Is HD-Radio a Bust?

While AM radio (est. ~1906) and FM broadcasts (with us since the 1930s) have life in them yet, both are still analogue technologies that can’t meet growing digital demands. Norway has already begun moving on, shutting down its FM transmitters in favour of DAB (digital audio broadcasting). Other countries in Europe, including the UK, are seeing nice growth in their DAB initiatives, too.

But here in North America, DAB is long dead, killed off by America’s reluctance to embrace the new spectrum. Try as they might, DAB proponents in Canada–and there were many–were forced to give up their dream when the US wouldn’t play ball. Instead, we have HD-Radio, a technology with promise but also one that hasn’t really captured much in the way of market or mindshare.

In fact, some would characterize HD-Radio is a total bust. This is from Media Life.

Everyone knows the lessons of New Coke from back in the 1980s.

The Coca-Cola Company introduced New Coke, a reformulated version of its original, in 1985. The company was losing market share to the newer Pepsi and diet drinks, and figured a shakeup was exactly what was called for.

Of course, it wasn’t. Nobody liked New Coke. It bombed, and bombed hard. The company reintroduced the original Coke to the marketplace within months, to great expense and great embarrassment.

The lesson? You can introduce something new and improved, but you can’t make the public want it.

Alas, that’s a lesson not heeded by HD radio.

It’s not quite the bust that New Coke was, but it’s never delivered on the promise many saw when the technology was introduced more than 15 years ago.

There’s almost zero consumer interest, and buyers say it’s the least-promising of the new technologies that have been introduced in radio in recent years.

“HD radio doesn’t feel like a thing,” sniffs one buyer.

“Most people won’t be able to hear the difference between HD and regular radio. That’s a problem,” says another.

Keep reading.

Me? I think the industry has done a lousy job of promoting HD-Radio, probably because it’s done an even lousier job of exploiting its true potential. Time for radio to step up or shut up.

But could it be that both HD-Radio and DAB are just interim steps toward all-IP delivery of radio? After all, both technologies are still linear streams. Could the future be something like Anchor FM? From TechCrunch:

Anchor FM, the audio social network, has just raised $2.8 million and launched some new tools as it looks to make recording and transmitting interactive audio content even easier.

Accel Partners, one of Silicon Valley’s leading consumer-focused investment firms, led the new round with participation from the Omidyar Network, the Chernin Group, and the eponymous audio artist Mick (Mick Batyske).

“We raised this next round to invest in the new platform,” says Anchor co-founder Michael Mignano.

After a successful launch last year, Anchor is launching new features, including an audio feedback effect called Applause.

Read on.




Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “Is HD-Radio a Bust?

  • March 12, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    Since we are in the US, what is the benefits of DAB radio? What is the difference from analog radio?
    American digital radio, can stream station/music info and ad or album cover art…And of course sub channels…Even gps traffic info, I still don’t understand how that works…

    • March 13, 2017 at 7:44 am

      For one thing, it opens up additional frequencies for additional programming. Second, the audio is CD quality, substantially better than FM.


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