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HD Radio: What it is and What it is Not

It Makes Your Favorite AM and FM Radio Station Sound Better and Do More


According to a new study by Mark Kassof & Co., consumers are confused about HD Radio. Many think they’re receiving it even if they haven’t purchased an HD-compatible receiver.

Part of the problem is radio stations are eager to tell listeners they are broadcasting in HD yet, Kassof says stations contribute to the confusion because they fail to explain what HD is and how to actually receive it.

So, here’s what it is and is not.


HD Radio technology was developed by iBiquity Digital Corporation and is licensed to AM and FM radio stations. It was approved by the Federal Communications Commission in 2002.

HD Radio involves improvements to standard AM and FM radio.

First, if the station you already listen to has upgraded its equipment (at a cost of about $75,000) and YOU have upgraded your radio receiver to an HD-compatible one, as iBiquity puts it:

“Your favorite station remains in the same place on the radio dial, but when you have a new digital HD Radio receiver, your AM sound like FM and FM sounds like CDs. In addition, the wireless data feature enables text information – titles, artists, weather or traffic alerts – to be broadcast directly to your receiver’s display screen.”


In addition, FM radio stations which have upgraded have the ability to "multicast". That means the station – which formerly only provided one audio signal – can now offer up to 3 channels including on-screen data. You receive the original channel (say at 100.3) and your new HD receiver also can automatically decipher two more "streams" that are being sent in one 3-layered, compressed signal.

Not Subscription But Free

But, what is HD Radio not? According to crutchfieldadvisor.com:

"HD Radio technology is not a subscription service, like satellite radio. It is the same free, over-the-air broadcast radio that we've always known. Only better. It is not something that consumers have to buy into. Everyone can choose to continue listening to their current radios, but eventually all AM/FM radios will incorporate digital technology. It is a natural evolution of the medium."

What the Future Will Bring

HD Radio technology offers even more in the future. According to iBiquity:

  • Real-time traffic reports broadcast by local stations and visually displayed on a vehicle’s navigation system
    Surround Sound
  • Store-and-Replay – Will allow listeners to rewind a song they just heard or record an entire program to play back at a more convenient listening time
  • On Demand Capabilities – Will give listeners instant access to news and information
  • "Buy” button – Will turn the radio into an interactive device for e-commerce, allowing for instant purchases of everything from concert tickets to advertised products.

HD Radio offers standard AM and FM radio technology a path of future growth for the benefit of all radio enthusiasts.

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