Radio: Why I was surprised there wasn’t an HD set-up in a new car I liked

I suppose “shocked” isn’t quite the right word, but “surprised” doesn’t quite go far enough. In looking for my next new car, I was more than surprised that HD Radio not only isn’t a standard feature on one of my short-list models, it isn’t available at all.

HD Radio is the digital broadcasting system authorized for use in the United States. It currently is used mainly in hybrid form right now, in which the digital signals are sent just above and just below the normal analog frequency. A special circuit in a capable radio first tunes the analog signal, then switches over to digital after a short time of buffering. On AM and FM, you get clearer sound with virtually no static and on FM you can receive extra programming channels.

HD also allows for all-digital reception, and this special mode is in use at a small number of AM stations across the country. If the industry were to make the move to all-digital for all stations on both bands, it would render every non-HD radio in existence obsolete. That won’t happen for a while, if ever. But the promise for AM is especially interesting, as it would reduce interference between stations while increasing fidelity and adding the capability for those extra channels as on HD FM.

I’ve had HD Radios in my truck — a ’99 Silverado — for years. in fact, I’m on at least my second one as I changed out the unit again when I added a backup camera. This gave me the capability of CDs, DVDs, USB drives, mobile phone Bluetooth, Apple Car Play, SiriusXM, and AM and FM HD Radio reception with a simple upgrade … the factory original was simple AM/FM/CD/cassette, no Bluetooth … and the CD had stopped working.

In an older vehicle, if you wanted an upgraded stereo with all the latest features, you just changed it out. That is impossible with most cars today due to the audio system being fully integrated into the dashboard electronics. So it is imperative to have the latest features, or at least make it user-upgradable.

I see neither capability in at least one of the cars on my list – the new Chevy Traverse. As a (mostly) Chevy family dating back to 1926, to say I am disappointed is a vast understatement. And I believe it is ridiculous to leave this feature out on a brand-new design, especially when the same basic audio unit is found on the Tahoe and Silverado … with HD Radio. This seems like lazy engineering, misplaced cost-cutting, or both.

On the other hand, I have to wonder: Does it matter that much? There are no local AM HD stations that I listen to (though I would if KMZT 1260 AM had a stronger signal where I live), the only FM HD I really care about is the great LA Oldies format on 105.1 HD4, and since the unit does still have CarPlay, I can use apps to “tune in” the local HD-only signals and more … just not LA Oldies, since they don’t stream.

Maybe I shouldn’t be too concerned. My wife’s Lincoln doesn’t have HD either, though unlike the Traverse it could have, had we upgraded the audio system. Decisions, decisions …

New Star

Richard Blade — longtime local air personality heard on such stations as KNAC (now KBUE 105.5 FM), KROQ (106.7 FM) and “Jack” KCBS-FM (93.1) — received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last Thursday, June 6th. On hand to help celebrate was ABC Television’s Jimmy Kimmel, who once worked adjacent to Blade on KROQ. Kimmel did sports reporting and other bits on the morning Kevin and Bean show when Blade worked other shifts; longtime fans may remember when Blade himself worked mornings prior to Kevin and Bean as half of Raymundo and the Blade.

In addition to his work on FM, Blade hosts a shift on SiriusXM’s First Wave, Channel 33.

His dedication to music — discovering new bands, new songs and indeed totally new styles — developed a fan base that actually nominated and helped convince the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to award him the star, which was announced back in 2021.

Favorite Sport

Ed Kass wrote in to say: “On Monday June 3 during the 1:00 hour, KLAC’s (570 AM) Roggin & Rodney asked listeners to call in with the most influential sports broadcasters and columnists in Los Angeles —past and present. Perhaps you could ask your readers the same question. Mine was Jim Healy and I remember rushing to leave work at 5:30 to catch his show. Some of the callers mentioned newscasters also like George Putnam.”

Great idea. And a chance to mention the late, great Jim Healy, who was a mainstay in Los Angeles radio for decades. His sports highlight show was a must-listen for many, including those who were not necessarily even sports fans. In fact, I want to thank reader Victor D’Agostino for sending me a recorded copy of the Healy tribute as heard on KMPC (now KSPN, 710 AM) shortly after Healy’s death in 1994.

Richard Wagoner is a San Pedro freelance columnist covering radio in Southern California. Email

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