Will Microsoft’s Zune Boost HD Radio?

Radio broadcasters were practically giddy about Microsoft’s new Zune mp3 player, which includes HD Radio technology. It could be just the break the slow-to-be adopted HD Radio technology needs to crack the 1 million consumer milestone.

Since the launch of HD Radio in 2005, nearly 2,000 radio stations have made the transition, launched hundreds of HD side channels, and lots of manufacturers and auto manufacturers have rolled out receivers. But consumer acceptance has lagged.

The new Zune, revealed by Microsoft on Tuesday (May 26) and out in the market this fall, will have several new features, but the one that has the radio business excited is that the Zune HD will be the first mobile HD Radio device. The availability of a smaller HD Radio chip could lead to more portable devices incorporating the technology.

“We’ve come a long way,” said Dan Mason, president and CEO of CBS Radio, who played down consumer acceptance. “You have to build the pipeline before you can have everything,” he explained.

Like other radio groups, CBS Radio’s stations program all sorts of HD side channels to appeal to every sort of lifestyle and taste. This fall, for example, CBS Radio plans to launch a Dallas Cowboys Channel on KRLD-FM in Dallas.

“We constantly promote our [side] channels, and we’ll continue to promote them heavily,” Mason said. “We can’t sell devices until there’s great programming,” he added.

And once consumers tune in, advertising won’t be far behind. “It’s going to take a while, but advertisers can own so much more space on the HD channels,” Mason said.