completely sold out of HD Radios. There're some lessons to be learned here, but first a little background, and then some perspective.
Public radio station WUFT had been the area's sole classical music station for some time. The station, owned by the University of Florida, decided to ditch the classical format for news and talk. Rather than just pull the plug, the classical music was moved to an HD2 channel. In answer to the howls of protests from long-time listeners, the general manager said: "buy radios." Which, apparently, they did.
It's no secret (except to the radio industry) that HD Radio is a non-starter with the general public. So the total number of HD Radios available for sale in the Gainesville area was not that high, to begin with. I would be surprised if a retail store like Best Buy had more than 10 units total in stock.
No matter how vocal the opposition, when it comes to format changes, only a fraction of the pissed-off audience actually does anything. Out of tens of thousands of listeners, a station will receive perhaps 10 or 20 letters of protest. So the total number of people looking for HD Radios to keep listening to classical music is only a fraction of the total disenfranchised audience.
This story has three important messages if you pay attention.
1) Want to move HD Radios? Give listeners a compelling reason to use them.
Most HD Radio signals are just simulcasts of a station's regular programming. That's not compelling. Some do additional programming, but it's not promoted. In WUFT's case, the switch was a highly publicized one, primarily due to the controversy. And it was the only source of the programming people wanted.
2) Music to talk: get used to it.
Just because a station's non-profit, doesn't mean they're not looking at the bottom line. For public radio stations, the numbers speak for themselves: news/talk attracts more listeners than classical music, brings in more donations to the station, and (because it's all syndicated) can be run with less staff. WUFT's switch may seem evil to its long-time listeners, but in management's eyes, it was the logical thing to do. The story's been played out on other stations throughout the system and will occur in much more in the future.
3) HD Radio offers a way out.
WUFT's management knew their decision was controversial, but they had an out. They didn't kill classical music, they just moved it to another location (albeit an underpowered one that few had the necessary equipment to access it). WAMU did it with their popular bluegrass programming, and other stations have done it with formats they wish they weren't saddled with. This is a tactic we'll see used again throughout the system.
4) Internet streaming, the untold story.
Missing in all the coverage is the fact that WUFT's exiled classical programming is streaming on the web. And that's really where the potential for audience growth lies. As it gets easier to access the Internet in portable devices you can use in your car, Internet radio listening will continue to grow. So in the end, it doesn't matter how many bought HD Radios. The smart people have made the move to their smartphones, and even if it didn't make the news, that's where the action really is.
Day 116 of the WJMA Podwatch.