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Radio stations vow to speed digital moves

Big broadcast giants say they plan to move faster toward Net-like airwaves, as popularity of satellite radio surges.

Major radio companies announced Wednesday that they are accelerating their move to digitize their broadcasts, using new technology that could make broadcast radio more like the Internet.

The agreement, which dramatically increases the number of stations that companies plan to upgrade over the next few years, includes most of the biggest radio conglomerates, such as Clear Channel, Infinity Broadcasting, Cox Radio and others. Some of those had announced their expansion plans separately.

Today, about 500 stations are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to offer digital radio services, also known as HD radio, with about half of those already on air. The commitments from the radio companies, many of which are not yet licensed, would bring that total to about 2,500 stations around the United States.

"HD radio will especially benefit those in middle- and small-sized markets," Terry Jacobs, chief executive officer of Regent Communications, said in a statement. "This new technology will enable us to bring more local programming broadcast at a higher quality than ever before."

The radio stations have been spurred to fast action in part by the surge in