- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

LAS VEGAS — HD Radio technology is helping the hearing impaired to enjoy radio broadcasts.

Much like closed-captioning services for television, the new technology takes advantage of digital broadcasts to translate the audio content into lines of text that viewers can read on special receivers.

“Our goal is to make the broadcast medium available to the broadest audience possible,” said Jim Burke, spokesman for audio systems maker Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla. “The response has been very, very positive.”

Harris developed Accessible Radio Technology with help from National Public Radio (NPR) and Towson University. The organizations introduced a working prototype at the International Consumer Electronics Show.

The prototype, about the size of a GPS navigation device, enables users to scroll six or eight lines of text at a time, adjusting for font size.

Broadcasters need only use a “very small piece of spectrum” in order to send data commands or text to the radio, Mr. Burke said.

In addition to transferring audio broadcasts into text transcripts, the initiative also helps sight-impaired listeners, who are unable to know which radio station they have turned to, by providing audio cues.

The Hybrid Digital Radio format is a combination of digital and analog signals that allows broadcasters to compress more content into the same amount of spectrum, thereby making additional channels possible for HD Radio simulcasts. In the Washington area, for example, American University’s public-radio outlet, WAMU (88.5 FM), has a flagship broadcast station that can be heard over the air, in addition to three HD channels that require a special HD Radio receiver to access.

The technology is being licensed to manufacturers who make HD radios. Harris said it hopes the first models will reach store shelves late this year. Pricing will depend on the manufacturer — an entry-level HD Radio now costs around $99.

Harris, Towson and NPR also announced plans for an International Center for Accessible Radio and Technology to be based in Towson. The university will provide the administrative and research services, NPR Labs will be responsible for technology research and development, and Harris will supply transmission and research support. The goal is to study the challenges facing disabled listeners and promote adoption of the technology.

“There is no question this initiative will have a profound impact on the quality of millions of people’s lives. Finally, sensory-disabled individuals will have access to all radio programming, as well as radio emergency alerts and vital disaster recovery information,” said Ellyn Sheffield, assistant professor of psychology at Towson.

Read Kara Rowland’s Tech Zoo blog from the Consumer Electronics Show at www3.washingtontimes.com/blogs.

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