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HD Radio, High Definition Technology

- an overview or tutorial of the basics of the technology for HD Radio, High Definition Radio, the digital radio system developed by iBiquity and chosen as the digital radio system for broadcasting with the USA..

Digital technology is being applied to many areas of radio communication including radio broadcasting as it offers some significant advantages. While DAB digital radio is becoming established in some areas of the globe, the system that has been chosen for use in the USA is known as HD, or High Definition, Radio. Using HD Radio, will enable high quality audio to be received along with the ability to incorporate many new features and facilities.

The HD Radio system has been developed by iBiquity, and has now been selected by the FCC in the USA. It will take the place of both the existing AM and FM transmissions, and offers many advantages for both listeners and broadcasters alike:

  • Improved audio quality - it is claimed that HD Radio broadcasts on the AM bands will be as good as current FM services and those on the FM band will offer CD quality audio.
  • Reduced levels of interference. AM transmissions in particular are prone to static pops and bangs as well as high levels of background noise. HD Radio will almost eliminate this.
  • Opportunity to use additional data services. By using digital technology, HD Radio provides the opportunity to add data services such as scrolling programme information, song titles, artist names, and much more.
  • There is also the possibility of adding more advanced services such as surround sound, multiple audio sources, on-demand audio services, etc.
  • Easy transition for broadcasters and listeners. Although new HD Radio receivers are required to receive the new transmissions in their digital format there is considerable re-use of infrastructure and spectrum.

HD Radio basics

HD Radio uses a variety of technologies to enable it to carry digital audio in an acceptable bandwidth and with the new high quality that is required. The transmission uses COFDM combined with specialised codec to compress the audio.


Note on OFDM:

Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplex (OFDM) is a form of transmission that uses a large number of close spaced carriers that are modulated with low rate data. Normally these signals would be expected to interfere with each other, but by making the signals orthogonal to each other there is no mutual interference. The data to be transmitted is split across all the carriers to give resilience against selective fading from multi-path effects..

Click on the link for an OFDM tutorial


One of the requirements for HD Radio was that it would maintain compatibility with existing stations. To achieve this there are two versions; one HD Radio system for AM, and the other for FM.

In what is termed hybrid mode, the AM version has a data rate of 36 kbps for the main audio channel and the version of HD radio for the FM bands carries 96 kbps. In addition to this HD radio can also be used to carry multiple audio channels, and in addition to this secondary channels for services such as weather, traffic and the like may be added. However adding additional channels will reduce the available bandwidth for the primary channel and audio quality may be impaired.

In hybrid mode a radio receiver will first lock onto an analogue signal. If this is possible, then it will try to find a stereo component (FM only) and finally it will endeavour to decode a digital signal. If the digital signal is lost then it will fall back to the analogue signal. The success of this process depends upon the transmitting station being able to synchronise the digital and analogue signals. Often the digitisation process takes a noticeable amount of time and the digital and analogue signals may not be transmitted in time with each other.

Once HD Radio is fully established, the hybrid mode may be removed and at this point no analogue information will be transmitted. However it is envisaged that this will take some time as this can only be viable when very few analogue radios are in use.

By Ian Poole

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