A recent survey of 50 randomly sampled stations in the top-50 markets conducted by News Generation, Inc. reveals that 56 percent of surveyed stations have a station in their family that currently broadcasts in HD. Further, more than half of stations believe that HD Radio will impact the radio broadcast industry.
Although HD Radio hasn’t yet rivaled satellite radio in its reach, its sound quality and increasing availability may mean a greater impact on traditional radio than satellite, largely because HD Radio is an extension of traditional, terrestrial radio.
While people assume that the “HD” refers to high definition as it does in “High Definition Television,” HD actually stand for hybrid digital, which means it’s transmitting both analog and digital signals at the same time. HD Radio has been chosen by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as the standard for local area broadcast of digital signals in the U.S. because it works on the same frequencies allocated to FM and AM radio stations.
According to www.hddigitalradio.com, there are currently 605 broadcasting HD Radio formats in 68 markets throughout the nation. Of the 56 percent of the surveyed stations that are currently broadcasting in HD, 39.3 percent responded that they adopted the new technology because it offered a “higher sound quality” and 28.6 percent said it’s because HD is the “wave of the future.” Of the more than half that think HD Radio will impact the radio broadcast industry, 27.8 percent say the sound quality would especially impact AM radio.
Primarily used to provide “CD quality” music, HD Radio is the first step in digitizing the radio spectrum. While listeners don’t have to subscribe like they do to satellite radio, special receivers are needed to pick up HD stations. Eventually, it is expected that all radio broadcasts will be digital, although the FCC has not set a timeline for that migration.
Right now, since most HD broadcasts are focused on music, this new technology hasn’t yet impacted PR professionals pitching stories to news and talk programs. However, when the FCC outlines a timeline for all broadcasters to move to the HD platform, that’s when PR pros should really take note. There is great hope that this technology will allow easier tracking of stories through digitized search and retrieval, long a difficult process in radio.
The adoption of HD Radio isn’t the only big trend in the radio broadcast industry. When asked what the next wave in radio will be, 18 percent of the stations said “integrated radio systems” incorporating Bluetooth, wireless, HD Radio and Satellite Radio.

by Lynn Harris Medcalf