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HD radio 2010 = FM radio 1950, (not)

I see this statement being made on various forums, blogs and other places.  As some would like to believe, the problem with HD radio is that people don’t like change. A Look at the early days of FM radio in the 1950’s is a good example of this.  FM radio took decades to catch on, HD Radio is no different.  Currently, HD Radio is experiencing “growing pains” and the occasional “bump in the road.”

Except; no, not really.

Here is a side by side comparison:

Problem/issue FM radio 1950 HD radio 2010
Implementation of technology A new band was created and new radios containing the old (AM) and new FM band were manufactured. During the experimental phase (1937-47), the frequencies were between 42-50 MHz. This changed to 88-108 MHz in 1947. Uptake on new radios was slow due to a frequency shift. Existing AM and FM frequencies were utilized using “Hybrid” mode.  This entailed changing existing channel bandwidths arbitrarily.  New receivers with the HD Radio chipset needed to receive broadcasts.
Funding FM radio was implemented by broadcasters who, for the most part, bore the brunt of the costs themselves. The CPB has granted millions of tax payer dollars to public radio stations to implement HD radio with most of that money going to one company, the owner of the proprietary technology.  To date, NPR stations are the single largest user segment of HD radio.
Creation of interference FM broadcasting created no interference to any other broadcasting station when it was rolled out HD radio has created many interference problems, especially on the AM band at night, where skywave propagation makes adjacent channel stations bear the brunt of exceeded bandwidths.  FM is prone to co-carrier interference from higher digital power levels created to solve poor reception issues in addition to adjacent channel interference to adjacent FM broadcasters from exceeded bandwidths.
Lack of consumer awareness or interest Consumers were generally aware of FM radio, however, the FCC created a major stir when forcing FM broadcasters to move from their original frequency band of 42-50 MHz to 88-108 MHz. This move rendered obsolete many FM radios and caused hard feelings amount early FM radio fans. Consumers generally unaware of HD.  Those that are become disappointed with the lack of additional programming choices and poor receiver performance
Technical reception problems FM stations began broadcasting with low power levels and horizontally polarized antennas.  Radio was not yet a mobile medium.  Many FM listeners needed to install outdoor antennas on their homes to get reception.  Radio listeners were willing to undertake this for good reception. HD power levels are less than needed to have reliable reception in buildings and mobile listening environments. A 6 to 10 dB increase has not effectively been implemented nor solved the problem
Audio quality FM broadcasting is markedly superior to AM broadcasting in the areas of noise reduction and fidelity. HD radio offers a slight improvement to “CD quality” which is hard for the average listener to tell apart from typical analog FM.  AM offers increased audio quality over analog, however, due to reception problems, AM receivers often loose data synchronization and return to the analog signal, creating up/down listening experience most find annoying.
Auxillary services, additional channels FM broadcasting did not have any such features in 1950 HD radio offers the choice of 2 additional channels for programming.  These channels are taken from the existing bandwidth/bit rate of the digital carrier and are a lower quality than the main channel.  In addition to that, there is a data channel that can be used to display song titles and such
Programming FM broadcasting began by offering programming unique from AM stations.  The programming often consisted of classical music networks, educational programs, news programs and other such things.  Additionally, commercial FM broadcasting often had fewer commercials than it’s AM counterpart HD radio main channel is the exact duplicate of its analog signal.  HD-2 and HD-3 channel offer a variety of programming choices including simulcasts of AM stations, retransmissions of co-owned out of market stations, syndicated satellite programs, and occasionally a niche format.
Electronic Media availability During the early FM development and implementation the only competing electronic medium was AM radio The choices of electronic media are wide and diverse.  These include TV, satellite radio, internet, 3G wireless, mp3 players, AM and FM radio
Regulatory environment The FCC staff was filled with ex or future RCA employees, who were interested in the status quo, thus keeping FM from becoming too big too fast and competing with the roll out of RCA’s television technology.   Therefore it was hobbled with low power levels and a bizarre station class structure HD radio has enjoyed a rubber stamp environment where large businesses and  the FCC work together to re-write interference regulations with no regard for technical consequences.

The FM roll out in the late forties and early fifties is vastly different from the HD Radio rollout in the zero zeros.  Due to fear of competition and patent disputes, RCA in conjunction with the FCC did all they could to squash the new technology.  That is why FM radio took so long to be accepted by the general public.  For those not versed with the history of FM development and FM broadcasting in the US, see Empire of the Air, by Tom Lewis.  See also: Edwin H. Armstrong.  It is a good read for those radio obsessed.

HD Radio is failing because the consumer is not buying it, I see little to change their mind.

Axiom


A pessimist sees the glass as half empty. An optimist sees the glass as half full. The engineer sees the glass as twice the size it needs to be.

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...radio was discovered, and not invented, and that these frequencies and principles were always in existence long before man was aware of them. Therefore, no one owns them. They are there as free as sunlight, which is a higher frequency form of the same energy.
~Alan Weiner

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