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Subterranean HD Blues - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
Subterranean HD Blues
Let's say you owned a company that received a great gift from the gummint: a free and virtually unfettered license to use public property to reach out to hundreds of thousands of local residents. To inform, entertain and even market for your own profit!  And all you need do in response is file some periodic paperwork (pretty menial as this stuff goes), meet some minimal public-service requirements, and keep your language clean.  There's some hardware and royalty cost involved, but most companies like yours have already incurred it. Now that you have this great gift, what would you do with it?

(a) Maximize its potential to reach an audience: encourage listeners to invest in the technology to receive your transmissions and promote it heavily, the way the movie industry has been doing with Blu-Ray the past few years;

(b) Take a middling approach: don't go nuts on the marketing front, but do some promotion of the technology around your corporate holdings so people know it's out there and the way of the future; or

(c) Bury it.  Provide the bare minimum disclosure on other platforms that the property even exists, never ever mentioning it beyond a once-an-hour cryptic reference if you even do that; and treat those who do find out about it with minimal attention and little encouragement of their experience with you.

If the gift in question is something called HD radio, the broadcast industry has answered this question clearly and near-unanimously. And as a lifelong fan of free terrestrial radio, it's really hard to (c) why.


For more than 30 years, I've followed a variety of formats and general weirdness on an FM station at the end of the Western New York dial. I recounted a lot of that history back in 2011 when its Intergalactic Megacorp owners flipped the frequency from a lovely mix of rock to a simulcast of scree from one of their local right-wing AM talkers.  That experiment lasted just over two years, when the simulcast ratings were lower than anything ever put on it before, and since 2013, it's been switched back to a music format. It's alt-rock, and hit-or-miss whenever I tune into it, but here's the weird thing:  all during the hate-speech era and even now, the cool format from "The Lake" is still streaming on the Internet, and over the public airwaves on 107.7 WLKK-HD2.

And I'm one of about five people to notice.

I did almost randomly, finding that the 1077TheLake.com website is still active, still playing the same kinds of songs with no repeats or interruptions that they did when they were on regular FM. I now alternate them with WRUR in my earbuds and through my car speakers for most of the week.

In terms of creative additions to the music, it ain't much. No local DJs, pretty much an endless loop of tunes, and, here's the best part, no commercials.  The stream is a little wonky and my phone can't always get it- and the displays of the song being played are often ahead of or behind what's in my ear-  but so what?

Perhaps stranger is that this same programming is actually broadcast over the airwaves to anyone who has an HD receiver to get the current FM content on WLKK-HD1- but by all indications, nobody does.  The Alt-Buffalo station has never mentioned it on the air within my hearing, and I've never seen a mention in any other medium about it.  (Exception: I did discover that they've set up a rudimentary Facebook page for the thing, titled Subterranean HD Radio- which is semi-regularly updated, and which 94 actual people (including me) have Liked.)

So back to the question posed earlier- why does the owner of this frequency do so little to promote it, use it, even try to make a shekel off it?


Some of it is techstupidity.  Unlike most open-source innovations that changed technological realities like .mp3 audio, HD radio in this country is completely proprietary- the intellectual-property-protected bailiwick of a company called iBiquity. In fact, they will tell you (possibly in a cease-and-desist letter from their lawyers) that HD does not stand for high definition (which it is), or hybrid digital (which it also is), but rather that it stands for nothing except iBiquity's right to exploit it.

And thus, their miserly control of the market has impeded the growth and innovation that might have been. There's been virtually no supply of, or demand for, HD radios in either homes or cars, even though the hardware has come down significantly in cost since the introduction of the technology.  It also hasn't helped that the government hasn't forced the switch from analog radio signals the way it did a few years back by taking back the analog portion of the TV-channel spectrum. (Most people barely noticed that change because they don't get their TV over the air in a cable-dominated nation; on the other hand, except for a few odd places, cable delivery of any kind of radio signals is virtually unheard of.)

If I could install an HD radio adapter in my car, or order it from the factory, for under 100 bucks, I probably would. Likewise, if an HD-Man type receiver came along that would receive the signals and be playable through my car or home audio systems for similar cost, it'd be something I'd consider.  Yet neither manufacturers nor broadcasters seem to have any interest in making those options available- and given the possibility (already commented on here) that cars won't have ANY factory-installed radio receivers a decade from now, I suspect they're just circling the wagons to protect their much more profitable analog-signal businesses while the Get Off My Lawn Generation is still alive to listen to them.
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