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New Technologies, Trends Discussed at Annual NAB Meeting

Leaders in the U.S. broadcast industry are discussing new technologies and trends at the annual meeting of the National Association of Broadcasters in Las Vegas,Nevada. As Craig McCulloch reports, HD Radio, once known as Hybrid Digital radio, is one developing technology that is gaining attention.

Along with streaming audio over the Internet and Internet podcasting, HD Radio is best described as a platform for local over-the-air radio signals to go digital.

In addition to increased sound quality, HD Radio will allow for existing traditional, or analog, radio stations to develop additional services on the same frequency. This could allow a newstalk station, for example, to have extra channels for music or other programs.

Glynn Walden is the Senior Vice President for Engineering at CBS Radio in New York and one of HD radio's earliest pioneers. He says one major hurdle facing HD Radio is getting the receivers, which are different from traditional radios, into the hands of the general public. He says high definition television, called HDTV, has successfully gone through the process.

"I think it is like HDTV after you see the price drop. Originally, HDTVs -you didn't see many when they were selling at $15,000 each. But, we're now in the $1,500 to $2,500 market for each HDTV. HD Radios started out in the $400 to$500 market and now is below the $200 and under market. Probably will drop to under $100," said Walden. "The challenge is getting enough volume for the price to drop, like HDTV did, and then it those radios become ubiquitous."

To help in the development of the new radio format, twelve companies have formed the HD Radio Alliance, donating some $250 million in advertising time to help, in part, publicize the benefits of HD Radio. Ironically, the same dozen companies have agreed to keep their own HD Radio services commercial free until the end of this year.

Walden also says that HD Radio will re-energize the radio industry, preserving audience share and stemming the erosion to other new services, such as streaming media on the Internet, podcasts, and satellite radio.

John Hinnen, Vice President Radio News Programming for Rogers Broadcasting, is not so optimistic. He says traditional AM or medium wave radio still serves as the platform for some of the most financially successful radio operations in North America. He says broadcasters have to keep HD Radio in perspective.

"I think it is another platform for broadcasters to be aware of and to look at and see how they can best take advantage of it in this day and age, but it's just another platform," he said. "My feeling is that we've got to be where our audience is and that can be anywhere. It could be in their offices whereby they might

listen on the Internet, or might listen to the Internet at home."

Brian Cooley is the Editor at Large for CNET, a technology news service. He says that two things need to happen for HD Radio to succeed. First, he says, it needs to be available on car radios, where many listen while driving. Secondly, the price of the radios will have to come down. He says the consumer has be given more reasons to turn to HD Radio than just increased sound quality, such as additional stations and programming.

"HD Radio needs to do more than just sound better. A lot of the messaging has been crystal clear fidelity, well, that's fine, but I may not go buy a new radio for quite a while for crystal clear fidelity," said Cooley. "I might go down next week if I can hear something new and have some new impetus and some new input in my commute."

In order for HD Radio to work, stations will have to upgrade their existing transmitting facilities. It will cost an AM or medium-wave radio station about $35,000 to convert. FM stations face a bill of $60,000 to upwards of $350,000.

One hurdle facing HD Radio technology is there is no government imposed date like one the television industry is facing to go digital by early 2009. As a result, only time and the marketplace will reveal the success of HD Radio.