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HD Radio - Good And Bad News For Listeners

If you’re not familiar with HD Radio, it’s the hot digital technology that’s being pushed by radio broadcasters as the next big thing and the savior of terrestrial radio. The Good First, the good news. HD Radio does sound better than regular radio. In fact, HD AM sounds almost as good as FM radio, and FM sounds almost as bright, clear and interference free as if you were listening to a CD. And because HD is digital, broadcasters can squeeze more signals into the same frequency. This allows them to broadcast different programs on what they’re calling HD2 channels.

For example, an oldies station could program contemporary C&W on its normal frequency, and old-time C&W on its HD2 channel. More good news is that fact that, depending on who you believe, there are now either 1,300 to1,500 stations in the U. that are broadcasting HD Radio. The difference? It’s that he HD Radio Alliance claims there are 1,500 HD stations, but the FCC has only 1,300 licenses on file.

The bad news While HD Radio may sound great and while there at least 1,300 stations broadcasting HD Radio, you can’t hear them. That is, not unless you purchase an HD radio. And HD radios tend to be expensive. There is only one, inexpensive, entry-level tabletop available, the Radiosophy HD100 at $99. The next step up is RadioShack’s Accurian HD Radio, which usually sells for about $199 and a Sony unit at $199. Beyond that, there is the Sangean HDR-1 with a manufacturer’s suggested retail of $249, and then it’s pretty much into the stratosphere of $300-plus. Want HD radio in your car? The situation there is even worse. There are very few HD car radios available and most of them are only tuners and must be connected to your existing factory radio – an ugly solution at best.

The ugliest part of th HD2 channels is that the programming –at least so far – is hardly good enough or creative enough to warrant buying a HD radio. What makes it ugly is that the broadcaster could be using HD2 channels to do something really exciting as broadcasters have in Great Britain, where digital radio has just skyrocketed. Unfortunately, here in the U., most broadcasters have chosen to use their HD2 channels as just “variations on a theme,” or variations of their regular programming (see rock station example, above). So, what’s the future of HD Radio? At this point, it doesn’t seem great, especially when you compare it to satellite and Internet radio. But as they used to say, “stay tuned for more” because it could get brighter.


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