert has long stated, is a farce.

    Dr. Paul Vincent Zecchino
    Manasota Key, Florida
    13 April, 2008

  5. Everything about HD (it’s design, marketing, rollout, etc) is a perfect example of what happens when a new technology is created with no input from the end-users (e.g. the public). It didn’t work well. It’s confusing to use. It’s expensive. It’s not portable. It came out right when satellite and online radio was taking off. It’s range is pathetic. And its sound quality improvements are barely noticable to the public.

    And at a time when mp3 players are pretty common, why would a car manufacturer add HD when people are expecting an MP3 hookup?

    Public radio (like public TV) has been at the forefront of experimenting with HD. CPB has invested millions for stations to convert to digital. But the public shrugs its shoulders.

    Perhaps if someone can figure out how to effectively integrate HD radio transmissions into a station’s online offering there may be hope yet for all the money and human resources put into this…

  6. Lisa said:

    “Perhaps if someone can figure out how to effectively integrate HD radio transmissions into a station’s online offering there may be hope yet for all the money and human resources put into this…”

    What’s the use? As the old saying goes you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig and HD is definitely a pig, in fact it’s an insult to the poor animal. This is the biggest con game played on the public and actually more the poor sucker radio stations who bought into this non-performing junk to come along in a long time, hey, want to buy a bridge?

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