Monday, July 21, 2008
HD Radio's unrealised potential
I always enjoy the HD Radio session at the Public Radio Development and Marketing conference. On the whole, public radio's understood the potential of the medium far more than commercial radio.
Commercial radio (read: the HD Radio Alliance) has been trying to sell the sizzle without worrying overly much about having any steak on hand. HD Radio lets you tune into other channels -- but most commercial stations don't have them. You can get song and artist info displayed -- but most commercial stations haven't activated that feature. You can get time, weather and traffic reports -- but most commercial stations don't offer the service.
On the other hand, public radio's been building solid, valuable services and only after they're up and running do they put the word out to their listeners. In other words, the steaks are cooking, come hear them sizzle.
In the presentation on Saturday, the panel talked about some real-world solutions. WAMU had a strong audience for their bluegrass programming. But as they grew more into a news/talk station, that smaller (but loyal) group was holding them back. Now the commercial radio solution would be to flip the format and blow off that audience. But WAMU developed an Internet bluegrass service, (Bluegrasscountry.org), and put it on their HD2 channel.
They then launched a concerted effort to help those listeners get HD Radio tuners (through fund-raising premiums and giveaways) so that they could still hear their beloved format. Instead of just a few hours of bluegrass programming, the HD2 channel gives listeners 24/7 coverage.
Remember the message in the Jacob Media presentation? You don't have to choose which audience to serve. Develop different content for different media and serve both. And that's what WAMU is now doing.
And public radio, especially the NPR Labs, are working on further services that can happen through the HD Radio digital data stream. Like closed caption displays for the hearing impaired. So now a station's news/talk programming can reach a previously unreachable market.
And there's other data services, such as navigation info, traffic reports and more that are available and public radio stations are using right now. And they're leading the initiative to improve range by making digital signal repeaters to strengthen the signal throughout the station's normal coverage area.
For most radio stations, "HD"could stand for "half-dead" radio. And no wonder. Only 17% of commercial radio stations are using any form of HD Radio.
Meanwhile, in the public radio sector, where 75% of pubcasters are using the technology, things are different. They're not dying, they're adapting.
Day 37 of the WJMA Web Watch.