I’ve never been a huge radio or TV fan — I just can’t stand ads. Thats one reason i’m a big fan of the Slacker internet music offering on the Model S. With Slacker you have more input over your preferences and there are no ads. With Slacker you can skip to the next song, pause the current song, and you can indicate that you like or dislike a song. With the radio offerings you can only change the channel.

All that being said, as I settle into the Model S I wanted to explore every area and so I spent some time with both the standard and internet radio offerings. I’ll cover the standard radio offering in this post and the internet radio offering in my next post.

AM/FM Radio Controls

FM RadioTesla has done a really nice job on building an interface to AM and FM radio in the Model S. With the radio interface you get a standard tuning dial you can swipe your finger over to tune up or down bands. The seek right or left buttons search for stations with good signals. Like many cars you can press to set/save a station for later.

Tesla has done a really nice job on building an interface to AM/FM radio in the Model S.

The Model S supports both “standard” and HD radio which embeds a digital signal in the AM or FM bands that provides extra information. HD radio allows stations to offer multiple formats or programs at the same time on the same frequency. In the photo i’m tuned into FM 102.5, but I have 2 stations there I can pick from, each playing something different but run by the same station. From what i’ve read you can have 3 full HD channels at the same frequency and i’ve found stations in my area that offer that. The other advantage that HD radio has is that with the digital song information provided the Model S can provide cool things like cover art that you can’t easily get on standard radio.

The user interface appeared to be the same on AM and FM although I was unable to find AM stations that showed me things like cover art or alternate channels but I did find HD AM channels.

Overall the interface was clean and friendly and super-intuitive.

AM/FM Reception

Other than the HD version which was new for me, these are the same radio stations you listen to anywhere, and they have the same age-old location and reception issues.

While I live in New England in a pretty populated area of the country, broadcast signals are spotty at times. AM is particularly bad in most places and even popular FM stations can be spotty at times. In my experience the Model S is worse at radio reception than other cars i’ve previously owned, most notably for AM radio. I had a slight buzz in the best AM stations on acceleration and a loud buzz in regen-assisted deceleration on the AM stations. This was pronounced enough that I added it to my list to have Tesla Service look into next time I have the car in, but I strongly suspect this is a design, not implementation issue.

The Model S is worse at radio reception than other cars i’ve previously owned

For FM, I had no interference from acceleration or deceleration but there were very noticeable constant switch overs between HD and “standard” radio that was annoying with the end result being that I had to turn off the HD stream. For those not familiar with HD radio, these cut-overs and cut-backs only work on the primary stream. For instance if i’m listening to 102.5 #2 and the reception cuts out I get nothing. It can only fall back to standard radio when i’m listening to the #1 HD station.

Still Radio

This may be obvious, but this is still radio. You’re inundated with ads, radio station ID notices, commentary from the DJs, etc. For some that’s added company and entertainment, but for others its a necessary evil to get to the music. In the new age of Pandora, Slacker and huge digital music libraries it’s really difficult to go back to regular radio, especially given the reception issues above which are mostly not specific to Tesla but the nature of standard AM/FM radio. When was the last time you watched TV that came in over an antenna?

Fortunately for those that want the commentary, talk shows and the like there’s an alternative on the Model S — TuneIn radio which i’ll cover in a different post.

Unless you’re in a place where your Model S has no 3G reception but you can somehow receive decent AM/FM stations (seems unlikely, but Northern California is pretty barren for cell phone signals from my experience), i’d skip the AM/FM radio completely — while the user interface is really nice, AM/FM radio is all but dead.

While the user interface is really nice, AM/FM radio is all but dead.