New Products and Technology: New-Wave Radio

When it comes to technology, radio is hardly the new kid on the block. Most adults have been listening to radio their entire lives, and many of us remember the Golden Age of Radio. Back then, families would gather around the radio set and listen to the Glenn Miller Orchestra playing live from the Hotel Pennsylvania or to such classic shows as Dragnet and Fibber McGee and Molly. For most people, the last exciting radio breakthrough came during the 1950s, when kids took time off from twirling their hula hoops to hold that wondrous invention, the transistor radio, up to their ears.

Since then, the radio has been eclipsed by television and, lately, by the Internet as our medium of choice for news and entertainment. Recent breakthroughs, however, show that radio still has a life of its own.

In the United States, two companies, XM and Sirius, have launched satellites that blanket most of North America with radio signals. They operate in much the same way that DirecTV and DISH Network do with television signals. XM and Sirius offer a much wider variety of programming than can be found in most markets, with over a hundred channels each and sound quality that is better than FM. Although a large portion of the programming available on both services is targeted to younger audiences, both have channels featuring old-time radio shows. If you want to listen to The Fred Allen Show or The Whistler, satellite radio is the way to go. Satellite radios can fit in a shirt pocket, and most car manufacturers offer satellite radio as an option. Once you buy the equipment, you pay a monthly subscription fee.

Even traditional radio broadcasts are being affected by the revolution in technology. In 2007, the Federal Communications Commission approved a nationwide rollout of HD Radio, which allows radio stations to broadcast a series of digital subchannels within their existing signal. The major benefit for consumers is wider listening choice, though improvements in sound quality are also possible. As with satellite radio, you need a special receiver. HD radios are now on sale—and available as an option on some makes of cars. Once you purchase the radio, the programming is free.

Web Resource

To find out more about satellite radio, visit the XM and Sirius Web sites. To find out if there are HD Radio stations in your area, visit the official HD Radio site.