Jeffrey Yorke, Radio and Records
Sept 29, 2008, 03:29 PM ET

To the delight of radio broadcasters, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) took time off from Congress’ bipartisan effort to save the economy to introduce a bill that would require satellite and radio receiver manufacturers to include in all receivers sold in the U.S. the ability to receive HD Radio signals. Markey, who is also chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, introduced the ‘‘Radio All Digital Channel Receiver Act’’ over the weekend.

“Millions of Americans today rely on local broadcast radio for news, public safety bulletins, sports, weather, traffic and other information,” said Markey. “As the broadcast radio industry migrates to digital broadcasting technology, this legislation will ensure that consumers are able to readily receive free service through consumer electronics systems that are otherwise receiving satellite digital audio radio and traditional AM or FM stations.”

Markey said his bill seeks to address the long-term competitive health of local radio “while ensuring that their local, digital services are readily received by radio consumers.”The bill has the support of a bipartisan group of Energy and Commerce Committee House members who co-sponsored H.R. 7157, including Lee Terry (R-NE), Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX), Greg Walden (R-OR), Joe Wilson (R-SC), and Dan Burton (R-IN).

The Act also seeks to do what the FCC failed to do when it approved the historic merger between satcasters Sirius and XM on July 25. That was the time for the regulatory body to require radio manufacturers to require HD Radio capability be included on all satellite receivers, believes FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. During a Sept. 19 commissioner’s breakfast at the NAB Radio Show/R&R Convention in Austin, the commissioner, an opponent of the merger, played down the commission’s recent official public inquiry which seeks comment on making forcing HD Radio technology be included on satellite receivers and expressed doubt that the commission now has the legal authority to enforce such a requirement.

According to an article in the Naples, Fla. Daily News on Sept.27, Beasley Broadcast Group VP/CFO Caroline Beasley, who also is chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters’ HD Radio Digital Technology Advancement Force, said HD Radio is within listening range of 90 percent of the U.S. population. And while the task force has been affective encouraging broadcasters to roll out new, niche formats at sidebar stations around the country, automobile manufacturers have been slow to add the technology to their option lists. Markey’s legislation would be a boon to broadcasters.

“NAB salutes the leadership of chairman Markey and a bipartisan group of lawmakers for sponsoring this important bill that will boost the integration of HD Radio in satellite radio receivers, including those installed in automobiles,” said NAB president and CEO David K. Rehr. “In addition to providing 235 million weekly listeners with entertainment and music programming, free local radio stations have a long tradition of serving as a lifeline during times of crisis. This legislation will extend and enhance these services as radio stations embrace our digital future.”

It is unclear whether the pending legislation would force manufacturers of Sirius XM receivers to include HD Radio technology on aftermarket satellite receivers plug and play units that traditionally include only satellite reception intended to be used in tandem with already installed AM/FM receivers. Sirius XM spokesman Patrick Reilly could not be reached for comment.