Retailing Giant Wal-Mart Lends a Hand to HD Radio

Wal-Mart has begun selling high-definition radios for less than $200 in almost 2,000 stores, a possible boost for the little known technology.

Like its television counterpart, HD radio represents a step forward in broadcasting technology. The sound quality is much clearer than conventional radio. And like television, HD radio has been slow to take off with consumers, in part because they need a special receiver to hear it — which until now could only be purchased at specialty retailers.

The decision by Wal-Mart to sell the receivers opens up a big new potential market for the product, says analyst Jimmy Schaeffler from the Carmel Group.

"When they acquire the right to distribute and market a consumer electronics product, very typically that is a lightning rod for future success," Schaeffler said.

HD Radio is being promoted by broadcasters, including many public radio stations, who are anxious to keep listeners from defecting to satellite radio.

The new medium is a potential goldmine for broadcasters. They can use part of the digital spectrum to offer new programming streams. But Schaeffler says that, unlike satellite companies XM and Sirius, many HD radio broadcasters have yet to take advantage of the technology and don't yet offer much new programming.

"Most of that is carrying the same signal that's already carried," he said. "In a few instances, I've heard of broadcasters who are starting to alter the signal. But the bottom line is the content victory still goes to XM and Sirius."

Broadcasters say that's changing. The HD Digital radio Alliance said in a statement Monday that some 1,100 radio stations now broadcast in HD format, and more than half offer alternative program streams. They also say they plan a major new marketing campaign to introduce consumers to the new technology.

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