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The Non-techie's Explanation of HD Radio and Three Reasons Why You Should Care

Dec 28, 2007
Maybe you've heard a friend talk about HD radio. Or perhaps you've heard one of those radio tag lines, "brought to you in crystal-clear HD digital." And you've wondered, what the heck is HD radio?

The simple explanation is that HD radio is digital vs. conventional radio which is analog.

What is the technical difference between digital and analog? It doesn't matter. The only thing you need to know is that digital produces better sound because there is never any interference -- those annoying snaps, crackles, hisses and pops you often hear with conventional or analog radio.

HD or digital radio improves the sound of AM broadcasts to the point where they are nearly as good as today's FM broadcasts. And it improves FM to the point were you may think you are listening to a CD.

Why you should care

Reason #1: Clarity of sound

Bright, clear, interference-free sound is the first reason why you should care about HD radio. But it may not be the most important reason. While it's nice to be able to hear your favorite AM or FM stations in clearer, more "hi-fi" sound, there's another great reason to choose HD radio. It's that it allows broadcasters to pack more programming into the same frequency. This produces what broadcasters are calling HD2 channels.

Reason #2: Those hidden channels that lie between your local stations

While theoretically at least, broadcasters could pack a many as seven or eight programs into the same frequency, most have added only a second channel.

But the way they're using these second or HD2 channels is still pretty cool. For example, we have an easy-listening station that uses its HD2 channel to broadcast all blues. A station in Albany, NY, broadcasts oldies on its HD1 channel and smooth jazz on its HD2 channel. And a station in Los Angeles uses its HD1 channel for an adult contemporary format and broadcasts Pride Radio on its HD2 channel.

And here's the really great part -- these HD2 channels are currently commercial-free. This means you can listen to a new world of programming all day without hearing a single radio spot.

To put it another way, there's a lot happening out there in radio land that you're missing.

Reason #3: Texting

The third reason to care about digital HD radio is that it permits texting. This means that when you're listening to a station on an HD radio, you will see text information such as station frequency, and the name of the artist and the title of the song being broadcast -- much as you can with satellite radio which is also digital. And this is just the start, because in the future, broadcasters can use this same ability to transmit information such as weather and traffic conditions or alerts about missing children or local emergencies.

What else might the future hold?

While it is difficult to foresee exactly what broadcasters will be doing with HD radio in the next two to three years, it is possible to make some educated guesses. One is that they will add additional HD2 channels to broadcast extraordinary programming such as concerts and other special events. It is also easy to imagine that some of these may be pay-per-listen. In other words, you may have to pay to hear a reunion concert by one of your favorite groups, but at least it will cost much less than going to the concert.

What do you need to hear HD radio?

HD radio is free, just as it is conventional broadcasting. However, you will need an HD or digital radio. There are a number of these now available, including tabletop models, component HD radios and HD car radios. The tabletop units range in price from $99.95, to nearly $600. The component HD radios are priced from about $250 to several thousand dollars. HD car radios are currently the least expensive way to experience HD radio as they can be purchased for as little as $129 -- or for even less if your shop carefully.

It is my opinion that HD radio is here to stay and that it has a bright and exciting future. And this just might be the ultimate reason why you should care.
About the Author
To learn more about HD Radio, including information about HD2 channels, HD stations and HD radio reviews, be sure to go to http://www.hd-radio-home.com.
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