Yes, I take pictures of text on my radio screens. This page explains why I do it and what it is all about.
You may have noticed that your late-model car radio tells you the artist and title of the song playing. Or, it may show you the current weather or station name. While this can be something very handy with naming that tune that catches your ear, the same technology often provides DXers with a slam dunk way of positively identifying radio stations.
Modern technology allows an FM DXer to see identifying information from radio stations, such as call letters, slogan or current song playing, among other things, on their radio’s screen, provided the DXer has a capable radio tuned into a compatible station.
WHAT IS RDS AND HD RADIO?
The text that you often see on your car radio’s screen is made possible by two related, but different technologies. RDS, or Radio Data System, is a digital transmittal nestled within an analog FM station’s signal that, when received with a compatible radio, can transmit the aforementioned text, such as artist, song title, or station identification. HD Radio, or IBOC (in band, on channel) is the United States’ chosen method of digital audio broadcasting. A completely digital signal rides each ‘edge’ of the station’s analog signal and, on capable radios, will decode in full digital mode. Both technologies came widely available to DXers in the mid-2000s. Not every FM signal broadcasts RDS or HD Radio, and even under favorable circumstances, one may not receive either service from a station known to broadcast it.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR DXers?
What is fun with both RDS and HD Radio is the opportunities it affords for DXers. With RDS, you can often tune in a station and instantly know what you are picking up, as was the case with 96.9 KIAQ from Iowa, seen to the left. I saw the KIAQ calls immediately upon tuning to the station, and I knew instantly which station I was listening to, even though it was almost 1000 miles away.
Although many DXers dislike HD Radio since the technology puts some limits on the hobby, HD signals often pop in right over strong, local, otherwise “unbudgable” stations that would never be logged otherwise. At my home, 89.3 FM is home to a strong 50,000 watt FM signal at 21 miles away, WPFW Washington, DC. It is usually impossible to get anything on 89.3 FM outside of WPFW. On 6/21/13 during a strong tropospheric-enhanced event, while listening to a clear, stereo signal from WPFW, my HD Radio picked up an HD Radio signal from North Carolina’s 89.3 WTEB New Bern, NC, at 246 miles away. Since WPFW doesn’t run HD Radio and is analog-only, WTEB’s digital signal came right in over it. Had I not been using an HD Radio to DX, I would’ve never logged WTEB.
WHY TAKE PICTURES OF THE RADIO SCREENS?
Much like most DXers prefer to keep paper logs to serve as “proof” of received stations, others like to record audio clips of stations they received via DX. Likewise, I thought it would be fun to have a visual record of all RDS and HD Radio signals that have decoded on my radios. I have been taking screenshots of radio stations since 2006 when I gained RDS capability, and 2008 when I bought my first HD Radio.
CHANGES IN TECHNOLOGY
When I started to take FM screenshots in 2008, I was limited to using a digital camera, which was slow and often didn’t get the best screenshot, due to pertinent information disappearing from the radio screen before it was too late. Advancements in technology over the past decade allowed cell phones to have enough resolution to provide stunning, high quality screenshots that you will see in the above-linked gallery.
Modern radios, such as the software-defined Airspy R2, allows RDS to be received digitally and can be screenshotted for use in my gallery without any camera needed, as seen in the image from the SDR Console program above.
The resulting screenshot is seen above.