Changes spurred by the pandemic have prompted two public broadcasters to scale back their use of HD Radio, the heavily promoted technology that never quite caught on despite its promises of better sound quality and new programming streams, reports Current.
Last fall, Wisconsin Public Radio ended more than half of its HD Radio services after its state licensee urged it to cut costs. Meanwhile, Oregon Public Broadcasting stopped producing an HD music stream in part because the pandemic has stifled volunteer participation.
HD Radio rolled out more than a decade ago, with CPB providing grants to help convert hundreds of stations’ transmitters to the technology. But listeners need digital radios to enjoy the higher-fidelity broadcasts and tune into the digital subchannels that some stations use for additional news and music services. With that hurdle in place, adoption has been slow.
According to last year’s Public Radio Techsurvey, conducted by Jacobs Media in partnership with Public Radio Program Directors Association, 14% of respondents — most of whom were selected from public radio stations’ databases — said they use HD Radio. That’s up from 6% in the 2012 version of the survey but still puts HD Radio near the bottom of all technology used by the respondents. By comparison, the 2020 survey showed that 67% of respondents use streaming audio or connect phones in their cars, neither of which Jacobs measured in 2012.
“We really did have high hopes,” said WPR Director Mike Crane, “but obviously we’re not in an environment where such [CPB] grants are going to be coming out again. And so continuing to maintain a service that wasn’t providing real service just wasn’t sustainable.”
In hindsight, HD Radio “just has not turned out to be a boon that people may have hoped that it would become,” said OPB CEO Steve Bass.
Yet some station leaders still see promise for HD Radio through educating consumers about the technology and as more cars come to market with digital radio built in. Xperi, which now owns the technology, reported in an investor deck last year that 52% of U.S. automobiles have HD radio.