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Stations Crafting Multicast Radio Deal(2)

A year from now, you won't be able to find a new HD Radio that doesn't have the ability to decode multiple digital signals, or multicasting.

A year from now, you won’t be able to find a new HD Radio that doesn’t have the ability to decode multiple digital signals, or multicasting.

That’s the opinion of NPR Vice President for Engineering and Operations Mike Starling.

When NPR began the process earlier this year of trying to package a group deal on HD Radio receivers for non-com stations, the network didn’t expect a large portion of them to include the multicast decode ability. However, most of the new HD Radios shipping to retailers this month do include that feature, including receivers from Boston Acoustics, Polk Audio and newcomer Radiosophy; while other receiver manufacturers, including Panasonic, plan to move up their timetable for incorporating multicasting into IBOC radios.

Kenwood shipped its HD Radio multicast tuner, the KTH-HR100-MC, in May.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that this could become something of a de-facto feature,” Starling said.

Some 67 non-commercial stations have asked the FCC for permission to multicast, according to NPR.

In May, an Infinity station said it was the first commercial station to multicast continuously.

Shopping strategy

Members of the NPR Multicast Receiver Team met privately in April at the NAB convention and again in May at the Public Radio Leadership Conference. Of the 16 members, eight are from NPR member stations: Tom Dollenmayer, WUSF(FM), Tampa, Fla.; Tim Eby and James Ary, WOSU(FM), Columbus, Ohio; Bruce Haines, Northern Indiana Public Radio; Torey Malatia, Chicago Public Radio; Jim Paluzzi, Colorado Public Radio; Roger Sarow, WFAE(FM), Charlotte, N.C.; and Steve Shultis, WNYC(FM), New York. The remaining eight are NPR staffers including two engineers: NPR Senior Engineer Jan Andrews and Starling.

Team members are sorting through information from manufacturers that answered NPR’s Request for Information for a potential group buy of up to 50,000 HD Radio multicast receivers. They were awaiting prototypes in May and hoped to select companies by next month that would make HD Radios available to non-coms for a negotiated group price. The radios would be used as premiums or promotional items or items that station employees could purchase at a discount.

The plan is to include a station participation component with a “significant percentage return,” according to a memo from the receiver team to stations. In other words, stations that refer consumers to a particular receiver manufacturer to purchase their HD Radio would get credit for that referral. It was unclear what form the credit would be in – rebates, as some manufacturers are offering broadcasters; credit towards future purchases; or some other arrangement.

“Station managers in particular are leading this discussion because that’s where the rubber hits the road. It has to happen there,” said Starling, who added the group is “talking about what really successful promotion and marketing would look like on the air, off the air and how we make sure we’re partnering up with folks where we’d be comfortable saying, ‘This is a really good value for our customers, for our listeners.’ We’re getting closer.”

Stations that take part would need to agree to promote HD Radio on and off the air.

The group wants the public radio group plan to offer three types of HD Radio receivers: auto, high-end home and an economical home unit.

In the memo, the group stated it is working to secure terms to avoid inventory risk for stations, simplify the ordering process and track station referral credits.

Some 60 noncoms had converted to HD Radio as of early May, according to NPR, which predicts about 500 more on the air or in the process of converting by year-end.