CRTC looking at bringing HD Radio to Canada

While the CRTC is engaging in a wide-ranging review of television policy, it’s also in the process of reviewing certain policies when it comes to radio. Most of them are about the regulatory process itself, such as how to handle applications for new stations in small markets, or how to ensure stations comply with their licenses, or how to distinguish national and local advertising.

But perhaps the most interesting topic for discussion is whether Canada should adopt HD Radio. The technology, not to be confused with high-definition television, is widely used in the United States, and replaces analog AM and FM signals with hybrid analog-digital ones (it can also be used in all-digital mode, but it’s the hybrid version that has the most appeal). Analog receivers continue to hear the stations, but people with HD Radio receivers can get a digital version of the station’s audio, which may be of higher quality or just devoid of any noise, as well as metadata (like the name of the song that’s playing) and audio subchannels, similar to subchannels offered by some digital television stations. It can also transmit other information like weather and traffic updates and even listings of gas station prices.

The sad history of DAB

This isn’t the first time that digital radio has been proposed in Canada to augment and eventually replace AM and FM. In 1995, the CRTC set up a framework for licensing digital radio stations, and in 1999 Digital Audio Broadcasting (or Digital Radio Broadcasting) launched in Canada. DAB stations transmitted on frequencies in the 1452-1492 MHz range, far above the FM broadcast band. These signals didn’t have as much range, but with each channel being 1.5 MHz wide, there was a lot of bandwidth to play with. The Canadian Association of Broadcasters and some private and public stations embraced the new technology and spent a lot of money setting up transmitters.

Unfortunately, DAB didn’t take off in Canada, mainly because of the scarcity of receivers. The United States wasn’t using DAB, so there weren’t many new cars or new radios being put on store shelves that had support for it. By 2010, broadcasters gave up on the technology, and the CRTC officially killed it in 2012, refusing to renew any licenses beyond that date.

So you can imagine how reluctant some broadcasters might be to jump into another digital radio scheme.

Pros and cons of HD Radio

HD Radio’s main advantage is that it’s the technology used in the United States. It uses the same frequency spectrum as analog, and with its hybrid mode the analog signal can remain for people with analog receivers.

But there are a lot of downsides too. Like DAB, it’s expensive to set up and it requires new transmitters and new receivers. It also increases interference, particularly on adjacent frequencies. The format is also proprietary, owned by a company called iBiquity.

What about the availability of receivers, which could be the make-or-break for this new technology?

The Consumer Electronic Marketers of Canada, an industry association, tells the CRTC in a submission that HD Radios represented 15% of FM radios sold in Canada in 2012, up from 5.5% in 2011. In cars, where a lot of people listen to their radio, the group says that 45% of vehicle models for sale here offer HD Radio, though its statistics are based on “nameplates that offer HD Radio technology” and might not represent the actual number of consumer vehicles capable of receiving HD Radio.

Nevertheless, there’s clearly a significant number of receivers available in this country for a technology that hasn’t formally been adopted here yet.


One of the big advantages of HD Radio is that in addition to providing a high-quality feed of the station’s audio, the digital signal can encode separate audio feeds, which could be entirely different or related services. Some radio stations use this in the U.S. to provide specialized alternative programming that’s not available on analog radio. A niche format like jazz could find a home on HD Radio that it couldn’t on analog AM or FM. Though the most popular use for subchannels seems to be rebroadcasting sister stations in areas where they can’t be received well over the air.

In Canada, some analog FM radio stations already multiplex their signals using Subsidiary Communications Multiplex Operation, an analog technology that encodes audio signals on audio frequencies above those audible by humans. This has been used for services like Radio Moyen Orient (before it got a licence to broadcast on 1450 AM) and Radio Humsafar (which is still waiting for a decision on an application for 1610 AM). Stations such as CKUT-FM, CISM-FM and CIRA-FM in Montreal have gotten CRTC approval for SCMO channels for niche services.

SCMO also requires special receivers, and in fact many broadcasters that use the technology make money by selling the radios that people can use to receive them. It’s particularly popular among ethnic broadcasters serving groups that don’t hear much broadcasting in their own language on AM or FM ethnic stations.

HD Radio, if implemented, would likely be used for similar reasons.

Tests in progress

According to the CRTC, three radio stations are currently experimenting with HD Radio with the commission’s blessing:

  • CJSA-FM, a multilingual station in Toronto owned by Canadian Multicultural Radio. It proposed in December 2012 to offer a channel with Tamil programming, and another serving First Nations.
  • CFMS-FM, a station in Markham, Ont., which offers a mix of English and third-language programming. It proposed to use subchannels to offer time-delayed programming so people who want to listen to programs that air only at certain times of the day can have more opportunities to tune in when they want.
  • CING-FM, an adult contemporary music station in Hamilton owned by Corus. Corus conducted detailed technical tests, and its submission includes analysis of interference, as well as listener feedback (even though it never publicly announced it was using HD Radio). Its tests included data broadcasts that give weather, traffic and gas price data for the greater Toronto area, from Hamilton to Barrie.

The CRTC is accepting public comments about a possible implementation of HD Radio and other matters concerning radio. The deadline had been set for today, but was extended two weeks to Jan. 30. Comments can be submitted here. Note that all comments, including contact information submitted with them, are part of the public record.

UPDATE (Oct. 5, 2015): Corus’s CING-FM is now publicizing its HD Radio service. Its second digital channel carries Toronto’s AM640 (CFMJ), and Corus is encouraging Toronto listeners to tune in to the 100kW Hamilton station to hear the Toronto news-talk station with better quality.

41 thoughts on “CRTC looking at bringing HD Radio to Canada

  1. Marc

    HD Radio is silly and a passing fad, like 3D TV. The eventual future will be broadcasting online and will take off once free unemcumbered WiFi is available anywhere and everywhere. Just like how Netflix is demolishing the TV networks.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      HD Radio is silly and a passing fad, like 3D TV.

      HD Radio might not take off, but I don’t think the comparison to 3D TV is apt. 3D TV doesn’t really serve much of a practical purpose, it’s just one of those things that looks nice. (And even then, a lot of people don’t like it and find it less practical than regular TV.) HD Radio, at least in terms of offering alternative audio feeds, does serve a practical purpose. At least in theory.

      The eventual future will be broadcasting online and will take off once free unemcumbered WiFi is available anywhere and everywhere.

      Who’s going to pay for setting up free WiFi everywhere?

    2. John Franklin

      Sorry, while the Internet may work well for home listening, the cellular infrastructure will never support the traffic needed to replace mobile radio:
      Per Borgå of Teracom presented the results of a study they conducted in Sweden drawing the firm conclusion that cellular networks are not the solution for the future of radio delivery. The huge amount of data and the difficulty with providing universal coverage mean that eMBMS does not offer a realistic alternative to terrestrial broadcasting; and, he said, new technology is unlikely to change this conclusion.

      Also, while music streaming has indeed become intensely popular, there is no business model that can ever make it financially profitable:

      Don’t throw away your old radio quite yet.

    3. Brad

      you have obviously not heard the diff between the 2 FM + HD.
      I am great fan of HD Radio and without it
      my trips “in heavy traffic to Seattle” would drive me insane….

    4. Gary

      It’s a shame DAB was restricted to the L-band in Canada, and subsequently died a death. I currently live in the UK, where DAB has been a success. It is also being widely adopted in other parts of the world. The cost of DAB receivers has plummeted, and it looks like it’s going to be the standard everywhere else, except North America.

      1. Don

        I here you Gary ! I can not believe that HDradio is not broadcast in Canada. I was just looking @ shelling out the extra $50.00 Pioneer wants for a 1 step-up car receiver. No use spending the extra $50.00 dollars now. Here in Saskatoon!

  2. Dilbert

    HD radio sounds good on paper, but it may have already sort of passed it’s prime and failed in the US, which means bringing it to Canada may be too little, too late.

    The idea however is not only good, but great, but with lots and lots of asterisks thrown in.

    First off, there is the problem of receiver install base. There isn’t one. It would take some time to get a receiver base built up, sort of a chicken and egg problem. If the costs are too high, it’s not likely that many broadcasters will want to get onside with it – and thus, few people will want to have the receivers if there is nothing to get.

    Secondly, if used as an “analog plus digital” option, there are problems, as has been noted with analog adjacent channel. With all of the current FM frequencies used up in many of the major markets, it’s would be hard to create good test beds or new services without incumbents being involved. In the case of Montreal, with so few companies operating the majority of stations, it’s doubtful anyone would want to take a step forward. It means that the best part of HD radio, which would be an increase in the number of potential services in the given band, cannot be realized without the consent and action of the incumbent players – and they would likely want to get their own services on there.

    Third, there is some indication that HD Radio as a standard is already on the wane, similar to DAB and other variations. Proprietary and patent encoding and decoding methods means that you end up without everyone on the same standard, and makes it difficult for manufactures to include the function in their products without paying for it. The CRTC cannot, as an example. push for federal legislation that would require that all new AM/FM receivers be capable to receive, because it would be forcing companies to license a technology at a cost, which might not be recouped in the marketplace.

    So it’s a nice idea, but already sort of killed. As always, the CRTC is a day late and more than a few dollars short.

    1. John Franklin

      Did you read the entire article? The receiver base already exists: “45% of vehicle models for sale here offer HD Radio”.

      1. Alan

        Yes and there are a lot of after market decks that come equipped as well. I just purchased a Pioneer deck that will receive HD radio last week.

    1. Jordan H

      This is brilliant and I already use it frequently for HD radio stations coming out of the USA and even more so when I am in the USA. Way more choice and better quality. Sounds WAYYYYYYY better then sat radio and its FREE to consumers!!! I dont see the downside other then all the crap red tape thats in the way. Bring it in, advertise it, and let the future of radio begin!

      One of the biggest reasons there are not more HD radios in Canada. First there is practically no advertising. Second, no stations off it, so they wont advertise it. Come on CRTC, this is a no brainer.

      Thanks and have a nice day.

        1. kv

          I live in Pickering and get many of the Buffalo stations in hd. I have a winegard hd6055p antenna with amp installed by sal’s. very happy with 94.7- ( hd ) 2 the wave fm Hamilton . good jazz.

  3. Justin

    Hd radio is a big improvement compared to analog fm it can be twice as claer and give you more information pluse you get more content 3 channels on one station HD-1 HD-2 HD-3 can not go wrong with that and if an emergancy was to come up it will show up on the display living in Calgary sucks for radio still the same old distorted fm signal and onley one channel the only prob people will have is not knowing what HD radio is getting the publics attention will take some work pluse all my radios have HD radio tuners in them and are working in calgary just fine but with no HD radio. When i go to the US im happy cause my HD radio will kick in more channels on the same station more music or comady being broadcasted for the same station and how this would look is say you tuned in two Q 107.3 calgary you would have 107.3 HD-1 HD-2 HD-3 the other two channels are different stations HD-2 would commercial free classic rock HD -3 would be comadey all day somthing like that hope we get it way better then the Fm we have now and once you here it youll never want to down grade back to old school FM loose you extra music have to be insane happy with one channel okay that would suck once you have it you will love it Justin

  4. charlie P

    Low cost HD Radio Receivers can enable the HD Radio markets. However, how does one define “low cost”? The current cheapest HD Radio receivers in the market is around $50. Why would anyone spend even $20 to buy a radio receiver? Having more sub channels will benefit the public with better variety of content for sure.

    1. Jordan H

      Umm, because it doesnt sound completely like horse crap like SAT radio and has full frequency audio unlike FM radio which kills sub bass and high end frequencies.


    Almost all new A/V receivers now have HD Radio tuners built in. So its not silly to allow Canadian radio stations to brodcast in that format. Downside is who lissens to radio anymore anyway? To many adds and to little music.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Almost all new A/V receivers now have HD Radio tuners built in.

      Can you point to a source for that information? The Consumer Electronic Marketers of Canada says 15% of radios sold here have HD Radio receivers. A quick look on Best Buy’s website shows 13/247 (5%) of A/V receivers listed as having HD Radio tuners.

      Downside is who lissens to radio anymore anyway?

      3.9 million people in Montreal, according to Numeris.

  6. Bentoronto

    Thanks for excellent summary. Time for an update?

    Must be about 5 yrs since I lucked on to a Sony HDFM tuner when still bargain priced. With a 10 foot yagi, at 35 feet, I get PBS in Buffalo, 94.5, pretty well, esp. since one or two trees in the way were eliminated due to last year’s ice storm. But when reception is marginal, the Sony just dithers between HD and Stereo and that’s grating. Otherwise, couldn’t be happier with the wonderful sound quality, most noticeable in the low bass and also better treble.

    Hence, I’m a big advocate for HD in Canada and have vast disrespect for the ill-conceived and selfish forces that tried to get DAB implemented.

    Sure would be nice for CBC to put #1 and #2 (useless stupid names, eh, like calling subway lines #1 and #2) into one iBiquity channel.

    Funny thing, it would be terrible if CBC at 94.1 went HD because then it might interfere with 94.5. I understand that PBS has a gentleperson’s agreement not to put a strong signal into Toronto so as not to interfere with 94.1. Pity.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Time for an update?

      Indeed. The CRTC recently decided it would not set up a formal policy for HD Radio, but it would encourage further experimentation with it.

  7. Bentoronto

    Surprise, surprise.

    Here’s the news from the CRTC, as of 2014 Oct 28:

    (search for iBiquity)

    CRTC are too timid to regulate iBiquity into life but will allow experimentation like CORUS – CING in Hamilton.

    Apropos interference, there were comments that CING HD interfered with Oshawa etc at .2 mHz difference. But the zone of interference would be already marginal for both stations, so not much would be lost anyway. PBS at 94.5 and CBC at 94.1 in Toronto at .4 apart. Likely CBC would grouse anyway.

  8. Justinfuson

    Justinfuson come on HD Radio is awsome like HD tv is its time to upgrade lol unless you are scared of change then youre crazy life goes on so lets upgrade to HD RADIO unless you like horrible sounds from weak fm stations digital is the way to go thats why they come out with this stuff clear comunacation upgrade an old system that cant keep up with new technology

  9. Roger Jones, P.Eng

    As a vintage radio fan, I’m still trying to get my head around this stuff… Main question: will it support 44.1/16 CD quality audio for classical music? I won’t ask for best, uncompressed analog sound as I know that’s a lost cause! But that’s technical. Another question is: how do we interdict the sonic (not data) over-compression used by most FM stations to feed so-called “music” to the aurally-handicapped, brain dead zombies?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Main question: will it support 44.1/16 CD quality audio for classical music?

      Yes. But the actual bitrate, compression and overall quality is up to the station. They can (and usually will) compress more in order to add more digital channels.

  10. Ben

    I can’t address the tech definitions, only the listener experience from the slight proportion of time I’ve heard HD from PBS-Buffalo in Toronto. Good FM (such as CBC … is that #1 or #2???… what a stupid ID…) or PBS isn’t far from CD-grade sound (not that awful 96.3 sound in Toronto). But HD is a genuine if modest step closer. Biggest difference I can hear is extended low bass but whole compass seems improved. Not night-and-day, but a definite step forward, if your signal is good. There may be other transmission benefits or harms, but sound-wise with a good signal, about as good as you’d want (and I use electrostatic speakers, eh).
    I am keen to see HD come to Canada. Sad we had some really stupid alternatives with DAB…no doubt motivated by CBC trying to foster their monopoly. HD makes sense, let’s go for it.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Sad we had some really stupid alternatives with DAB…no doubt motivated by CBC trying to foster their monopoly.

      I’ve seen no evidence of this. DAB was supported by private radio stations, who lost a lot of money on it.

  11. Dre

    It’s about time canada catches up to the rest of the world. HD radio has been out for years in Europe and the States.

  12. Mike

    It’s a shame Canada abandoned DAB, a dedicated radio band for digital broadcasting. HD radio is such a compromise, piggybacking a digital signal on top of an FM signal. It’s a compromised solution and will only lead to problems of RF interference.

    DAB in UK, Germany, France and other places is working because it is a good system but also because these country governments have vision.

    Clarification, there is no HD radio in Europe. They use DAB, a different format and a different part of the spectrum.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      It’s a shame Canada abandoned DAB, a dedicated radio band for digital broadcasting.

      Despite millions in transmission infrastructure, a great deal of marketing and industry support, Canadians were simply not using it. Since the U.S. wasn’t adopting DAB, that wasn’t going to change.

  13. Greg

    I love HD radio. Bring it on, the faster the better. I receive three station 94.7 mhz Country,HD2 Jazz, 95.3 mhz Top 40, HD2 talk radio 640, HD3 Hamilton news. As well as 101.3mhz CJSA HD1,HD2,HD3. The sound is so much better than regular FM on my Denon AVR. Would love it if Chum Fm started broadcasting in HD. It is long due for this upgrade to HD radio.

  14. Gary

    Lexus uses HD radio to serve live traffic on their navigation units. This means no subscription to live traffic.

    Please bring HD radio to canada

  15. Anonymous

    Since 94.7 in Hamilton went to IBOC, PBS Buffalo at 94.5 is totally kaput in Toronto, stereo and HD. Sic transit gloria mundi. Greshams Law. Sad for classical music lovers in Toronto. Turns out, PBS sidebands have been destroying the 94.7 signal for years, so just turnaround.

    1. Justin

      They need to sell HDradio tunners here in Canada so people can here HD radio i asked best buy they dont have any almost everywhere at all the stores i only have the the three tunners i have from USA in my house sounds great but other people dont know about it cause there is no tunners and not mentioned to the publice all i hear is country 105 is now HD people are probley thinking okay what the hell is HD .not knowing what HD is cant buy the tunner unless ya have a tunner all ready from the US

  16. TV Guy

    Canadian broadcasters are clueless. I’d bet they’ve never made any overture to BestBuy’s management to import the tabletop radio and small portable (pocket sized) “insignia” branded radios into Canada. Unless BestBuy is “pushed” nothing will happen. There are SPARC HD radios available on Amazon (U.S.) site, but so far as I can determine, not available on
    The U.S. marketplace is being literally driven (pardon the pun) by OEM radios installed by the car manufacturers – which is where the market is really going. At least the OEM car radios are growing exponentially. the Canadian “DAB” disaster never resulted in OEM car radios being manufactured or installed. There were many other operational faults that can be traced to the Canadian broadcasters who were clueless about the consumer and automotive market. (Canadian) DAB would never have happened….because the “Canadian” version of the technology was completely incompatible with the DAB deployed in the UK and EU. I owned the radio sold by “The Source”. It never worked, and drained batteries within 1-2 hours of use. Senior CHUM management (proponents of DAB) never “saw” working radios…and when a VP laid his hands on the “consumer” product he was flabbergasted by how poor the product was constructed – it did not even lock in within line of sight of the Toronto CN Tower.

  17. Margaret Sjoholm-Franks

    Who needs HD when we have the internet…and who listens to radio these days anyway. Too late, I think, I have my breakfast listening to my favorite radio stations from Europe in my kitchen, streaming from my internet radio

      1. Margaret Sjoholm-Franks

        Audiences are divided in age groups…..I am sure that the 60-99 group does…the rest, not quite sure

        1. Fagstein Post author

          Audiences are divided in age groups…..I am sure that the 60-99 group does…the rest, not quite sure

          Canadians age 65+ listened to 18.4 hours a week of radio on average. Among 18-24, it’s 11.4 hours. Among 12-17, it’s 6 hours. Listening hours are declining among all age groups, but it’s still a $1.5-billion industry.


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