This guide will help you learn about the difference between HD Radio and FM Radio, and it will assist you with optimizing your HD Radio listening experience. We've included some tips and techniques for obtaining the best reception based on your location.
How do I get an HD Radio?
Some of our listeners have called us to ask where to buy an HD radio.
Amazon.com has a wide variety of tabletop, portable, and after-market
car radios available. Your purchase of an HD Radio from Amazon.com also
benefits WAMU. If you purchase the radio from Amazon.com using this link,
a portion of the sale is returned to the station. The price is the
same using this link as if you logged on to the Amazon.com home page.
In Washington, D.C. many Best Buy stores offer several models, including the Insignia portable HD radio.
For a complete listing of currently available models go to hdradio.com. The site lists stores that sell HD Radios and lets you easily choose between tabletop, portable, and aftermarket radios. Upgrading to HD Radio is now becoming standard or optional equipment in new vehicles. Check the current list of cars available now that can be equipped with HD radios.
No matter where you get your HD Radio, once you own one you’ll have
more WAMU programs of music and international news in superb digital
quality. You’ll never listen to radio the same way again!
How is an HD Radio different from a regular FM radio?
HD radios sound better
Regular FM radio has the ability to produce high fidelity sound under
the right reception conditions. FM frequencies require a line-of-sight
path between the FM transmitter and the receiver. Hisses, pops, static
and fading occur because FM signals are reflected from obstructions such
as buildings - or from you when you move around the room where your
radio is located. HD radio differs by using digital technology which
eliminates this interference.
HD radios receive more stations than FM radios
Several years ago, WAMU 88.5 installed the equipment necessary to
broadcast digital signals, in addition to our regular analog signal.
This allows WAMU to broadcast three stations rather than one. On your HD
radio, these three channels are still found at 88.5 on the dial and you
can tune among WAMU's primary station HD-1 and channels HD-2 and HD-3.
WAMU 88.5 (WAMU HD-1)
This is our flagship channel that you can hear on standard FM radios.
WAMU's Bluegrass Country (WAMU HD-2)
WAMU's Bluegrass Country is on the air in HD at 88.5-HD-2. You'll
hear outstanding programs of bluegrass music maintaining the WAMU legacy
of support for the greater DC bluegrass community. Live-hosted
programs featuring Katy Daley, Ray Davis, Lee Michael Demsey, Gary
Henderson and TomCat Reeder are featured along with a superb collection
of bluegrass programs from around the world. . This station is also
heard online at bluegrasscountry.org, which has served the full-time bluegrass listener since 2001. WAMU's Bluegrass Country is among the first in the nation to offer live programming exclusively for HD Radio.
Intersection (WAMU HD-3)
Our third channel, Intersection (WAMU-HD3) serves the
dedicated public radio news listener with programming not available on
the flagship channel, including extended BBC news coverage and NPR's Talk of the Nation.
Overnight Intersection offers Xponential Radio from station WXPN featuring “Triple-A”, adult-album-alternative music. On weekends Intersection also features music programs of other popular genres.
Can I receive the three HD channels everywhere that I can hear WAMU 88.5?
Just about. WAMU is in the forefront of HD broadcasting. WAMU
transmits the highest power digital signals permitted by the FCC. The HD
system was designed to offer a service that permits receiving the
analog FM signal along with the new digital signals. This requires a
careful balance by our engineers to establish the power of the digital
channels so as to maximize coverage without interference to the existing
analog service or to stations near the 88.5 frequency in near-by cities
Most listeners within the greater WAMU 88.5 coverage area have reported
good results in receiving our digital signals. Our intention is to share
the experiences and recommendations of our engineers and listeners who
can suggest ways to successfully receive the WAMU 88.5 digital channels.
Take a look at the coverage map of the WAMU 88.5 signal. The map gives a
general idea of where successful reception is possible. As listeners
from farther locations try to receive our signal, special techniques may
be required to obtain a strong signal.
Expected range for receiving WAMU (HD01), Bluegrass Country (HD-2) and Intersection (Hd-3)
Green: Works with included antenna or dipole
Yellow and Pink: May need an outdoor antenna
Gray: Out of signal area
A larger version of the map is available here.
Anecdotal experience from listeners and our engineers suggests that
listeners within the strong signal area contour on the map should be
able to receive an excellent signal with a properly placed indoor dipole
antenna. Factors which will affect successful reception include whether
or not a listener's location has a direct line-of-site to the WAMU 88.5
transmitter, located on the campus of American University in northwest
Washington, D.C., at Massachusetts Avenue and Nebraska Avenue. Generally
speaking, locating any FM radio, including an HD radio, on the side of
the building facing the transmitter and as high as possible will yield
the best results.
An important factor to remember is that an analog FM signal fades
gradually as the distance from the transmitter increases. The signal
becomes noisier and there is more interference. With a purely digital
signal, there will be either perfect sound or no sound at all. In a
strong signal area, the signal will be excellent: no fading, no pops,
clicks or hiss, but as the signal drops below a threshold level, the
signal disappears completely. In addition, when tuning to a digital
signal, there is a delay of about five seconds to capture the signal so
there are several seconds of silence before the station is heard.
To minimize this problem, the HD technology is designed to first
capture the analog signal and gently blend to the digital signal when
you tune to a station broadcasting its primary channel in HD. In areas
where the digital signal falls below this critical level, our main
channel, WAMU 88.5, reverts to the analog signal. However, the
additional digital channels do not have a corresponding analog signal.
Therefore, when the signal falls below a certain level on WAMU-HD2 or
WAMU-HD3, the station will go silent. It may alternate between full
sound and no sound depending on the actual signal level. It is important
for our listeners to understand this difference between reception of
the WAMU 88.5 main channel signal and the WAMU-HD2 and WAMU-HD3 digital
I bought an HD radio but I'm having trouble hearing the WAMU 88.5 digital channels.
We suggest you first take a look at our coverage map and determine
how close to the limit of the primary signal contour you are. If you are
relatively close to our transmitter check the following:
Did your HD radio come with a dipole antenna?
A dipole antenna can be identified by its shape. It is in the form of a T.
Dipole antennas are inexpensive and available at many stores such as Radio Shack and Target.
A dipole antenna captures an FM signal much better than a simple
piece of wire. It also receives signals primarily located 90 degrees to
the direction of the extended T portion of the antenna.
Using the coverage map, determine the approximate direction of the
WAMU 88.5 transmitter, and point the dipole antenna 90 degrees to the
direction of the transmitter. (Try facing the location of our
transmitter with outstretched arms holding the ends of the dipole
antenna in each hand). Usually the higher the dipole is mounted, the
better the reception, and you may need to experiment with several
locations. Connect the leads of the antenna to the antenna terminals on
the back of the HD radio.
Tune in to either WAMU-HD2 Bluegrass Country or WAMU-HD3 Intersection
and listen awhile to ensure you have a strong signal that can be
I am still having problems receiving the WAMU 88.5 digital signals.
Sometimes relocating the receiver or even trying a connection to a TV
antenna or rabbit ears will bring in the signal. Some listeners report
that they have found an amplified indoor antenna works for them.
However, in many cases the amplified antenna overloads, and interference
from nearby strong stations prevents reception of distant stations.
If this does not produce an acceptable signal and you are a passionate
listener to WAMU 88.5, then it may be necessary to obtain an FM antenna
to be mounted in your attic or outside on the roof. FM antennas vary in
size and cost depending on the number and type of elements designed to
bring in distant signals.
An example of a typical FM antenna
They are available at some local electronic stores or online. You may
need to get assistance for the selection of the antenna and its
installation from a professional installer.
I'd like to listen to WAMU's Bluegrass Country and WAMU-3 in my car. What's involved?
WAMU listeners who have installed an HD radio in their cars have been
very pleased with the results. Not only can theywe hear WAMU's
Bluegrass Country and Intersection, they we also hear WAMU 88.5's main
signal without multipath distortion – the pops, clicks, and distortion
often heard when driving near tall buildings and in hilly areas.
Installing a new radio seems daunting to some; others like their
current factory-installed radios. Professional installers available at
stores like Best Buy can complete a professional installation of an
"after-market" radio such as an HD Radio from in a couple of hours.
Templates are available for most car models so the finished installation
makes the new HD radio look like it was factory-installed. Crutchfield
maintains online and telephone support for assisting in the selection
of a car radio and installation kit that will fit into your make, year
and model of car.
Many new car models from Audi, BMW, Ford, Hyundai, Jaguar, Kia, Land
Rover, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, Mini, Rolls-Royce, Scion and Volkswagen
have HD radios as standard or optional equipment.
Any other suggestions?
Several listeners in outlying areas with some technical savvy have
added an antenna preamplifier to increase the WAMU 88.5 signal even
more. This approach is most effective when the preamplifier is mounted
near the antenna. Some experimentation may be needed and results aren't
guaranteed. Consider ordering outdoor antennas and amplifiers from a
store that has a return policy.
Where can I get more information about receiving HD Radio on WAMU 88.5?
After reading this FAQ, feel free to contact us with your questions. Also, we'd like to hear from you about your experience with digital reception.
Where can I get more general information about HD Radio?
For a complete listing of currently available models, go to hdradio.com. For more technical information on the HD digital technology visit the Iniquity website, the company that developed the system.
Remember if you purchase an HD from Amazon.com using this link a portion of the sale is returned to the station. The site has a very large choice of HD radios to choose from.