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Audio Stores, Where Are the Radios?

In late February, FM stations KFOG/KFFG, which serve San Francisco, Los Altos and San Jose, Calif., began a rotation of HD Radio promotions on their analog signals.

In Santa Clara, Good Luck Trying to Find Receivers, Much Less Antennas

In late February, FM stations KFOG/KFFG, which serve San Francisco, Los Altos and San Jose, Calif., began a rotation of HD Radio promotions on their analog signals. So I decided to see how well our local and national audio chains were up to speed on HD Radio.

Having kept tabs on the radio industry over 30 years, I might be expected to have a bit more knowledge than the store personnel, so I went in as “Joe Six Pack,” an everyday guy, checking out the mobile section, if one was available, and then the home section.

I rated stores from A for excellent to F for failure. My criteria for ratings took several factors into account, including:

– Home and mobile units in stock and able to demonstrate HD Radio;

– The salesperson’s knowledge of HD-R and

– Whether the store had promotional displays on HD-R.

As this article was prepared for press, the HD Radio Alliance announced that Tweeter and ABC Warehouse/Detroit will begin carrying HD Radios and Crutchfield would increase its inventory. Radio Shack also said in April it intends to carry the Boston Acoustics Recepter HD in some stores, perhaps by May. So consider this a first-semester report card. Perhaps the grades will improve next time.

The results were not encouraging.

I found four HD-R receivers – two mobile, one table and one home theater – in a total of eight stores. The two mobile units were missing the HD module and could not be demonstrated. The table radio worked, but the reception was poor. And the home theater receiver was not connected and could not be demonstrated.

Until retailers have product in the stores and knowledgeable people to demonstrate them, HD Radio will not be a factor in any market.

XM and Sirius have home, car units and now portable units available. They are recognized names to the consumer and have point-of-sale displays in a majority of the stores visited.

This problem, along with the popularity of iPods, may prevent HD Radio from reaching the “critical mass” needed to be an accepted form of entertainment.

I know that HD Radio and especially HD2 are in their “baby steps” mode. But unless stations improve the programming content, and receiver makers increase the number of available radios and provide them at a reasonable price, and unless retailers increase their sales staffs’ awareness and understanding, HD Radio is doomed to fail.

Is it fair to place the onus on the stores and salespeople? Yes and no.

The pressure should have come from large retailers to the receiver manufacturers to have the receivers in the stores now. They missed the last Christmas season; will they miss the next one as well? Why are some of the big names like Sony or Pioneer still on the HD sidelines?

On the alliance Web site, HD in some mobile units is listed as available “now,” but while a large retailer may have the head units, they don’t have the HD modules, or any knowledge about them, making “now” meaningless.

And as far as promotional material, only the Yamaha RXV4600 had a placement card that was under the receiver, you pull it out to read the “selling points” about the receiver. No other store I visited had any printed information such as signs, banners, and handout literature for in home or mobile.

I walked around each store looking for anything with the HD Radio logo on it. If it was there, I could not find it. In-store HD-R promotion is a well-kept secret. At least three years ago the XM display at a Best Buy was up and running, with “tear-off’ sheets to take with you.

Stations have been broadcasting HD Radio for at least a year, and manufacturers have been promising the receivers once stations started broadcasting in HD.

Well, the stations are broadcasting. Where are the radios?

Share your own experiences with shopping for HD Radios. Write to [email protected].