RDS returns to 99.1 WDCH-FM Bowie, MD after three-year hiatus

One of the few full-power radio stations in the Washington, DC area that did not run RDS now does.  I first noticed RDS running on 99.1 WDCH-FM Bowie, MD, a local station of mine, in 2006 when I bought my first RDS-capable radio.  I’m not sure how long the station ran RDS before that.  However, in 2016 when the signal flipped from news to business news, the RDS disappeared.  While scanning the FM dial on December 29, 2019, I found the station was once again broadcasting RDS.  I have added the RDS screenshots below to my Woodbridge, VA RDS/HD Radio Screenshots page.

 

Tropo 7/11/19: Two first-time HD Radio decodes and RDS from Eastern Shore stations

Minor tropo enhancement during the early morning hours of July 11 brought in the usual summer signals from Norfolk, VA and the Eastern Shore of Maryland.   A few signals from coastal New Jersey were in, too.  What made this opening different was that I received HD Radio for the first time from two previously-logged signals.

I first logged 92.1 WCDX Richmond, VA (3 KW, 74 miles away) on 5/15/00.  Although I have received RDS multiple times from the station over the years, HD Radio was always out of reach, given the two frequencies WCDX has IBOC sidebands on are occupied by local 91.9 WGTS and semi-local 92.3 WERQ.  For the first time, WCDX’s 92.3 sideband overpowered WERQ and resulted in a decode:

This one surprised me.  At my home, 97.1 is occupied by local WASH Washington, DC, (17.5 KW, 21 miles away).  I have received a handful of other signals over WASH over the years, but WASH is usually too strong to be overpowered by another signal.  WAVD Ocean Pines, MD (4.6 KW at 115 miles) has overtaken WASH on a few occasions over the years.  I first logged the station on 6/24/05, when it was WQJZ “Smooth Jazz 97.1.”  On June 11, I received WAVD with RDS strength over WASH.  A few moments into tuning the station, WAVD’s HD Radio signal started to decode.  I didn’t even know WAVD ran IBOC.

I also added the following screenshots from the following previously-logged stations:

88.3 WRAU Ocean City, MD, 50 KW, 108 miles

90.3 WHRO-FM Norfolk, VA, 7.3 KW, 135 miles

93.1 WWLB Ettrick, VA, 5.2 KW, 98 miles

94.5 WRVQ Richmond, VA, 200 KW, 87 miles

94.9 WPTE Virginia Beach, VA, 50 KW, 139 miles

94.9 WKHI Newark, MD, 4.7 KW, 111 miles

95.3 WKHK Colonial Heights, VA, 47 KW, 85 miles

97.3 WGH-FM Newport News, VA, 74 KW, 126 miles

97.7 WAFL Milford, DE, 3 KW, 97 miles

99.3 WKJM Petersburg, VA, 6 KW, 99 miles

103.9 WOCQ Berlin, MD, 6 KW, 107 miles

104.7 WQHQ Ocean City, MD, 33 KW, 108 KW

105.7 WKJS Crewe, VA, 100 KW, 110 miles

106.1 WUSH Poquoson, VA, 2.6 KW, 107 miles

106.5 WBTJ Richmond, VA, 7.6 KW, 84 miles

Apparent new HD Radio callsign IDs appear; incompatible with Sony XDR-F1HD

One benefit of owning an HD Radio in the United States is that all HD signals display a digital ID. Most stations broadcast their callsign assigned to them by the FCC, i.e. “WKYS,” while others broadcast their name, such as “STAR-FM.” Regardless of if a station chooses to show their callsign or name, they are limited to four characters and an optional suffix of “-FM” at the end (the latter having no bearing on if the actual station’s callsign legally has “-FM” in it, or not).  Now it seems there is a new type of digital callsign appearing on stations that cannot be displayed on older HD radios, such as the Sony XDR-F1HD.

The Sony XDR-F1HD and its sister radios (the XDR-S10HDiP and XDR-S3HD) are among the first generation of HD Radios that debuted in 2008.  The radios would always quickly identify all HD Radio callsigns once an IBOC signal was found, regardless of if it was “WKYS” or “STAR-FM.”

Local 96.3 WHUR Washington, DC’s HD Radio signal was on and off-air sporadically in the first few months of 2019.  Their analog signal was also off-air at times, too.  Because of this, I assumed the station was upgrading their equipment. Before 2019, the station had a digital callsign of “WHUR-FM” on all HD Radios, as seen in the screenshot to the left below. For a brief period in April 2019, the broadcasted callsign was simply “HD,” as seen to the right below. Both callsigns were easily read and displayed by the Sony XDR radios.

Much to my surprise, during a dial scan on the Sony XDR-S10HDiP on May 18, I found the station was not broadcasting any digital callsign at all. The XDR-S3HD and XDR-F1HD radios also didn’t show any callsign on WHUR.

In my 20 years of DXing (11 of them having HD Radio capabilities), I have never seen a station simply not have a callsign displayed when their digital signal was tuned in.  Puzzled, I got out my other HD Radios (the Insignia NS-HD01 and Insignia NS-HDRAD2) and found that they were, indeed, displaying a digital callsign from WHUR, albeit with a new suffix at the end I had never seen before: “WHUR HD.”

The next day, I tuned in WHUR on my parent’s 2016-model car that has HD Radio, and found it could also “see” the updated “WHUR HD” callsign.

Another HD-capable radio I own, the Sangean HDR-14, can only display four characters in its digital callsign area and it doesn’t display the “-FM” suffix on participating stations.  This is a limitation of the radio itself, and the “HD1+!” seen on the screen below is not part of the callsign and is instead a function of the radio–it appears on all HD Radio signals, regardless if they have the “-FM” in their displayed callsign or not.  Even with the built-in limitations, the radio still displays the first four characters of WHUR’s updated “WHUR HD” callsign, as seen below. It doesn’t show a blank callsign like the Sony XDR radios do.

I think one of two scenarios are likely, given the developments with WHUR’s new callsign:

  1. HD Radio technology now allows a third “HD” suffix at the end of callsigns. A station can pick “WKYS,” “WKYS-FM,” or “WKYS HD.”
  2. Instead of being limited to four characters with an optional suffix at the end, HD Radio stations can now utilize the full seven characters to display any text of their liking.  This means a station could theoretically display “Hot1025” or “Country” as their HD callsign. In this scenario, WHUR simply chose “HD” at the end of a fully-customized seven character string.

As for why the Sony XDR-series radios cannot see the new WHUR callsign, I am leaning toward option #2 being what is in play at the moment. Since there are differences in suffixes already between HD Radio signals and all radios simply display whatever the station chose, I would assume that any HD radio would be able to show “HD” as a suffix if that was the case.  The technology is already there to account for differences in suffixes. In that instance, the Sony XDR radios should display “WHUR HD” without a problem.

Option #2, which affords changing the HD Radio data standard to allow for seven character callsigns, however, may cause a problem with older first-generation HD radios like the Sony XDRs.  My other HD Radios were manufactured 2012-2018, so they likely have newer technology under the hood that would be compatible with future upgrades in the HD Radio standard, such as allowing for longer digital callsigns.  Under this theory, since the Sony XDR radios are too old, they don’t “understand” the longer callsign being broadcast and, therefore, can’t display them, resulting in a blank on-screen display.

If my suspicions regarding option #2 are correct, then this would be a blow to the DXing community, since it means that if a station upgrades to the latest HD Radio technology, then there’s a chance that those with older HD Radios won’t be able to see any callsign upon a successful decode.  The potential of any digital radio simply not displaying a callsign due to an incompatibility in technology when other equipment could is a disappointment and it may mean a DXer could miss an otherwise slam dunk ID.

Hopefully, this is just an isolated issue with WHUR’s HD Radio signal, and not a sign of things to come nationwide.

Three first-time RDS decodes from regional FM stations

During minimal tropo enhancement on April 8, I received first-time RDS decodes from three previously-logged signals.  My RDS/HD Radio Screenshots page has been updated with these new screenshots.

The first signal, 89.1 WCNV Heathesville, VA, is 67 miles away from my home and was first received on 5/5/07.  Although my radio detected a strong RDS carrier from WCNV, the station did not broadcast any radiotext, PT, or PTY data.

4/8/19, RDS (no text)

89.7 WXMD California, MD, at 40 miles away, was first logged on 6/15/16 and has been received over local 89.7 W209BY multiple times without any trace of RDS.  That changed on April 4.

4/8/19, RDS

Being first logged on 5/10/99, 105.5 WRAR-FM Tappahannock, VA was among the first signals I had ever received.  They seemed to have turned on RDS sometime in late 2018 or early 2019, because I did not get RDS from them before.

4/8/19, RDS

Travel DX Logs from Norfolk, VA and Richmond, VA updated

I visited the Norfolk, VA area during the President’s Day weekend and updated my existing logs.  While on my way to Norfolk, I stopped for lunch in Richmond, VA and updated my logs from that city.  I added a handful of new logs, plus dozens of new HD Radio and RDS screenshots from each city, too.  Click on the links below, or view all of my travel DX logs from dozens of U.S. cities.

New first-time RDS decode from 90.5 WKHS Worton, MD

At my home, 90.5 is home to nearby WPER Fredericksburg, VA, which is 37 miles away  90.5 WKHS Worton, MD is much further away at 76 miles, but it does often come in over WPER during strong tropo events to the north and east.  On January 14, an unusual reception from WKHS blasted into my radio for about five minutes, just long enough for RDS to decode.  Its reception was surprising, given there was about 6.5 inches of snow on the ground and weather was not conducsive to such long-range reception.  My RDS/HD Radio Screenshots page has been updated with this new screenshot.

1/14/19, RDS

Simply the best RDS: RDS software for beginners

Editor’s note:  This is a guest article written by fmdxing, an WTFDA member from Australia’s east coast who has a DX blog at http://fmdxing.wordpress.com/

By fmdxing

Long distance FM enthusiasts are always watchful for better ways to authenticate station reception to cement the credibility of their loggings. Radio Data System (RDS) is one way to do this, providing the received stations are equipped with an RDS encoder. Sadly, not all FM broadcasts feature RDS, illustrated below. Prevalence varies with the continent the listener resides in.

RDS © 2006 Kasper Duhn

Some FM receivers offer better