Coming Soon: High-Definition Radio

Seven large radio conglomerates said on Tuesday that they had forged a strategic partnership aimed at accelerating the development and deployment of HD Digital Radio. Called the HD Digital Radio Alliance, the charter members will include Bonneville, Citadel, Clear Channel, Cumulus, Emmis, Entercom, Greater Media and Infinity.

The organization will help coordinate the rollout of the technology, as well as work to encourage adoption by automobile manufacturers. The companies also plan to help make the technology affordable, and aid in the marketing of HD digital radio products.

Traditional radio is beginning to feel the squeeze of satellite radio, and is looking for ways to offer consumers better programming.

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Chief among the complaints from radio listeners has been FM's lack of variety. As consolidation in the industry continues, less popular formats such as alternative and dance music have been pushed to the side.

The Philadelphia radio market is a prime example of this problem. In February of this year, popular alternative station Y-100 was abruptly pulled from the air after twelve years and replaced with an urban format station.

Although the station averaged a half-million listeners, owner Radio One said the change was out of a desire to move its urban station "The Beat" to a higher power frequency, as it felt it was a more marketable format. The Beat's old frequency wasn't given to Y-100; a gospel station replaced it.

Other markets, such as Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago have made similar abrupt changes to programming, ripping popular dance and rock stations off the air with little or no warning. Oftentimes, they are replaced with Hispanic music and talk stations, which have proven more valuable in many cities.

However, with HD radio, the companies have pledged to create a better diversity of formats. The also stress a big difference between themselves and satellite radio: their programming is free.

The industry has already begun to push the no-cost aspect on its traditional radio properties. Some stations such as WYSP "94.1 Free FM", an Infinity-owned rock station in Philadelphia, now promote the fact that they don't charge listeners in an attempt to separate themselves from satellite radio.

In any case, the new CEO of the HD Digital Radio Alliance said such collaboration between competing media conglomerates has never occurred before, and the group would help to speed the deployment of the technology.

"These companies should be congratulated on coming together to create a joint action plan, and committing air time and money to move HD digital radio forward," CEO Peter Ferrara said. "I'm honored to be asked to help lead this important initiative."

Other advantages of the HD technology are FM broadcasts that have CD-quality sound, AM broadcasts that sound like FM, and the elimination of the static, pop, hiss and fades normally associated with traditional analog radio.

The technology will also allow stations to program multiple streams on a single frequency, called HD2. The stations will be locally programmed and initially will be commercial-free, the companies said.

The organization added that already, over 600 stations nationwide are broadcasting their primary programming signal in HD-quality.

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