Interference on the medium waves generated by battery-powered cars has prompted several manufacturers (Audi, BMW, Mini, Tesla, and Volkswagen) toeliminate the AM tuner in their battery-powered models (we’ve already discussed it here). But new radio disturbances are on the horizon on which it would be difficult to act. Raising the alarm is the ITU (International Telecommunication Union): induction charging systems generate harmonic frequencies between 500 and 700 kHzthat cannot be eliminated by shielding because they are picked up by the antenna. In theory, U.S. law prohibits interfering with licensed stations, so if electric cars disrupt broadcasters, it is up to manufacturers to comply. Technically, however, it is not easy, and since the electric market moves huge interest (by 2030 in the U.S., one out of every two new cars should be electric) the game is wide open.
Heavy interference, but there may be a solution
Induction charging is convenient because it avoids the use of a cable. But the high powers involved (10 kW for a car, 100 kW for a public service bus) produce “robust” phantom signals. There is also DWPT, based on the same technology, which is used to extend the range of cars (now limited to a few hundred kilometers). It relies on coils placed under the asphalt that transfer energy directly to vehicles that do not have to stop at designated charging stations. What to do then? According to Xperi, stations could transmit digitally with the HD Radio system (for which the company owns the patent) because signal processing and error correction provide greater immunity to noise. (Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini)
A few days have passed since the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine. One morning, a listener of Radio San Marino is stunned: on the car radio screen of his Audi, a new generation model displaying the brand logo of the stations tuned in, the Russian flag appears. Yet the programme he is listening to is precisely that of Radio San Marino. He thinks of action by hackers: these are days when the invasion is taking its first steps, the information is confused but the propaganda is very active. He wonders what it could be about: in the previous days, nothing was visible. He takes a couple of photos and emails them to the broadcaster. The message reaches the technical management, which turns to an expert.
There was already an anomaly
Let’s go back two months. Radio San Marino has been experiencing problems with some car radios for some time: their brand logo does not appear. Therefore it commissions an investigation from Radio Data Center, a German company specialising in new-generation multimedia systems that display the broadcasters’ logos. Research shows that the problem is confined to the brands of the Volkswagen Group (including Audi, Lamborghini, Porsche, Seat, Skoda) and Ford. During the research, a technical incompatibility emerges: the station is not using an identification code reserved for the San Marino state, as prescribed by international regulations. It has inserted a number reserved for Italy in the equipment that generates the RDS: a correct one is identified and communicated to the technical office. The broadcaster repositioned itself correctly in February 2022 and… a few days later, the picture of the screen with the Russian flag shows up.
What had happened?
Radio Data Center does the first test on an Audi Q5 at the Reggini dealer in Falciano: nothing appears on the screen. Not even the Radio San Marino brand, but that’s normal: the RDS change was announced 30 days ago, but since the car is not connected to the Internet, you have to wait for the update to become available, download it onto a memory stick and do the upgrade (but the company is late: it is still suffering from the slowdowns caused by the pandemic and has not released it for some time). The anomaly is therefore confined to older-generation, Volkswagen-made car radios and shows on the screen Radio Rossii, the most important Russian state broadcaster, which has the flag in its logo. The update will correct this.
But the devil got in the way
The change, announced in February, is on the waiting list: with tens of thousands of radios to chase, and constant changes, those managing the logos have so many backlogs. The request is examined after six months. But there is a setback: due to an error, only the data of the second network Radio San Marino Classic (which has similar problems) is updated. It’s therefore necessary to wait for the next update, scheduled for December 2022. (Written byFabrizio Carnevalini)
The abandonment of thermic engines is a mandatory goal to reduce CO2 emissions. The automotive industry is getting ready and among the aspects that are being discussed, there is also radio listening. On electric cars, HF interference is generated primarily by the frequency converter, a device that controls the amount of power delivered by the electric motor by turning the voltage on and off thousands of times per second. This generates signals that fall in the medium wave broadcast band: electrical noises (such as distortion and crackling) similar to those emitted by smartphones, TVs, computers, vacuum cleaners and hair dryers. In addition, static electricity, which creates crackles, increases with the power of the motors. So much so that some manufacturers, such as BMW, Mini, Tesla and Volkswagen have eliminated the AM band on their current cars. Others, like General Motors, are studying the problem, but the solution isn’t around the corner. Xperi Corporation, a leading digital radio company, whose HD Radio standard (a patent it owns) is used both in the FM and AM band, claims that its transmission system is not afraid of interference. And it presented test results at NAB Broadcast Engineering and Information Technology, the annual conference of American broadcasters. According to Pooja Nair, an engineer at Xperi Corporation, a fully digital AM signal resists interference much better than an analogue one.
Markus Weidner, an editor since 1999 of the telecommunications site teltarif.de, has published on his blog a report on the new car radios on display at the IAA Mobility in Munich, the fair that replaces the biennial Frankfurt Motor Show, overwhelmed (like the Geneva Motor Show) by the pandemic. According to Markus, after having integrated the car radio more and more into the car (making it difficult to replace with third-party products), car manufacturers are now limiting its functionality. In the most recent models, the receivers offer a list that integrates FM and DAB stations, updated in the background. The function is useful because it avoids searching and memorizing the station, which can be recalled (more and more often) with a voice command. Such an organized list is convenient for those who listen to the most powerful radio stations, but it limits the choice: if the signal is not strong enough or slightly interfered, or without RDS (in FM there are still some) it is completely ignored. Weidner suggests an expert mode that enables the old manual tuning in FM and DAB. Otherwise, this “rationalization”, prevents you from freely choosing the radio of your heart.
More details and photos of the new receivers can be found here and here.
The success of an aggregator is not synonymous with completeness and updating of data. After TuneIn, the leading radio streams platform, which has been blocking the inclusion of new stations for years (and even changes take months), similar problems are affecting Radio.net. Markus Weidner, the editor of Teltarif.de, a telephony website, has been criticising the German-based portal, describing it as “embarrassing” and providing documented examples. On his personal blog, Markus begins by saying that the web radio database has always been incomplete compared to competitors such as TuneIn Radio and Airable. And for almost three months now everything has been at a standstill: it is impossible to make corrections or add stations. Officially, the problem is justified by the fact that changes are being made to the database and users are asked to be patient. Yet the portal is one of the most popular and appreciated in Germany and has more than twenty sister sites for different countries and markets, so much so that Volkswagen has chosen it as a platform for listening to online radio for its own cars and those of the brands it owns (Audi, Porsche, Seat and Skoda).