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Retailing Giant Wal-Mart Lends a Hand to HD Radio

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Retailing Giant Wal-Mart Lends a Hand to HD Radio

Technology

Retailing Giant Wal-Mart Lends a Hand to HD Radio

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RENÉE MONTAGNE, host:

And Wal-Mart's probably hoping to drown out that news with this. Yesterday, the company announced it's now selling digital radio receivers. The move by the nation's largest retailer to sell HD radios could boost the fortunes of the technology, which some hope will be able to compete with satellite radio.

NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI: Like its television counterpart, HD radio represents a step forward in broadcast 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 of the Carmel Group.

Mr. JIMMY SCHAEFFLER (Analyst, Carmel Group): When they acquire the right to distribute and market a consumer electronics product, very typically that is a lighting rod for future success.

ZARROLI: 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 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.

Mr. SCHAEFFLER: Most of that is carrying the same signal it's already carried. In the few instances I've heard of broadcasters that are starting to alter the signal. But the bottom line is the content victory still goes to XM and Sirius.

ZARROLI: But broadcasters say that's changing. The HD Digital Radio Alliance said in a statement, yesterday, that some 1,100 radio stations now broadcast in HD format, and more than half have begun offering alternative programming streams. They also say they plan a major new marketing campaign to introduce consumers to the new technology.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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