Terrestrial radio strikes back
(CNN) -- Terrestrial radio stations aren't letting satellite take over the airwaves. They're showing signs of striking back.
There's "Jack," the mix-and-match format that's become the hottest trend in terrestrial radio. The format is now available in most major markets, and last year took over New York's venerable oldies station WCBS-FM.
Jack positions '70s classic rock (for example, "More Than a Feeling"), '80s post-punk (perhaps Eurythmics' "Would I Like to You?") and '90s pop (say, Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping") next to each other, as if it's an iPod on "shuffle." The Jack name and format were developed by a Canadian company and is also called regular-guy names like "Dave."
As a recent Slate article observed, the Jack motto is "Playing what we want," expressed in its promos in a lazily defiant voice. However, Jack's playlists are estimated to be about 1,200 songs, according to Slate, more than most radio stations but far fewer than most individual satellite channels.
Terrestrial radio is also streaming stations online and moving into podcasts -- in some cases, letting listeners become programmers.
For example, CBS Radio, the No. 2 station owner, created KYOURadio, a San Francisco, California-based station with all listener-created content, available through podcasts or locally on AM. Listeners are encouraged to make their own radio programs and submit them through the station's Web site (KYOURadio.com).
Finally, terrestrial radio is making a heavy investment in high-definition radio, a digital form of broadcasting that allows up to eight stations to fit into one occupied by an analog signal.
Major radio chains, such as Clear Channel and CBS Radio, are participating in the HD Digital Radio Alliance, "a joint initiative of leading radio broadcasters formed to accelerate the successful rollout of HD Digital Radio," according to a press release. According to Popular Mechanics magazine, it costs about $80,000 to convert a radio station to digital.
The radio industry is trying to avoid the fate of AM stereo, an ill-fated attempt to turn rejuvenate AM music stations in the early '80s. Competing standards -- there were four different AM stereo technologies -- and lack of consumer interest doomed the idea.
"I do think there's potential with high-definition radio," says Mark Fratrik, vice president of BIA Financial Network, a communications research firm. "On the other hand, there aren't a lot of people with HD radios out there."
Currently, fewer than 1,000 of the United States' 12,000 radio stations are broadcasting in HD, though the Alliance expects that figure to reach 1,200 by the end of the year. A developer of the technology told Popular Mechanics the transition to all stations may take another 10 years.
Moreover, HD receivers are just now hitting the marketplace, which means it may take awhile for the technology to filter down to the everyday user. The key, says Fratrik, is to get the technology into cars as original equipment. With major receiver manufacturers hopping on the bandwagon, reports Digital Music News, that day is coming soon.
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