HD radio is a funny thing. Like over-the air HDTV, you either get it, or you don’t. Most of the time, ruralites like me don’t. But I was surprised at how often the HD radio receiver in the Hyundai Santa Fe I tested recently picked up distant HD signals.
Let’s be clear here: I live in the modern-day equivalent of Everett Ulysses McGill’s “geographical oddity.” Instead of “two weeks from everywhere,” I’m two hours from anywhere. Sure, there are local FM radio stations closer than that, but none of them broadcast in HD, to my knowledge. That means to test a car’s ability to pick up HD radio signals, I have to tune to stations in distant cities, most often Music City, USA — that’s Nashville, TN to you non-natives of the Volunteer State who somehow haven’t absorbed the city’s marketing and tourism advertising.
While testing the Hyundai Santa Fe’s FM and HD FM receiver, I did the customary scan of some Nashville favorites, starting with WPLN Nashville Public Radio at 90.3. I have previously picked up HD signal from WPLN in my area, but only on a very irregular, unreliable basis. In fact, last time I tried listening to any programming on WPLN-HD2, the HD-only sub-channel below the station’s main HD feed on WPLN-HD1, I never got to listen to a program long enough to hear what was being discussed. This time, weather conditions were very similar — high, scattered clouds — and I didn’t try to listen to the HD2 feed, but if I had wanted to, I could have, based on how long the HD signal remained on HD1.
Later, my wife flipped over to another Nashville favorite, WNRQ 105.9 “The Rock.” Even on regular FM, this station isn’t the strongest Nashville beam in my part of the state, often getting lost in the static interference from other local stations or the plentiful hills in my area. (Here is where I give a small geography lesson: Nashville sits in a basin, so radio transmitters there have their work cut out for them if they hope to be reliably heard between the hills and valleys to the east, where I reside. It’s the same reason Nashville-based HDTV signals — again, an all-or-nothing affair — are mostly unreliable in my region.)
Until that moment when my wife flipped over to WNRQ, I didn’t even know the station had an HD signal. Surprise! The Hyundai Santa Fe’s receiver picked it up sporadically. It’s the first time any HD radio receiver I’ve tested has done that.
With all that said, the HD signal reception still wasn’t such that I could enjoy the HD experience uninterrupted for more than five or 10 minutes at a stretch. The geographical and signal-strength challenges just can’t be overcome, it would seem. To get relible HD service in my neck of the woods, stations would have to resort to installing HD repeater transmitters in my region — and that ain’t happening anytime soon. To be honest, we even switched off the Santa Fe’s HD receiver when listening to WNRQ because the HD signal going in and out every couple of minutes caused such a difference in sound quality that it became annoying. I’ll tell you, hearing HD radio come through on a distant, sometimes-fuzzy station like that makes the regular FM signal sound like listening to the music through a phone by comparison. So when it’s switching in and out like that, you kind of don’t want to be reminded how sucky the regular FM feed sounds, you know?
But I digress. The Hyundai Santa Fe’s HD radio receiver is surely the strongest I’ve tested yet.
Disclosure: Hyundai provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.