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Selling HD Radio on AM, FM Radio

The spots promoting digital radio are fun, but something’s missing

For over four years now, I’ve been entertained by the advertisements created to generate interest in HD Radio. The ads are often so clever that I laugh out loud. The acting has been consistently excellent. The production quality has been superb.

Over the years, I’ve also heard a lot of these ads placed with good frequency in drive times when most people are tuned in to AM and FM stations. But something is missing. While these advertisements have unquestionably helped pique curiosity about HD Radio, here in 2011 it’s time to take the marketing of HD Radio to the next level of success.

Content counts

Few in our industry will argue with the premise that the reason most people listen to any kind of radio is to be entertained or informed.

This is precisely what is missing from the now hundreds of spots that have been created to promote HD Radio. To date, the ads I’ve heard have been too much about the HD Radio brand and not enough about what consumers will actually be listening to when they buy a new HD Radio for the car, home or office.

During 2011, I’m hoping HD Radio ads will finally tell consumers exactly what they can hear on HD for free, right now, in the city where they live.

We must put an end to the notion that if we tell consumers they can hear “lots of new stations,” they will flock to buy the HD product. The detail communicated this year must be specific. It has to be accurate. Most importantly, it must be local.

Let’s be specific by naming the actual formats available for free in your town. Example: “Here in Raleigh on HD Radio, you can now hear 15 new radio stations. The music stations include blues (clip), jazz (clip) and classic country (clip). Unlike satellite radio, these stations are free. Get the list of stations now at HDRadioRaleigh-Dot-Com.”

Another approach is to spend the entire spot on only one format in order to get those potential listeners really motivated to make the purchase.

Non-partisan effort

I take you now to the HD Radio boardroom, where one will find corporate guys debating the validity of this claim that unique local content can sell radios.

Suit #1 says, “Lapidus has an interesting idea, but it’s too hard to get local stations to do the ads themselves. Plus, the local ads won’t sound as good as the national ads we do now.”

Suit #2 jumps in with, “People buy HD Radios because of the superior sound. If they really care about formats, they’ll go to our corporate website and find out more about what’s in their area.”

If I were in attendance, I would argue that most stations these days are perfectly capable of cutting great spots themselves — and if HD Radio ran a contest for the best local ads created by stations (and perhaps giving HD Radios to the winners), they’d have lots of excellent examples to play for the other stations to influence their creativity accordingly.

Further, the local clusters could take turns cutting ads for the whole market. At this point, partisanship in promoting only one cluster’s HD stations is truly counter-productive. We have to get people in mass numbers to purchase radios and only then can we compete for those listeners, which now would be like fighting over crumbs.

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The website of the HD Digital Radio Alliance lets users find stations by city or state. The author argues that stations need to create their own local HD Radio websites that list all stations in their market as well as local retailers who sell receivers.
Moving on to Suit #2’s claim to the lure of superior sound, I’d point out that while fidelity is important to audiophiles, most listeners would need a side-by-side comparison in order to tell the difference between FM and HD, especially in a noisy car. In the words of an acquaintance, “FM is good enough for me.” To appreciate high-quality audio enough to buy HD, Joe Listener first has to be able to envision what he’ll be hearing on it.


I mentioned the value of creating a local HD Radio website, just for your city. Again, this one site would list all the stations on HD Radio in your city, not just those in one cluster. It would also list local retailers who sell HD Radios.

Perhaps you could even get these local retailers to offer special sales (or coupons) several times a year to highlight something special only on local HD Radio in your city.

Example: “The Permian High game against Odessa on Friday is available only on HD Radio. Get your HD Radio for 30 percent off this weekend only at The Sound Exchange.”

Aside from creating very specific local ads, here are a few quick promotional thought starters:

  1. Create weekend specialty shows on your AM or FM station that mirror the format of one of your HD channels. Example: Air a two-hour blues show Sunday night on your classic rock station with lots of references to your new blues radio channel on the HD Radio dial.
  2. Do short segments on your AM or FM stations that promote one of the HD formats. Example: “Weather is now available 24 hours a day on our new HD Radio station featuring continual live reports from the National Weather Service.”
  3. Totally simulcast one of your HD channels on your AM or FM station for special occasions, continually promoting that the broadcast is temporary and can be heard full-time only on HD Radio.

Does HD Radio have a future? I’m still a strong believer, but ultimately, it’s the consumer who needs convincing.

The author is president of Lapidus Media. Contact: [email protected].