As we discussed in yesterday's blog, the HD radio initiative has had its share of ups and downs. Speaking of the former, the new Zune with HD radio caught our eye, and we ordered one early on from Amazon.
So, whether the Zune is a runaway success or not, the $50 Insignia model and more HD radio becoming available in new cars, suggest there is reason to believe that many more people will have access one year from today.
What does that mean for radio, and at what juncture is there a tipping point that would influence broadcasters to get more serious about creating more competitive content for HD2 stations? As it stands now, what quality of content are they hearing on HD2 stations, and why would it motivate consumers to actually buy one of these radios or mp3 players?
I keep going back to that "Stimulus Czar" panel from last month's NAB, and all the controversy that Larry Rosin stirred up with his impassioned plea to inject more youth into radio stations. At that session, I also implored broadcasters to stop voicetracking and start using the late night hours for "DJ Beta" development.
And that's where HD2 stations could come in to serve as incubators for developing new talent, while reinforcing to young people that there is a place for them in the radio industry. It has been interesting in the wake of that panel to read the back and forth comments from broadcasters, ranging from those who are gung ho about the need for young people in radio jobs, to those who defend the quality of radio being produced by the old guard.
Wherever you stand, the numbers don't lie. Most traditional media are facing the same situation, where heritage talent and stars aren't getting younger. And a look down the bench isn't reassuring because of the lack of proven young talent waiting in the wings. Radio really has no viable personality succession plan.
HD radio could be a way out. I have heard many broadcasters articulate that a certain number of HD2 channels should be dedicated to colleges and high schools - giving young people an opportunity to learn radio in a "real world" situation. But it hasn't really happened.
Maybe this is something the HD Alliance could consider, after the initial initiative that assigned many of those bland formats to HD2 channels. That experiment is over. It didn't work. But that doesn't mean that HD2 channels cannot be deployed in ways that would actually benefit radio, especially given the rampant voice tracking that has taken over the late night hours. All the new gadgets in the world won't mean much if there's nothing worth listening to.
In the past few weeks, Starbucks has proved that it's possible to invent and create within your specialty area with their new Via instant product. Whether this initiative works or not, the attempt to do something new, to start a conversation, and to make their brand more top of mind is smart and potentially rejuvenating for their stores.
Radio needs to consider something that accomplishes much the same thing. In a media world where "new" is what consumers are seeking, radio needs to make a statement that communicates that we are about new, different, bold, risk-taking, and creative. While some broadcasters view HD radio as a mission that failed, the question is how it can be repurposed to provide value and to make a contribution to radio.
Perhaps it starts with "DJ Beta" HD2 channels.