Radio behemoth Clear Channel Communications is going digital. The San Antonio company plans to covert at least 1,000 of its 1,240 radio stations to so-called HD, or high-definition, digital signals.

Radio behemoth Clear Channel Communications is going digital.

The San Antonio company plans to covert at least 1,000 of its 1,240 radio stations to so-called HD, or high-definition, digital signals. The move is an effort to catch up with satellite radio, which boasts CD-quality sound, as well as other entertainment options such as digital television.

"For radio to broadcast only in analog, it really puts us at a competitive disadvantage," says John Hogan, CEO of Clear Channel Radio. "Digital radio allows us to compete much more effectively with all the other media that's out there. It's become an incredibly competitive landscape, with HDTV, with the Internet, with cable, with satellite radio."

Clear Channel has been testing digital radio at about eight of its stations over the past year, in partnership with iBiquity Digital Corp. The company wasn't ready for a more aggressive rollout until now because "it was new technology and we wanted to make absolutely sure that it worked," Hogan says. "We've gotten comfortable with the technology and we're enthusiastic about getting behind it."

The company plans to upgrade its stations, at a cost of about $100,000 each, "as quickly and aggressively" as possible, a process that may take between two and four years, Hogan says. Clear Channel, which will start with its top 100 markets, is working with iBiquity on the rollout.

Rival radio station operators, such as Cox Radio Inc. and Entercom Communications Corp., also have transitioned some of their stations to digital.

But Clear Channel, by far the largest radio station owner in the nation, expects its heft to have a significant impact on the industry. "Our commitment really makes digital radio a reality," Hogan says. "It signals very clearly to car manufacturers and makers of the digital-radio receivers that there will be a reason to make them."

The move is the latest in a series of steps that Clear Channel has taken to help improve the fortunes of the radio industry, which has been suffering amid an unexpectedly sluggish recovery in advertising revenue. Last week Clear Channel unveiled a plan to reduce ad time at its radio stations to help reduce the glut of advertising inventory, which has hurt the industry's pricing power.

As part of its move to digital, Clear Channel Radio also will announce today (July 22) that it has promoted Kevin Lockhart to the newly created position of senior VP of technology development. He will be charged with identifying and developing technologies that improve the quality of radio for listeners and advertisers.


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