Radio Data System (RDS)

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What is RDS ?

RDS is the abbreviation for Radio Data System. RDS is a method of transmitting digital data along with the audio signal on FM radio. Although RDS is a European standard, it is also used in a slightly modified way in the USA, where it is called RBDS. Information on this page applies to both RDS and RBDS. In the following, the term RDS is used to refer to both standards.

Data transmitted by many FM radio stations includes:

  • Name of the station.
  • List of alternative frequencies for the same station.
  • Radiotext, e.g. artist and song title.
  • Current date and time.
  • Program type, e.g. Rock, Pop, Country, News...
  • Traffic Message Channel (TMC), information about traffic jams etc.

Which cards can receive RDS ?

A card to be used for RDS naturally has to have a radio tuner. Additionally, it needs an RDS decoder. The most common chip seems to be the SAA6588 by Philips. It is connected via I2C to the video decoder chip.

Examples for RDS capable cards:

  • Terratec Cinergy 600

RDS in V4L2 standard

According to V4L2 specifications, raw data from RDS decoders is read from the radio device. Data consists of blocks where each block is 3 bytes long. All decoding has to be done in user space.

Kernel modules

A kernel module for accessing the RDS decoder is needed. Hans J. Koch started writing a module for the SAA6588 (saa6588.ko), but it's not ready yet.

The modules for the main video chips (bttv, saa7134...) have to be modified to load and use the RDS decoder module.

RDS decoding

RDS decoding in user space has to address the following situations:

  • There are more than one RDS capable cards in the system.
  • There are more than one applications that want to access an RDS source.

This can best be done by a daemon that reads raw data from all RDS sources, decodes it, and distributes the results via TCP/IP or a unix domain socket. Such a daemon (rdsd) is under development, the project is hosted here:

There is also a library (librds) that simplifies application development by handling the communication with rdsd. While rdsd depends on a V4L2 compatible architecture, librds can be cross platform! It could therefore be possible to write applications for other operating systems that can connect via TCP/IP to an rdsd running on a Linux box.

Development progress in that project is somewhat slow as there is only one developer. Any help is highly welcome!

User applications

Within the rdsd project, a simple console tool (rdsquery) will be developed. Other possible applications could be:

  • Enhance current radio applications (radio text, station names, ...)
  • Stand alone RDS viewers.
  • TMC applications to process traffic messages.
  • Application to set the system clock according to RDS date/time.