Being the technophile I am, I could not merely take everyone at his or her word when they said HD radio was a huge improvement. So when Clear Channel offered up a slightly used demo unit, I couldn’t help sharing my thoughts on the new technology.Though it took a few moments to pick up the HD signal and switch from analog to digital, once I found the place with the best reception, every station with a digital signal showed a marked improvement in sound. Static is, as advertised, gone when you are on digital.
The only problem comes when weather is bad and the HD signal is disrupted. When that happens, the main station is only picked up in analog (with all of its shortcomings), and sideband frequencies cut out completely like Internet radio when it needs to rebuffer.
Though AM frequencies cannot have sidebands, the improvement in sound could make the airspace prime real estate for entrepreneurs looking start their own stations.
Though sound quality is better across the board, radio content still has a long way to go. Southern rock sideband “Lonestar” is the only real genre station available, and new alternative sideband “The Cutting Edge” is far less captivating than the advertisements would have us believe.
Instead of blazing a trail with unplayed material, “The Cutting Edge” is just “The Edge,” minus older songs and commercials. The net result is every time I turn it on, I hear the same song from Yellowcard, whether I turn on the regular “Edge” or its sideband, and I didn’t like it the first time.
It is important to remember this technology is very new. Stations are still trying to figure out what to do with it, and there are still some technical issues that need to be worked out. There is a lot of promise for the future in HD radio, but don’t expect any ground breaking content just yet.