Industry still waiting for HD Radio to take off
November 12, 2007 (WLS) -- If you're a radio listener, you've probably heard the commercials for it. The radio industry is spending millions promoting it. But is anybody using it?
There are about 40 radio stations here in Chicago now broadcasting in HD. Their move to this digital technology means that 40 radio stations become 80 radio stations, with the potential to become 120 stations.But the HD Radios you need to get those stations are not quite flying off the store shelves. About half a million are expected to be in use nationally by the end of this year. So, if you like listening to the radio, HD Radio may be one of the best things you've never heard. Not too long ago, WGCI-FM was one radio station, but today, it's two. On the main station, weekdays, you'll hear Bionce Fox and the latest hits, and on the other, you'll hear Tony Toni Tone. What's happened is HD radio technology that's allowing each radio station to develop a split personality - one frequency with two channels, with different formats for differing musical tastes. "That's music we're not playing currently on 'GCI. We're playing new hits. So we're sending that 18-30 year old back to hear Run DMC, Brandy, New Edition. It's been a great success," said Earl Jones, President, ClearChannel Radio Chicago. With traditional radio, each radio station broadcasts one analog signal on its frequency, and that's what you get when you tune in on the radio in your car or home. But with HD radio, the signal is digital and each radio station can send out an HD-1 channel, which is typically its main channel and then, a secondary HD-2 channel as well, which can be any music or information format the station wants. It effectively doubles the choices on your radio dial. On WTMX, "The Mix," in the mornings, you'd get Eric and Kathy and Melissa on 101.9 FM's HD-1 channel. And on the HD-2 channel, with just the press of a button, Rod Stewart's "Love Touch," because it's non-stop 80's music. This works for FM and AM stations. "HD digital is just a better sound. FM sounds like a compact disc and AM sounds like FM," said Greg Solk, V.P., Bonneville Radio. And if all this sounds so good, perhaps you're wondering why more people don't already have it. Here's why: if you're interested in getting HD radio, then you're probably going to have to buy a new radio, one that has HD capability. If it's in your car, then you'll likely have to buy a new in-dash radio system in combination with a little box, the tuner that picks up the HD radio signal. Some radios come with the HD radio tuner built right in. The cost can run from about $120 up to a few hundred dollars plus the cost of installation. There are some high-end home radio tuners that are HD radio-ready as well. "It's becoming the holiday gift that most people know no one has. So, hey, give it to someone who has everything because you know they don't have HD Radio," said Christina Martinez, Best Buy. That sales pitch reflects the reality that HD radio has entered the crowded audio field of iPods, iPhones and satellite radio services, like Sirius and XM. But unlike satellite radio, with HD radio, once you buy the radio, the listening is free. "It'll be interesting to see if it's worth paying $12 a month for a subscription to what they've normally gotten for free, or would they rather pay nothing and listen to some commercials, but get better sound at no charge," said Marc Cook, general manager, Abt Electronics. Chicago's HD Radio stations have had an agreement to keep commercials off their secondary HD channels for two years. That agreement expires in January, but some station managers do not believe it's in their best interest to flood HD radio with commercials. If you purchase HD Radio now, you can still get the radio stations that are broadcasting in non-HD analog technology. Most believe HD radio will really take off when it comes pre-installed in new cars. Both Ford and BMW are offering it in their new models.
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