Answering Wachovia's Bishop Cheen on HD Radio


A week or so ago Wachovia’s Bishop Cheen kept alive the HD Radio volley started by your mystery man/woman.
I’d like to take a turn.

Personally, I love Mr. Cheen’s enthusiasm for the HD technology. And, almost everything Bishop is saying would be true if the marketplace was allowed to decide, create, and move the HD technology forward. As long as the Clear Channel sponsored Alliance is driving the bus, many of Bishop’s points are moot.

For Example…

1)       Why be analogue in a digital world?  This nine decade old media has found a way to reinvent itself at crucial sea changes—TV, cassettes, CDs, internet, iPod—and HD is a chance once again for a redo.
Be Digital? Absolutely.

TV, Cassettes, CDs, Internet, iPod – – these were all forces from the outside. Yes, Radio survived the first two and is still wrestling with three and four but HD Radio is very different; it is an attack upon ourselves from the inside out.

Arguably, Radio survived TV, CDs, 8-tracks, Walkmans and such by concentrating on core positives of our medium. Radio became more focused in each case. It worries me that HD asks Radio to become less focused on its core business and properties while spending creative and financial capital on a technological dice roll when the Internet and Podcasting are here and now and looming larger literally every minute.

Instead of pouring more of everything down the HD hole, let’s get Radio lined up for the two real technologies our listeners are using today. Does your stream sound terrific? Can a listener “tivo” your product  through podcasting? Those are today’s realities, not tomorrow’s pipe dreams.

2)       HD sounds great—much better than analogue and satellite radio.  The quality is there to hear and the alpha/numerics/ tagging and who knows what else are digital features that would seem to have value ahead.
I wish the quality claim was true because it would make so many HD decisions easier. You can read the countless Blogs about how HD Radio does not come close to living up to its promises. Or, talk to the stations that have pulled the plug on HD because their bread-and-butter signal was compromised.

3)              Complexity is simple—or will be.

If … and only if, the Alliance gets out of the way to give our brightest and best a shot at add-ons, after market innovations, and listener-driven inventions. Let’s stop calling San Antonio to ask, “Mother, may I?”   Why are we OK with that?

4)       HD is a new frontier. Nobody knows what economic models may emerge from HD—pay? subscription? ad-supported?—so why are we just to assume that it has to be spot driven?

I couldn’t agree more. Now, you’re peeking out of the box!!

And, while we’re here – why do we assume it has to be anything like Radio as we do it today?

5)       Cue the creative department.  One of the common criticisms of radio today is that the corporate consolidators have suppressed the creativity that made radio a mass media and a long term survivor.

True. So, please tell me why we have, essentially, volunteered the largest and most egregious corporate consolidator for the role of HD gatekeeper? Gil Grissom told me he and Catherine found Clear Channel’s fingerprints, DNA, saliva, and hair samples all over HD Radio.

The only rule I hope that radio execs will follow is that “no rules” rule.  I would tell my programming people to try anything and everything with my HD channels today (before there is critical mass of receivers) EXCEPT what I am programming on my main channel.  If radio simply reshuffles the corporate programming manual on HD, then it may indeed fail big-time.  This is the chance for radio to once again reinvent itself–hope it doesn’t blow it.

Yes, yes, and yes. When do we start?

6)       Differentiate and aggregate. Soap makers discovered this strategy a half century ago.  If you are worried about shelf space, then own the shelf.

A worthy challenge to Radio Broadcasters, Bishop.

Soap makers have also discovered that their most successful concoctions are quickly copied by their competitors, sometimes within days or weeks. Soaps, toothpastes, beauty aids, cereals — these guys are pros at swinging their brands  quickly into new and promising territory. Tide adds bleach and, by month’s end, you’ll have bleach in Cheer, Amway, Purex, and every other competitive name on the shelf.

I think RBR’s blogger saw this one coming: Until HD is mandated to be on every radio, a creative and successful new format on your hd-2 is too tempting for the full signals in your market with one shares. The full-signal hyenas will be there feasting before you know it.

As one HD listener said in an online product  review, “…HD radio…is one of those unnecessary luxuries. I rarely use it, but it looks nice in our guest room.”

Not one of the rooms they use every day, mind you. The Guest Room. And, it doesn’t sound great, it LOOKS great; probably like the antique telephone on the nightstand, the 8-track planter in the family room, and the quad speaker coffee tables.

Now, there is finally some good HD Radio news you can use: we’re still working on what it sounds like, but in the meantime, HD Radio sure does look great.

Bob Harper