Q: Why did you file a complaint with the FCC in which you said the current HD Radio scheme is NOT in the public interest?
A: In early January I was working on a story about Nielsen Audio’s November PPM ratings. I noticed that there were four HD stations listed in the data. Since it is rare for HD stations to show up in “the book” I wondered what these four stations were doing that attracted listeners to the HD channels. My working title for the post was Yes, There Are People Listening to HD Radio.
One of the things I checked when I investigated was whether the four HD channels were simulcast on FM translators. I am aware of this practice because here in Minneapolis, where I am based, Clear Channel (now iHeartMedia) has successfully created two new FM stations by simulcasting HD channels on translators. Other than the legal ID at the top of the hour, the Minneapolis stations promote themselves as “FM stations" -- not "HD stations"
When I checked Radio-Locator, I found that all four HD channels were simulcast on good old-fashioned FM radio. The transmission sites for the translators were located in places where, despite low power, the height of the antenna created a decent signal over heavily populated metro areas. The broadcasts on FM seemed to be the reason these “HD” stations had enough listeners to show up in the book and HD channels without translators don't.
I changed the title of my post to Yes, There Are People Listening to HD Radio. Sort of…You can see this post at http://acrnewsfeed.blogspot.com/2015/01/yes-there-are-people-listening-to-hd.html
Then, in a “eureka moment” I realized an entire part of the broadcast spectrum, the In-Band On-Channel (“IBOC”) HD Radio platform has so few listeners if it went away almost no one would care.
This seems like a huge waste of private and public money, time and energy. When I realized this, I filed the complaint with the FCC. To me “broadcasting in the public interest” means reaching enough of the public to matter. HD Radio is like the sound of one hand clapping – it exists but isn't relevant.
Q: Do you have ties to the HD Radio industry? Do you a have a stake in the outcome of your FCC complaint?
A: I have no ties – personally or professionally – to HD Radio. Several years ago I did some consulting work for Radiosophy, a tech start-up located in a Midwest tax haven called Dakota Dunes, South Dakota. Radiosophy was started in 2007 by former Gateway Computer folks – the kind of company you’d like to see succeed. For a time, Radiosophy sets were used as pledge drive premiums at public radio stations. I don’t think Radiosophy is still in business.
Personally, I once hoped that HD Radio would succeed. A civilian friend told me back: I heard there are going to be over a dozen new radio stations here soon. The HD channels are there but my friend hasn’t listened to them in years.
Back in ’09, I bought a Mighty Red HD Radio – a perky little device from commercial consultant Eric Rhoads. Rhoads thought if broadcasters heard how good HD Radio sounds, they would jump on the bandwagon. It didn’t work.
My only interest in the outcome of any FCC action is that wise use be made of the spectrum. I’ve recommended that the FCC set up an independent panel to examine all of the issues with HD Radio, including possible alternatives.
QUESTION FROM A READER: Will you next suggest that unless a radio station has a Nielsen "number", it ought not exist?
A: I didn’t mean to imply that Nielsen Audio data should be any kind of standard. It is just evidence – a quantification of radio listening in general use in media industries. So, it is a useful metric.
QUESTION FROM A READER: You can argue, and I would agree, that there was a lot of winking and nodding going on throughout [the HD Radio development] process. Any formal standard where the inner workings are allowed to remain largely proprietary and unknown to the public is a terrible idea, but [isn’t that] what happened?
A: Absolutely correct! iBiquity’s HD Radio is not a free universal system. You’ve got to buy a license from iBiquity – and they own the technology. This is no way to serve the American public.
QUESTION FROM A READER: the roll-out of digital radio in the US has been disappointing to date for one reason: …"any digital radio MUST be in the existing AM and FM bands, and MUST be on the same frequency as our existing licenses."
A: That is still the rule! HD Radio was designed to give the major broadcast owners, such as iHeartRadio, Cumulus and CBS, the same parity on HD they had on FM and AM. The broadcaster’s biggest fear was a digital radio system that would open channels to new folks and challenge their monopoly.
QUESTION FROM A READER: [Isn’t] "blessed" a little misleading here?. There WAS a formal process with the National Radio Systems Committee (NRSC) to create the legal standard for Digital Audio Broadcasting in the USA and to base it on HD Radio technology from iBiquity.
A: Even though I’d like to know more about the NRSC and iBiquity, my complaint is solely based on the fact that this digital radio system is a technology that the marketplace has been unwilling to adopt. Therefore, it is NOT serving the public interest.
QUESTION FROM A READER: What does the “HD” in “HD Radio” stand for?
A: Nothing, absolutely nothing. It is a made up word designed to be sort of cool. It is like Comcastic or Xfinity – a grandfalloon as Kurt Vonnegut would say.