chapter  2
28 Pages

The Developmental Trajectory of U.S. Digital Radio

The constitutive decisions regarding radio’s digital transition were made during the 1990s. At fi rst, U.S. broadcasters tentatively agreed to adopt the same digital radio technology as the rest of the industrialized world; however, reticence among regulators to allocate new spectrum necessary for the service effectively forced broadcasters to invent their own system that could be deployed on the existing AM and FM bands. As research into “in-band” digital broadcasting progressed, the radio industry supported developers based not on the merits of their work, but on who fi nanced their work. Two major proponents of in-band technology would emerge, but only one would be selected as the U.S. standard. Not surprisingly, the developer with the strongest industry ties ended up dominating the process. The FCC was wholly uninvolved in digital radio development and did nothing during the decade to constructively advance the issue. Had regulators been actively engaged in the early stages of digital radio research, the technology ultimately chosen might have represented a signifi cant advancement in broadcasting more generally; instead, the FCC allowed incumbent broadcasters to construct a system that served their own economic interests fi rst, and effectively ignored all other metrics by which to judge its actual viability.