Our research on consumers’ awareness and ideas about HD Radio has both good, not-so-good and outright bad news for the industry.

The Good: Awareness of HD Radio is 38% among 18-64’s. Of course, that’s not where we want it to be, ultimately! Still, at this early stage in the rollout of HD, I find it encouraging.

The Not-So-Good: Many of those have only heard of HD Radio and don’t know what it is. Sure, 27% of 18-64’s say it is “high definition radio,” but they include 6% who only know that and nothing else about it. (And face it: “high definition radio” isn’t tough to figure if you know what HDTV means.)

The Bad: Only 1% say that HD Radio provides more channels and programming choices. More choice is an essential benefit for HD Radio in radio’s ongoing battle with Sirius and XM, because it is one of satellite radio’s key benefits. Another problem is that hardly any consumers volunteer that HD Radio is “free radio,” unlike satellite, while more — 3% — think HD Radio is satellite radio!

HD Radio needs a consistent message that communicates three key points — BETTER SOUND, MORE CHOICES and HD IS FREE. Thus far, the “better quality” benefit is the only one that has gained some traction…17% say HD Radio means better, clearer, CD-sound (etc.) quality.

I’m not talking about a major TV campaign here. There aren’t enough HD radios available to justify that kind of investment (yet). I do think that radio should use its own airtime, plus the power of public relations to communicate all three benefits consistently and coherently.

The HD Radio Alliance is on the right track. Viewing hdradio.com, the message is “A Revolution in Sound,” “A Revolution in Choice,” “A Revolution in Radio.” But stations aren’t consistently communicating the message. Most are simply using throwaway liners like: “Now broadcasting in high-definition,” ignoring the reality that their audience isn’t listening that way.

Our research reveals that radio needs to explain HD Radio and its benefits for listeners. As one of our clients (someone very involved with HD) has said:“This thing is still in a diaper.”

It’s time for some “potty training.”