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Opinion: Make or Break Time

The next 12 to 18 months are "make or break" for HD Radio. During this period, HD Radio will continue to gain momentum and public acceptance, or it will level off and begin to decline.

The next 12 to 18 months are “make or break” for HD Radio.

During this period, HD Radio will continue to gain momentum and public acceptance, or it will level off and begin to decline. Receivers will begin to proliferate and their prices will continue to come down; or HD Radio receivers will remain hard to find. Consumers will embrace the new technology or they will ignore it.

Broadcasters must recognize that what they do right now, at both the management/operations and engineering levels, has a great deal of impact on the success or failure of HD Radio.

If digital is to succeed, engineers must make it the best it can be. That means consistency; good time and level alignment; and excellent technical quality. We must view our HD Radio signals with the same import as we do our main analog signals. When listeners tune in, it must be a positive experience, not a negative one (as is the case with poorly aligned levels and timing, or with inconsistent HD Radio signal presence).

Time alignment may well be the most critical factor, and getting it right may be the biggest challenge broadcasters face. Without proper time alignment, fringe-area HD Radio listeners will likely find a station unlistenable as it transitions back and forth between digital and analog with an 8.4-second jump during each transition.

BMW dealer reports reveal that a good number of reported radio reception problems in OEM HD Radio-equipped vehicles are actually time-alignment issues with radio stations. Unless engineers deal with this issue, it is bound to generate negative press and word-of-mouth reports about HD Radio.

We’ve got to find ways to deal with off-air monitoring, live traffic reporter/remote broadcast monitoring issues and other factors that would keep a station from properly time-aligning its analog and digital signals.

Management, programming and promotions also have a job to do. HD Radio must be different and better than the same-old-same-old analog. That means different and better programming, different and better sound. And we must have enthusiastic promotions, hammering home the benefits of HD Radio throughout the day in on-air liners and promos, providing live HD Radio demos during remote broadcasts and promotional appearances, and partnering with local retailers to make HD Radio equipment readily available to listeners at reasonable prices.

No doubt about it, HD Radio is the “bling” of terrestrial radio. Some in our industry see it as unnecessary. But let’s face it; bling is what sells. It’s what the younger generation is looking for. Content, promotion and technical quality are all part of the bling.

The reality is that we only get one chance to get it right. That chance is before us now. Let’s not mess it up.

– RW