Update October 2017.
Below article written 2009.
Last year, I wandered into a Radio Shack store to look at HD radios.
The clerk said, "An HD what?"
So I explained.
He might have thought I was dreaming, or making up this odd fantasy; like I was a street person wandering into the store.
When I said it was in the Radio Shack catalog, he looked it up and said, "Oh my god." "Learn a new thing every day."
HD radios weren't in the local store, but could be found in the catalog.
What is HD radio?
Thanks to "new technology," some stations can send out a highly compressed "digital signal" along with their regular signal. People with these special HD radios can get it; like decoding the secret message.
HD signals allow some options not available to standard radios. Higher fidelity, for instance. Also other programs besides the main program.
A good example is KUOW in Seattle. Regular radios just get KUOW FM on 94.9.
HD radios can get two more programming feeds. Basically one can get "KUOW1," "KUOW2" and even "KUOW3."
Wow. That's a lot more variety.
KUOW1 is the same "KUOW" that regular radios get, only higher fidelity.
KUOW2 is actually another station; KXOT from Tacoma. It offers a different mix of programs. Similar programs to KUOW's, but just added variety.
KUOW3 rebroadcasts the BBC from London.
That's 3 stations in the same place on the dial where regular radios only get one.
Still, I don't know if that many stations are using the HD signal. Also those special radios seem fairly expensive and hard to come by.
Maybe Internet Radio will eclipse HD Radio?
HD could end up on the trash heap of technologies that never took off while Internet Radio becomes the new radio.
Why would this happen?
New bandwidth is becoming available for wireless Internet. This is especially true now that TV broadcasting is making it's switch to newer "more compressed" frequencies, thus freeing up spectrum for various signals.
Soon, I hear that wireless Internet will be available, for cheap, just about everywhere there's cellphone signal.
Wow. That means surfing the Internet in your car, only in my case, it's bicycle.
Sounds like a bad idea though. Shouldn't one be watching the road?
Well, "surfing" doesn't necessarily mean "computer screen." It can mean "Internet radio."
Yes, the car radio might soon be an Internet radio.
That would mean more choices of stations on the road. All stations on the Internet available to the car radio. This could be the ultimate "radio choice" panacea.
Variety is the name of the game, in my book. Adding more "program choices" to radio would be beneficial. A good benefit both at home and on the road.
Variety is most likely the main thing either HD, or Internet radio could offer.
To be able to pick up more interesting radio in places like eastern Oregon would be a plus. Geography can confine one to little choice beyond "Rush Limbaugh talk" or "Country and Western music."
Actually some of it might not be bad.
How about putting some interesting Seattle, or Portland stations onto the HD channel of eastern Washington and Oregon FM stations? How about even Idaho and Montana stations?
Bring the greater variety of urban radio to rural areas.
Maybe rural radio could be brought to an urban area for novelty. Listen to Montana cattle prices from your high rise condo in Seattle, or even New York.
It can be meditative.
National Public Radio has already done this, even before the advent of Internet and HD technology.
KUOW has its repeaters here in Bellingham and also one in Olympia. KUOW is on 90.3 FM in Bellingham. It's on AM in "Tumwater/Olympia."
The NPR station from Pullman, WA. (my childhood home) is extended to repeaters just about all over the state. There's even a repeater for that Pullman station here in Bellingham. The public radio network based in Pullman is called Northwest Public Radio.
Could HD work like these repeaters?
There are a lot of radio stations with the potential to offer 2 or even 3 HD signals. FM stations, that is.
From what I understand, AM stations are only allowed 1 program in their HD channel. HD gives AM "higher fidelity," but not more variety.
Maybe FM stations in the hinterlands are just sitting around wondering what to program if they were to go HD. How to fill all that extra bandwidth.
Could these various FM stations, in places like eastern Oregon, offer something more to their sagebrush territories than just country and western music?
Maybe they could pick up the feed of some totally different station and play it to the countryside. Some of those stations are pretty powerful. Larger service areas than just repeaters.
How about KUOW being available east of the Cascade Mountains? Broadcast from a Wenatchee station high on the eastern slopes of the Cascades?
How about Portland's alternative radio (known as KBOO) becoming an "HD choice" from some country and western boomer in someplace like Klamath Falls?
When I was a kid, I remember listening to "clear channel" AM signals from all over the US. AM radio could travel great distances at night. They call that "ionospheric skip."
Nighttime AM was my variety, long before the Internet.
I remember tuning in stations like WWL from New Orleans, Louisiana. All on a regular radio in my parent's Pullman home.
Over the years, this variety of radio listening has been lost for the most part. The long distance signals have been "covered over" by more mediocre stations closer to home. Stations that are on the same frequencies as the clear channels; like FCC sanctioned radio jamming.
Many of the "local" stations are just repetitive feeds off national networks. How many places up and down the dial can one get the same "Coast To Coast" show at night?
Only thing unique to the station's local community; some jabbering ad run over and over again, or "rip and read" news via "high school student announcer intern."
Variety has been lost with the end of clear channel "across the USA" AM radio, but all is not lost.
"Variety" makes it's new entrance as those stations are now on the Internet; no doubt.
I still listen to talk shows from KGO in San Francisco via nighttime skip. It fades in and out, but works most of the time, if my neighbor doesn't turn on a lamp, or something, that makes horrible static.
Maybe a local FM station can think about carrying KGO programing as it's HD offering? That would make KGO easier to receive around local clutter.
I'd consider getting an HD radio then; if I could find one. Meanwhile, I can just listen to KGO on the Internet.
Since I wrote this in 2009 I have purchased an HD radio. The technology is still alive and probably doesn't cost that much for the stations to provide. Might as well add it to the multiple offerings available from broadcast, internet and so forth. In many cases it fill the need when cellphone isn't available or more costly. This last paragraph written 2017.