HD Radio’s Last Stand

Even Custer knew he couldn’t win the battle at Little Big Horn but you have to admire him for fighting to the bitter end.

The bitter end was his death and the death of the troops fighting under his command.

Bob Struble, the man who brought the industry HD radio, is at his Little Big Horn and he’s acting like he’ll fight to the finish as well.

Except the death of HD may very well coincide with the death of radio as we have known it for 50 years.

Look, I knew General George Armstrong Custer, and, Bob Struble, you’re no General Custer.

Okay, I saw the movie.

In recent days Struble said that HD radio is at the “inflection point”. What the hell is that? Tipping point for radio people, or what?

Struble’s point is that now with automakers on board to make HD more readily available to consumers – just you look out.

And satellite radio, Struble thinks he’s going to take a piece out of Mel Karmazin at Sirius XM. (I often try to use some humor in my writing but the preceding is dead serious).

The HD Alliance hasn’t been able to convince broadcasters to do even satellite-level programming on their HD sub-channels and this guy thinks he’s going to win the battle of Little Big Horn – I mean, HD radio.

Nonetheless, studying the radio industry vis-à-vis HD radio technology is a fascinating spectator sport. And if you look closely enough, it will tell you a lot about the sorry state of both.

1. New People Meter numbers for the first few PPM markets (or soon to be markets) show that HD listening did not meet the minimum reporting requirements. Say what? HD has been around in one phase or the other for decades. And still, no one listens.

2. No one listens because no one wants to spend any money at all to own a radio – especially a radio that doesn’t come as standard equipment in a car. Duh! And once enough cars have them STILL nobody will want to listen to HD.

3. Group operators don’t even want to invest in special HD programming – you know, the kind that might make someone, say – buy a new radio. That speaks volumes for HD. The listeners don’t want it. The stations don’t want to program them. Poor General Struble – he’s the only one ready to fight to the finish.

4. HD is the waste can on the radio industry. Owners dropping formats have been known to send the formats they were dropping into the HD dumpster where their fans could not listen. Some also made the dropped format an Internet stream. Just brilliant. The Internet is the place for radio’s “A” material – not the ceremonial burial grounds for discarded radio formats.

5. Last week, even NPR affiliate WGCU in Naples, FL decided to drop classical music. Oh, no – they didn’t really kill it off. They did worse. They sent it to HD Siberia where their fans can’t hear it unless they want to buy an HD radio – and we’ve already covered that unlikely prospect. Radio should be ashamed of itself, anyway. You’d think you’d have one of every format in every market – and a damn good version of each format as well. Sorry if classical isn’t hip-hop but can you see why satellite has the edge here and why WiFi streaming is going to kill radio.

6. Sooner or later the HD radio proponents are going to run out of money. You can’t keep getting funding forever with promises and no results.

Look, I really have nothing against HD radio.

Fifteen years ago!

With full participation by radio owners. That means new and different programming, promotion, talent and marketing.

Hell, they won’t even do that now on their main channels.

HD radio is no longer just a controversial issue to the declining terrestrial radio industry.

It’s a major distraction.

Time to turn off the HD and get ready for WiFi, streaming and podcasting – the future relatives of an industry that used to know by sheer instinct alone what to do next.

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