HD Radio: A Status Report at 3 Months
by John Proffitt
Since last October, KUHF Houston Public Radio has been broadcasting as “two stations in one”, doubling its on-air program offerings through HD Radio technology. For the first time, KUHF now provides a continuous 24-hour service of News & Information and, at the same time, a 24-hour service of Classical Music & Fine Arts. You can see the complete HD Radio program schedule here.
HD Radio is not the same as satellite radio. Radios for XM or Sirius satellite will not necessarily receive HD Radio—let the buyer beware! And watch out for sales people that are unaware of the difference. Please see the attached list of brands and model numbers of HD Radios currently available, and accept no substitutes.
Best of all—HD Radio is a free service, with no monthly subscription to pay!
To receive the KUHF HD Radio service, listeners must first purchase a new HD Radio, which are offered from several manufacturers in models for car, tabletop or audio system component. All HD Radios also include standard FM and AM tuning.
HD Radio is a low-power subsidiary transmission on the same frequency as the “home” station. In the case of KUHF, our home signal on 88.7 FM is transmitted with 100,000 watts. The HD Radio digital signal, also on 88.7 FM, is by law restricted to 1,000 watts. Both signals are transmitted from our antenna at a height of approximately 1,600 feet in Missouri City.
The HD Radio signal can usually be received within the Greater Houston metro region, but there may be isolated pockets of difficult reception which usually can be overcome through patient experimentation with antenna placement. The rule-of-thumb is this: if you already receive standard 88.7 FM clearly and without static in your home or office, you should be able to receive KUHF HD also.
That said, in the home or office HD Radios always require a properly attached and positioned external antenna. The best inside antenna is usually a simple “rabbit ears” (costing around $10) with a 75-ohm coaxial connector, which attaches directly to the back of the HD Radio. The “rabbit ears” should be placed at least several feet away from the HD Radio and may be turned in various directions to get a satisfactory signal.
Also within the metro region, indoor passive FM antennas, such as the small panel Terk FM-2000 (sold by Amazon.com for under $10), work very well with HD.
Amplified TV or FM antennas may not work with HD, so we recommend that you try it first with your HD radio before purchase, or have a clear agreement with the seller for no-questions-asked return.
In general, the “folded dipole” wire antennas that come in the box with some HD Radios are not satisfactory, or require much more careful positioning to work properly. In most cases, the horizontal “T” of the dipole must be fully unfolded and mounted to a surface at least several feet away from the HD Radio. Some of the early model Boston Acoustics Recepter radios have been especially problematic in positioning the antenna for satisfactory reception. Careful experimentation may yield satisfactory results.
If you live outside the Greater Houston metro region—especially “as the crow flies” from Missouri City—you may need an outside rooftop or in-attic antenna for HD Radio reception. There are small VHF TV antennas, such as the VU-75 XR from Radio Shack, that work very well indeed. Again, connect the antenna to the HD Radio with 75-ohm cable. Remember, power boosted or amplified antennas may not work with the HD signal.
We also note that some existing (usually inexpensive) tabletop models, such as bedside clock radios, began to have problems receiving 88.7 FM with the start of HD broadcasting. These problems may manifest themselves as static—“white noise”-- in the background of the FM signal. It appears that these radios may react to the HD signal by giving off this noise, and we do not know of any sure cure for the problem. Sometimes repositioning the power cord, which serves as the antenna for many of these radios, will reduce the static. Experimentation with the location of the radio or the power cord may help.
Now the good news: HD Radios for the automobile work with few, if any, reception problems, when properly installed and hooked up to the car’s existing window or whip radio antenna. You will really appreciate the superb quality of static and pop-free reception in HD when driving around Houston! I have been living with the JVC KD-HDR1 for a couple of months, which I find to be a superb HD Radio/”normal” radio/CD player—indeed, it’s the best car stereo I’ve ever had.
Both of the first model table-top radios, the Radio Shack Accurian and the Boston Acoustics Recepter HD, sound good as self-contained units. However, they really come into their own when plugged into a good stereo system with excellent speakers—then one can hear the outstanding near-CD quality of HD Radio as a distinct improvement over traditional FM. In particular, the frequency response is both wider than FM and flat across its range, while the signal is quieter, with no hiss or static that sometimes afflicts traditional FM.
New radios have come on the market from Sangean (http://www.sangean.com/), including the first component stereo HD tuner, the HDT-1, which interfaces nicely with your stereo system. Also available is the HDR-1 tabletop model.
Cambridge Soundworks (http://www.cambridgesoundworks.com/) now offers the Model 820HD tabletop radio, in either black or white finish.
The Polk Audio I-Sonic (http://www.polkaudio.com/) offers a combination HD Radio, XM Satellite and DVD/CD player with Polk Audio’s 360-degree PowerPort stereo sound.
Later this summer, Griffin Audio will offer its radioShark HD (http://www.gadgetell.com/2007/01/griffin-hd-radio/) which will connect to your PC or Mac to provide HD Radio tuning for your computer.
Over the holidays, Fry’s Electronics offered a number of sales of HD Radios, including the Sangean HDR-1, Sangean HDT-1 and JVC KD-HDR1. Check any of the three Houston-area stores for current offerings.
Mobile-One Auto Sound, with six area locations, offers sales and installation of the top-rated JVC KD-HDR1 car radio/CD player.
Tweeter, with eight area locations, sells the (pricey, but elegant) Polk Audio I-Sonic combo unit, with HD Radio, XM satellite and a DVD/CD player.
And Radio Shack area stores sell the excellent Accurian HD Radio tabletop unit—a top recommendation!
PLEASE REMEMBER in speaking with sales personnel in local stores—you must be careful to insist on HD Radio by make and model number to avoid confusion with XM or Sirius satellite radios. They are not the same! Caveat emptor!
Within a few weeks, KUHF will add an additional—third—channel, HD-3, to our broadcast service. This will be a Spanish-language news and information channel featuring the BBC Mundo 24-hour progam, along with other public radio programming in Spanish, including Nuevos Horizontes (New Horizons) and Epicentro Politico from the Hispanic Communications Network.