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HD Radio 2010 vs. FM Radio 1950

One of the explanations bandied about around the internet lately for why HD Radio hasn’t seen much uptake with radio listeners is to compare it with the early days of FM radio. In essence some HD Radio defenders are arguing that consumers are reticent to try a new technology, just like AM radio listeners were once reticent to buy new FM-capable radios. That line of reasoning showed up in the comments to my last HD Radio post, wherein reader Mike Stupak says,

Digital radio is experiencing the same sort of problems that FM experienced. In order for receivers to sell at low prices, you need high volume. In order to drive volume sales you need more stations. It’s the chicken and the egg.

Fortunately for iBiquity, consumers, and broadcasters, it all appears to be coming together now, and it took a lot less time than it took FM radio!

Paul Thurst of Engineering Radio recently addressed this package of claims making an exhaustive side-by-side comparison between the state of HD Radio in 2010 and FM radio in 1950. He spares no facts:

Problem/issue FM radio 1950 HD radio 2010
Implementation of technology A new band was created and new radios containing the old (AM) and new FM band were manufactured. During the experimental phase (1937-47), the frequencies were between 42-50 MHz. This changed to 88-108 MHz in 1947. Uptake on new radios was slow due to a frequency shift. Existing AM and FM frequencies were utilized using “Hybrid” mode.  This entailed changing existing channel bandwidths arbitrarily
Funding FM radio was implemented by broadcasters who, for the most part, bore the brunt of the costs themselves. The CPB has granted millions of tax payer dollars to public radio stations to implement HD radio with most of that money going to one company, the owner of the proprietary technology.  To date, NPR stations are the single largest user segment of HD radio.
Creation of interference FM broadcasting created no interference to any other broadcasting station when it was rolled out HD radio has created many interference problems, especially on the AM band at night, where skywave propagation makes adjacent channel stations bear the brunt of exceeded bandwidths.  FM is prone to co-carrier interference from higher digital power levels created to solve poor reception issues in addition to adjacent channel interference to adjacent FM broadcasters from exceeded bandwidths.

Read the rest over at Paul’s blog.

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3 Responses to HD Radio 2010 vs. FM Radio 1950

  1. Greg September 27, 2010 at 8:27 pm #

    Have you seen the latest barter scheme from iBiquity and Citadel:

    iBiquity already tried lowering its licensing fees, but that obviously didn’t work. The arrogance of expecting the medium/smaller stations to barter with and to help float iBiquity, whose sole purpose is to destroy these community radio stations with adjacent-channel interference.

  2. John Anderson September 27, 2010 at 9:23 pm #

    Indeed, this is a canard that appears most often in the trade press. I’m glad Paul (Engineering Blog Paul, that is) put this puppy to rest – but like the undead, it will simply not go away.

  3. Chris Sterling November 17, 2010 at 8:16 am #

    Surely another parallel is that broadcasters are making the same mistake today that they did six decades ago—trying to sell sound quality with little reference to programming. Most folks don’t buy “sound”–they purchase content, or access to same. That FM generally simulcast AM back in the 1950s, and that new or different HD programming is either absent or is poorly promoted suggests the same lack of understanding by radio managers. In both cases, listeners could use existing analog radios (AM in 1950, FM today) and hear the programming, without buying expensive receivers.

    C. H. Sterling

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