Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Time of Reckoning Nears for HD Radio

With a Stalled Rollout and Little Support From the Big Three, Are Industry Insiders Starting to Doubt HD?

It’s beginning to seem like a long time ago when many of us started laying plans to add IBOC digital transmission to our stations.

The topic has dominated our industry as a seminal yet controversial issue since the early 1990s. Early adopters have been running HD Radio for almost five years. But the long ordeal of converting radio broadcasting from analog to digital in this country is still in its infancy.

By the time you read this, fulltime AM-HD IBOC operations will have commenced for many key stations. The early fallout from skywave interference will be raining down from the ionosphere and the FCC will be dealing with the first round of formal complaints. Except for real interference that falls inside protected contours, other complaints will undoubtedly be dismissed.

AM-HD has from the beginning been widely criticized as the noisy and disruptive neighbor a lot of folks hoped would not move in next door. Other than a few isolated cases, Ibiquity has assured us the problem will not be all that bad. Instead of worrying about the background hiss or losing fringe area listeners, we should focus on the benefits of high-fidelity digital stereo on AM for the first time.

When all is said and done it probably won’t matter if AM-HD in the hybrid mode succeeds or not. The big signal AM news-talkers are the anchors saving the AM band and don’t need 15 kHz stereo to remain successful. If anything, lost fringe area coverage hurts them more than any benefit that might be derived from HD.