Radios Go High-Definition

37That was the headline that appeared in the Baltimore Sun on January 7, 2004. Unfortunately, unlike HDTV (High Definition Television) HDRadio never stood for “High Definition” radio. And maybe that was the first mistake. HDRadio was simply a name they chose for the digital radio technology.

The iPod was introduced in October 2001. Steve Jobs introduced this music delivery changing device this way. Only a month earlier, XM began broadcasting the first satellite radio programming to be followed four months later by Sirius satellite radio. So by 2004, digital radio was already late to the party.

KZIA-FM Z102.9 saw Kenwood USA sell its first digital receiver in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to take advantage of KZIA-FM’s HDRadio broadcasts. “This is a significant move,” Michelle Abraham, senior analyst at In-Sat/MDR, a market research firm in Arizona, said of the roll-out of digital radio equipment. “It may not seem duly significant in the beginning, but in a few years from now, it will be a huge leap.” The hope was it would prove to be competitive to the newly launched satellite radio offerings from XM and Sirius (now merged into a single satellite company). HDRadio was also seen as improving FM to have CD quality sound and making AM sound like FM. It was heralded to help struggling AM radio stations.

Solving a Problem That Didn’t Exist

What HDRadio did for FM radio stations was solve a problem that listeners to FM didn’t feel existed. No one who listened to FM radio was complaining about the quality of the sound of the transmission. (They were complaining about other things, like too many commercials.) And for AM radio stations, it meant people buying radios for a service that didn’t offer anything they really wanted to hear or couldn’t get from someplace else. AM radio was now the service of senior citizens who already owned AM radios, who grew up with AM radio’s characteristics and whose hearing was not the best now anyway. So HDRadio for AM wasn’t something they were asking for either. Worse, AM radio stations that put on the new digital signal found it lacked the benefits of skywave and often interfered with other company AM radio stations as the industry quickly consolidated radio ownership.

Industries Most Disrupted By Digital

In March 2016, an article published by Rhys Grossman in the Harvard Business Review listed “Media” as the most disrupted by the growing digital economy. Turns out if you’re a business to consumer business, you’re the first being most disrupted by digital. The barriers to be a media company used to be huge, but in a digital world they are not. The business model that media companies depend on has not adapted well to the digital economy.

Education – Disruption Ahead

Having moved from media to education I only got ahead of digital’s disruption for a while. But even those industries that had perceived high barriers of entry are finding those walls crumbling quickly. Grossman says fifty percent of executives see education being impacted in a big way in the next twelve months.

Where Are The Radios?

Edison Research did their latest “Infinite Dial” webinar and the slide that most impacted me was the one about radio ownership. From 2008 to 2016 the percentage of people in America that don’t own a single radio in their home has gone from 4% to 21%. When Edison narrowed this down to household between the ages of 18-34, non-radio ownership rose to 32%. Mark Ramsey’s Hivio 2016 Conference had one Millennial describe a radio set as being “ancient technology.” Ouch!

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Jerry Lee’s WEAZ in Philadelphia was giving away high quality FM radios to increase listenership to not just his radio station but to FM radio. And KZIA in Cedar Rapids gave away HDRadios to allow people to hear their new signal. It now appears time for the radio industry to begin giving away AM/FM radios every time they are doing station remotes, contests or appearing at venues that will attract lots of people.

Elephant in the Room

But the elephant in the room remains the broken media business model. Newspapers, magazines, radio, and television – any media that is ad supported – will be challenged to find a way to capture revenue to continue.

As Walt Disney famously said “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make movies.”

To anyone in ad supported media, we would agree we do it for the same reasons.

The $64,000 question is how.


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales, Uncategorized

16 responses to “Radios Go High-Definition

  1. With the exception of our cars, how many in the Boomer generation still own radios? When I was a kid growing up in NYC borough of Queens there was always a kitchen radio and it was on most days. Now I look around the two houses we own and there are only a couple and they are not on much at all. There is an emergency AM/FM radio we bought a number of years ago following a blackout that stays stashed in a cabinet along with batteries. Then there is a radio in the bathroom that I’d used when getting ready for work, but now that I’m retired it gets very little use, and down at our shore house, there’s a shower radio that gets used occasionally. There is no appointment radio for me, and honestly very little casual listening either. In the car, it’s mostly SIRIUS and at home, it’s digital music via an MP3 player, or our Sonos speakers. Sad when you consider I spent 44 years making a living in AM radio!


    Liked by 1 person

    • I just did a quick count of the number of radios I have in my apartment and it’s over ten. One in every nook & cranny.

      But when I got my Bose Home Theater, it comes with it’s own amp built into the sub-woofer and I power the radio part of that system with a Google Nexus tablet that I bought especially for this system. I use this tablet for this only function and like my compact home theater system, it’s very small.

      The tablet has two apps that I downloaded and use. TuneIn radio and RadioTunes. In addition to those two apps on my iPad and iPhone I have StreamS+ App but they don’t make an Android version otherwise that would be on my Nexus tablet too.

      I also feed the Nexus output to a whole house FM transmitter and so I can hear anything I program in every nook & cranny of my place without having to have anything playing to loudly.

      I have an XM button in my Accord, but I never subscribed. My commute is 15-minutes on a bad day. The rest of the time I’m connected to WiFi either at home or work so I can tune in the world and listen to whatever suits my mood at that moment in time.

      Some days I spend my mornings with Scott Shannon on CBS-FM or WSM for classic country or KRTH (though I really miss Shotgun).

      Love the music mix on WMEXRadio dot com.

      Some times I may listen to radio from Australia, England or some other place around the planet.

      Right now I’m listening to my best friend Paul Trembley on the Way Back Play Back on Your Kwartha Oldies dot com out of Canada. (Paul lives in LA)

      It’s a changed world to be sure Frank.


  2. It certainly is Dick, and perhaps over 44 I just heard too much! Now, if I could time travel and listen to George Michael or Dan Ingram on WABC, Jack Spector, Lee Arnold, Dan Daniel, or Ed Baer on WHN, or Rambling with Gambling or Gene Klavin on WOR, then I’d be there in a minute. I guess I only want to go back to my past!



  3. I totally agree! More outlets have been created with the same old content. Programming is a large part of terrestrial radio’s suicide.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rick O'Dell

    Hybrid Digital Radio is a textbook example of how not to roll out new technology to your existing customer base. At WNUA/Chicago at the time, I remember how we had to air numerous company-mandated spots for HD Radio (and HD receivers) day after day for several years. (All those avails wasted for absolutely no payoff!) But why would a customer want buy an HD Radio in the first place? As you pointed out, the quality of the FM signal wasn’t a problem that required a new device to solve. And the most critical mistake was that there was no compelling new content that listeners might want to access through HD. Nearly all the HD channels were duplicates of what you could get on AM and FM–without having to buy an HD radio! It took a few years for the industry to start putting some unique content on HD, but by then the consumers’ focus had switched to streaming. And even that content on HD was created halfheartedly (e.g., without show hosts, with sloppy production values, and so on). Listeners aren’t stupid–they could tell companies approached HD as an afterthought. In my class at Columbia College I used to say, “HD is where formats go to die.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Prof. Dick, I think you answered the $64k question when you mentioned Walt Disney” Imagination. IMHO, Media Disruption occurs from incorrect labeling, blurred vision and lack of innovation. Simply, product being delivered must connect with the audience. AM, then FM, was / is everywhere, wireless and free. AM stereo failed because it wasn’t like having a UHF or FM converter that connected to existing receivers; you had to buy a Delco radio in a Chevy to receive it. I became unpopular with the sales person who was charged with introducing HD, by saying there needed to be new, appealing content. There wasn’t and still isn’t much, although a handful of HD fed stations do break a PPM 0.5 share. Radio has been subjected to plenty of new competition, besides withstanding TV, 8 track, cassette, CB, etc. HD car sound is great by as an Ibiquity demo engineer said to me at a convention in the past three years…”Too bad there’s nothing to listen to!” Imagination is slip slidin’ away. But, good news: there’s still plenty of regular AM/FM/Stereo and Digital Receivers and a surviving, passionate bunch of FM pioneers ready to move audio delivery (aka Radio) to a great new level. Let’s hope those without imagination in the CYA crowd let’s it happen!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Fred Jacobs picks up the ball on this subject and expands upon it in his blog. Read what Fred has to say here:


  7. Radio, more than other media, is willing to get creative and make advertising work. It’s an emotional medium that generates strong affinities in the community. Read more from Media Life Magazine here:


  8. Dick…

    It’s unfair to cram so much good and thought-provoking information into one blog post. It makes the rest of us look like slackers (not a reference to users of a certain app).

    Two things caught my eye. The first is how we have let ourselves be boxed in by the conflation of radio as a style of entertainment and a technology. I doubt podcasting would be as romantic-sounding as it is if episodes were called LTE or 3G programs (or, take a breath, EDGE programs).

    The second is that radio content is, I’m sorry to say, lame. I’ve seen survey after survey in which radio listeners—and these include the elusive millennial market that everyone seems to be chasing—prefer radio for its companionship, localism, and immediacy. These are all qualities that podcasts can’t touch. Yet, PDs and GMs insist on pushing syndicated programs, tracked content, and anything else that’s pitched to them as a way to reduce costs (and presumably boost the professional sound of the station).

    Station owners see their signals as vessels for ads, which the sales force is expected to fill up, as if they were drawing water from a well.

    It seems as if too many radio “pros” are falling all over themselves to program head-to-head with the strengths of internet-delivered entertainment and away from the “old-fashioned” strengths of radio (content, technology, or both).

    When television put the cabash on scripted radio shows, some genius had the idea to create the disc jockey and give people entertainment they couldn’t find on the tube. Today, that “entertainment they couldn’t find on the tube” is harder to come by, since the perception is that “everything” anyone could want is available somewhere on the internet.

    Perhaps it is.

    All that means is we have to stop trying to deliver something unique and focus on the style with which we deliver it. It’s not that hard. It just costs more. And, it requires a level of creativity that goes beyond designing Excel models and searching for tax loopholes.

    Anyone willing to make the investment in talent to restore radio to a leadership position? Good grief, I hope so.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Cars and kids used to be commercial radio’s best friends. Driving around with “no particular place to go,” finding the sound tracks of their lives with five push buttons on a car radio was the stuff that made for huge ratings at boomer-era radio stations.

    Maddie Jones, 16, and Nell, 18, may start with 104.5 or Q102 in the family SUV, but, says Maddie, when the first commercial comes on, "we are so out of there!"

    But today’s bulge of 83.1 million 18-to-34-year-old millennials, now the biggest chunk of the population, are steering their ardor for music elsewhere.

    Read more here:


  10. Robert

    HD radio could have thrived, but its own rollout is what killed it:
    1) No new programming content. Even though the sound was a little better compared to FM, it wasn’t enough to jump over to HD.
    2) The HD receivers were EXPENSIVE and big. This is what killed HD
    3) There was no way to stream HD over the internet so people never really got to try it out and see for themselves the sound quality. They were told it was better, but no one ever got to hear it!
    My car has HD and I love it. Sound is crisp and clear. I like the idea of piggy backing 2 or more channels into 1. Where I am at, during the Xmas season for example, my favorite FM channel plays nothing but Xmas music 24/7. However, I switch to its HD channel 1 and I am right back to listening to my favorite music again. I think that as more new cars are bought and have HD radio as part of the standard package, HD will definitely catch on like it should have.


    • The other thing that will help HDRadio is more power. It was introduced with not enough power initially and the early radios would switch between analog and HD – not in snyc either – and that would annoy a lot of the people that might have been early adopters.

      Thank you for stopping by the blog and adding to the discussion Robert.


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