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AM Listening Is Better Than Ever … in My Tesla!

Here’s how streaming has changed my DXing

What was once called radio is now referred to as audio. RF is being replaced by the internet. The delivery system may be new but the message still gets through.

Writer Karl Zuk

Driving a newly minted Tesla Model 3, I have discovered so much about this new world.

For one thing, news of AM radio’s demise was premature. Yes, the over-the-air receiver has been removed in the Tesla. But the AM experience continues — and actually is better than ever.

The onboard TuneIn app provides almost all of my local AM stations, listed with station details, by format and location or listed by genre. Distribution by internet is more cost-effective and more robust. Forget static and noise. It’s digital! AM has actually taken a great leap forward. Try it for yourself.

Use the car’s touchscreen, just touch the icons of stations you desire. Voilà! You’ll hear AM, FM, streaming and even shortwave, in perfect static-free audio, often in stereo.

The experience is high fidelity and easy on the ears. You will not miss the fading or loud bursts of noise we are so accustomed to. It is so much better than using medium-wave RF to find a signal.

Introduced in 2002, TuneIn has grown to become a megalith in audio distribution, offering 100,000 radio stations and a similar number of podcasts. 

Of course, there are non-conformists. Missing from TuneIn for a while was the Audacy group — descendant of Entercom and the CBS and Group W radio station conglomerates. 

But although the Tesla doesn’t have an AM receiver and Audacy was missing from TuneIn, you could listen to stations like New York’s WCBS(AM) via the station’s web stream, because the vehicle’s entertainment and media suite has a internet browser including audio.

And now Audacy has put its 250 station streams and podcast library back on TuneIn.

Global reach

TuneIn will challenge your imagination. What stations doesn’t it provide? 

I found my worldwide favorites: BBC Radio Scotland, WSM Nashville, OZFM Newfoundland, Radio New Zealand, CHML Hamilton, Ontario, and WLEW Bad Axe, Mich. I even discovered Al Weiner’s shortwave station WBCQ The Planet in static-free stereo. If it’s on the air, it’s probably on TuneIn. 

When using the search bar, you may have to try various monikers. For example CFRB 1010 Toronto is called up only as “Newstalk 1010.”

You’ll enjoy the direct tuning feature. Call up the touchscreen’s numeric keyboard and enter any frequency. It will even accept offset tuning like 102.2 or 98.6 should you encounter overseas deep multiple E-skip or F layer skip. (Dream on, Karl!)

For more news, TuneIn includes feeds of “TV” audio including ABC News, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox News, NBC News Now, SkyNews, WSJ Radio, CBS News, Bloomberg Radio, AP News and Newsmax.

Another tip: Use geography as a time-shifter. If you like “Coast to Coast AM” overnight but are usually asleep, you can listen to KFI Los Angeles and hear the first three hours of the show starting at 5 a.m. Eastern time. (Remember, it’s only 2 a.m. in L.A.) Conversely, with TuneIn I can listen to New York City stations from afar. 

The Tesla media suite offers two other powerful audio apps: Spotify and Apple Music. Subscriptions are necessary to enjoy the premium experience, but they provide gigantic libraries of music and talk.

Note that Tesla uses your smartphone as your link to the outside world. Your phone serves as your ignition key; it also can remotely monitor the vehicle’s location and level of charge and other attributes. And it is your link to the internet. 

Your phone battery will never be depleted. The dashboard console includes two passive Qi charging cradles; rest your phone on the pad and induction charging does the rest. 

To access personal preferences, call up your audio wishes through your phone’s Bluetooth link. My iPhone has replaced my trusty 20-year-old iPod. With a terabyte of onboard memory, I have stored my leviathan music collection locally at my fingertips wherever I go. 

Amazing FM tuner

The miracles don’t end with internet-delivered audio. The Tesla’s over-the-air FM tuner is amazing.

Imagine driving a car that included a tall tower and automatically steering multi-stack antenna array. The Tesla FM tuner provides similar reception with a miraculous physical design and cutting-edge circuitry. This tuner can only be called magical in performance. It can lift the weakest signals into quite listenable broadcasts. From my QTH near Ridgefield, Conn., I now have a good grasp on stations from the Hartford/Springfield and Albany/Schenectady/Troy markets, all of Eastern Long Island and everything in between. I suspect I am experiencing a combination of an advanced DSP digital signal processing system and a pre-amplified antenna. 

The reception possibilities are unbridled. The Tesla chassis uses a high-tech full-glass moonroof that extends from the driver’s view to the full rear of the vehicle. The FM antenna is incorporated into the rear hatch glass. 

The reception is memorable. There is no need to perform time-consuming scans to see what is available. The touchscreen constantly updates, instantly showing you all the FM stations you can reach complete with color logos and descriptions of each.

This would be a fun feature during tropo-lifts and E-skip. You could watch and immediately identify all that is being received without tuning to each frequency or watching a waterfall display. I would love to see this tuner in action while sitting atop Bear Mountain. Your log would have an entry for every FM frequency. 

It was thrilling to witness all the stations the tuner can resolve. You will delight in endless moments of discovery as it uncovers stations you never knew existed — much less have them within your grasp. I felt like a child at a carnival consumed with marvel while watching a clever magician. “Hey tuner! How did you do that?” 

The tuner includes digital HD Radio decoding with equally remarkable signal locking. Its depth of signal attainment makes HD Radio a viable medium. Now you can drive around and still keep WCBS 88 101.1 HD2 locked in. Did you think you would see the day?

Tesla is not erasing 100 years of radio history. They are gently leading us to a future filled with possibilities, fidelity and fun. Any audiophile would delight in the immersive experience. This is high technology at its finest. I can only imagine what’s next.

A sampling of stations that can be accessed in my Tesla.

Sweet streaming

I see streaming rapidly becoming the standard of delivery for audio and video media. The new business model requires program producers to run lean and efficient operations. Analog dollars have turned into digital dimes or pennies. Being cost-effective and following a strict financial model is a matter of survival.

Today’s station owners need to plan for future challenges. Smart operators should consider divesting their real estate holdings and condense their expenses. I believe tall steel towers, expensive transmission equipment and complex production facilities are becoming obsolete and impractical; the distribution system eats capital and profits. Dependence on nationwide syndicated programming only makes sense. The public is becoming more and more attuned to streaming media. 

Car entertainment and media systems also need to adapt to receive this programming. Wireless internet distribution networks are gaining sophistication and coverage. The reach of the internet will only get better. Experience proves how reliable reception can be. 

Did you ever think you could listen to a symphony live from New Zealand in high-fidelity stereo in a moving car driving through New York? Today, we can hold the radio and television of the future in the palm of our hands, and it includes a telephone, too. What a wonderful world it has become.

This commentary appeared in the newsletter of the Peekskill Cortlandt Amateur Radio Association, “PCARA Update.”

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