Tuesday, May 08, 2007

HD Radio - the Tortoise we hope?

We all know the tale of the Tortoise that beats the Rabbit. In many ways the role HD Radio is taking is very similar to the Tortoise - but will we win the race? Right now it isn't looking good. We've seen another round of studies from Bridge Ratings shows very little progress for awareness or usage of HD Radio. Even though most of the 'spot tracking' we see week to week show the HD Radio Alliance in the top 5 for national spot exposure. In all the top 50 to 100 markets we hear lots of spots selling the 'hidden channels' and 'higher quality' and pointing you to the latest retailer that has signed up for the exposure.

While having the product available and seeing the prices come down as more retailers jump in is some progress for us on the radio side the consumer could care less. We have to face it until we get some compelling programming on the 'hidden channel' or start to do something unique that makes having the higher quality sound stand out we won't crack the ice here.

Look at satellite radio - they spent tons (probably way to much) on content. Lots of big stars with their own channels, big sport franchises, and they took many of their music channels and spent the dollars to put some people on the air. HD Radio has mostly put up a bunch of side channels that are just jukebox-line extensions of the existing brand. Having a deep cuts channel on the side of your Classic Rock station isn't much. Probably more of a distraction to the audience if they had an HD radio.

When you look at something like KZPS and their move to Lone Star and a Classic Rock/Americana/Texas rock/Country mix it is unique and very different. You could see that there would be some interest in Dallas - it's a bold move to put it on the regular signal. While it could be an innovation and might bring some notice for HD Radio it's sort of going backwards. Instead of leaving it on the HD side and promoting it to help get HD radio going they kill the HD channel. Imagine in the days of FM growth if the album/progressive rock stations of the day or the beautiful music stations that were just starting out got a buzz going and then flipped the signal to AM. Would anyone have bothered with FM radio? The difference then was that FM was a HUGE step up in quality and with Stereo once you heard it moving it back to AM would have killed the buzz. Even then look at all the mono-FM converters we had in the early 70s and look at all the mono-FM radios that were factory installed. The programming was cool enough it was even worth it without all the improvement in quality.

If we want HD to work we need to start putting in a programming effort. Here's a few ideas:

  • Fill it with Feature Shows: Imagine a whole Sunday with re-runs of Little Steven's Garage or Flashback. Maybe a whole month of 2 for Tuesday. How about a special celebration of the Police for a full month before they come to town - go beyond just loading up Police songs get all the old interview shows, maybe some live concert recordings, invite the audience to leave greetings for the band and other friends that like the Police. If you run Bob and Tom day make every Monday all B/T all day with best of bits running all the time. I know many of these ideas will take some permission from the syndicators or the bands but I bet a few phone calls could get the ball rolling.

  • Let your jocks loose: So you're evening jock is a progressive rock fanatic. Let him build a nightly show with Gentle Giant or King Crimson tracks - but make sure he actually talks about the songs and doesn't just play them. The staff used to have crusades musically - but maybe we've killed all of that with 'does it test?' It's time to bring that back big time.

  • Local Music Shows: Not just 1 song a night from a band, but let it loose with 6-7 hours a night. Let the bands submit interviews and tell us about themselves.

  • Promote it: We are spending a lot of time selling what HD Radio is. But, without programming that matters it's nothing to the audience. If the sell is 'you can only hear it on HD Radio' and the programming is compelling enough they might tune in.

USE YOUR WEB SITE: Can't stress this enough. You can stream the HD signal on your site and you have to do it. Even after we get millions of HD radios out there the reality is that the computer is the radio of the future. You can start building lots of fans and audience right now if you stream - maybe they will buy the radio if they hear the product - they can on line.

We are moving rather slow - especially in the programming side. It was nice to have the 75 channels as a quick fix from the 'Format Lab' but much of this was imitations of satellite formats. It's time to do this on a LOCAL LEVEL. We all know our advantage here is to be LOCAL and build a community around the station. Yes it will cost - look at all the losses we saw from FM stations in the 60s and 70s. But, if we just sit here the rabbit will get so far ahead we might as well crawl in our shell.

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