HD Radio Wal-Mart Style

The radio industry is all excited about a just-announced decision by Wal-Mart to sell "affordable" HD radios. Bruce Beasley quoted in Inside Radio said Tuesday, "Wal-Mart doesn't pick up on too many bad products to sell."

Unfortunately, HD radio is one of the not "too many".

HD's time has come and gone with the radio industry fighting forever on which system to adopt. HD might have been neat in the early 90's, for instance, when radio had no competition and MTV was the only minor distraction.

And, the price of an HD radio is too steep.

Nobody needs one because the content on the sub-channels is weak. The radio industry has enough trouble keeping its primary terrestrial programming fresh and competitive after all these years of Wall Street-inspired cost-cutting and most of the HD channels that are broadcasting now are not ready for prime time. It's radio on the cheap (that's if you're not counting what you hear on some of the consolidators' main channels, too).

It strikes me as odd that while Internet radio has to fight for its existence due to paralyzing royalty charges that could kill off the little guy, HD radio is paralyzed by a lack of programming by the big guys who refuse to make it a financial priority.

HD is not going to save the radio industry.

HD radio is not going to appeal to the next generation and the radio industry doesn't even have the advantage of the funeral business currently which at least always gets the next generation as a customer. Generation Y is Generation "Why" when it comes to HD radio. It's meaningless to them. And already-happy terrestrial radio listeners aren't exactly running to Radio Shack for all those HD radios that were supposed to save the industry a few months ago. Remember?

All this is beginning to sound like an act of desperation -- finding retail partners to sell an overpriced radio that carries very little appealing programming and that is not much of an improvement over the radio's we already own. Don't start with the digital audio argument. Most listeners plain and simple don't care about fidelity. And we know the next generation could care less as they listen to compressed MP3 files on little iPod ear buds or on computers with awful little speakers.

I don't mean to be so hard on the radio industry. You can't blame them for trying to put lipstick on this pig, but you can't really put lipstick on a pig.

Any other ideas?

The radio industry puts a "stop-loss" on HD radio and puts whatever budget or people power it is now squandering into bolstering their primary terrestrial programming. Give the PD more money to create content. Start there. A no-brainer.

Then, get a group of radio consolidators to spend their time and money not on how to sell this Edsel called HD radio but to contribute legal fees for Internet radio entrepreneurs to fight the battle over a recent massive increase in royalty fees that could wipe out Internet radio.

Now I'm losing you, I know it.

What? Radio help Internet radio. They're a competitor, aren't they?

NO, they are not. They will be your replacement 10 to 20 years from now because you still insist on hanging onto the past. Radio broadcasters are in the news and entertainment business not the terrestrial radio business. This is a fact they either don't realize or don't like.

Hear me out.

Help fight those onerous rights fees being imposed retroactively on Internet radio broadcasters. Then, make alliances with them to produce new and exciting content for your company.

In other words, this is your way to get into the Internet radio business. You can be the Clear Channel of Internet radio. I take that back. You can be the next major force in broadcasting where the next generation of listeners actually reside -- the Internet.

I am under no false illusion that any major radio group is going to take this idea and run with it. But I can promise you that the stubborn and ill-conceived HD concept is going down like the Titanic and radio broadcasters seem hell bent to go down with it.

Get out of HD.

Get into Internet radio.

Then, you own two platforms -- terrestrial and Internet and when WiFi is universal, you'll still be in business. Hey, Wal-Mart's got a lot of problems, too. It seems, just as radio has lost touch with its audience, they have misread their customers. Wal-Mart vows to get back in touch with what made them the world's largest retailer. And if their embrace of HD radio is any indication, they, too, have a long way to go.