[Response to Surround Yourself feature article in January 2006 RAP]
Good article, Marshall! Too bad it’s all wrong.
I can’t give you a logical explanation as to why 5.1 won’t happen, other than:
1. Who has four ears?
2. Doing great production in 5.1 is too much trouble. (You’ve sort of proved that with your assertion that doing great production — even in stereo — is too much trouble for most stations.)
3. The radios aren’t out there.
4. The music isn’t out there.
5. The hard drive space isn’t in here (my stations).
6. You’re unjustifiably high on the Dolby encoding technique that puts 5.1 into a stereo bandwidth. In the analog days, Dolby was worshiped for pro multi-track tape recorders. For broadcasters in the digital era, Dolby came out with AC-2, which was an inferior audio compression technique to either MUSICAM (at the time, who wanted big license fees and didn’t get them. MUSICAM was quickly dumbed down to a virtually free rip-off called MPEG) or apt-X, and Dolby came out with a digital STL (studio-transmitter link) that added a huge delay so announcers couldn’t listen to the station in their headphones in the studio. Dolby has never yet had a winner in the digital era and has had two loser products. Once someone shoots themselves in the foot the way Dolby has, then reloads and does it again the way Dolby has, broadcast engineers simply brand Dolby Labs as being unworthy of a look at idea #3.
7. Station owners would rather have two different formats (and the potential for two income streams eventually) than one format in 5.1 with the federally mandated stereo channel. Having two different formats on one FM transmitter gives them a new tool to compete either with another broadcaster or satellite.
8. The technology and marketing of HD Radio is simply being botched by the suits in San Antonio and Wall Street who control the purse strings at all the radio companies. Today’s big controversy is what to call the second stereo channel. When the second channel product can’t even be named intelligently, what are its chances of success on any level? (Also remember, these are the people who brought you daytime-only AM radio stations, directional AM stations you could almost see the towers and still not hear the station at night, and automated Mantovani radio stations for 30 years.)
9. Sirius and XM each have more than 100 music channels, plus traffic and weather. If anybody in broadcasting will do 5.1, it’s likely to be satellite radio. Over-the-air free radio stations won’t even think about 5.1 unless or until Sirius or XM forces them into it.
10. My crystal ball is as good as anybody’s in the radio industry. I was fortunate to find a nice banker in the 80’s who would loan me money and a trusting wife who let me bet money we didn’t have so I could position Century 21 and TM Century where my crystal ball said “the puck is going to be” by inventing/marketing production libraries on CD, oldies compilation libraries on GoldDisc CD and new music weekly on HitDisc CDs when I was CEO.
Then I also had a good crystal ball when I invented/marketed music on hard drive and touch screen automation as owner and CEO of Scott Studios. All I can say is I personally hear the magic and wonder of 5.1, but all I think it’s good for is bringing people into movie theatres. It will sell home video systems to videophiles. It’s not going to do much for music to the few audiophiles out there. The trickle-down effect simply won’t make it down to the radio broadcast industry.
The stars simply don’t align in the direction of 5.1.