Last spring, I finally got my big screen HDTV. I had been lusting after one for a while and spent lots of time trolling Best Buy, Circuit City and other stores checking out the various brands and technologies.

HDTV is a knockout. The difference between HD broadcasts and the old technology is dramatic. Watching the White Sox on this thing, I can almost smell the hot dogs and peanuts.

But HD Radio? Not dramatic. Yes, it does sound better. FM sounds like CDs and AM sounds like FM. I buy that, but I don’t think many will buy HD radios merely for the improved sound…they can get that kind of sound from a number of other sources.

What could sell HD Radio is programming that is compelling and not available elsewhere. Look at how many people pay Sirius just for Howard Stern.

In the computer world, they call it a “killer application.” Wikipedia defines it as “a computer program that is so useful and desirable that it proves the value of some underlying technology, such as a gaming console, operating system or piece of computer hardware.”

Lotus 1-2-3 fueled the sales of the original IBM PC’s. Graphic design and desktop publishing software (like Adobe Pagemaker) was the Mac’s killer app.

Consumers bought Windows because they wanted to run programs like Microsoft Word and Excel, not because the liked the cute icons. Email was the internet’s killer app.

And so on.

Programming is radio’s software. Compelling programming is the killer app for HD radio. I’m talking about channels that have powerful appeal to at least some people and that can’t be duplicated by conventional or even satellite radio.

Maybe it’s an “All Games, All the Time” channel, targeted to the small percentage of radio listeners who are contest junkies (or, as we called them in my on-air days, “prize pigs”).

Maybe it’s a New Age channel. New age music hasn’t been on the air since NAC became Smooth Jazz.

Maybe it’s the “All Cubs Talk” channel for for hardcore North Side Chicago baseball fans. (That’s one channel I won’t be listening to!)

I’m sure you can come with other equally off-the-wall ideas. None of them would even come close to a 1.0 share on FM. But “super-niche” stations would have passionate appeal for some listeners…”early adopters” who would buy HD radios and get the HD ball rolling.

As our research last May revealed, only 1% of 18-64 year olds said HD Radio provides more stations or programming choices. Radio must get this message across for HD to succeed…it needs a “killer app”!