11/22/99 Radio Isn't Being Digital
Remember the experience of hearing a scratch-free CD for the first time? Digital audio is one-up on that experience, and consumers have their hands all over it. Why then, in this amazing world of digital audio, is Radio stuck in analog? Radio audio is about to become as antiquated as our grandparents' 78s. Radio, which used to be on the cutting edge, is rapidly shooting itself in the foot by failing to become digital.
When cool devices like the Diamond Rio digital audio player were first released, I heard nothing of it from average folks. I had only read about it in magazines and heard it hailed by "early adopters." But that has changed. Now every kid I know has one or wants one for Christmas. Every major company from Sony to RCA has an MP3 player available this season. Every kid knows how to download his or her favorite tunes. Digital audio went from being ahead of its time to being the trend of the day, all in a few months.
Why then is this technology unavailable to enhance the Radio consumer experience? How is it that MP3.com is one of the most successful stocks on Wall Street, while Radio isn't even close to being digital? Why isn't Radio demanding resolution to this issue by year's end? The deployment of a digital standard is taking much too long. I first wrote an editorial about it nearly 10 years ago. Digital should be on the air by now. Still nothing has happened. The NAB is desperately trying to get a standard adopted, because they see its value to Radio, but the companies that could make money on it are standing in the way. Seems each wants to be the standard adopted. In the meantime, Radio is at risk of being outdated technology. And once consumers fully understand this, Radio will suffer.
I, too, would like to own the rights to the digital standard and get a royalty for every Radio sold, but not at the expense of the entire industry. It's time for Lucent Technologies and USA Digital to swallow some pride, and sit in a room together until a solution is found. Instead of promoting a win-lose alternative, together they could be heroes.
Radio needs digital transmission to survive in a digital world, a world that is moments away from satellite Radio (XM and CD) and Internet Radio. It's time to stop the bickering and come to terms. A press release that Lucent and USA have merged their systems or agreed on a standard before Christmas would be the best gift Radio could receive.
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