Understanding HD Radio

Hyundai Display
Photo Credit: Hyundai

Not a lot has changed in radio over the last 80 or so years, except for the addition of frequency modulation, or FM radio, that became popular in the late 1960s.

Now comes HD radio, which provides higher quality sound, more stations with the same amount of bandwidth, and extra information beamed straight to your car radio as a digital signal. Many assume HD stands for high definition, but iBiquity, the company that started HD radio in 2002, says it doesn’t stand for anything.

You often hear me say on the air that although I listen to a lot of AM talk radio, I always look for the HD2 because of the sound quality.

If you have ever listened to HD radio, you’ll notice a greatly enhanced sound, especially when you go from amplitude modulation stations (AM radio) to the same station in HD. One of our broadcast stations for the Car Pro Radio Show is all-talk WBAP 820 AM out of Dallas. When I listen to the station, I listen from 99.5 FM, which is a country station, but on HD2, which runs right alongside 99.5 FM HD1. Two completely different stations, sharing the same 99.5 FM frequency. When you get used to the sound quality of HD radio, it is hard to listen to regular AM radio, there is a huge difference.

We have seen big growth in the number of cars that have HD radio in the past few years. Current estimates by iBiquity are that 22.5 million cars on the road are equipped with HD radio broadcast by over 3500 radio stations. Over 50% of the over 17 million new vehicles sold in America last year came with HD radio as standard equipment at no extra charge. All 40 major brands of vehicles sold in America offer HD radio.

Do not confuse HD radio with satellite radio from SiriusXM. While satellite radio has more stations and formats, HD radio is free and you can find complete station listings in your area by going to HD Radio. If your car is not equipped with HD radio, you can get a portable HD player for around $50, or you can get a receiver for your car for under $100, and in most cases, will not only give you digital sound, but digital traffic reports.

I review a lot of different vehicles and I always look at the list of standard equipment on the window sticker to see if the car has HD radio. You can tell, too, by just looking at the radio in your car. When on a station, many cars will show an HD logo. Often you’ll see HD1, which is your clue that the next station up is HD2 or even HD3 and can be tuned in. I have been in some cars where you had to go to the settings of the radio and enable HD so that you know you have that choice.

HD is broadcast from both the AM & FM sides of the dial. Some radio stations broadcast the same programming in HD1 and HD2, but the odds are good that at some point in the future, the HD2 will be different programming. I am even seeing a LOT of HD3 stations that offer very alternative programming.

WBAP, our home station in DFW, did a video further explaining HD radio:

Bottom line is that many people have more stations available to them than they know, and they could be missing out on music or content they would enjoy. It is clear that HD radio use is on the rise and available to more people than ever before.

Here are some of our larger stations FM HD frequencies:

  • WBAP DFW: 99.5 FM HD2
  • KRLD DFW: 105.3 FM HD2
  • KNX Los Angeles: 101.1 FM HD2
  • WTAM Cleveland: 106.9 FM
  • KTRH Houston: 93.7 Fm HD3
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