Can the HD Radio experience be of use in regional Australia. #NABShow

The 2022 NAB Show is already underway in Las Vegas, and fresh from presenting some new research on HD radio in the US, Xperi SVP Broadcast Radio, Joe D’Angelo (pictured), sat down with radioinfo’s Wayne Stamm.

Joining the conversation was Commercial Radio Australia’s Head of Digital, Jamie Chaux, to add an Australian perspective and view on what might be gained from the HD experience in the States.


radioinfo: We’re talking about a couple of the presentations that are going to be made at NAB this year. Joe you’ve already done one of those presentations and taken a look at some very interesting studies that have been done recently about the penetration of HD radio, especially here in the US.

Joe D’Angelo: Yes, I finished a session today on actually UX guidelines (NABA Radio In-car User Experience) for in-car receiver design and that that went very well. And what’s really exciting about not only the work of the UX group, but the progress of HD radio, is we’re now at 85 million vehicles on the road.

And so we surveyed users of the technology and 91% of them came back and said that HD radio has significantly improved their radio listening experience.

74% of people said they would not buy another new car unless it had HD radio, which is very affirming.


radioinfo: That’s a really interesting figure, isn’t it? 74% and you’ve also had some news about one of the major manufacturers now going all in with HD.

Joe D’Angelo: That’s right. A couple months ago our CEO announced in our earnings call, that Toyota has now standardized an HD radio here in North America, which is, you know, fantastic. They’ve they always have been a great partner of ours and had a very high application rate. But now in the US, you can’t buy a Toyota without HD radio, so it’s fantastic.


radioinfo: Now, the development of the sets in the cars also has come a long way. And there you see some benefits from the Australian market’s point of view.

Joe D’Angelo: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we’ve been at this now 20 years between DAB+ and HD radio and the supply chain. The people that build the chips and the tuners that go into the car have really driven the cost down in those solutions, and there’s now solutions that support both HD Radio and DAB, which is going to make the building materials cost for the OEMs much cheaper.

They are going to be able now to build really one broadcast radio, regardless of whether it’s HD radio or DAB, load the right software on the radio and ship it where it needs to go.

And I’m just very excited about that with the European Electronic Communication Code in Europe making, you know, DAB more or less mandatory in all cars and the high penetration here in the US of HD radio.

I think it’s only a matter of time before you start to see increased vehicle penetration in other DAB markets around the world.


radioinfo: You’ve been developing also some things for the Australian market for quite some time now. So you want to touch a little about what’s been happening there?

Joe D’Angelo: Sure. Yeah, we have an office in Sydney and we’ve been working with the industry really along two lines.

We are the app developers for RadioApp partnering with Commercial Radio Australia to bring an aggregated mobile phone solution to the broadcast community in Australia. And then we’ve also partnered with CRA to provide a platform where all of their members content can be seamlessly fed into DTS AutoStage , which is our hybrid radio solution, that combines analogue DAB+ and IP content to deliver an absolutely amazing user experience driving discovery and engagement of radio like never before.


radioinfo: Jamie as Head of Digital in Australia for CRA, this is it’s a big move. So what are you looking at now.?

Jamie Chaux:  We are looking at what we can do to grow digital audio listening. So we’ve been through obviously a very set of challenging times with the pandemic and the impact that it’s had on listening to radio in the car in Australia.

The fantastic news is that car radio listening is bouncing back further now that DAB is now standard in 80% of Australian cars.

And when we look at the listening figures of the DAB only stations as in not the AM or FM simulcasts, we’re seeing these stations start to pull some really interesting numbers.

So what’s going on here is that I think a lot of it has to do with people buying a car and going, wow, look at this, there’s all these extra stations, not unlike the HD experience here in the US. And so it’s creating new take up of stations, which is which is fantastic.

So for us, the opportunities are growing, the listening of these DAB stations growing, listening of radio overall. So the proposition for the consumer, for radio in ‘22 is now about an increased range of services building on top of the big stations that they know and love, that have the big shows and the big live and local content and the breaking news.

There’s these extra niches now and then looking at how can we make sure that these services remain prominent and easily accessible in places like the car?


radioinfo: So the one question I think that everybody wants to know the answer to is, you know, I’ve got an iPhone and I’m plugging it into my car and I’m able to pick up Spotify or TuneIn in the car now, so why do I need to be looking at, you know, HD or DAB+ or a new tuner for my car? Either one of you want to take it up?

Jamie Chaux:  I think we’re still at a point, and we will be for a long time, in which for … a lot of people making those types of content decisions that you have to engage with an app to listen to content is just too hard.

And looking at the, as an example, the DTS AutoStage implementation it is actually better than a music streaming experience and so nice vibrant on screen visuals,  great sound quality via DAB and even FM .

Radio still continues to play a very important role, but particularly I think because Australian broadcasters pay so much commitment to live and local content that you can’t replicate that in music streaming and you can’t replicate that via the echo chamber of of a music algorithm.

Joe D’Angelo: Yes, I would absolutely echo that statement. Radio’s strength is its live and local and radio builds community in the physical world.

These digital platforms, the echo chamber, you build community in a virtual world.

People are longing for that connection to community and I think radio has to continue to exploit that, has to reach out and connect with their listeners like no other medium can. It cannot be replaced.

And I see radio in the U.S. doubling down on that, you know, putting more and more live on air, talent on air, around the clock. I think if they do that and they are deliberate in the technology choices they make and the partners that they choose to trust to bring the digital future into the dash, I think radio has a very, very strong future.


radioinfo: We’ve seen this evolution, I guess, of radio and digital coming together, and it seems to have taken a lot longer than I thought that it would in the first place. Has that been a surprise to you or frustrating as far as you’re concerned?

Joe D’Angelo: Absolutely frustrating. You know, we all want things to move quicker and at the pace that we think they should move. But the reality is broadcast radio around the world is a massive infrastructure.

If you think about how many radio stations there are, how many transmitters, how many towers, and then you think about the design cycles and the product development process in the automotive space.

We were in a meeting at Apple years ago when we were developing a platform called iTunes Tagging, and I remember the executives sitting across from me said, “You guys are going to need to be patient. You’re in an infrastructure play. Infrastructures take a decade or longer to migrate.”

And it definitely bore out. I mean, it’s taken us a long time to get to where we are, but we are in a very, very solid place from a broadcast infrastructure and from an OEM product development and deployment. So I’m frustrated, yes, I was warned years ago, and I think the perseverance and commitment of the industry is really bearing fruit now.


radioinfo: So you’ve also seen a better growth here with the number of stations and with the number of cars that have come online with HD radio.

Joe D’Angelo: Better, I think is obviously a relative term. We’ve been very pleased with the commitment of broadcast radio stations, conversion HD radio here in the States.

They did the most important thing first, they converted the towers that had the largest audience from both commercial and public service perspective.

Now, over time, the cost of conversion is coming down dramatically. It used to be $50 – $60,000 a station. Now it’s down to about nine, eight, $9,000 a station. So it’s much more accessible to the medium and the small market broadcasters to make that investment in their infrastructure, and they’re doing it.

On the other side of the equation is you want to convert at the time when your audience can benefit from your investment in technology, and it took us time to get cars on the road. We’re now selling at or above 50% of all new cars. 85 million cars on the road.

So if I’m a broadcaster, say, in New York City, where our penetration rate is about 65% of all cars on the road, it’s a much safer decision for me to invest in that technology because I know my audience can benefit immediately. So it’s the traditional chicken and egg dilemma. But I think we’re at a very good place now for a natural and continued evolution of the deployment.


radioinfo: So Jamie, do you see that the AM conversions here to HD, is that beneficial or of interest in Australia as well?

Jamie Chaux:  I think it is. AM is still very big in Australia and you know, in markets like Sydney and Melbourne the number one station is AM and often the number one and two stations are.

And so I think about your your question a few moments ago about about perhaps how long it has taken to move to digital, I think another way of looking at it is that for a long time AM and FM have been very successful business models and actually continue to be very, very successful business models.

And so while DAB has started in Australia, there’s, there’s been a chicken and the egg situation and now with you throwing streaming into the mix as well, … how much resources you put into which part of which business.

So where we’re up to now is that there is a greater sense of comfort amongst Australian broadcasters in giving DAB a red hot go with a particularly pleasing example with the launch of DAB on the Gold Coast two weeks ago, and also you’ll find more and more DAB stations, there’s now a bunch of them now with live programming.

Commercial Radio Australia has a new chief executive officer Ford Ennals who started with us this week, and one of the big things that is his focus is growing digital audio consumption.

So we look at the current landscape, we’re through the pandemic, we’ve launched DAB in another market, we’d would obviously like to roll out some more partnerships for us related to places like in-car are crucial and we’re part of a global group of of entities including DTS AutoStage and Joe around ensuring radio stays prominent in the car. So there’s some plenty plenty of green shoots for us at the moment.


radioinfo: And any thoughts about what is likely to happen in non-metro areas at all?

Jamie Chaux:  There’s a few hoops we need to jump through. One big one is spectrum planning around the allocation of spectrum, we don’t just turn it on, we’re reliant on it on the ACMA for for for their spectrum planning.

Plus there are other financials. We don’t have the luxury of (already having) HD, it is more costly to launch, but it’s not prohibitive.

But we just have to work through market by market on what that is, but obviously it is our goal to have DAB in as many markets as we possibly can.


Wayne Stamm and Jamie Chaux

My takeaway from the conversation with Jamie and Joe is that there are now a number of proposals on the table for consideration and that the US conversion of AM stations to HD radio is of real interest, especially for non-metro stations at home.

That is not to say that there will be a rush to adapt HD Radio, or even DRM outside of the cities, or that DAB won’t continue to expand in some of the larger regional markets, but everything appears to be being considered to create better coverage for regional and rural communities.