An Automobile Is An HD Radio Without Four Wheels

Detroit Radio Advertising Group (DRAG) legendary President and COO Bill Burton coined the catchy phrase "An automobile is a radio with four wheels".

True enough to radio people, but if that phrase is accurate then "An Automobile Is An HD Radio Without Four Wheels". In fact, the wheels are coming off.

I say this because something is very suspicious in Detroit. The proponents of HD Radio have relied on support from automakers and marketing muscle from big box retail stores like Best Buy to sell, well -- hardly any HD radios.

Imagine that.

If Best Buy, RadioShack and Wal-Mart can't evens sell HD radios then maybe consumers don't want them. Is that okay to say or is it unpatriotic?

It won't be long before Detroit automakers that have bigger fish to fry to save their own businesses will put HD radio where it belongs -- on the scrap heap.

Many consumers who own HD radio can't even get an HD signal in major markets.

One reader tells me he has three useless HD radios. If you don't believe him, go into Best Buy and ask one of those bright-eyed sales associates to sell you an HD radio and be ready for the "say, what" expression you'll get in return.

Another reader said when he tried to buy an HD radio, a clean cut young sales associate walked him over to the satellite radios. When you have to depend on 18-24 year olds to sell you a radio, you know you're in trouble nowadays.

Okay, look to the best and the brightest -- the consolidators of American radio.


Where's the compelling content that makes it worth owning an HD radio? Why aren't they spending any money on programming to no one? Most of today's consolidators never met a deal they didn't like but still they let HD wither on the vine.

HD radio is a bust.

And, terrestrial radio will be a bust soon enough if the industry looks to HD technology for answers that are on the Internet and in the mobile space.

Your friends from iBiquity wrote a letter to the FCC recently regarding the XM - Sirius satellite merger and while they didn't take a position on the merger, urged the Commissioners to consider mandating satellite radios with HD capability built into them. That's a real winner. We already have that -- it's called an HD radio and apparently nobody wants to buy them. Since nobody else wants it, why not force satellite radio owners to get HD.

The fact that we still belabor this technology as a potential answer to radio's current decline is an expression of how desperate the radio industry has become.

There are so many smart people in radio. You know it and I know it.

How can so many smart people be so -- well, can I just say it -- dumb.

So, let's review:

1. A satellite radio is a radio I am willing to buy and pay $12.95 for every month to escape from terrestrial radio. Don't put HD on my satellite radio or I will bolt for the Internet right now -- even without universal mobile coverage.

2. A terrestrial radio is a radio that comes free with my car. I haven't bought a portable radio for my home in years. The one I own still works but I don't use it. A terrestrial radio is like going to a hospitality suite at the NAB Convention. I can eat all the Swedish meatballs I want for nothing but I have to be accosted by someone trying to get me to buy something.

3. An Internet radio is a radio that has unprecedented variety and is the consumers answer to mundane programming but because there is limited WiFi and no WiMax coverage. It's like listening to a radio with dead batteries. But once I can hear it on the go, it's free and it's diverse. It is the future.

4. HD radio then is an Edsel (remember back in 1958 Ford Motor Company's big flop that looked like a Ford sucking a lemon?).

2008 is going to be tough enough.

Does the radio industry really want to embrace this HD Edsel for another year when there are so many more promising things to do?

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