HD Radio's High Hopes for 2016

2015 was a potentially pivotal year for HD Radio, if only for a changing of the guard in the system’s ownership. In September, audio technology company DTS Inc. announced the acquisition of iBiquity Digital Corporation, the proprietor of the HD Radio Standard, for $172 million. Last month, DTS’ chairman and CEO, Jon Kirchner, penned a paean to the technology in an industry trade.
Calling HD “the biggest advancement in terrestrial radio broadcasting since the advent of FM radio,” Kirchner is obviously very upbeat on the technology’s prospects. His biggest hope is pinned to using HD Radio as a pipeline for “wider adoption of HD Radio and various DTS technologies,” supposedly working in concert, primarily in the automotive space. This, Kirchner believes, will foster an “independent and neutral [digital radio] platform for the radio industry.”
Two weeks after penning this missive, DTS announced a management shakeup at iBiquity. Founding CEO Bob Struble has been set aside (to become a “special advisor” to Kirchner) while iBiquity chief operating officer Jeff Jury was promoted to a new managerial-level position within DTS responsible for both “Automotive” and HD Radio.
In a statement, Struble said that as the acquisition was formalized “it became clear that the role and leadership requirements of the HD Radio business going forward were not the best match with my skill set and aspirations” — qualities that have never been fully obvious during Struble’s tenure at the HD helm. Jury’s been Struble’s #2 since 1997, with the task of facilitating HD’s rollout as his primary professional objective, so it’s not like there’s an infusion of fresh blood into the patient going on here.
Industry thought/cheer-leader Fred Jacobs calls iBiquity’s purchase by DTS “game-changing conditions.” However, these aren’t outlined in any substantive way, other than to note that DTS’ focus on “the confluence of the radio and automotive industries” might bring some spark to the HD system’s adoptive trajectory. Just this month, a couple of new FM-HD stations went on the air in Bangladesh, which I guess represents some sort of adoptive trajectory, even if the only party crowing about it is the company who sold the transmitters.
Rich Rarey, the technical editor of Radio World Engineering Extra, also put forth ambitious prognostications for HD Radio in the new year. In addition to hoping for HD adoption in mobile devices and stations “boost[ing] their data capacity” to support new services, he’d also like to see the development of FM-HD transmitters and receivers in kit form “each driven by a Raspberry Pi computer (sold separately).
“Young engineers can build the kit, plug it into a Raspberry Pi and have hours of fun transmitting audio and data (even files!) around their house. . . .Truly, this would stimulate sizable interest in HD Radio by making it real and available to students, Do-It-Yourselfers, hobbyists and the technology-curious.”
All of these folks are smart, which makes the ignorance of their expectations so interesting. The hurdles to further adoption of HD Radio technology are systemic in nature. They’re hurdles caused by the system’s very design and business model. DTS may laud its acquisition of a wireless data conduit into the automotive space, but folks there don’t seem to be well-versed in the inherent limitations of the IBOC broadcast model.
Similarly, FM-HD reception in mobile devices would be sweet, as would transmitter-receiver kits, but iBiquty’s intellectual property scheme functionally prohibits consideration of these advancements. Wireless device manufacturers are not about to pay several dollars per unit in royalties to DTS to include marginal functionality, and hacking or otherwise tinkering with the HD standard is verboten by technology licensing agreements the company acquired along with the system itself.
It’s as if everyone is talking about HD Radio not as the technology as it is, but as the technology it could be, and you can’t really have honest consideration of the latter without honest recognition of the former. Fortunately, some of these aspirations can be achieved if DTS et al. are willing to rethink aspects of its approach to HD Radio’s research/development and business model. For the last 15 years, that’s been a non-starter, so I’m not holding my breath.

2 thoughts on “HD Radio's High Hopes for 2016”

  1. Probably, 2016 will be a good year for HD Radio, at least in Mexico, where will be auctioned 233 FM Channels for new stations along the country. The interesting point, is that one of the aspects that will count — besides the money — to grant the new licences is that the regulator will give bonus points to the participants if they transmit in HD in short term.
    More info:
    Mexico’s Acution Programs:
    http://www.ift.org.mx/sites/default/files/p_ift_ext_260315_70.pdf
    http://www.ift.org.mx/sites/default/files/anexo_1_pabf.pdf
    Draft of auction rules (check page 9 of 48):
    http://www.ift.org.mx/sites/default/files/industria/temasrelevantes/5982/documentos/basesift-4-opinionpublica_1.pdf
    Valuation formula (check pages 11 and 12):
    http://www.ift.org.mx/sites/default/files/industria/temasrelevantes/5982/documentos/apendicebift4_1.pdf

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