Why I don’t listen to HD Radio

Editor’s note:  From time to time, we pass on some tips for broadcasters.

Gary Beebe, BSW Special Projects Engineer

This is not about HD radio. Huh? But you just said… I know; hear me out.

When HD radio was first launched, I anticipated great things. HD’s higher-quality audio capability would certainly encourage stations to make their sound the best it could be. That’s the main attraction, right? Better sound? Listeners would flock to the new, improved sound of radio, instead of listening to mp3’s and streaming internet stations.

And the improved sound would trickle down to the conventional FM audio, too. Because, when reception of the HD signal is poor, the radio switches back to “regular” FM. The standard FM audio needs to be cleaned up and polished to be worthy of being the back-up for the HD sound. Everybody wins.

So, the regular FM audio got some attention, and became downright pleasant to listen to. Nice.

It lasted about a week. Then the familiar “over-compressed, over-limited, chainsaw-and-shattered-glass” sound made its way back.

Apparently, the folks who believe that maximum loudness is the key to listener retention had their way. Now the HD and the regular FM audio match perfectly… they are both equally harsh. So much for improved audio quality.

I’m sorry, but being the loudest signal on the radio dial isn’t the answer. Listeners don’t suddenly lock in to your station because it’s loud.

Manually scanning the dial, searching for a signal, hasn’t been a popular activity for a looong time. And how would you know if your station is louder than my mp3 player? Loudness wars don’t work. They only serve to annoy the listeners, and drive them to alternate entertainment sources (internet, mp3, satellite).

Listeners will stay with you if the program content is appealing, if the personalities are sharp, and the sound is good. Why should they listen to distortion at your place, when the same songs are being played over there with much better sound?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t oppose processing. Far from it. We need processing. It allows the sound to be heard in a car with a high background noise level. It keeps the sound within an acceptable volume range, so the listener isn’t constantly adjusting the controls.

Clean it up. Maybe there’s still time to lure listeners back to radio.

Posted WG 03-2016, Originally posted by BSW 01-2011