Waiting for a fine-tune
May 28, 2009 Would-be early adopter Rod Easdown goes shopping for a digital radio.
Way out west, history was made on May 4 when Perth became the first Australian city to crank up digital radio. Melbourne followed a week later, then Adelaide. Brisbane starts on May 25 and Sydney on May 30.
I was in Perth this week, so I cruised the electronics shops to see how enthusiastically Australia’s most experienced digital radio audience was embracing what Commercial Radio Australia calls its "historic first".
I started at a suburban Tandy shop – where they had no stock. I asked if they’d had many inquiries. "You’re it," I was told.
At a much larger Dick Smith shop they were full bottle on the subject and, yes, lots of people had been asking. The salesman gave me the best explanation of digital radio I’ve heard and was genuinely excited about it. But he had no stock either. "There are lots of generic brands around at the moment," he said darkly. "We’re waiting for the market to sort itself."
Around the corner, the Good Guys had a single digital radio on display, a Revo at $249. The only problem was that it was next to a better-looking Sony AM/FM radio that was almost as big and cost $39.
This didn’t faze the salesman. He launched into an explanation of digital radio and ran out of steam only when I asked why ABC stations weren’t available yet. He assured me they’d have more stock by the time Radio National came on stream.
At Retravision there were two on display, a Pure at $249 and a Sangean at $599, but the salesman knew nothing much about them except that all the stations were listed on the screen and you just scrolled down to the one you wanted. I asked about the ABC and he immediately offered me a $100 discount.
At Harvey Norman they had six: three Roberts, two Pures and a Revo that, at $299, was $50 up on the same model at the Good Guys. I played with all of them, but only one seemed capable of receiving a signal, the others giving a "Station not available" message. Meanwhile, every member of the sales staff avoided me. I left.
Over at Rick Hart (Perth’s equivalent of Clive Peeters), I came across a salesman talking to a customer about digital radios. Well, he was reading the features aloud from the back of the box, anyway. I asked why I should buy a digital rather than a conventional radio, and the customer answered all my questions; a look of contented mystery was on the face of the staffer.
The only thing he knew was that sound quality was better, so I asked to hear one. "Um," he said. "This is first time I’ve touched one." He poked and prodded for a couple of minutes until I could contain myself no longer, and tuned it for him. "It does sound pretty good, doesn’t it?" he said, delighted.
The only thing they’d done right at Rick Hart was to separate the digital radios from the conventional radios so the breathtaking digital prices were a little less obvious. Maybe someone there knew a thing or two, but that person was nowhere in our vicinity.
To summarise, then. The best salesman of the lot had nothing to sell, the salespeople with the best stock charged too much and didn’t want to sell it anyway, and the only customer I met knew so much more about the subject than the salesman that it all got kind of embarrassing.
It was reminiscent of the launch of digital television back in January 2001 when finding a salesperson who knew anything about digital set-top boxes was a feat exceeded only by finding one with stock to sell.
As the man at the Good Guys assured me: "Normal old analog radio is going to be around for a long, long time yet – don’t worry about that."