What you need to know about HD Radio®

Get more clarity and info from your radio stations


Dave Delamere

Dave was born in Buffalo, NY, but spent the majority of his life in central and northern Virginia. He began his collegiate career at Virginia Tech, but completed my education with a degree in teaching from Radford University. His Crutchfield career began in 1997 as a Sales Advisor. His father had been a satisfied Crutchfield customer since the '80s, and when Dave saw the job opening, he knew it could be a good thing. In 2013, the Crutchfield creative staff grew tired of the corrections and suggestions Dave always threw their way, so they decided to give bring him on as a copywriter for the mobile electronics division.

When not dealing with these corrections and suggestions, Dave enjoys watching and playing ice hockey. Cooking intrigues him, although cleaning up after does not. Movies, music, and art take him away. Crime and forensic shows bring him back. History makes him pause. His interest in electronics stems from fond memories of making mix tapes from vinyl, radio, and the newest format at the time, the compact disc.

More from Dave Delamere

Maybe you've heard something about HD Radio® reception, and the promise of better sound and more listening options. Sounds neat. But what does that mean for us listeners? We put together this video as a quick overview of HD Radio broadcasts. Watch it and then read below for more information.

What is HD Radio?

HD Radio technology allows broadcasters to transmit a high-quality digital signal. For listeners who have an HD Radio receiver, the benefits are:

  • FM radio that sounds almost as good as a CD
  • AM radio that sounds as good as traditional FM
  • No more static, pops, crackles or fades...and no subscription fees
  • Displayed information, including station ID info, song and artist titles, weather, traffic, and emergency alerts
  • Increased listening options with station multicasting

Let's take a look at each of these in turn.

HD radio

FM radio with near CD-quality sound

Digital technology allows a radio station to transmit more information in the same radio wave. Primarily, this means higher quality sound. So much more so that FM transmissions can sound nearly as good as CDs, and definitely much better than the hollow sounds of old analog FM. How much better the music sounds will depend on your local stations and your radio gear.

AM radio that sounds as good as FM Stereo

AM radio uses smaller sections of bandwidth than FM. There is not enough bandwidth for HD Radio to give AM stations the same CD-quality signal as FM stations. But there is enough room to give AM stations clarity equivalent to current analog FM stereo radio. This boost in sound quality makes AM radio a viable alternative to FM, which means more options for listeners.

No more static, pops, crackles, fades...and no monthly payments

The digital signal is less vulnerable to reception problems. The radio tuner's digital processors eliminate the static, pops, hisses, and fades caused by interference. You hear only clear, clean, and rich sound. Should you lose the digital signal for some reason (obstructing terrain, nearing the edge of the broadcast area, etc.), HD Radio technology defaults back to analog mode, similar to the way non HD Radio receivers switch from stereo to mono mode when receiving a weak signal. And like analog radio, HD Radio is subscription-free.

HD Radio display information

Transmission of additional information

Another benefit of digital radio is the radio station's ability to transmit additional information along with the music signal. This can take the form of scrolling text on your receiver's display, such as a song's artist and title and station call letters. HD Radio also supports Artist Experience — with compatible receivers you can view album art, logos, and more, when provided by the station. Stations can also include local and regional information, such as weather updates, emergency alerts, or even traffic jams and road construction. Traffic data is delivered up to 10 times faster than other broadcast methods.


In addition to duplicating their analog programming with an HD Radio broadcast, stations can subdivide the digital portion of their signal. This allows a station to "multicast" — that is, broadcast two or more programs simultaneously. Listeners might have a choice of, say, a sports game or music. These additional channels can only be received on an HD Radio tuner. But just as cable TV allowed specialized networks to flourish, multicasting provides the potential for stations to offer more niche programming — ultimately giving the listener a greater variety of formats to choose from.

The technology behind HD Radio signals

A company called iBiquity Digital created the technology to make this happen. They license this technology to radio stations and consumer electronics manufacturers.

Unlike the conversion to digital television a few years ago, consumers have a choice of whether to participate in the upgrade. In contrast to the television industry, where the analog signal was turned off by Federal decree, radio stations will continue to broadcast the analog signal along with the new digital signal. If we choose to not upgrade our radios, we can still listen to analog AM and FM radio — although we'll be missing out on the digital-only features and multicasting channels.

HD Radio

How does it work?

HD Radio technology works pretty much just like traditional analog radio transmission:

  1. The radio station sends out the analog and digital radio signals, along with a third signal for text data.
  2. The digital signal is compressed before being transmitted.
  3. The three-layered signal is transmitted from the radio station's upgraded digital transmitter.
  4. Multipath interference, caused by the signal reflecting off of buildings, is ignored by the digital radio, which is able to discern the true signal and ignore interference.
  5. Your radio receives the signal and, depending on your equipment, you hear either the digital or analog feed.

What HD Radio technology is not

HD Radio technology is not a subscription service, like satellite radio. It is the same free, over-the-air broadcast radio that we've always known. Only better. You just need gear that includes a built-in HD Radio tuner to enjoy it. Everyone can choose to continue listening to their current radios, but eventually all AM/FM radios will incorporate digital technology. It is a natural evolution of the medium.

HD Radio is not the same as satellite radio. Rather, it's an improvement to terrestrial AM and FM radio. Satellite radio, on the other hand, is an alternative to broadcast radio, in the same way that cable or satellite TV are alternatives to broadcast television. Even if you do have satellite radio, there are often times when you want to listen to your local station — and that's where HD Radio comes in.

Enjoying HD Radio

Hear it for yourself

If you want to join the digital radio world, it'll mean spending a little more for a new car stereo or a home stereo with an HD Radio tuner than for comparable systems without the HD Radio option. But prices continue to decrease as more manufacturers enter the HD Radio receiver market. HD Radio receivers are being offered as optional equipment in an increasing number of new automobiles.

Find the HD Radio sound in your town

You can go to hdradio.com to see the stations in your area that are on-the-air with HD Radio, as well as those stations that have licensed the technology and will eventually be broadcasting with it.

Now that HD Radio tuners and receivers are commercially available, more radio stations are investing in the upgrade. They want to keep up with the enhanced sound quality of digital radio. And whether we upgrade right away or wait until our next vehicle has a built-in HD Radio receiver, we, as listeners, win.

[Shop our selection of HD Radio receivers.]

Last updated November 13, 2015
  • dong from torrance CA

    Posted on 5/10/2015 5:57:05 PM

    very nice article! Why then do am stations broadcast in stereo with multi-channel capability? I havnt seen HD radio in stores except HD radios in cars. Is there adaptor to connect to existing am or fm radio for home? Thanks.

  • Ken Nail from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/11/2015 9:31:10 AM

    Thanks, glad you enjoyed the article. To answer your question about HD Radio adapters for the home, the only option we can offer for home HD Radio reception is to buy a home receiver that has an HD Radio tuner already built in. You can see our current lineup at the following address: HD Radio receivers for the home.

  • larry bernstein from richmond, va.

    Posted on 5/19/2015 3:32:32 PM

    I believe it is miss leading to give people only half of the facts of HD in a car radio. I believe it is a great source in your home and stationary but in a car the HD signal will go in and out as it hits those areas of interference. At least on the AM side and when it goes in and out it is incredibly irritating. Never explained to me when I bought my unit and for that reason it is going back

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/20/2015 9:59:08 AM

    Larry, thanks for pointing this out. A good way to think about HD Radio reception is this: An HD Radio tuner is not going to improve your reception, it just makes the handful of stations transmitting a digital signal sound a lot better. If you live in an area where it's difficult to get a good signal now, that's not likely to change when you add a stereo with an HD Radio tuner. If you're lucky, it'll hold onto those stations that transmit an HD Radio signal a little bit better than others, but there's no guarantee. We're sorry HD Radio proved to be unsatisfying for you.

  • Ted Fleischaker from Portland, Maine

    Posted on 5/22/2015 4:56:35 PM

    I bought an HD for my Jeep last year and finally moved to a city (Portland, Maine) where there is something on HD I want to hear in the form of W-Bach, the classical station. Sadly the HD signal is transmitted from 30+ miles away and while I can easily hear their standard FM local repeater here the HD one cuts in and out all over town. HD is a great idea and maybe in downtown NYC or LA or Chicago would be great but in Portland it really is a mess even with the radio operating at full capacity. It's more or less an idea whose time is not here yet because simply put, it does not work as adverised. I will give 75% blame for the failure to the FCC for licensing only weak power for the HD1 and HD2 channels (W-Bach is HD2 of WTHT 99.9), but the other 25% of the blame I reserve for the receiver manufacturers who in their rush to offer internet capable or smart phone hook up capable devices send pittances on their receivers' tuning sections, leaving listeners unable to get even basic radio...much less the lower powered HD signals. Save your cash and don't bother is my advice....

  • Gary Lee from Washburn

    Posted on 7/16/2015 9:06:26 PM

    With HD radio will I be able to listen to MORE stations, or just the same local stations with more clarity? I'm in northern Wisconsin where radio is just plain garbage. I wouldn't be able to listen to HD stations from other areas/states? It seems that if I updated to HD car radio I lose the use of my CDs. Thank you....

  • Jeanine Bell from Pinckney

    Posted on 8/3/2015 2:10:41 PM

    My local BestBuy told me I needed to be subscribed to Sirus to get HD radio. Is this true?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/3/2015 3:16:59 PM

    Jeanine, no, that's not true. To listen to HD Radio, you need a stereo equipped with a built-in HD Radio tuner. To listen to SiriusXM, which is different and a subscription-based service, you need a stereo equipped with a SiriusXM tuner or compatible with an add-on SiriusXM tuner. There are stereos equipped for both.

  • bob from florence

    Posted on 8/3/2015 5:43:30 PM

    Does this mean my Bose Wave Radio is outdated.

  • Ken Nail from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/4/2015 9:58:48 AM

    Not at all, Bob! HD Radio doesn't replace existing analog broadcasts, so you can still listen to your favorite radio stations with your existing radio.

  • Warren MANGAN from Abington pa

    Posted on 8/6/2015 6:50:11 AM

    Hi Does HD radio delay the signal? I cell called my wife in her new subaru I was in a new chev van, to say what did she think of the PBS story just finished on the news. She said I was interrupting her, but story had finished on my radio. So we hung up and it was still part way thru on her radio! Maybe 1-2 minutes behind! She then pointed out that the radio time appeared to be off too! She was not using satellite radio. Could this be H D radio causing this? W

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/6/2015 9:54:06 AM

    Warren, the processing required for the digital signal of HD Radio before transmission does create a delay. Typically, the broadcaster will delay the analog signal so that if there is a break in the HD signal, you will hear the time-aligned analog signal in sync. If this blended signal has not been calibrated, you could hear a delay in the broadcast. However, 1-2 two minutes does sound extreme. If it continues to happen and you're inclined to, you could call your local station and let them know what you're hearing.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/6/2015 10:01:54 AM

    Gary, you will not be able to listen to more stations with HD Radio. You'll simply receive greater clarity, as you noted. If you're interested in more stations, you may want to look into a SiriusXM subscription. We have quite a few radios that are CD players, give you HD Radio, and are SiriusXM-ready (an additional tuner is required). Enter your vehicle information to find out what will fit your dash.

  • Od from UB

    Posted on 8/23/2015 11:21:12 PM

    Thanks your article, My question is that how can I implement this hd radio technology in Mongolia, non-hd radio broadcasting company, is this a big work for company, is that country related issue? Could you tell me approxiamte investment to bring this technology in my country?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/24/2015 11:16:09 AM

    Od, sounds like a question for HD Radio. Good luck!

  • Jeanne Moynagh from Tavares

    Posted on 9/7/2015 7:50:32 PM

    Does HD radio provide more stations than local? I enjoy talk radio from other stations and find it is not available.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/8/2015 3:09:44 PM

    Jeanne, an HD Radio tuner is not going to gain you more stations, it just makes the handful of local stations transmitting a digital signal sound a lot better. A SiriusXM satellite radio subscription and tuner on the other hand will give you a new, wide variety of stations, including talk radio.

  • Claudio

    Posted on 10/10/2015 5:06:52 PM

    If I buy a HD Radio tuner, can I her traditional FM Stations (if the station only transmits in the older way)?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/12/2015 12:06:53 PM

    Claudio, in most cases, yes. An HD Radio tuner allows analog AM/FM tuning as well, but you confirm by checking the Details tab of the stereo in which you're interested.

  • Carlos Alvarado from SACRAMENTO

    Posted on 11/16/2015 1:00:12 AM

    Is there a way to boost the HD digital radio signal that is being received? I bought a Pioneer AVH-X8500BHS DVD receiver, but the HD signal keeps cutting in and out here in Sacramento, California.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/16/2015 3:02:46 PM

    Carlos, unfortunately, no. If you haven't already, it would be worth listening to as many HD Radio stations as you can. It may be that the station you listen to the most doesn't cast as strong a signal as others. If this is not the case and you feel that your FM reception has generally become poorer since installing a new radio, there's a possibility that a connection in your car's amplified antenna was not made during installation.