RDS or Radio Data Systems are commonly used by most major radio stations, but many smaller stations may wonder if it is necessary for them. It can help to understand exactly what it is that RDS does, and how it can enhance the experience for your listeners.

In a nutshell, RDS allows FM Broadcasters to transmit data along with their broadcast to RDS programmed FM tuners, which will then use or display the information to the listener.

Most modern car or home radio tuners come equipped with varying degrees of RDS facilities, and the technology is expanding out into navigational and other audio equipment.

There are numerous ways in which the tuner can use the data. Most commonly it will provide the Program Service Name (PS), which displays a simple string of easily identifiable call letters in place of the frequency. This is a great tool for listeners trying to find their stations as a description like ‘ROCK-FM’ is infinitely more recognisable than the frequency.

Then there is the Program Type Code (PTY) which breaks up a stations broadcast into categories like news, talk, pop etc , which enables the listener to scan stations for the content they want. This is a great tool for small stations as it is a simple way to introduce and engage with listeners who may not even be aware of the stations existence.

A wonderful function of RDS is Alternate Frequency (AF). The RDS will send data including a list of all other frequencies your station can be reached on, this means that when a listener is travelling, the tuner will automatically seek out stronger signals and switch seamlessly. This allows the listener to enjoy the broadcast for much longer, if not throughout their whole journey without having to switch stations.

RadioTEXT (RT) is a feature where short messages and extra information can be displayed about the current program. You could transmit the name of the announcer, explain very briefly what the show is about, your website URL and so much more.

These are the most common ways RDS can be used to enhance broadcasts, but there are many other potential uses for the RDS system.

Use of PTY for emergency announcements.  Tuners can be set to detect and switch to an emergency frequency, override the CD player or cassette and play the announcement at a loud level, ensuring the listener pays attention to the information.

In the same way, people who travel and are affected by traffic conditions can enjoy the convenience of having their tuner automatically detect traffic updates in their area. Potential developments mean that the tuner will simply go back to your preferred station after the update.

There are many ways to use RDS and new uses are looming in the not too distant future, whether you want to keep up and integrate with the big boys in radio, or simply provide the extra information and ease of use to your listeners, the benefits of RDS use are plain to see.