You have to give Radio Ink's Eric Rhoads a lot of credit. If you missed it before the holiday, he is now "all in" for HD radio, on the strength of an inexpensive radio that he helped design in concert with iBiquity.
The essence of Eric's initiative is that among HD radio's many sand traps, a glaring problem is that many radio professionals have never experienced it. Sure, a lot of people sampled it back during the early days when those original Boston Acoustic units made the rounds.
But a lot has happened since on both the technology and price fronts. Yet, many of the thousands of folks employed in radio haven't really spent time with an HD radio. How's that for a disconnect? You can't exactly market or promote something effectively when you haven't really sampled it yourself.
So the "Mighty Red" radio is a $35 appetizer, designed to entice radio professionals and their companies to sample HD radio at a very low price. Hey, if you buy one and end up hating it or thinking it's not that big a deal, at worst you're out the price of a nice dinner.
But if you like it, you'll tell others, it will be easier to market, and perhaps consumers will finally start getting the word from the radio stations they listen to every day that HD radio is a great entertainment deal in these cash-strapped times in which we live.
As Eric points out in his blog (below in its entirety), there have been many speed bumps during these past few years. HD radio is challenged on many fronts – consumer awareness, availability of radios in vehicles, the challenge at retail, HD2 programming quality and commitment, and technical issues.
Like him, I have also struggled to make my own determination about whether this thing has a chance or whether it should be written off as a well-intended failure. We have conducted our own research on HD radio, including a major project for iBiquity back in '08. In every case, there have been positives, but also troubling signs involving the aforementioned challenges.
No one said it was going to be easy. At roughly the same time, HD radio made its awkward debut, satellite radio and iPods were media darlings. It isn't difficult to look at the game films and come up with a number of questionable calls and blown plays.
Back in the '60s, there was a saying: "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." I have thought about that phrase a great deal over the past couple years, because it is so easy to slip over to the dark side, and start throwing grenades at everyone you think is responsible for radio's problems.
But Eric notes that radio companies have converted nearly 2,000 stations to digital broadcasting, not to mention the increases in commitments from car manufacturers. Radio has a fiduciary responsibility to its owners, its stockholders, and its partners to at least give HD radio an honest try.
Our company has recently been retained by the Alliance to help set the best creative tone for HD radio advertising in 2010. There's no Don Draper on my staff, but I am hopeful that armed with the tech surveys we've conducted during these past few years, combined with hundreds of Listener Advisory Boards and focus groups – coupled with the creativity of some of radio's best production talent - we should be able to make a contribution.
At least, I hope so. I hear those voices of respondents in my head, as well as the many critics who have been very vocal (and at times, I have been one of them).
But I think that Eric makes some great points, and it's time for this industry to either get behind and support HD radio, or pay the price with a high-visibility failure. I, for one, am tired of seeing radio get its ass kicked by critics, pundits, newspaper writers, and frustrated ex-employees.
We either figure out a better way to make this work or we look like jerks for not trying.
Your comments, brickbats, and suggestions are welcome.