Digital Radio: The New American Revolution

by David Faulkner - Date: 2007-07-03 - Word Count: 388 Share This!

Americans are nothing if not selectively fickle. It took almost no persuasion for them to abandon their analog landline technology-based telephones, camera, and record players in favor of digitally based alternatives.

But when it comes to their listening pleasure, Americans have been fighting the digital revolution with as much gusto as they fought the American one. They are however, beginning to come around. Having spotty reception, or none, on long commutes or when in the back country on a recreational outing, or simply because they live in a particularly reception-unfriendly area has finally made many Americans start to take notice of their digital radio options.

The first digital radio alternative is satellite radio. Both Sirius and XM Satellite radio have eliminated the commercials from their digital radio transmissions and are beaming their broadcasts into the automobile receivers of millions of US drivers, no matter where they are located. The glitch is that the service is subscription only, and many older cars do not have the satellite digital radio receivers. And in some large urban areas, the reception is lacking, although Sirius and XM are working on fixes for their problems.

But between them Sirius and XM have still managed to collar only fifteen million of the estimated two hundred and thirty million AM/FM listeners in the US. The two companies have applied to the FCC for permission to discuss a merger, which will cut costs for both. But even a single entity may never move satellite digital radio beyond the niche stage.

The real up-and-comers in the US digital radio field appears to be local radio stations, both because they do not charge their listeners, and because the price of digital radio receivers is beginning to drop rapidly. At the beginning of 2006, a digital radio receiver cost a minimum of $500; now the most expensive are half that. With rebates it is frequently possible to find a digital radio receiver for under $100.

Hybrid digital radio is the result of combining digital power with the regular broadcasting of an AM or FM station. It costs a traditional broadcasting station upwards of $100,000 to make the transition to Hybrid Digital technology, and even then they have to pay royalties to iBiquity, which developed the process. But more than 1300 radio stations have either bought, or plan to buy, the necessary equipment.

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