A Message from Eric Rhoads, Radio Ink
Note: So you don't read deep into this story and then realize I'm going to ask you to spend $35, I'm telling you up front. Read further.
A Stink Over HD Radio Broadcasting
By now you know that I've made a stink about the HD Radio broadcasting effort from time to time. It all started a few years ago, when I asked the guys at iBiquity to send me an HD Radio unit for evaluation. Frankly, it was not a good experience. Of course, many believe HD Radio technology is the savior of radio and allows radio to compete in a digital world. But I have not been fully convinced. Radio's salvation will be the moment we return to a commitment to entertainment and localism, industrywide.
Plus, the HD Radio Alliance believes that offering more formats on HD2s and HD3s is a way to provide the same diverse choices listeners are getting elsewhere. I haven't fully bought that, either.
So Am I or Am I Not a Fan of HD Radio Broadcasting?
Though I'm not convinced the strategy for the HD Radio broadcasting rollout is the right one, I do believe that better audio fidelity, more choices, and more services for listeners are good things. I have grown accustomed to artist and song information with satellite radio, and I expect it from radio now. And HD does offer song titles and artists.
So is HD a good thing for radio? It can't hurt and might help. And, since radio groups have converted almost 2,000 stations, and since more manufacturers have committed to HD Radio products, it's not going away.
So Why Hasn't HD Taken Off, Eric?
I believe the biggest issues have to do with the need for an argument so powerful that every consumer will want to go out and get one. I also believe expense has been a problem. Most of the HD Radio units I've seen are expensive.
Of course, people don't just go out and change their car radios on a whim. It usually happens when they buy a new car. And I'm not sure consumers have been sufficiently persuaded to invest in an expensive radio just so they can try out HD, especially when they're used to radios being fairly inexpensive. All these issues have created a slow start -- though the people at iBiquity say that there have been over a million HD Radio units sold, and sales are more than doubling every year.
A Wakeup Call
Recently on my blog someone said, "Eric, perhaps you should stop complaining about others and lead this industry by taking action on your own." He was right. Leadership is about taking action if I don't like where things are going. It dawned on me that I need to take action to move the needle on HD. So I started thinking.... What can I do to help HD Radio broadcasting take off? What action can I take? How can I provide the missing leadership?
Many companies launch products quietly by identifying thought leaders, giving them the product, and allowing the word to spread virally through that leadership. MINI Cooper did this when it gave cool people in markets across the U.S. MINIs to drive. When the cool people were seen in MINIs, their friends wanted them too. The product spread virally before it was heavily marketed.
So who are the influential thought leaders and cool people? It just so happens that some of the most influential thought leaders in America are ... drumroll, please ... radio people.
A Crack in the Radio Foundation
"This is easy," I thought. Since radio people are such influential thought leaders, we should be able to start an HD movement with radio people, right? But all those spots we ran on all those stations didn't seem to move the needle much. What's up with that?
The more I asked around, the more I understood that there was a crack in the foundation. Most radio people have never even experienced HD Radio broadcasting, including most of the employees at companies that offer it. How will we ever get a movement if the radio industry, at the grass-roots level, can't experience HD? How likely is it that most radio people will go drop a few hundred bucks for a desktop HD Radio receiver? Shouldn't every DJ, every AE, every manager own an HD radio? Of course.
The Little Box That Made FM Boom
OK, I'll admit it. I was born in the dark ages, and I was around when no one had FM radios other than home stereos (of which there were very few). But the only FM stations were elevator music stations. When FM rock stations started coming on the air in the late '60s and early '70s, the unique content drove adoption (something we need to do on HD -- underground content!). But you couldn't find FM radios to buy, and you certainly couldn't find FM car radios. Or if you did, they were expensive. But a little box changed everything. Audiovox came out with a $15 converter unit ($50 in today's money) that received an FM signal and put it through the AM in your car radio. Every kid I knew had one, and that's what drove FM adoption until FM radios became more available and less expensive. That is what is needed for HD Radio broadcasting.
The Biggest Pitch of My Career
For all the grief I give HD Radio broadcasting, I have to admit that the people at iBiquity are really willing to listen. Of course, they want to see HD become a huge success. So I scheduled a call with CEO Bob Struble and some of his top people, and I said, "I want a small, inexpensive HD Radio receiver. My goal is to put it in the hands of every employee at every radio station in America. I want something that is portable, something with mighty HD sound that I can carry in my pocket, that I can listen to at the gym, and that I can plug into my speakers or the audio jack in my car. And I want it for under 50 bucks so every radio person can own one and experience true HD."
"Eric, you want us to manufacture a special radio for you?" said one executive. "Are you nuts? Do you know what it would cost to do that?"
"Yes, and I need it before Christmas. If you do this, it will be the foundation for launching HD because radio people will have it, experience it, embrace it, and start spreading the word like never before."
(Another long pause.)
My Biggest Sale Yet
Now, I make my living as a salesman, and I like to present bold, audacious ideas. When I presented this, I was sure these guys would mock me, but I persisted, and I was able to convince them to manufacture a special HD Radio unit just for radio people. Not only that, but I convinced them to let me create my own special design and brand.
Putting My Butt on the Line
Once I convinced iBiquity to manufacture a special radio, I realized my butt is on the line. This strategy had better work, or I'll lose all credibility with them, and they'll be sitting on a few carloads of special HD Radio receivers that they can't sell elsewhere, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Plus, I had to act fast. Here it was September, and I had to get my concept, design, prototype, and shipment in time for Christmas.
They said, "We can do it for Christmas in 2010, but not this year, Eric. Be realistic." But I was especially persuasive on this matter and got my way, and iBiquity has pulled out all the stops because they believe that an HD Radio receiver in every employee's hands is good for HD Radio broadcasting.
The Moment of Truth
I was pacing the floor, knowing FedEx would arrive any moment with the prototype. Would it live up to my expectations? When I opened the package, there in front of me was a box with the logo, branding, and packaging I had designed.
"Mighty Red: Radio Ink's Little HD Radio with Booming Sound, by Eric Rhoads"
I named the radio MIGHTY RED to make a point that this little radio had MIGHTY BIG sound. I designed it to be RED because RED is the Radio Ink color, and because it would be easy to find (I'm always losing little things). Plus, these days RED is a symbol for the best of the best. In HD video, for instance, the best video camera in the world is called RED. So why not make my mighty little radio RED because of its awesome quality?
I carefully opened the box, pulled out the radio, charged it in a USB slot, and took it to the gym. On the treadmill, I hit "scan," and the first HD signal I received was KDFC in San Francisco. BOOM. The audio was amazing. Crisp, clear, and booming. I had plugged in my $100 Sony sound-canceling headphones, which is the standard I use to judge the audio on iPods, the Zune, etc. The audio on this little radio was amazing.
The screen told me what station I was listening to and what song. I clicked up to KDFC-HD2. Classic, deep cut tracks that put a smile on my face and took me back to another day. I then went over to KFOG, which was playing a blues tune. I cranked it up, cranked up the speed on the treadmill, and my mind got lost in the sound. The audio was absolutely blow-me-away perfect. All from this tiny -- and truly mighty -- little red radio. I kid you not. This little radio is absolutely mighty and has the best small radio audio I've ever heard in my life. It's so good I'm actually excited about it and can't wait for you to try it.
Your Role in Radio's Future
HD Radio broadcasting isn't going away, and we can all have a hand in its success. If you're in radio and you don't own an HD Radio unit, you simply need to own one, need to listen to HD, need to experience it so you can fall in love with HD audio like I did with my Mighty Red. Without the foundation of people in the radio industry owning HD Radio receivers, we cannot expect to convert the rest of the U.S. to HD listeners. Yet if every person working in radio buys an HD Radio receiver, we will have the foundation we need to influence others.
Billy Mays Would Be Shouting From His Grave
Though I'm starting to sound like the late Billy Mays pitching Magic Putty, this is a limited production run. (I wonder if he was related to Mark and Lowry Mays.) We will not sell these in stores. The exclusive MIGHTY RED by Eric Rhoads was made just for radio people (and your friends and family for Christmas!) with the intent of selling out rapidly. Plus, I convinced the people at iBiquity to create this radio and offer it at a special price of $35, which makes it affordable for every person in radio. And that's important.
How Do You Want to Feel Right Now?
When you own Mighty Red, you'll fall in love with radio all over again. I did. The audio is that good, and the new HD2s and HD3s were playing songs I hadn't heard on radio in years, if ever. I'm very excited about it. And, for the first time, actually excited about HD Radio broadcasting. Now I have a tiny portable HD unit that I can jog with (it comes with an armband holder and headphones), plug into my car audio jack so I have HD in my car, or plug into my stereo at home or the office for HD audio.
If you want to feel great about radio again, and feel great about HD Radio broadcasting, buy a Mighty Red. My goal is for everyone in radio to own one, to build a foundation for HD. If radio employees embrace HD, we will have the launching pad for HD adoption nationwide. It starts with you.
I hope you'll consider buying my custom-designed Mighty Red HD Radio receiver and consider it for Christmas gifts for your friends, clients, etc. Please do it today. There may not be another chance if we sell out today.
PS: These radios have just arrived on the shores of the U.S. and will be released from U.S. Customs at any moment. You cannot buy an equivalent HD Radio receiver at this price anywhere. This is a special offer for the radio industry only, and once our shipment is gone, there will be no more.