Harvey dips toes in digital radio waves

Mass merchant, Harvey Norman, launched a digital radio display centre last week as its first public step towards the market.

The display, at its Auburn superstore in Sydney's west, includes several operating digital radio receivers. However, the retailer hasn't got any of the devices for sale.

The launch day was supported by Commercial Radio Australia and promoted by several radio stations.

The receivers will be on show for three months before moving on to (Harvey Norman-owned) Domayne in Alexandria.

A spokesperson for Digital Radio Australia said the display would help both parties gauge consumer interest in the technology.

"We’re delighted Harvey Norman has come on board as a strategic partner in the digital radio trials," chief executive officer of Commercial Radio Australia, Joan Warner, said.

Major industry trials of digital radio in Australia began last December and run over an 18-month period.

Vendors involved with the launch have said they have receivers that can already be used in Sydney and Melbourne. Most Sydney stations broadcast in digital, as do some Melbourne stations.

Harvey Norman had agreed with the industry not to promote the sale of the devices at present as the technology platform had yet to be confirmed, a vendor that attended the launch said.

The industry has given no assurances that the Eureka 147 platform, used in the trials, will be the platform chosen for digital radio in Australia.

This was a fait accompli though, as Eureka was the best platform for digital radio in the world, according to Graeme Redman, Australian representative for Pure Digital, a manufacturer of digital radios.

"[The radio industry] would be utterly stupid to go for another platform," he said.

There are no restrictions on the sale of the devices.

It was a safe bet then that a digital radio sold now would still work after the trial was complete, Redman said.

The vendor, a division of UK-based Imagination Technologies, had receivers in stock locally and was keen to sell to anyone that wants them, he said.

"We'll have the first receivers in the country in about a month with the rewind radio feature," Redman said.

This allows listeners to pause, rewind and replay programs, as well as record.

The technology will be tailor-made for the digital home as well, with USB and memory card slots to link with the PC.

"This will be a desperately fought market in two years," he said. "All the major brands have receivers in the wings."

The median price for a receiver is around $500, according to vendors.

Despite being on hand at the display launch, Pure Digital had yet to hear anything from Harvey Norman, or other retailers, in relation to digital radio, Redman said.

Melbourne-based Canohm, distributor for US-based Sangean, had one of its receivers used in the Harvey Norman display, but only recently entered the local market.

A few months ago the distributor was only stocking Sangean's analogue radios.

"We only heard through a chance conversation a few months ago about this digital radio launch," national sales manager for Canohm, Robert Costello, said. "Now we're importing digital radios."

The market was crawling at the moment, said Costello, but he expected more trials of the technology in Melbourne over the next six months.

Both Pure and Canohm said their initial challenge was familiarising consumers with new brand names, but they would ramp up these efforts.

"We want to have a go at this in a big way," Costello said.

A Harvey Norman representative could not be reached for comment.

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