Thursday, August 2, 2007

CPRB Commentary, by Jimmy James Jr.

CPRB Readers,

Today, I want to address some great comments and questions from one of our many Anonymous readers of (and posters to) Colorado Public Radio Blog.

Anonymous asks: "Why the apparent reverence for CPR's so-called 'legacy' AM stations? A 'legacy' of what? Weak signals and poor transmission? Static? Whining? Buzzing? Fading out in underpasses? And let's not overlook AM's tinny audio quality, which is very fatiguing to the ears."

Jimmy James responds: These are all great questions. My definition of legacy is, “of or pertaining to old or outdated computer hardware, software, or data that, while still functional, does not work well with up-to-date systems.” And to this definition, Anonymous agrees when s/he states, “Indeed, AM technology is antique . . . ”. So, a fully functional antique then? Well, that really sounds like the definition of legacy to me. And, the legacy AM band is still being used a lot, despite its less-than-perfect qualities.

Jimmy James continues: However, then anonymous uses some definitional trickery (one might even call it, linguistic creativity) to suggest that the AM stations “Colorado Public Radio acquired . . . in 2001,” are not “old” to they who acquired them. While this is historically accurate, it changes the meaning of legacy to rather refer to “anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor.” Obviously, Colorado Public Radio paid for (presumably with listener contributions and/or grants), and therefore, did not receive 1340-AM Denver, 1490-AM Boulder, or 1280-AM Pueblo as “hand downs.”

And in the opinion of Anonymous (and presumably Colorado Public Radio), the single reason it was done was “to serve CPR's news and information listeners in Denver, Boulder and Pueblo.” CPRB agrees with this statement, that Colorado Public Radio believes that they (the company) made a rational decision to serve its listeners. We will leave it to others to decide the wisdom of this decision. At Colorado Public Radio Blog, we are neutral with regard to that decision, or this particular statement made by Anonymous.

Finally, the last sentence here that AM stations are “not exactly the stuff of which 'legacies' are made," is just more of the same—definition changing for the sake of misdirection or style.

Anonymous states: "But (Surprise!) technology has marched forward. Thanks to HD radio, today's FM stations have the capability to transmit multiple programs on a single frequency. On HD1, KVOD has never sounded better on FM. On HD2, KCFR has never sounded better on FM or AM. And CPR's stations are not alone. Eleven (11) other Denver stations are multi-casting with two channels. Others will follow."

Jimmy James responds: Of course, HD radio is of better quality than analog FM, just as analog FM is of better quality than analog AM. CPRB authors have never made a claim stating the technical merits of these terms or technologies, including multi-casting. Of course, Colorado Public Radio Blog authors and its readers are not the least bit surprised about “ . . . technology marching forward,” which is why in the original post that Anonymous rebutted, CPRB mentioned streaming bit-rates and their relationship to audio quality (fidelity), to broadband, and to the many digital technologies and services which most households in America already possess. Luddites indeed!

For example, a Pew/Internet: Pew Internet & American Life study from back in August 2004 said that “Broadband Penetration [was] on the Upswing: 55% of Adult Internet Users Have Broadband at Home or Work." By 2005-2006, broadband penetration continued to grow in the United States and indeed, even faster worldwide. And by 2010, total broadband penetration in the US is estimated to be 62% of all households or 71 million total broadband subscribers. Of course, some of these statistics are a 2-3 years old, but they support the point that many people and households in America already possess a means of receiving digital, radio broadcasts delivered in both high- and low-quality streams. Additionally, in many American households the ratio of computers to users continues to rise, as membership declines and computer purchases rise. Thus, many American households have at least two digital radio receivers; one for each computer attached to the broadband pipe.

So, if you have cable broadband or a digital subscriber line (DSL) connection at home, you can maximize the costs you already pay (for Internet, telephone, and television service) by listening to thousands of your favorite radio stations online; not to mention the digital-quality music subscribers probably also receive from their cable or satellite television provider. And, the digital quality of the stream is determined by the bandwidth subscribers already pay for, and the quality (bit-rate) at which radio stations choose to stream.

Finally, most American households (especially households which include children, teens, and younger adults) also have and use many other digital devices commonly referred to as portable music players, digital audio players, MP3 Players, and/or hard-disc drive players like Apple’s I-Pod. Once again, my original post points out that many Americans already own digital players, which when combined with broadband connections, computers, online music services, podcasts (audio and video,) and web streams (radio and television), provide high-quality content along with portability. Colorado Public Radio Blog simply suggested that readers of the blog might maximize the digital technology they already had—investing in upgrading and purchasing these items in place of HD-radio, given the current costs of HD radio investment.

Of course it is true that if HD radio becomes popular and HD radio technology become commodifed to the degree that computers, broadband, and portable music players have, then prices for HD radio receivers (for both automobile and home) will likely drop. In fact, they have already dropped substantially in the past few years. However, these costs are not nearly as low as Anonymous suggests, especially if the average American household attempts to replace every existing (standard) AM/FM radio with an comparable HD model.

Anonymous provides this link for pricing comparisons with Ibiquity Digital Corporation:

Jimmy James responds:

HD Tabletop Radios

  1. Sony HD Radio (coming soon): $199.
  2. Accurian by Radio Shack: $199.
  3. Boston Accoutics Receptor Radio HD: $299.
  4. Cambridge SoundWorks 820HD: $299.
  5. Directed Electronics: DHHD-1000: $249.
  6. Polk Audio I-Sonic Entertainment System: $599.
  7. Radio-Osophy HD100 Receiver: $99.
  8. Sangean HDR-1: $249.
  9. Visteon HD Jump: $299.
  10. Visteon HD Pulse: $199.

HD Stereo Components (tuners)

  1. Audio Design Components: prices not listed.
  2. DaySequerra Components: $1595 to $7995.
  3. Rotel Components: $199 to $795.

HD Automotive Adapters

  1. Dice Electronics HD Dice Module: $199.
  2. Directed Electronics: Directed Car Component DMHD-1000: $199.

HD Automotive Radios

  1. JVC KD-HDR1: $199.
  2. Sony XT 100-HD: $199.
  3. Kenwood KTC-HR100: $199 (tuner box only).
  4. Alpine TUA-T500HD Tuner Module: $199 (tuner box only).

Jimmy James continues: Colorado Public Radio Blog provided the Cambridge SoundWorks 820HD at $299 (tabletop) and the JVC KD-HDR1 at $199 (automobile) as fair representations of current HD radio costs to the consumer--$500 to replace one tabletop HD radio and to replace one automobile unit. We also indicated that installation costs, shipping and handling, and taxes were extra. Thus, the link that Anonymous provide does not refute, rather it defends our claim. By stating that “prices begin at $99 and will decline further,” is factually correct, but it is also misleading.

If we take these ten, tabletop HD radios (as a representative sample) for example, add up the suggested retail prices (before any additional costs listed above) and then divide by ten (the number of total radios), the average price for an HD radio (today) is $269. As you can see, this number is slightly less than that example given by Colorado Public Radio Blog, but substantially more than the “starting at $99” provided by Anonymous. Public radio listeners are astute media consumers, and they know this tactic of starting at quite well. If however, we drop the high- and low-priced radios ($599 and $99 respectively) from the calculation, and summed the remaining eight table top HD radios, the average price drops to $249 per radiostill very close to the $299 originally quoted by Colorado Public Radio Blog.

Finally, how many AM/FM radios does the current American household own and use? Well, if my household is representative, we have and we use all of the following:

  1. Two cars; two AM/FM radios with standard CD capability.
  2. One home entertainment system with AM/FM tuner.
  3. Two clock radios with AM/FM tuners.
  4. One portable AM/FM radio in the basement.
  5. One AM/FM shower radio.
  6. One FM-only tuner on a flash player.
  7. One portable AM/FM at the office.

As you can see, AM/FM radios are pretty ubiquitous--we have nine total non-HD radios in use in one home! So, how many HD radios will you buy to replace the ones we already own? At what cost? Will you buy one, two, or more? If you only by one--perhaps an inexpensive $99 one with cheap, tinny-sounding speakers--where will you place it in your house? In other words, which one will you replace? Will your take your new, single HD radio with you from room to room or from home to work--and back? From your home to your car? There is one radio from Visteon designed just for that dual purpose, by the way.

And, at what price will you pay for HD radio sets when you already have digital devices (computers, televisions, and handhelds) that deliver high-fidelity news, entertainment, and music in ways you already listen? Logical people make economically rational decisions, especially when given complete information--the costs and benefits--regarding their purchases.

At Colorado Public Radio Blog, we welcome the debate about the true costs and benefits of HD radio, so please come back later to this blog where Jimmy James Jr. will continue to comment on points, observations, and arguments posed recently by Anonymous, because as Robert A. Heinlein said, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

--Jimmy James Jr.


PocketRadio said...

Finally, may be the good news we have been waiting for - time to put an end to the jamming:

"HD Radio - Wherefore Art Thou?"

"Just contemplate that thought for a second before moving on, because there's something around the corner that may cripple HD Radio far worse than lackluster consumer interest, or inability to get the product on store shelves. Second's up. If the push to make broadcast radio pay the same exorbitant fees for "performance royalties" that internet radio is facing wins, every side-channel that's in this rush to HD will be included in the invoice. How's that for an HD Radio killer?"

"House Judiciary Committee Hearing on Broadcast Performance Right - No Breaks for the Broadcasters"

"Congressman Howard Berman chairs the subcommittee, and he opened the hearing with a summary of the issues - indicating that he expected that the committee would move legislation this year to impose a performance royalty on broadcasters."

Here's an excellent reason NOT to invest in HD.

Cletus said...

HD radio does not inspire me to go out and buy a new tuner or adapter. I can't imagine going to Circuit City, Best Buy, or Radio Shack and spending $200 for an adapter so that I can listen to HD radio in my old minivan.

I take many long driving trips and listen to public radio when I can find it. If I can't find a public radio station while driving, I do what I suspect 98% of drivers do - look for another station or pop a CD in the player. Heck, I'd rather spend $200 on a couple of portable DVD players for the kids to use on those long rides. Can't you just hear a kid's response to: "but listen kids, it's HD radio!" I'm sure it would be met with yawns.

HD radio; it's the new Betamax.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous", whose comments prompted JJ's Commentary and Commentary-Part 2, has posted a response under Commentary-Part 2, dated August 3, 2007.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous", whose comments prompted JJ's Commentary and Commentary-Part 2, has posted a response under Commentary-Part 2, dated August 3, 2007.