Audio quality, less interference and free service …
The Detroit News - Bryce G. Hoffman – March 22, 2006
Video may have killed the radio star, but AM and FM radio stations are not yielding to the satellite challenge without a fight.
Even as Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio strive to convince consumers to pay for a service they have received for free since its inception, the nation's broadcast radio stations are rolling out new digital technology that delivers better audio quality, less interference and a host of new features.
Twenty-three Detroit-area radio stations already offer the new technology, known as HD radio, and the industry is lobbying aggressively to get automakers to offer HD radios in their cars and trucks.
So far, BMW AG is the only one that does, but eight more automakers are planning to offer HD radios on 36 models over the next couple of years. And while the number of HD radios in use today is in the tens of thousands, it is expected to grow to 1 million by the end of the year, according to iBiquity Digital, the company that is developing and licensing HD radio technology.
That's still a sliver of the 100 million radios sold annually and the 900 million to 1 billion radios in use today. But HD radio promoters remain confident it will grow in appeal, much like high-definition television is taking root.
"It's well under way," iBiquity CEO Bob Struble told the Automotive Press Association in Detroit on Tuesday. "We've got vehicles out there. We've got products out there."
The Federal Communications Commission approved the rollout of HD radio in 2002. More than 3,000 radio stations have announced plans to convert to HD broadcasts over the next couple of years. Hundreds already have.
The nation's largest radio companies have formed an alliance to develop and promote the technology. They plan to spend $200 million to advertise HD radio on radio stations this year, making HD radio the single largest radio advertiser in the United States.
HD radio also promises to revive the AM spectrum, which has long languished as a victim of poor, monotone-only sound. Digital AM stations can broadcast in stereo with FM-quality audio.
A unique feature of HD radio is multicasting, which allows broadcasters to transmit multiple audio streams over the same frequency. That means radio stations can simultaneously broadcast several programs.
Some Detroit stations are already doing just that. For example, WNIC broadcasts a second HD channel on the same frequency that plays nothing but love songs.
HD receivers also can work with vehicle navigation systems to allow traffic accidents and other hazards to be displayed on screen in real time. Second-generation systems will allow listeners to record and rewind radio programs, retrieve more in-depth information and even make purchases with their radios.
"There's no better place to make an impulse purchase than when you're stuck in traffic," Struble said.
Visteon Corp. was the first company to produce an in-car HD radio receiver. It supplies BMW and has inked deals to supply other automakers.
"We're in a good position," said Visteon technical fellow Bill Whikehart. "Things are really accelerating."
Visteon forged an alliance with iBiquity in 1999 to help bring HD radio to the world. In fact, it developed a key component of the technology, which it now licenses to other manufacturers. But Visteon also produces satellite receivers for both Sirius and XM.
"We view the HD and the satellite as complimentary," Whikehart said.