The Future of HD is in The Hands Of Independents
The following opinion piece is from Kelly Wallingford. Wallingford is the President of Wallingford Broadcasting Company and the Immediate Past President of the Kentucky Broadcasters Association. He submitted this editorial in response to our Pew Research Center/HD Radio story which ran Friday.
Reading something in black and white, even if you really already knew it, can have a shocking effect. I suppose it's because you realize that now everyone else knows. As broadcasters, the lackluster appeal of HD Radio has been one of those things we "just don't speak of."
I knew HD was doomed from the start. I was part of a large group gathered at our State Convention in 2006 at Lake Barkley State Park to hear a KBA-assembled panel of experts do a seminar about HD. When iBiquity and the equipment reps got to the anticipated cost for HD, I could see they had lost the audience. It was the same look referenced when headlights catch a deer off guard. I boldly rose to my feet and asked the panel if they realized they were asking broadcasters for an investment in an unproven technology that would rival or exceed the original cost of a whole radio station. I then asked the question that sent the entire room into a frenzied standing ovation and propelled my name into Kentucky broadcasting infamy: "Why so greedy?"
The truth is, Clear Channel and Cumulus aside (both got far better "incentives" and deals to launch HD), the broadcasting world said "hell no" to the cost of HD. To this day the failure of HD rests with iBiquity's and manufacturers' refusal to engage the "non-corporate" broadcasting world with an affordable pathway to HD Radio.
Instead of exciting us, they priced us out. Instead of getting us on board, they turned an apathetic ear. Instead of every radio station in the country touting HD and encouraging listeners to be part of radio's great digital evolution, the public has heard virtually nothing about HD and has little understanding of it. They alienated a large segment of the stations that could have been their greatest allies. Here's the cold hard truth: Radio doesn't even like HD. I have said it all along and will say it again: Until all of radio starts getting excited about HD, no one will be excited about it.
As broadcasters, we currently have advantages and opportunities with Web-based services, podcasting, streaming etc. Many stations are branching out in these arenas and doing well as we migrate our localism into new areas. Do we even need HD?
Maybe. Since there is nothing else available to migrate radio to the exciting new digital world, HD could still have some merit for broadcasters. But far too much valuable time has already been wasted. The time to act is now. Look at it this way: Radio and HD have a tumultuous relationship. There may be an attraction there, but we just can't seem to get it right. So do we work on getting it right, or do we break up for good and forever wonder "what might have been"?
It appears that if we want a digital future for radio, we must save HD from itself, from those who seem hell bent on making sure it fails miserably if we don't give in to their demands — a business model that, to be kind, is working like a glass eye at a keyhole.
I offer this: Every state broadcasting association should refine and adopt an offer to make to iBiquity and the equipment reps for a "startup" package deal we can live with. The offer would include what we will pay to make the conversion, with the number of stations on board and a timeline for how soon we will do it. Imagine, thousands of new stations excitedly touting HD! Encouraging listeners to get the next greatest technology for radio and join our evolution! Millions of consumers hearing daily about this "new" HD thing! It happened with FM in the '70s, and broadcasters can do it again for HD.
Make no mistake, HD's future has always been, and remains, in the hands of independent broadcasters. I'm sure iBiquity would love to sell some licenses, that all that dust-covered HD equipment at the plant would be better off "in line," and that broadcasters would love to have something new and exciting to crow about. This is your wake-up call. Somebody has finally said it. HD is dying a slow death. Unless radio intervenes.
Kelly Wallinford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org