Radio Receiver Sales Sizzle … In Europe and Asia


Across the U.S., radio broadcasting companies are giddy over the prospect of reclaiming lost listening in the home thanks to the much-heralded smart speaker. With purchases of the Amazon Echo and Google Home devices on the rise, owners of AMs and FMs are cheering, as these can be used to consume their stations.

In Europe and in Asia, receiver sales remain significant. In fact, 2017 was a new record for yearly sales, new data released Tuesday (5/15) show.

RBR+TVBR OBSERVATION (Full Text Below, for Subscribers Only): Receiver sales? Really? Yes — and it is because of the success of DAB. Chalk up another report card with a big fat F for the U.S. radio industry on bungling HD Radio.

According to London-based WorldDAB, almost 12 million DAB receivers were sold in Europe and the Asia Pacific region in 2017. This set a new record for yearly sales.

To be clear, we’re not talking about portable radios or stationary table-top devices. Nearly half of total sales were for automotive devices, with certain “key markets” showing a significant increase in the number of cars sold with DAB fitted as standard.

Some 5.9 million of the sales were for vehicles.

This suggests that some 6.1 DAB receivers — actual radios — were sold in 2017.

A detailed infographic shows where much of the sales strength for receivers is. There’s also a review of which countries are moving to all-digital (Norway did this in December 2017, while Germany is in the beginning stages of DAB rollout).

From 2008-2017, some 35.65 million receivers have been sold in the U.K. The total in Germany is 9.9 million. With sales starting in 2009, Australia has seen the sale of 3.8 million digital radio receivers.

Cumulative sales for DAB receivers have now reached over 65 million for the markets covered: Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

“The last 12 months have been a strong period for DAB radio,” said WorldDAB President
Patrick Hannon. “International receiver sales are at their highest level ever — boosted by the switch-off of FM in Norway and strong growth in other European markets. Progress in automotive has been particularly impressive with nearly 6 million new cars sold with DAB radio last year.”

In addition to the “excellent performance” in Europe, Hannon was encouraged to see the development of emerging DAB markets in the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific regions.

“DAB is increasingly becoming a global standard,” Hannon said.

It won’t become a standard in the U.S., where broadcasters some 15-20 years ago debated whether to migrate stations to DAB, or utilize an “in-band on-channel” method designed to make access to radio signals easier.

Randy Odeneal is one of the individuals to thank for this.

In May 1996, Odeneal — a principal at former radio station owner Sconnix Broadcasting — served as the DAB Task Force Chair of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). At the time, in-band on-channel systems were being tested, including Eureka 147, used in the U.K.; USA Digital Radio; AT&T; and Voice of America/JPL.

The concept of in-band on-channel, or IBOC, digitization of AM and FM radio allowed for the smooth transition of consumers from analog to digital receivers; today both analog and digital signals are transmitted to ensure no listeners are unable to tune in.

One year later, in the May 19, 1997 issue of Broadcasting & Cable, the focus was on USA Digital Radio, and a joint plan with Lucent Technologies to push IBOC development.

Along with Odeneal as a chief proponent of IBOC was Dick Ferguson, who retired in May 2006 as EVP of Cox Radio and in 1997 was President of the NAB Radio Committee. Speaking to B&C, Ferguson said, “The NAB is committed to developing and implementing IBOC systems for AM and FM radio stations.”

Cox’s Ferguson was instrumental in having HD multicast stations appear as “supplemental” offerings above the regular band, instead of as sub-channels next to the primary signal, on HD Radio receivers when displaying and scanning stations.

Commitment to HD Radio began in July 2004, when iHeartRadio predecessor Clear Channel announced it would convert 1,000 stations to digital by 2008. Similar announcements from Entercom and Cox Radio came just a few months later.

But, HD Radio stalled out with its growth; FM translators were established to help bring HD multicast stations to the majority of listeners. Many operators in the U.S. never invested in building out HD multicast stations. Detroit never embraced it, with Lexus one of the few auto brands to feature HD Radio in their OEM receivers.

Meanwhile, WorldDAB reports, “significant developments” in markets as diverse as Algeria, Croatia, Indonesia, Kuwait, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Ukraine were seen with receiver sales in 2017.

Then, there is the household receiver penetration data from WorldDAB: For Great Britain, it is 62%. In Australia it is 42%. Emerging DAB country Germany is at 15%.

RBR+TVBR OBSERVATION: Receiver sales? Really? Yes — and it is because of the success of DAB. Chalk up another report card with a big fat F for the U.S. radio industry on bungling HD Radio. Several years ago as a Radio & Records editor and reporter, I covered the industry’s debate and discussion over how to transition from analog to digital broadcasts. There was trepidation, and concern. There were more than a few companies alarmed at what digital radio would do to “stick value.” And, the discussion came at a time when rapid industry consolidation made a lot of brokers and D.C. lawyers very wealthy. So, why put a stake in the heart of the gazelle when it’s off and running?

The U.S. eventually went with an “in-band, on-channel” option. And … here we are today, with a useless choice erected by frightened rabbits that were protecting their business with little forward-thinking on how it would change.

Today, Spotify, Pandora and YouTube are a thing. Overseas (including Canada), not so much.

Today, SiriusXM Satellite Radio is very much alive, and offering a two-week preview to entice new subscribers; its service is available not only via satellite radio tuners but also via streaming audio. Outside of North America, satellite radio never happened.

Why aren’t Spotify and Pandora big in other countries? Why are the U.S. and Canada the only nations where satellite radio is a thing?

The answer is simple. Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Odeneal, who indirectly gave RBR+TVBR Editor-in-Chief Adam R Jacobson his first in-station gig at WMXJ-FM in Miami in 1993, should have gone with DAB.

No one in the U.S. knows what HD Radio is. No one owns an actual radio in the home, aside from perhaps a bedside clock radio purchased many years ago. Try staying in a hotel room and using your clock radio — if one is even there.

DAB was smart and forward-thinking. We’ve seen it in use, in a three-series BMW on an autobahn in Bavaria. Instead of FM frequencies appearing on the tuner, the names of every radio station appear. One push of the button and you’re on Antenne Bayern, or Radio Gong, or Arabella. It reinforces with the listener the brand, not “106.7 FM.”

DAB could have given a smooth transition to AM radio. Instead, we still rely on AM 880, or AM 1010, or AM 660, or AM 770, or … you get it, New York.

Billing is still high for big New York AMs owned by Entercom. Brokers were pooh-pooh us, noting the vital importance AM radio still has in so many parts of the U.S. But … the clock is ticking. Yes, AM radio is strong and important and adored by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

The reality is AM radio is no different than Beautiful/Easy Listening-formatted stations were in 1985. Strong billing — but stormy weather in the rear-view window is building.

Every AM radio station could be on DAB right now, along with all of those HD2, HD3, etc., music offerings that now rely on 250-watt translators to reach a significant number of listeners.

We can’t go back and time and change what our industry did. But, we can collectively move forward in a manner that makes the best of what was created. AM’s survival is HD Radio. Radio’s survival is HD Radio.

It may not be DAB, but it deserves attention, resources, development and a real Detroit rollout in the age of the Connected Car.

If not, we’ll all be streaming our way into the future.

Then your stick value will be exactly that: the value of a rotting piece of wood in your backyard.