Text has been updated with fresh data on station conversions.
Even though the Canadian government has not officially endorsed the HD Radio broadcast standard, the number of digital stations in the country seems to be growing.
According to Xperi, 39 stations have converted, all but one of which are FM. Those HD1 stations are also airing 26 HD2 channels, 15 HD3 and six HD4, for a total of 47 multicast channels. Markets where HD Radio is operational include Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver, and a number of other communities.
More Canadian broadcasters seem to be testing the HD Radio waters. This is notable given the country’s failed launch of government-endorsed DAB digital radio in the 1990s. A lack of DAB receivers and original content DAB-only stations (broadcasters simulcasted their AM/FM content) resulted in Canadians not tuning into DAB, and the format was abandoned in Canada in the 2010s. According to WorldDAB.org, 73 Canadian DAB stations were on air in 2008.
Given the money broadcasters spent on DAB digital radio in Canada (and on AM stereo before that), Radio World wondered what is motivating Canadian broadcasters to consider HD Radio today. Here’s what three of them told us.
Three case studies
Evanov Communications owns and operates 16 radio stations across Canada, including in the major markets of Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.
“Four of our stations have already gone HD and there are plans for further rollouts,” said Paul Bury, the company’s director of engineering and IT.
“Our first HD Radio rollout was CKPC(FM), an 80,000-watt blowtorch in Brantford, Ontario, on Nov. 18, 2019. CIDC ‘Z 103.5 FM,’ our flagship station, followed soon in the summer of 2020. CHLO AM 530 (Brampton, Ontario) became Canada’s first AM station using HD Radio technology in June of 2021. And a flip of CKJS 810AM Winnipeg to 92.7FM and erection of a brand-new 625-foot broadcast tower gave us a chance to become the first stations broadcasting an HD signal in Manitoba in September of 2021.”
Evanov has embraced HD Radio because “we strongly believe that the traditional broadcast bands will have to evolve and offer some kind of digital offering in the near future,” Bury told Radio World.
“As trends change and listeners become more accustomed to receiving more eye-pleasing and advanced program data from web services, digital broadcasting will continue to be the only way that traditional broadcasters can stay competitive. As well, in the case of AM 530, we were hoping that addition of HD would help combat the growing problems of noise and subpar audio quality that has plagued the AM broadcast band for many years. Our hopes are that the higher-quality audio will help to revitalize the historic AM band.”
Steve Huber is president and owner of Huber Radio Ltd., which operates CIAT “Cat Country 98 FM” in Assiniboia, Saskatchewan (population 2,389). It is a country music station “designed with a rural farming audience in mind,” said Huber.
He installed HD Radio in 2021 “to give bragging rights to our little town of Assiniboia,” he quipped. “But seriously, HD Radio delivers a better listener experience and I believe this will always win in the listener’s mind.”
Click to toggle between two Huber Radio logos that include HD Radio in the branding.
“Now many of my area radio competitors are hell-bent on delivering ad revenue with the resale of websites and driving audiences to Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms,” Huber said.
“But doesn’t it make more sense to offer listeners a digital experience via radio, using a technology that we understand and own?”
Corus Entertainment operates 39 stations and has tested HD Radio in three of them: CING(FM), which plays hot adult contemporary in Hamilton, Ontario; CKRY(FM), a country station in Calgary, Alberta; and CFMI(FM), a rock outlet in Vancouver, BC. Multicast channels of all three stations carry simulcasts of various Corus AM signals.
Corus Entertainment’s answers to Radio World’s questions were compiled by Greg Landgraf, manager of radio technology for western Canada; Andy Bingle, manager of radio technology for eastern Canada; and Phillip Anderson, broadcast engineer for radio technology in Hamilton.
“HD Radio on CING(FM) was launched temporarily as a test in October of 2012,” the Corus group wrote.
“Nautel contacted Corus to see if we were interested in trying HD in Canada, due to our 1,000-foot tower located in Stony Creek. This site provided a great coverage area, which included both a medium market as well as a major market.”
In contrast, “HD Radio on CFMI(FM) Vancouver and CKRY(FM) Calgary was implemented primarily to provide the Broadcast Traffic Consortium with traffic data to HD-capable Garmin GPS devices,” they continued.
“Corus, BTC and HERE Technologies had a relationship providing traffic data to Garmin devices via RBDS, and they wanted to start providing enhanced data via HD. The undertaking took place between June and December 2015. These initiatives gave Corus the chance to provide an HD signal to our FM listeners and an alternate signal to our AM listeners, in these markets.”
Reach, receivers and response
In general, the broadcasters expressed satisfaction with the reach of their HD Radio transmissions.
“For Evanov’s FM operations, we have found that the HD lock is very stable down to ~1 mV/m in the city and ~0.5 mV/m in rural areas on most vehicle radios we tested,” said Bury. “AM has a very strong lock down to about 10 mV in the city and 5 mV in the countryside, away from noise and interference.”
Evanov uses the Artist Experience feature on its FM digital signals, though not to display cover art. “In our tests we found that some radio models do not update the artwork correctly, and often it gets stuck displaying one image for weeks,” Bury said. “For this reason we simply use Artist Experience to display the station logos.”
As for the availability of HD Radio receivers in the Great White North? “Table-style and portable HD radios are relatively scarce in Canada and somewhat hard to find,” the Corus engineers replied. “HD radios are not standard in cars in Canada but are available from numerous vehicle manufacturers either on certain trim levels or in certain models.”
Bury said that according to Xperi, there are more than 4 million HD Radio-equipped vehicles in Canada, and one in three new cars sold in Canada comes equipped with an HD Radio receiver.
“But since most receivers switch to HD signal automatically, we noticed with our FM HD operations that most listeners didn’t realize they were listening to the HD signal or that HD was even included in their car radio.”
So what do Canada’s HD Radio listeners think of this digital radio system?
“Every single week we receive a phone call or email from a listener that just bought a vehicle with HD Radio, and when Cat Country 98 starts buffering in HD for the first time, it’s like they’ve discovered fire!” said Huber.
“We’ve had nothing but positive comments from our listeners and advertisers to the improved quality and program data offered by HD Radio,” Bury agreed. Better yet, this positive experience is boosting Evanov’s ratings, ad revenues and profits.
“The analog signal for our flagship Z 103.5 station has traditionally suffered from severe multipath interference in the downtown core,” he said. “HD Radio has made the signal extremely reliable in those places, which is very evident in our ratings. Every book since the launch of HD Radio has shown increases in audience numbers.”
With results like these, Paul Bury and his company have become HD Radio believers.
“The HD Radio rollout will continue for us here at Evanov Communications,” he said. “Next in line is a 50,000W multicultural AM station in Montreal. The tests on CHLO(AM) proved very successful with the station’s limited power of 1000W day and 250W at night, so we’re very eager to see the coverage in Montreal.”
Huber is glad he added HD Radio to his one station.
“I absolutely love my radio station being on-air in HD Radio,” he said. “I hope to work with the great folks at HD Radio and encourage them to approach John Deere, Case IH and New Holland about offering this as a listening feature in agriculture equipment. When a farmer spends upwards of a million dollars on a combine, it should likely come with HD Radio.”
As for Corus Entertainment? Its team was impressed by the performance of the HD Radio tests.
“There have been discussions regarding adding more HD stations,” they said. “However, we have no immediate plans.”
Asked for comment about its technology in Canada, Xperi SVP of Broadcast Radio and Digital Audio Joe D’Angelo said, “One of the benefits of HD Radio is that it supports a market-based transition from analog to digital broadcasting, allowing radio stations and markets to transition as conditions allow. We’ve seen continued growth in broadcast signals throughout North America and an ever-growing number of cars equipped with the technology, currently approaching 90 million. In Canada, we are looking at a significant HD Radio uptake with 33 auto brands and 112 models.
“We are very encouraged by the ongoing support of Canadian broadcasters and stand ready to support their continued transition to a digital radio future.”