HD Radio

HD radio is now available in almost all new vehicles sold in the United States. It was not always that way.

Originally HD Radio was a joint venture primarily funded by CBS Radio and Clear Channel radio, and carried a patent royalty based on the revenue of the radio station. Not only was that going to discourage any other radio owners from using the technology, the reality is nobody wanted it. With a dwindling “over the air” radio audience, the last thing you want to do is further segment your listener base. With very few listeners, you could not afford original programming, and without original programming you can’t attract new listeners. Presets in cars are the way most people find their stations, except when traveling or in rental cars. Very few people just randomly press the SEEK button.

HD Radio promotes itself as free competition to SiriusXM, which has in excess of 20 million paying customers. When your business model is not based on selling advertising, it doesn’t really matter how many channels you have. All that matters is subscribers don’t cancel. Amazon wiping out large parts of brick and mortar retail also makes it harder for local radio to get advertising revenue.

Eventually, the original HD radio patent expired, and the intellectual property rights were sold to another party who has been much more aggressive at getting radios into new vehicles. SiriusXM paid vehicle makers a significant amount of the subscriber revenue to the vehicle manufacturer to achieve critical mass – where now people want a SiriusXM Radio when they choose a new vehicle.

Originally, the HD Radio website was organized in a way that allowed me to gather information about the HD channels. One would have thought they would have liked getting exposure – to get the public familiar with the technology, but that never happened. Eventually they changed the website to prevent me from scraping the data. It probably was not intentional, they just didn’t care.

I finally got around to scraping their website this week using a different technique. It’s pretty labor intensive and the most important information is no longer there – the website for the HD channel, if any, and a streaming link.

Initially, the newly discovered HD 2/3/4 channels will have a format of “unknown format”. Many of them have unique formats. Many are simulcasts of AM stations feeding an FM Translator.

This has unearthed a long-standing problem that I don’t have a good solution for yet. If an FM radio station does not transmit in HD, the stream is named “KXYZ FM”. If I find that the station is now HD capable, the stream name becomes KXYZ FM/HD”. Because the stream name is unique, that means I can wind up with two streams for the base station (HD1). When a new FM radio station shows up, I have no way of knowing if it uses HD radio technology.

The same applies to AM radio stations, although HD capable AM stations are not common. There is one station that has gone full time to “AM digital only”, meaning that your normal radio (car or house) can no longer hear the station, but an HD capable radio will hear the AM with the quality of FM, but only in the local area. Digital AM is not going to work for long distance listening, usually referred to as DXing. There currently is no FCC mandate for new radios to be compatible with HD radio.

I expect the FCC to encourage all-digital AM in the future. Since almost every station is available over the internet, the value of being able to listen at night to a radio station 500 miles away is not very significant, other than to hobbyists – or the event the internet goes down someday. But if that happened, the radio station would have nothing to play. What would News talk Radio do without the Drudge report?

After looking over what I just wrote, and reviewing their website, I believe the solution is to not designate streams as HD radio compatible. Since people streaming are already using digital, that is an irrelevant distinction.

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1 Response to HD Radio

  1. Fred Stiening says:

    Sirius XM just announced they have 31 million paid subscribers. That does not include people on free trials or the paying subscribers to Pandora


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