HD Radio -- It's The Programming, Stupid!

You've seen me write about my lack of enthusiasm for HD radio (misnamed "High Definition" radio which is neither high definition nor the best radio has to offer).

In the tradition of KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) and the Bill Clinton campaigns election motto "It's The Economy, Stupid", when it comes to HD radio I'd like to add "It's the programming, stupid".

Take WCBS-FM's HD 2 oldies stream in New York. Please.

It is a shell of the former great Joe McCoy oldies station that has been shoved to the Siberian outpost we in radio now call HD radio. You can hear it over the Internet and the fidelity is, of course, as good as the equipment you're listening on (or translated that means -- the laptop you're listening on). So fidelity is not the banished station's strong suit.

Listeners can listen on HD enabled radios in New York City. Good luck. Find a few.

Meanwhile on the terrestrial band you've got Jack FM -- the interloper on the 101.1 frequency -- neither having earned the right to be there nor an improvement over the oldies channel that was already there. The Jack debacle was one of the many mistakes made by former CBS Radio President Joel Hollander. Dan Mason is mopping up as we speak.

Back to HD.

It's one issue to augment the sound benefits and the sub-channels that can now be created. The equipment industry mostly argues that case while terrestrial radio begins what may be its long farewell -- especially if it doesn't get back to its programming roots.

So take WCBS-FM.

Same jingles. No personalities. How could there be? CBS is not nuts. They can't pay all that money for an HD station no one can hear and that only has public service announcements running. No revenue.

It's a stripped down terrestrial radio station that even a fan can't listen to that long. It's absent the many intangibles that McCoy knew he had to include when it was the lead station on 1o1.1. And WCBS-FM is only one example -- I use it because I'll never forgive Hollander for blowing up the station. Update it, yes. Modify it, yes. Reposition it, you get the point.

Listen around (if you have an HD radio). Name the compelling programming. In fact, listen to terrestrial radio and name the compelling programming.

Radio is mostly music, mostly automated, mostly without personalities except in morning drive -- if you can call these personalities personalities!

Same hot clocks.

Same sweepers.

Still programming to the diary even where the People Meter exists.

Where are our brains?

So, if I couldn't get excited about HD radio based on the engineers' arguments of improved fidelity and more sub-channels, you can imagine how thrilled I am at the prospect of the vast wasteland of radio programming either banished to HD or created on the cheap.

You live and die by your own rules.

The radio industry became an affiliate of Wall Street after consolidation and it was forced to adopt their standard that profits drive share price.

Now, radio is trying to grow a new segment called HD but it must live by the golden rule it accepted when it became a small group of monopolistic, consolidated companies -- profits drive share price.

As long as profits trump investment in product, terrestrial radio will not be able to compete with interactive and mobile media and as far as HD radio goes -- which won't be very far -- forget about it.

When it comes to building audience it's the programming, stupid! When it comes to making shareholders happy, it's the cost cutting -- which is the stupidest.