What is HD Radio? 
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Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Monday, 29 December 2003

It is hard to argue with the power of terrestrial (FM and AM) radio as a force in worldwide media. As XM touts its 1,000,000th subscriber and Sirius brags about 200,000 – terrestrial radio can stick its nose up at such tiny listener groups. Examine any large major market in U.S. and there can be more people actually listening to one popular FM radio station (perhaps syndicating Howard Stern) than all of the subscribers of XM and Sirius combined. Add to the volume of listeners the fact that terrestrial radio has fewer stations thus a more focused and consolidated audience than any of the new radio challengers.

Consolidation has been both the best thing and the worst thing to ever happen to radio in its history. After Congress loosened the rules for station ownership in 1996, a handful of companies boomed and now three own the majority of stations around the country. While their stock prices skyrocketed along with the dotcomers in the late 1990’s, their programming spiraled down the toilet. Consolidation allowed big companies to “voice track” the same format around the nation while firing DJs on the local level and losing radio provincial appeal. At the same time radio’s ad appeal remains flat as people look to the internet, wireless networks and TV in increasing numbers for their information.

With billions of dollars in market capitalization, radio is not going to roll over and play dead and one of the latest new technologies that could possibly inject new digital life into a creatively boring media like FM radio comes from iBiquity. iBiquity Digital's HD Radio technology transmits digital audio and data alongside existing AM and FM analog signals, allowing listeners to enjoy “CD-quality” sound and virtually eliminating the static, hiss, and pops associated with today's terrestrial radio. The technology also provides a platform for integrated wireless data services that, combined with display screens on HD Radio-enabled receivers, will deliver listeners a variety of additional information such as song titles, artist names, traffic updates, weather forecasts, sports scores, and more.

Nearly 300 radio stations in 100 U.S. markets across 37 states have licensed HD Radio technology. HD Radio-enabled receivers will be commercially available following the CES trade show. The technology has support from some of the big radio groups which is a good step in the right direction however they will need major support from the big consumer electronics manufacturers and more importantly from automakers. Car audio is turning out to be the best venue to launch new audio technologies – just ask XM and Sirius.

IBiquity’s technology has incredible potential in that it hotrods an extremely powerful media and makes it more relevant to younger, more tech savvy listeners. It adds functionality and value in ways never before possible which hundreds of millions of listeners will find useful. Perhaps most importantly, the technology offers the chance to deliver better sounding music to the masses via a distribution method that is as big as any. Wireless freaks and MP3 junkies say that all consumers care about is convenience. Clearly, they don’t have an HDTV at home or noticed that HD sets are selling at the pace of over 500,000 per month (source: CEA sales stats for September 2003).

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