November 18, 2003 – 12:33 pm
I received the following letter from a friend and former student of mine. He’s just come into contact with RDS and is struggling to get his head around it.
I’m writing to ask for your most excellent technical advice. You see, if I can’t sort something out soon, I’m going to head into TRN and go all Columbine on their assess.
I bought a brand new, out of the box car stereo a year ago. It’s great. MP3 player, surround sound, nice bright blue display, and it’s digital. Which seemed like a good idea at the time. At this stage I should point out that I’ve never so much as set a preset on this thing. Not even played with the front/back balance. I’ve never entered a menu on it. I just haven’t had the need, I almost always use CDs.
Since the day I bought it, it’s been obsessed with ZM. OBSESSED. If I listen to Z or the edge or b, or even AM stations, then turn it off and on, it starts on ZM. If I’m using the radio, then switch to CD, then back, it defaults to ZM. (Twice it’s gone to George, but almost always ZM).
Even more annoying is what started a few weeks ago. Whatever station I’m on, whenever ZM has a traffic report, it jumps to ZM.
Even more annoying still, is if I’m listening to a CD, and ZM has a traffic report, it jumps.
Even MORE annoying, is I can’t change back to CD until the report is over. That’s right, my stereo won’t even let me change inputs!
At no point have I touched any menus so I can’t have accidentally set it up to do this.
Is it my stereo or is ZM actually Satan?
To which I replied…
ZM is not Satan. They are merely carrying out his work.
What you have discovered is the joy of RDS (Radio Data System / Service – depending on who you believe). It comes standard on all new tuners in car stereos around the world. It has some useful features for places other than New Zealand – such as automatically and transparently re-tuning to the strongest frequency if you live in a city that has high, mountainous terrain and requires several transmitters. And it… er… tells you what station you’re listening to. Just in case, you know, the jock forgets to remind you.
It also has all sorts of evil features. Text-on-screen advertising is just the beginning. Tune to George FM (who should know better, but are always gleeful about anything ‘new’ and ‘cool’ – eg studio webcams, etc). You’ll see the name and sponsor of the show that’s on, and perhaps a message about a current on air promotion.
Hell, even National Radio’s using RDS – though much more judiciously.
RDS is based on the notion that:
a) digital = interactive
Pure crap. Interactive means that the user GAINS and not LOSES control over the content.
and b) adding a screen to a car radio is necessarily an improvement.
If you think about the purpose and use of a car stereo, it’s readily apparent what a crock of shit that is.
There will be some sort of complex series of buttons and menus to switch off the “feature” that enables a radio station to get in and mess with your stereo without your permission. You WILL be able to turn it off. You just have to be unafraid of manuals, and prepared to inadvertently set your display to Esperanto.
Send an email – or better still a letter to ZM – to both the programmer and the sales manager. Give them a hearty F**K OFF and tell them to tell their button-happy on air staff to leave the switch alone that does the RDS traffic report take-over-your-car-stereo thing. Make sure you make it clear that this “feature” is having a strong adverse affect on your perception and enjoyment of their radio station.
Nobody, but nobody listens to ZM for regular traffic updates. Nobody who chooses to listen to ZM would even put that in their top 5 reasons for listening. Who do they think they are doing a service by interrupting listener’s CDs and talking at them? Are they trying to position themselves as “Your intrusive information station”?!
Also, ZM using RDS to default your stereo to their station when they turn it on is unethical in the extreme and negates consumer choice. It’s a new toy, and you can forgive a little bit of trying out the technology on their part, but we need to shout at them furiously and urgently to just cut it out.
I am more opposed to this than you are – and my car radio is 16 years old and has a big knob you have to turn to change stations. It’s the worst use of a technology being sold to the public as ‘interactive’ and ‘digital services’.
Despite the sales pitch being eagerly lapped up by radio station owners, RDS is not a bridge to digital radio. It is the enemy of digital radio.
People – like your good self – are going to be completely and utterly pissed off with radio as a whole and equate that with the ‘digital-ness’ of the RDS system. I knew that all of this was possible with existing technology. Hell, they have one of those ‘take over your stereo’ traffic report buttons in the George FM studio.
But nobody’s stupid enough to actually PRESS it…
Peter just replied:
Digital certainly does not equal interactive.
The whole concept seems bizarre to me. Certainly I was happy when I first noticed ‘Channel Z’ came up on my stereo without me having to do anything. I thought that was nifty.
But now, I have ZM (forceably I might add – I’m not on it by choice) spoon feeding me messages that change every few seconds detailing song information, show details, adds for other shows, and competition details.
Firstly, considering every digital stereo I’ve seen allows only a handful of characters displayed at one time, it seems a little like scrolling through an 80s pager. Secondly, bar a few RDS tuners I’ve seen in people’s homes, the majority appear to be in cars. When driving my car, I prefer to watch the road. Not bright blue flashing words telling me things I don’t care about, from a station that’s actually hijacking my time, and forcing me to listen to them.
Until such a time as we have walkmans capable of 640×480 pixel colour displays (as opposed to 8 x 24) no-one will be bothered reading this information anyway. I read faster than 2 words every 6 seconds. Most people do.
Hell, when you consider that Teletext is so outdated it hardly gets used for news and information, why would we settle for 3 words at a time?
The idea of ‘total domination of an “interactive” technology’ seems a bit like a dictator running a communist country. Hang on, that sounds like China. Why don’t they keep this in China? Really, this pisses me off no end.
Thanks for the input Dubber. I will write that letter.
Post edited slightly for politeness (the replacement of a couple of letters with *s), because thanks to Russell Brown and Radio New Zealand – I may have picked up a family audience…