Now Tom Ray is doubting HD Radio?!


The Buckley Broadcasting VP/Director of Engineering, who oversees 50-kW WOR-AM NY, posted an opinion piece in a trade pub this month that holds some real doubts about AM HD Radio’s viability. Now this might not be a big deal to some, but Tom is, and has always been, one of HD Radio’s biggest supporters. The article mentions his attempts to buy a Ford Escape at a local NY State dealership that hopefully included a factory HD Radio. Ford was supposed to be offering it as an option for 2010 models, from what he understood.

No one at the dealership knew anything about HD Radio and all there said he was the first and only person who has ever asked about it.

Ray tells RBR-TVBR: “On the dealer side, it doesn’t surprise me, because if they’re not fed the information from the corporate home in Detroit, they’re not going to know what it is. They are told, ‘Here is your Sirius display,’ which quite frankly, there’s a huge Sirius display right there in the showroom. They’re told, ‘Here’s Sirius radio—push it.’

He adds, “What was very dismaying was the fact that when I talked to people at Ford, there wasn’t one person over there who could help me and most of them also told me I was the very first call they’ve ever had on HD Radio. So at least they knew what it was, but nobody could direct me.”

Tom ended up buying the car anyway and went through hell and high water to buy and install aftermarket HD Radio gear and other devices like XM Satellite Radio to make it work with the car’s Sync system. He finally got it all working, but it wasn’t easy and the car is certainly now a target for petty theft.

Tom tells us three months later he had to buy his wife a car. “There was still no HD Radios to be found. They had a couple 2011 Edges on the lot. Not one HD Radio in the bunch. Finally, there was something on the Ford website about the fact that their HD Radios would be in the 2011 Edge vehicles. When I originally went looking for the first Ford vehicle, I went to their website and found a press release dated 12-30-09 that says HD Radio will be available on 2010 model year Ford vehicles. So based on that, I went to get my factory radio put in this thing—that’s when I got the deer in the headlight looks.”

He went on to mention how WOR’s News Director owns a foreign vehicle with an OEM HD Radio, but the AM reception is poor. Ray lamented on how hard it was to get an HD Radio through a dealership, and therefore how unlikely it might be for Joe consumer, who likely has much less knowledge of HD Radio or electronics, would go through these kinds of hoops to integrate it into the vehicle’s systems.

He concluded that for WOR, AM HD has generated very little ROI and that if the IBOC exciter fails, they may just not replace or repair it.

Ray agrees, AM HD Radio is being turned off around the country in many markets on many stations. Here’s what he told us on that topic: “To the people who say AM radio is the only place we are going to get our information in times of distress and times of trouble, it’s not necessarily HD Radio where the problem is. The problem is communities themselves are not supporting AM radio stations. So if that gets worse, in addition to the AM HDs being turned off, the AM stations themselves are going to be turned off. You can except places like New York and Detroit where the top stations are AM stations, but that isn’t necessarily the case all over the country. Very bluntly, if one of those exciters go, and you’re talking $15,000-$20,000 per exciter, what station right now is going to take a look at that and go, ‘You know, I think we’ve got to replace that.’ Nope, there are no HD Radios out there—who’s listening to it?”

He understands how hard it is to market new products, but it seems iPad has had none with consumer adoption – it sells itself, why can’t HD Radio? He says we should all ramp up the marketing and get the radios out there, or “simply move on.”

You can see the entire piece in Radio World.

RBR-TVBR observation: With all of the HD Digital Radio Alliance spots broadcasters have been running for so long, one would think consumer awareness, and maybe adoption, would be better than it is now. Ford now says it will have the radios available in some 2011 models. The only one that has it now is the Flex, but that is only an option with its navigation system: $1,000. Bottom line, when it is in all of the cars as standard, HD Radio will have a leg up. Until then, it’s an uphill battle.