HD Radio? What’s that?

Oh, come on, you’ve never heard of HD Radio?  Really?  It’s the greatest thing ever!  It slices, it dices, look at that tomato!

Zune HD device showing HD Radio broadcast
Image via Wikipedia

Okay, seriously, what is HD Radio?  In a nutshell, it’s digital radio, capable of being broadcast over FM or AM, with the possibility of offering multiple programming choices on the same frequency.  Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know that.  In fact, a recent survey has shown that most people don’t know what HD Radio is.  Most have heard of it, but many don’t know anything about it.  Very few know that HD Radio offers more programming choices.  Those that thought HD Radio had better sound quality were basing their knowledge on HDTV (i.e., HDTV is better looking TV, so HD Radio is better sounding radio).  Finally, some are confused about the difference between HD Radio (which is free) and satellite radio (paid subscription), and some think HD Radio is satellite radio.

Spectrum of FM broadcast station with HD Radio
Image via Wikipedia

Despite having been around since 2002 or so, HD Radio has made very little inroads.  There are a lot more HD stations now than there used to be, but the public’s awareness of HD radio isn’t any more than it has been from a few years ago.  Finding an HD Radio isn’t too difficult, but it still requires some searching, and if you do find one, the tuner might not be sensitive enough to pick up the radio signal(s) you want.  Right now, the digital signal is being broadcast on the same frequency as the analog signal as a hybrid (HD originally meant Hybrid Digital).  However, the digital signal is not being broadcast at full strength, in fact it’s a far cry from full strength.  Then there’s the issue of sound quality.  With the both the analog and digital signals take up the full bandwidth of the frequency, the sound quality on the analog side picks up interference from the digital side.  Conversely, the digital side, which may be further sliced into sub-channels (offering multiple programming), may not sound much better than a 64kbit/s MP3 file.

HD Radio has a long way to go before it becomes as ubiquitous as its analog counterpart… if ever.  It could disappear faster than you can say “AM Stereo.”  For the technology to survive, it need to be promoted better to the public, not to mention improvements to the technology itself.  If you purchases a device, and it doesn’t work as expected, you’re not going to use it.


Author: Chuck

I started out as a child, then things kind of grew from there.  I spend way too much time around computers and radios, but I do like to take a break once in a while.  I'm not a real doctor, but I played one on the radio in college. A bit later on, I wrote an article that was published in COMPUTE!'s Gazette (Commodore 64/128 magazine). I also think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

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