HD Radio: "Jacta alea est"


The typing, not to be confused with writing, was not signed. We were told only that the keystroke artist was a "loyal reader" and "For business reasons, this reader cannot be identified by name." Since RBR chief Jim Carnegie did ask "Got a different take?" Let me now say that I do. Here’s my scribble on each of the article’s six points.

1) The name is wrong…already taken…Why unnecessarily create the impression of a brand extension…Rookie mistake.

Absent the suspect HDR Alliance research there is no empirical evidence to suggest HD Radio means much of anything to the mass audience, only a minority of the population even admit to being familiar with it (Jacobs Media Tech Poll, Arbitron-Edison Infinite Dial). In sum, the name remains innocent, benign, albeit undefined. A professional name lab developed the consumer brand name "HD Radio", the same firm that created the brand "Blackberry" among others. It is the inexperienced or lazy PD that blames the call letters then insists on changing them. Tylenol wrote the primer on rescuing brand names. When product tampering killed customers they stood firm. Radio programming ace Lee Arnold reminds me "The Beatles was a really lame name for a band until they had their first hit, come to think of it what kind of a name for a computer is a fruit?" We should leverage the TV messaging. This is not an act of brand extension but one of brand creation. HDTV = better television, HD Radio = better radio. Let me suggest the rookie here is the anonymous contributor, one needing to read Jones & Slater (or Rosser Reeves the wellspring of Trout & Ries).

2) HD Radio is not listener/consumer driven…neither compelling Content nor is it Convenient to use or understand…listeners do not have faith in the rank-and-file operators.

Physician heal thyself! "The play’s the thing." Content is a station level operations issue. This is a leadership problem manifest in a massive failure of imagination, lack of serious investment, an aversion to risk and a growing tolerance, acceptance of mediocrity. On the subject of multicasting my proxy goes to Chuck Tweedle. Chuck, as you may recall, was the GM who built, from scratch, one of the most successful brands in American radio, KOIT. It was Chuck who said "Multicasting is the killer app." The fundamentals remain the same, put something on the wireless that they really want and they’ll find it. More on this "product first" approach from Kent Burkhart (See #201). Listeners only care about what comes out of the speakers, everything else is a footnote. Some 230 million are keeping the faith weekly and turning on their radios, they could care less about the "rank-and-file operators" (until those operators take away something they care about). As to the ease and convenience issues bear in mind that HD Radio is software driven, we’re dealing with version 1.0, first generations of any tech product suck in hindsight. Greed will ensure things will only get better. Hint: Apple developed a hit form factor using a dated common software app.

3) Your introduction…is almost always a disappointment…does not make a good enough first impression.

The consumer electronics retail value chain plays by cutthroat jungle rules. Few working in the trade today can even remember the last time radio operators had to sell receivers. While the rule sets of CE were changing radio was busy harvesting the golden apples of bcf. Complacent in this rich Garden of the Hesperides radio took its eye off the ball. Driving folks to retail and having retail channels ready and productive while a serious significant challenge is not the Sisyphean mission some make it out to be. The most effective solution to remedy those first impression problems and help create demand is organic – product innovation. We also have an urgent need to get deeply involved at retail and point of sale.

4) It was designed to solve a non-problem.

A popular canard. Let me also quote the "honest liar" Jamy Swiss "I want to highlight the line between illusion and reality." Pay radio had nothing to do with the creation of HD Radio that’s a convenient illusion. The reality is IBOC was designed to solve the problem of migrating radio to digital using the same licensed spectrum, a rubric fraught with the perils of "acceptable tradeoffs."

5) Hillary Derangement Syndrome…HD Radio is the Sheridan Whiteside of Media…Even Radio people have lost faith.

Too clever by half. Like Hillary, HD Radio is arguably better than its campaign. Communications from the HDR Alliance are what they are, anyone confusing a press release with reality is, to be kind, tragically naive. The single purpose of this Alliance messaging, imho, is to gin up favor with the street. To say that HD Radio is Whiteside is to infer that operators are Daisy Stanley (or at least the Stanley family). Further, this scenario implies that HD Radio is culpable of blackmail. This stuff smacks of a wacky grassy-knoll theorist mindset. Yes, some radio people have lost faith, some others never had faith, however, some do have faith and are working to make a difference. Again, this is a leadership issue. One needs to remember that at one time the majority of AM operators had no faith whatsoever in the future of FM (as before VHF guys laughed at UHF and the suits of broadcast tv once made jokes about those silly cable guys).

6) The commercials don’t work…the more we keep advertising this non-starter, the more it becomes obvious the radio advertising must be the villain.

Poor creative execution is one villain here not the communications channel. The simple facts are advertising fails for a variety of very good reasons. If all one needed to do was run an ad to produce results commercial time would be traded on the gold exchange. There’s nothing wrong with radio as an advertising medium. There was, as written here previously, something seriously wrong with the messaging. Peter Ferrara is still not getting credit for changing up the ill-starred "Discover It!" and inviting input after the failed "It’s your radio" creative. Will the new campaign work? We need disclosure and transparency to begin that learning process.

In understanding the giant story arc that is radio and media behavior it benefits us to remember. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" so said George Santayana. The quote is probably familiar to most readers but let’s put it into its proper context. Here’s what Santayana said in The Life of Reason, Vol. 1, Reason in Common Sense…

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

We are going around in one big circle folks. We’ve been at one of these inflection points before, this will not be the last. Observe! Think! Discuss! Decide! Act! Learn! Will HD Radio "make it" whatever that means? Yes, if and when operators get serious. My sense is the HD Radio glass is half-full and I’m more concerned about who’s pouring. Game on!

Dave Martin